I have put a lot of thought into what I wanted to say about my Berlin trip. I was sorely tempted to use a Pink Floyd line as the title. “Just another brick in the wall” would have been an obvious choice, but for a while I favored “The flames are all long gone but the pain lingers on” as a more subtle option. I was thinking I would focus heavily on the Berlin Wall, as that was for me the main point of interest Berlin had to offer. All this, of course, was before I actually went to Berlin.
It amazes me, in retrospect, so see how focused I was on seeing the Wall, when there is so much more to Berlin. In fact, I was so focused on the Wall that I forgot about Wold War II until, as I was casually walking down a rather ordinary looking street, I came across a sign telling me that the block of apartment buildings I was looking at were built by the communists over the rubble of the old Nazi headquarters. If I read the sign right, Hitler had committed suicide a few hundred feet from where I was standing. Why had I never thought about Hitler living in Berlin?
But all this is beside the point, really, because for me, Berlin was not any more about the Wall than Germany has been about Nazi’s and World War II. That might have been all I knew before I got here, but the reality has been, to my great pleasure, far different. This goes for both Germany and Berlin. I mean, both have been through some rough times in the past century. They kept getting cast as the Evil Empire, and the Rebellion just kept crushing them. To have to deal with that sort of history is not the greatest of heritages. The sad thing, of course, is that once all the nasty stuff is set aside, both have a lot to be proud of. The beauty of the German countryside is something that I am surprised I have never heard more of. There is something rural, quaint, and charming about it that I delight in whenever I have a chance to take a walk. The food is amazing. I am loving the chance to try, not only things that are specifically German, but even the specific regional foods. I am so excited whenever Andrea serves me something and tells me it is a traditional dish from Swabia, or Bavaria. When Markus passes me a beer, it often has a specific regional attachment, to Stuttgart or Berlin, for instance. Wurst are the same way. I cannot yet identify, but I am beginning to learn about, some of the more distinctive German dialects, and I find that the language is not nearly as harsh as Americans stereotype it to be. Modern German architecture and fashion are not anything I particularly care for, but the old buildings are wonderful. And in spite of some of my European travels, Tübingen is still one of my favorite places in the world.
As for Berlin, there are so many positive things I could say about it, I hardly know where to start. Thanks to Markus and Andrea’s generosity, I had over two full days to explore the city all on my own, in addition to some of the places I went to with them. Some of the points of sight-seeing interest were the the Berliner Dom, the Brandenburger Tor, the Reichstag, the Holocaust Memorial, and the Sony Center. I went with the Naruhns to the top of the Siegessäule, in the middle of the Tiergarten, and had a pretty good look at some of the surrounding landscape on one of my first days. For my own personal tours, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche served as the hub for all my travels. Three days in a row began and ended at its steps. I took my last day to walk down the length of Unter den Linden, one of Berlin’s most famous streets, all the way to the Fernsehturm, which I rode to the top, and had a further look at the city. From that vantage, I could pinpoint most of Berlin’s landmarks, including the ones I never got any closer to. I walked through some of Berlin’s shopping districts, including a visit to the famous KaDeWe department store. Berlin surprised me by how alive it was, how much culture it had, and how pleasant it was to explore.
It is true that the scars of war are ever present. Cranes are everywhere. And, of course, the shadow of the wall still falls over parts of the city. There is still a stark contrast between East Germany and West Berlin. Crossing the old border for the first time was a chilling experience, just to see the sudden shift from the old, decrepit, graffitied buildings of the East to the newer, well-kept buildings of the West. The road we drove along to reach the house of Markus’s parents (where we were staying) hugged the edge of the old border. Markus pointed out a cleared strip, just visible through the trees, running parallel to the road which used to be a death strip maintained by the GDR government to keep East Germans out of West Berlin. But some parts of the city have grown remarkably since the Wall fell. Potsdamer Platz, which used to be a no-man’s land, cleared and desolate, with the Wall running through the very center, is now the home of the Sony Center, an Imax theater, and a museum of film history.
What I came to learn was that Berlin was a growing city, alive, and full of action. I wanted to remember it that way. I never got to see Checkpoint Charlie. I did not even take a piece of the Wall back with me. World War II and the division of Berlin afterward will always be a part of the city’s history, and the Berliners make no attempt to hide it. But there is more to the city than that. Berlin is a beautiful city, an exciting city. Probably one of my favorite cities. That is what I want to remember.
Those of you who have heard me say a few words about my trip will probably have noted a large gap in the above post. I have intentionally omitted an item of great importance, because I felt it required more in-depth exploration, and to do it justice here would make this entry far too long. But fear not, loyal readers, the best is yet to come. Next up: curry wurst.