17 August 2011

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

Four days in Berlin.  It wasn't nearly enough.  I've been to many of the world's great cities, but none to this day have made me reflect more than Berlin.  We went expecting to see family and explore this modern, bustling metropolis.  Plus, if you regularly follow my musings, you correctly assumed that I was pretty darn excited about the beer.  We casually picked this past weekend due to its juxtaposition with a French national holiday (15 August).  What we didn't realize was that this weekend was also the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Berlin Wall.

Save Me from this Deadly Love

The city went about its business, taking only a moment at noon on 13 August to remember the Wall's imposition that sliced the city in two.  Even though the Wall came down 20 years ago, and Berlin has seemingly fused into a common city to the untrained eye, you can still feel the pain, the regret, and the impact.  You can also see how it is being incorporated more and more into a huge marketing scheme to attract tourists...but that's a different story.

I first gained knowledge of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall when my dad briefly told me about his school trip to Eastern Europe back in the 70s.  He told me about how his hotel rooms were bugged and that the Communist bloc was terribly poor.  We never really learned about this era in my schools' history classes.  I knew about the bomb shelter in my elementary school, and my parents had mentioned how they did bomb drills, especially during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  But as a kid growing up in suburban, middle-class America, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual collapse of the Soviet regime, didn't mean that much to me.

Yet, we all grow up and the world around us becomes less enshrouded in naïveté.  Whether it is through courses or travels, we gradually realize what the two great powers of the Cold War did to further strengthen their positions as they jockeyed to become the sole hegemon in some crazy armed chess game.  This blog doesn't seek to blame one party more than the other.  As I walked the length of a remaining section of wall, and looked at the pictures of the 136 known victims who tried to cross the wall to what they thought was a better life, I couldn't help but think and feel so many different thoughts and emotions.  Adults my age were born divided.  Some had families that they wouldn't meet straight away because they were separated by 9 feet of concrete rising high above them.  Some had comfort while others had destitution.  Both were shocked the day the Wall was breached and had to learn to immediately live with a changed reality.

Peeking West through the Wall
I could sit here and wax nostalgic about all of my sentiments regarding Berlin.  It was a very pensive weekend.  However, aside from the historical significance of my travel dates, Berlin is really quite the fun spot.  It is really alive with art, architecture, and culture.  Everywhere I looked seemed to have some artistic meaning.  It is buzzing with energy, but it doesn't seem stressed.  Bikes are everywhere and the city is simple to navigate.  You can have a relaxed evening at a Biergarten or you can go crazy at a night club.  It is a city full of choices, and that's probably because just over 20 years ago, part of it had none.

If I had to pick my favorite thing from this weekend, it would have been visiting the East Berlin Wall Gallery.  Artists were given a chunk of the wall to paint, and there's such a variety of interpretation.  Some are blatent calls for peace while others remember those who fought.  There are satirical interpretations of the Cold War, while others offer a more child-like view of the period.  Located along the river, it is a rather quiet place where you can observe grafitti artists painting new images or where you can have a beer at a Biergarten at the end of the Wall.  So much of where the Wall used to stand has been turned into leisure areas for Berlin's residents to enjoy:  beach volleyball courts, parks, obstacle course sites, Biergartens, etc.  It is a reminder of the past while tastefully serving to show Berliners just how far they have come in two decades.

Berlin by night
You can see more photos of Berlin on my Flickr page.

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