20th Jun 2012 - 21st Jun 2012
DAYS 53 AND 54: JUNE 20 AND 21, 2012
The A2 motorway from Dusseldorf to Berlin is in stiff competition with London’s M25 and Muswell Hill Broadway on a Saturday morning for the least attractive piece of navigable tarmac in Europe. Not helped by its length (some 600 kilometres), its picturesque caravan convoys, and driving rain as an optional accessory available to the Dinhams this June at no extra cost. But were we downhearted? I should say not. We slipped and skidded into Berlin Central at around 4pm yesterday and by half past were once again reacquainting ourselves with the turquoise guppies of the Motel One aquarium screen saver. I have to report that they have made little progress since we bade them farewell in Munich: still skittish, still trying to escape from the left hand side of the tank.
We are fortunate to have Nathaniel and Amy as our guides here in Berlin. This is Amy’s second visit and Nathaniel’s third. So they have been able to narrow down the phenomenal number of things to do and see to a manageable size; and to help us navigate the multiform transport system. Today we checked out the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, The East Side Gallery and the Stasi Headquarters Museum.
This was quite a lot to take in and we are still trying to assimilate it all. So many things struck us. How in a little over 20 years a once obsessively divided city and country has been brought together almost seamlessly (or that’s how it seems). How for decades two completely different ways of life existed side by side with literally a wall between them. How similar the ideological justifications written up in the Stasi museum for maintaining the socialist state were to the justifications a few years earlier for maintaining the national socialist state, as written up in The Documentation Centre in Berchtesgaden.
And the visual images are stunning: the 1.3 kilometres of the Wall turned into the East Side Gallery along the Spree River, a continuous tapestry of evocative and vibrant wall paintings produced by artists from all over the world in 1990; the exhibition of life size photos at Checkpoint Charlie depicting the historic moments of the Cold War, from Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill at Potsdam, through Kennedy and Khrushchev during the Cuba crisis, to Gorbachev and Honecker at the endgame in 1989; the maze of hundreds of tightly packed concrete columns rising from the ground in moving tribute to the Holocaust victims at Mitte; and the Fernsehturm TV tower soaring into the clouds at Alexanderplatz. The tower became a continuing source of embarrassment to its GDR architects as in sunlight its steel sphere produced the reflection of a giant cross. The Lonely Planet reports that West Berliners gleefully dubbed the phenomenon ‘the Pope’s revenge’.
Apart from all these sights, it’s been fun just wandering the streets, past the currywurst stalls, the impromptu live music performances, a lady in a business suit smoking a briar pipe, Superman and the Predator handing out flyers for tonight’s cabarets, and all the rest. This is not a city that’s standing still. We’ll be back for more tomorrow.
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