I never knew what to think of Berlin. Something kept me from going. Was it because I had a negative image due to movies I have seen about the war, pictures of the Reichstag fire during history lessons in the past or just the old DDR imago? I really do not know.
On the other hand my friends and family were very positive. The stories they told me convinced me in the end. And I have to tell you… I am very glad they did. As soon as I walked on the streets of Berlin I saw what others saw before me.
It was probably a case of unknown makes unloved. Berlin, you are a wonderful city. I find you tough and robust. Is this the reason why you have a bear in you town logo? I have not realized how much I love this image. I think I had it in me for a very long time. For example, I love old furniture, vinyl and other vintage products. Objects that tell a story. The same counts for Berlin. The city has a certain rawness about it which I think is because of her turbulent history.
Our first meeting with your history came suddenly in our train ride over. We started talking to a retired man from Hannover. He used to live in the DDR and he talked passionate about the cold war and its impact on everyday live. When we crossed the former border between the DDR (former East Germany) and the BRD (former West Germany) the man mentioned that all people needed to disembark the train. Everybody needed to undergo a strict control before you could enter the DDR. In the meanwhile we passed this border with 120 kilometers an hour. Unimaginable in these times of open borders.
When you walk over the streets in Berlin it is almost impossible to not come in contact with its past. It is part of its identity. So we faced it head on and saw Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Reichstag. It is impossible to not do this on your first visit to the city.
A must see piece of history is of course the Berlin Wall which you can see on a couple of places in town. The most authentic piece is situated on the Niederkirchnerstraße. You can also find the Topography of Terrors at the same site. This is a modern museum which was built on the site where the former Gestapo headquarters stood. The museum shows the horrors of the Nazi’s. Another long piece of Wall is called the East Side Gallery. Graffiti artists painted 1.3 Kilometers of wall into an open air art piece with important messages for the viewers. I am glad it is still there because in 2013 the city council decided to break down this site. Luckily the city stood up against it meaning we could still see it with our own eyes 2 years later.
We were most impressed by the Jewish Museum. Especially the first two floors. Here you find no distractions due to the minimalistic decorations. I need to mention two rooms in particular. In the basement there are three axis. One of these axis leads to a dead end and here you find the Holocaust Tower. Make sure you stand in it for at least 5 minutes. It is pitch black with only a thin line of light coming in at the top (symbol of freedom). You can hear all sounds from outside. This is how it must feel like when you are incarcerated. It makes you feel small and humble. The second room is called the Memory Void. It is a small and high room and the floor is covered with 10.000 metal heads. It is impossible to walk over it and make no sounds. The sounds symbolizes the cries of the fallen. The artwork is called ‘Fallen Leaves’ or ‘Shalekhet’ (the artist name is Menashe Kadishman) and is dedicated to all the innocent victims of war and violence.
Berlin has something raw about it. Maybe it is because of its inhabitants who walk on the streets holding beers. Or maybe because of the ‘fact that peoples colour their hair in all colors of the rainbow. And what do you think about the shop assistant at the KaDeWe with arms covered with tattoos. It all adds to your phlegmatic image. Your inhabitants do not care about what other people think of them. An attitude I interpret as ‘life by the moment’. And this is something we all should do more.
Berlin, you are rough and very tough and in all unique. Unique because of your history, unique because of your inhabitants and unique in your creativity. You caught me and I solemnly promise… I will come back. Maybe not next year but in the future. I want to get to know you better. This trip we did not find the time to explore your neighborhoods, your inhabitants and you surrounding cities. We will make sure we will do this next time.