Europe

Berlin: An Emotionally Complex City


Monday, July 19th, 2004: Berlin, Germany

Our apartment is comfy and cosy; small enough for us to be in each others’ way and big enough for it not to matter. I sleep in, as usual, and John makes his way to the corner to buy some breakfast staples for the next 5 days or so that we are in Berlin. We have coffee and orange juice, some cereal and rye toast and head out in warm, sunny weather to navigate the U-bahn to discover Berlin.

A Complex City

Berlin, with its deeply tainted historical record, is a complex city. It is this history, some very emotional, that immediately confronts the visitor. You must leave all your preconceptions of the city, the country and its people behind you before you take it all in. The entire rebuilding of a metropolis can be experienced here. There is old with new but the new outpaces the old. From a city bombed into rubble by the Allies to one completely divided by a wall, Berlin has many layers and neighbourhoods to experience. It is all at once a vibrant, European capitol with cafés, theatres, banks and museums and also a testament to history, showing its sometimes humbled face as you turn a quiet corner. Our first stop is the famous Potsdamer Platz and its completely rebuilt landscape. Potsdamer Platz was once one of the busiest squares in Europe and then after WW II, a no-man’s land in the shadow of the Wall. Much of Potsdamer sat in the Wall’s “death strip” but it is now home to Sony and DaimlerChrysler, and their huge entertainment and restaurant complexes. It is a completely modern tall glass tower complex with a tented canopy. The new “Cathedral”.

A Sad Memorial Being Built

We have some lunch here and wander down to the Pariser Platz and the home of the Brandenburger Tor and the Reichstag. We pass the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, an ambitious memorial under construction that will be a moving and emotional commemorative sight when it is finished. We reach the Brandenburger Tor and see the top of the Reichstag ahead. On one side of the gate is the Unter den Linden, Berlin’s most famous and celebrated boulevard and on the other is the 17 Juni Strasse that cuts through the Tiergarten, the main park in Berlin. We wander, with all the other tourists and decide to buy a city guide to Berlin, our Lonely Planet guide of Europe not covering the city as extensively as we would like.

A 60th Anniversary

This area reveals nothing of its original splendour; sleek modern buildings now line the boulevard. It is a somewhat unsettling viewpoint: so much history and now nothing to show for it. I’m not sure how I feel about a city that holds such a cruel and horrific history now all clean and shiny but I am trying to leave my preconceptions behind. There is unique and creative evidence of atonement in many places. The Jews are touchingly remembered in many places but there is little evidence of the Wall left. Some parts of East Berlin still remain as dreary and grey as they were before the wall came down. Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Hitler by one of the resistance groups. There is a major commemorative planned with heads of European governments participating. It is big news here.

We walk over to the Reichstag and around by the river, past the brand new parliament buildings and around to the front. The line-up is long to get into the Norman Foster remodelled glass dome of the Reichstag. We understand that it is a must see but not today.

It is 4:30 and we sit on the front lawn for a bit before taking the U-bahn and heading back to the flat for a nap and then out to our Schöneberg neighbourhood and one of the many restaurants it has to offer.

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