On German soil history was tangible to me. In Berlin it I could taste it.
My two night trip to Berlin was much too brief to sort out the melange of feelings I was overwhelmed by. The city is such a mash up of various political and historical events that it was hard for me to form a coherent impression. Granted, Berlin was considered two cities for pretty much forty years. Bombed, divided (physically, politically and ideologically), walled and then sewn back together again, the city has the personality of a schizophrenic. It is fascinating. So fragmented, dynamic and indescribable. Quoting a fellow au pair friend, “Summing up Berlin in words would be like catching sunlight in a jar.” So accurately put.
It took just three hours to reach Berlin by high speed train from Celle. I was in the good company of two other expatriates who are both talented digital artists (this point is relevant). We arrived in at the iconic Haupt Bahnhoff in the early evening and made our way to Hotel Amadeus. While Amadeus is centrally located and affordable, I’m confident you won’t find it recommended in any guide book. Located in what was East Berlin, it is located in a GDR style apartment block and has rooms spread across a number of floors. These rooms share the floors with various other businesses which was ‘unique’ (read: dodgy). Our room was large and adequately furnished, though thin walled. After establishing ourselves we jumped on the U-Bahn and headed for Alexanderplatz, a centrally located train station and public square. The platz happened to be occupied by a festival of sorts for the weekend, and on many occasions we found ourselves in a beer garden sucking back half pints of Erdinger Weissbrau. We ducked into a restaurant and I happily indulged in a thick slice of Black Forest Cake and green Berliner Bier (I have no idea why it was green). During our dinner we noticed that we had attracted the attention of two (greasy looking) men. The girls had messaged a local acquaintance they had met on an online artsy folk community and he met up with us at the restaurant. We sat for a while and then noticed the looky-loo men approaching our table. They muttered but a few words and left a token on our table with a phone number inscribed on it. Should we not have had a local with us, this gesture likely wouldn’t have solicited much attention from us. Did we just get hit on? Not in the least. Our local informed us that the two men were gigolos. Apparently on this trip I don’t look like I am schlepping it as a backpacker.
For the next four hours our local took us on a moonlight walking tour of the city. We left Alexanderplatz, walked past the intimidating TV Tower and down Unter Den Linden as far as the Brandenburg Gate. The cool evening air was refreshing after a sticky August evening. The four of us ogled the Hotel Adlon (where Michael Jackson famously dangled baby Blanket from his balcony) and then wound our way through the national Holocaust Memorial. We then crept through the Reichstag courtyard and then moved on to the Sony Centre at Potsdamer Platz. The Sony Centre must be appreciated after nightfall. We laid on some benches for some time and watched the ceiling illuminate hues of purple and blue. An adequate substitute for Aurora Borealis. After a long night of touring we jumped onto the U-Bahn and crept back into our Amadeus suite.
As we had pretty much seen most of Berlin the evening before, Saturday was spent revisiting the Brandenburg Gate (we needed photos in the daylight after all), Check Point Charlie, various war memorial museums and shopping for souvenirs. Hats, well ‘head ware’ was on the top of the shopping list for all three of us. I was particularly enamoured with the thought of acquiring a Communist era striker hats (refer to the photo collection below) while the girls favoured gas masks and Soviet Ushanka hat (Google it). For a cool 20 Euro I found my striker hat in a souvenir shop. Good, I’m not the only twisted tourist seeking out a Soviet military hat in a city devastated by warfare. Actually, it seemed that on every other street corner, war mementos (original and replicas) were being peddled. Nazi coins, military apparel, war pins and gas masks.
The first time I crossed the border into Germany from Switzerland I couldn’t help but stare at the glaringly obvious white war elephant in the room. I was 18 and just ten months earlier had been enthralled by WW2 events in my History 12 class. On German soil history was tangible to me. In Berlin it I could taste it. Bullet holes that riddled the pillars of Brandenburg Gate are still visible and even a tourist can see which buildings are characteristically ‘East German.’ Dense urban blocks are juxtaposed against gaping lots. Shiny and contemporary Potsdamer Platz is a striking contrast to the charm of old East Berlin neighbourhoods, and the six hulking remnants of the Wall displayed in the square seem almost comical. Every city block seems to have its own vibe as a result of Berlin’s turbulent past, and its population is a patchwork of nationalities. An international capital city housing many international organizations attracts nationals, EU citizens, expatriates, a plethora of Kurdish minorities, and a poignant arts and counter-culture population. With so many juxtaposed cultures, languages, ethnicities and architecture, describing Berlin really is like trying to catch sunlight. This city certainly warrants a subsequent (and longer) visit.