A city much different from how I imagined it. It’s made of towers of new and old. Or new and restored. Seeing pictures after the Second World War of the city of Berlin show it a mass of crumbling structures due to the allied bombing, and the Nazi regime. I didn’t know what I’d feel coming to the centre of the past where there is a big black dot. But it was a place of history and remembrance, restoration and renewal.
We stay in ‘city hostel’ in the heart of Mitte. We dump our stuff and run because we’ve heard Berlin has much to offer and we are short on time. We begin with Checkpoint Charlie. Operational during the East and West Berlin Wall divide. There are walls of history to read, as the divide was only pulled down in 1989. We have currywurst, a heavy sausage that is a Berliner favoutite. We then walk to the Brandenburg Gate built in 1800 and next to that the Reichstag. Centre of politics and power. It’s a giant of a building when it’s before you. The place is steaming with tourists.
Salmon and crackers in the park for dinner and onto the Jewish museum. It sounds as if it needed to be ticked off a list, but it isn’t like that. The museum is a walk through history of Judaism in Germany throughout the centuries. It is a thoughtful creation; a maze of lost stories. One moment stood out from the rest when we were shut inside the concrete room called the ‘void’ representing the missing Jews of the holocaust. It’s a hollow room, you can hear the breaths of those shut inside with you and the traffic from outside and you get as close as you’ll ever get to feeling like you’re in a cell. It’s a hole where a whole peoples should be.
A night at the hostel. With a room for six and an ensuite that smells like mould. We have a roomie who had not a care in the world as he rose each morning in his stretched t-shirt and jocks. Breakfast was a treat though with fresh rolls, meats, cheeses, eggs, fruit, cereal, yoghurt, and hot drinks. This entire experience (the good and bad) for 16.50!
In the quietness of the morning we go to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial. It’s just down the street from the old centre of Nazi headquarters. The monument to the lost is a sea of concrete blocks rising and falling in waves. As you walk through them they cast shadows over you. And some only come up to your knees. Below ground there is a history of the 6 million Jews lost. It’s too much to take in, but what I do is enough.
We walk the city now. Legs are a-throbbing. But it’s ok. It’s better to walk and see the real city than catch the U-Bahn and see just the city. In Berlin the streets are clean, the people some of the friendliest on earth, and the words are impossible to translate. We see Potsdamer Platz (new Berlin) and walk the Spree river to the Berliner Dom a giant cathedral (old Berlin) that has a green dome roof. It’s beautiful and imposing against the river. A river-side ice-cream then into the East we go. To the Berlin wall and East Side Gallery. It’s still a strip of concrete but now has murals of peace and reconciliation and of past and future.
Then we finish our stay with music. First for dinner, as we sit in a square and a man in a fisherman’s cap sings with his guitar. And then on our walk home. There in the cobblestoned Bebelplatz where the Nazis burned a mountain of books, a lone violinist plays. He’s in the street light and he plays ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ with such passion. It’s just him, in the cool night air and dark sky and it makes my eyes pool just a little. It’s the most beautiful scene I’ve seen for a while.