The City of Walls
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Blog Post No.6 (21/09/2019) - Der Stadt der Mauern
My first memories of Berlin were in black and white and bound in a three ring binder. From time to time, my mother used to talk about her time in the US air force. 1989 was coming to a close on Berlin and only uncertain tremors hinted at the coming fall of Communism. Berlin had been divided by concrete and steel wire for a generation. East Berlin was a grey, mirthless concrete maze that could not have been in more contrast to the defiant vibrancy of West Berlin. Where there were markets in the west, there were empty shelves in the east.
On the East German side of the wall it is still dark and cool morning.
The sun hangs low behind some apartments on the West Berlin side, barely visible from the other side of the street. My hotel is in the Soviet zone and the walls here are barren but for exposed rebar. I know the other side is heavily graffiti-ed in defiance of the Soviet Union. I move through a gap in the wall and the illusion is broken.
There are still small sections of the Berlin wall that have been left as memorials and tourist attractions. On the other side in what used to be a kill zone, Chinese tourists are vying for photos here at the Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer.
10:00 am- Having passed through the museum I try a different route back to my hotel. At the time I was not even sure which side of the city was which.
10:45 - I take a wrong turn on Torstraße and pass under the towering Fernsehturm (literally the ‘farseeing tower’) and come into Alexanderplatz. This was once the center of East Germany but is unrecognizable but for the Fernsehturm. The churches have been restored and the quincentennial reformation monument commemorates Martin Luther. The Soviets would not have liked that.
12:30 pm- Now that I am comfortably lost from the route I have planned I tour around the square and visit the various monuments and the Rathaus. The city has changed so much.
1:00 - I have ended up in Nikolaiviertel, the 800 year old city center of Berlin. There is a beautiful brick gothic Cathedral with two towers. I enter as far as I can without having to pay.
1:30 - The rebuilt stretch of parks, monuments, cathedrals and museums along the Spree lives up to the somewhat ironic nickname the city held during the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm III - Spreeathen (Athens on the Spree). The Marx and Engels monument looks opposite the Berliner Dom and the Museum Island.
2:45 - Having had the pleasure of watching a wedding procession come out of the Berliner Dom, I tour the Altes Museum. It is full of relics and statues dating as early as Homeric Greece and as late as the Tetrarchy. The wonders that this museum contains merit their own article, which I may publish formally sometime soon. Surely my inner Greece-loving child was overjoyed to be so close to such wonders.
4:30 - I emerge from the museum and make my way along the Spree.
5:45 - I enjoy some fine Italian dinner near the new Rathaus bridge and watch the boats go by.
6:45 - The old Reichstag was a little more than a well-preserved ruin when my mother visited here. Now it is the center of German parliamentary democracy. The entire area is beautiful… and unrecognizable.
7:30 - At last I come to the famous Potsdamer platz. In place of the unsmiling East German soldiers there are now tourists and techno-fans blasting music. It appears there is some sort of festival on the other side…
7:40 - I pass through Brandenburg gate into what used to be West Berlin. There is indeed a giant techno festival raving all the way to the Siegessaule 1 mile away. This milling mass of dancing people and mobile club-trucks is sponsored by a group dedicated to world peace. Techno-raves for world peace? I can’t think of anything more contemporarily German.
9:30 - Having enjoyed myself at the festival and walked the entire Spreebogen Parkplatz I return to my hotel room. It would have been the end of my day had the two Quebecois (shoutout to Camille and Patrick!) I shared a room with not being going out at that very moment!
11:00 - I did not refuse the social opportunity and lead them back to the festival. It had unfortunately closed down soon after I left and there was nothing but garbage and silent stages left.
12:30 - We walk a good three miles to a famous club on the other side of old West Berlin… I forget the name. In the meantime we have a capital discussion about British, European and Canadian history and various French accents.
1:00 - By the time we finally get there it is quite late and there is a line stretching around the block barring our way in. I suggest we try the pizza place next door (Camille had been looking for pizza since we left the hotel).
2:00 - Due to my passable mapless navigation skills, we get back to our hotel. It has been a long day, 40,000 steps, 14 miles and countless memories and photographs. A blog post does not do you justice, Berlin.