Ber­lin, ach du Ber­lin

From Nazi vic­tim memo­ri­als to rem­nants of the Ber­lin wall, the city Brings his­tory alive in a way that Noth­ing else can

WKND - - Travel Germany - By christina voskou

he Ger­man cap­i­tal has been on my bucket list for a long time and, last sum­mer, I fi­nally made it there. Like most big cities, I had heard con­flict­ing views about Ber­lin from peo­ple who ei­ther loved it or hated it, and so I didn’t know what to ex­pect. As al­ways, I’d done my re­search, mak­ing a plan for my time there — but noth­ing pre­pared me for how his­tory comes alive in this unique city’s streets.

The ti­tle of my story best sur­mises my feel­ings for this won­der­fully di­verse city: Ger­man for ‘ Ber­lin, Oh Ber­lin’, this is a line from a Greek song — yes, a Greek song! — called ‘ Bleib Treu Café’. Writ­ten by twin brothers, the song is an ode to a city they’d both lived in at dif­fer­ent times. It was a reg­u­lar on my playlist as a teen and their po­etic de­scrip­tion of the city al­ways made me cu­ri­ous.

HIS­TORY comes

alive: 1 The Ber­lin cathe­dral on the Spree River 2 The city’s past in the form of

graf­fiti 3 a multi- coloured build­ing near Kreuzberg 4 check­point char­lie can un­der­whelm, thanks to fast food chains around 5 Gunter Dem­nig’s ‘ stum­bling blocks’ 6 Bran­den­burg

Gate 7 The fa­mous am­pel

mann fig­ure

It is not cer­tain where the name of the city comes from, but there is a re­ported link be­tween Ber­lin and the Ger­man word for bear: Bär, the an­i­mal found on the city’s coat of arms.

But the bear is not as fa­mous as the Am­pel­mann, the walk­ing and stand­ing fig­ure that can be found on the city’s pedes­trian cross­ing lights. Now syn­ony­mous with the city, the Am­pel­mann was cre­ated in East Ger­many by a traf­fic psy­chol­o­gist who wanted sig­nals to be dis­tinct for the colour­blind as well as the elderly. Now, they can be found in parts of East and West Ber­lin, and sou­venirs in­spired by the char­ac­ter are very pop­u­lar with tourists.

The city of 12 bor­oughs has been moulded into what it is today by a his­tory that has de­fined its unique char­ac­ter and ar­chi­tec­ture. The voices of war can still be heard in the build­ings and in the art­work seen across the city. Bul­let holes, check­points, stag­ger­ing land­marks, and traces of a seem­ingly in­vin­ci­ble wall are all wit­ness to what once took place here. The dark past is still vis­i­ble in the cor­ners of Ber­lin, but it has lost its dam­ag­ing ef­fect to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

Nowa­days, a lively and vi­brant wave has car­ried the city for­ward, be­yond all the death and tears. It is now home to some of the most fas­ci­nat­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, mu­se­ums, restau­rants, cafés and art you could wish to see gath­ered in one place.

But, make no mis­take: this isn’t a city that chooses to for­get. In­stead, the mem­o­ries of some of its darker chap­ters are kept alive as a re­minder — of­ten artis­tic — of past mis­takes. This is why Ber­lin is home to a num­ber of memo­ri­als com­mem­o­rat­ing the vic­tims of the Nazis.

One of the sub­tler memo­ri­als was cre­ated by Gunter Dem­nig, a Ger­man artist. He cre­ated per­sonal mon­u­ments that you can, quite lit­er­ally, stum­ble upon in var­i­ous parts of Ber­lin. In fact, cur­rently, 48,000 ‘ stolper­stein’ ( stum­bling block) as they are known, have been laid in 18 coun­tries all over Europe. They are cob­ble­stone- sized plaques, with in­scrip­tions of de­tails for in­di­vid­ual vic­tims of Nazi op­pres­sion, placed at the en­trances of the build­ings the vic­tims once lived in.

The rem­nants of the Ber­lin Wall can be found through­out the city, ei­ther at sites that mark its ac­tual lo­ca­tion, in small pieces sold as sou­venirs for tourists to take home, or at the East Side Gallery lo­cated on Müh­len­straße. It is pos­si­bly the big­gest and long­est ( 1.3 km long) open air gallery in the world, with a col­lec­tion of 105 paint­ings of artists from dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties — all painted in 1990 — on the east side of the Wall. It is an in­ter­na­tional me­mo­rial pro­mot­ing peace through artis­tic ex­pres­sion.

