The blog is not finished! But after the Theft (yes, capital letters), the want/need to update the blog took second fiddle to dealing with the Theft and just finishing the trip sans computer. Since being home, it's been hard to get that motivation to complete it. But I will. Ever so slowly. Please be patient!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Week in Berlin

Days 255-262, August 9-16, 2011

Ok, let’s just admit that my previous attempt at a post about Berlin sucked. Like, really sucked. Hence why I’m redoing it.

With Pride in Amsterdam officially behind us, Jaime and I hopped aboard a train out to Germany. His destination: Hamburg. My destination: Berlin. An accident somewhere ahead of us on the track forced a major delay and had us saying our goodbye much earlier than expected. It was like tearing off a bandaid. It didn’t really have the whole sadness to it as I thought because it happened so fast(literally a “Jaime! You need to catch this train beside us that’s leaving in ten minutes!” moment). And with that, I was alone once again.

For another four hours at least. Waiting for me at the Berlin HBF train station were Jordi and Esteban, my boys from Barcelona, and who I would be staying with for my time in the German capital.

I ended up spending an entire week in Berlin. It is a city that is so full of life. Being the IMG_1481epicentre of one of the greatest horrors ever wrought upon humankind by other people, it has seemed to embrace all manner of eccentricities and diversity in the few decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And it doesn’t try to hide its past either. Berlin has gone to great lengths, it seems, to make sure that all the horrors are never forgotten. There is a fine line between glorifying it and keeping it in our memories, but they manage it somehow.

Because I had spent a week there, it’s really hard to really connect everything in a coherent fashion and make a logical timeline in the blog. So, rather, I’m splitting this post up into a few different sections: Touching the Past, The New Berlin, and My Barcelona Boys.

Touching the Past
IMG_1127By complete accident, I happened to be in Berlin on the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. Berlin, for decades, had been a city that was defined by this division. It was the centre of the Nazi Regime before that as well. These signs are everywhere in the city.

Only a few sections of the Berlin Wall are still standing today. A small section near Checkpoint Charlie stands above an open-air museum depicting the rise and fall of the Nazi empire. This section is plain, with no graffiti. I’m not sure of the reasons, but it gives it a coldness that sent shivers up and down my spine as I pictured the wall running in completion. If you were to look at the street, you would actually see a double row of bricks in the pavement, showing the original path of the wall. It’s a sobering visual to see and to try and imagine what it would have been like.

IMG_1393The other section of the wall that is visited the most is the so-called “East Side Gallery.” This section, on the other side of the river, is famous for the artist paintings that have been plastered onto the cement towers. The entire length of this section is covered in scenes depicting peace and love. In a way, it tears down that last ounce of power the Wall may have had by turning it into a beacon for peace.

IMG_1171Beyond the wall, though, there are plenty of other reminders to the past here. Monuments have been erected in numerous places commemorating the different people affected by the horrors wrought by the Nazi’s. The one I purposefully sought out was the rather simple monument for the homosexuals who were interred and killed in concentration camps. And when I say simple, I mean that. It is a large concrete cube with a single window to look inside where a film is played on a loop of two men kissing.

IMG_1172By far though, the biggest memorial, and with good reason, is the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This monument, almost a full city block filled with black concrete blocks of varying height, sees probably the most tourists. In a ironic twist, the bunker where Hitler and his wife committed suicide is less than a block away from here. Walking through the blocks is moving, but none so moving as visiting the Visitor’s Centre that is house just below it. This was a very powerful setup, using photos and a good audio guide to guide you through it.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching part of the entire place was the room that housed letters and IMG_1259postcards from people who were captured and sent to the work camps. The letters were housed in lighted sections on the floor. A couple still stand out in my head: the letter of a young girl to her dad saying goodbye just before her mom and her are taken to a firing squad; a postcard from a woman to her cousin that was thrown from one of the trains and mailed by a farmer who later found it in his field.

Heavy stuff.

The New Berlin
Berlin has changed a lot though, even in the few short decades since the wall fell. I say this extremely generally, but the alternative scene is quite alive and well within Berlin. I can’t count how many different counter-culture groups I saw in the city during my numerous walks and bike rides. Punks, Goths, anarchists, hipsters, hippies, preps, etc. All were around.

IMG_1095On one of my very first walks, I ended up in Alexandreplatz where a huge street fair was happening with beer tents, food venders, clothing kiosks, and entertainers. And in the center of it all, free games for people to play. The coolest thing about these games, they were all made from recycled materials. Many involved teamwork, some were logic problems, and all were strangely addictive. There were kids, grandparents, people on dates, and others all wandering around with huge smiles on their faces.

IMG_1329On the Sunday that I was in town, I ended up meeting Adam from Travels of Adam. I had been following his blog since before I left on my own little trip and when I found out that he was now living in Berlin, I made it a goal to meet up with him. He ended up taking me to this wonderful flea market not too far from the apartment I was staying in. Among the stalls selling second-hand stores, records(including Fleetwood Mac!!!), and homemade notebooks, there was also a massive karaoke show being put on. Apparently this is a weekly thing that happens. I would guess that almost a thousand people were sitting on the side of the hill facing the tiny stage where the [un]lucky audience member would stand and sing their little heart out. Best part though: everyone was incredibly supportive of everyone else. It was awesome to see.

Adam and I, and two other people he knew, also checked out a Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was an interesting day, and a great way to see a different side of Berlin.

My Barcelona Boys
IMG_1215Oh, Jordi and Esteban. Those two are some of the sweetest guys I know. I had met them back in April when I was in Barcelona and they were nice enough to let me crash on their couch there. Lucky for me, they were in Berlin for a month on vacation and let me crash on their couch here.

I really cannot say enough good things about these two! And it was so cool to see Lola, their chocolate lab, again.

IMG_1239Esteban also had a friend show up from back in Barcelona so it became a nice little foursome when we went out for dinner or drinks. One day, Jordi, Esteban, and I drove off to a small lake in the North-Eastern part of the town to let Lola swim and get some exercise. The four of us also ended up renting bikes together to explore the city.

Each night was spent making dinner together and listening to country music(Esteban loves the Dixie Chicks and Garth Brooks). We even took ourselves out to the bar beside the apartment the night that an Elvis impersonator was performing. That was tres cool. He wasn’t that great, mind you. And, once again, I was with them during a big game between FC IMG_1344Barcelona and Real Madrid. We took ourselves out to an Irish pup, ordered a round of beer and watched the game(which ended in a 2-2 tie).

Saying goodbye to them this time around was much harder as now it was a for sure thing that I would not be seeing them again for a very long time. I am not too proud to admit that I cried a bit on the tram to the train station.

1 comment:

  1. It was great to finally meet you too! Excellent write-up about Berlin and some of the most interesting monuments here. You did A LOT in just a week!