Check­point Char­lie, the bet­ter known of the Ber­lin Wall cross­ings — im­mor­talised by le Carré in The Spy Who Came in from The Cold — has be­come a symbol of the Cold War and the divi­sion. A must- see on a Ber­lin visit, but ex­pect to be un­der­whelmed when you spot fa­mous fast food chains in the back­drop, some­how di­min­ish­ing the im­por­tance of this mon­u­ment.

The Re­ich­stag, the build­ing that cur­rently hosts the Ger­man Par­lia­ment, along with the im­pos­ing Bran­den­burg Gate, are pos­si­bly the most recog­nis­able land­marks you will find here. The fa­mous Pots­damer Platz, named af­ter the city of Pots­dam is also lo­cated in the area.

Nearby, you will find Mu­seum Is­land that was built from 1830 to 1930. The Is­land con­sists of five mu­se­ums — the Altes Mu­seum, Neues Mu­seum, Alte Na­tion­al­ga­lerie, Bode mu­seum, and Perg­a­mon mu­seum — and is a UNESCO world her­itage site. Here, you can also take in the im­pos­ing Ber­lin Cathe­dral, which lies on the banks of the Spree river. Molecule Man, a beau­ti­ful 100- foot sculp­ture that should not be missed, also lies on Spree river.

In the vicin­ity, the DDR mu­seum, an in­ter­ac­tive show­case of ev­ery­day life in East Ger­many, is al­ways crowded with visi­tors look­ing through its col­lec­tion of ob­jects and images from that era.

Some­where be­tween Mu­seum Is­land and the Bran­den­burg Gate lies Be­belplatz, named af­ter Au­gust Bebel, a Ger­man politi­cian and writer. It is home to sev­eral his­toric build­ings, among which are the State Opera and Hum­boldt Univer­sity, one of the old­est uni­ver­si­ties in Ber­lin. But it was also uniquely touched by the dark­ness of Nazism. It was in this square that, on May 10, 1933, the Nazis de­stroyed over 20,000 books that were seen as a threat to the ide­ol­ogy of the ‘ Third Reich’. Now, a sub­ter­ranean in­stal­la­tion by artist Micha Ull­man marks the event: its empty book­shelves, vis­i­ble through a glass pane em­bed­ded in the pave­ment, com­mem­o­rat­ing a mind­less act of in­tel­lec­tual atroc­ity.

As in any big city, Ber­lin’s peo­ple rush around; yet, their haste has a re­laxed calm­ness that I have not ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. This is per­haps a re­sult of the con­fi­dence that I saw in most Ber­lin­ers, in the way they carry them­selves, in the unique ways many of them dressed and the dis­tinct lack of pre­ten­tious­ness that seems a sta­ple in any city of its size and pro­file. There is some­thing in the air in Ber­lin that I felt in­fused with while vis­it­ing, some­thing that has made me feel self­as­sured. It was some­thing I don’t feel very of­ten on my trav­els nor one I can ex­plain.

Like most big cities, it is home to many peo­ple — 3.5 mil­lion, to be ex­act. The streets are bustling with cit­i­zens from all places, lan­guages of all sounds and mu­sic of all kinds. Though a di­vided city once, there is a dis­tinct sense of unity and com­mu­nity now.

But the peo­ple are not the only part of its dis­tinc­tive­ness. The land­scape of the city is so di­verse, with a third com­posed of forests, parks, gar­dens, rivers and lakes. Tier­garten, the city’s ur­ban pub­lic park, is worth a stopover and per­haps a pic­nic. There is some­thing for ev­ery­one’s taste here, and, as clichéd as it may sound, it’s hard not to want to pull a JFK and shout: “Ich bin ein Ber­liner”!

THE WALL THAT WAS: ( clock­wise from above) The story of the wall dis­played on build­ings; steel poles mark the course of the wall; a his­toric photo shows peo­ple try­ing to greet loved ones be­yond the wall

SPOTTED: The Re­ich­stag, home to the Ger­man Par­lia­ment, is one of the most recog­nis­able land­marks here

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.