Berlin. It’s not the first time I’ve been and it certainly won’t be the last. A city filled with so much history, so much pain and loss. It’s just too much to take in over a few days. I’ve been told that many Germans don’t like Berlin. They say it’s dirty and lacks beauty. But I think it depends how you define beauty. If we’re talking natural charm or beautiful, grand architecture then yes…I would agree. Berlin doesn’t have that. Instead it’s riddled with street art reflecting themes of division , politics and reconciliation. Around every corner there’s a story to tell. A piece of history. And this is why I love Berlin.
Although I had completed the walking tour just one year ago I was excited to hear the history a second time. Having been the centre point for not only World War 2 but also the Cold War, there is so much to learn and take in. On my first visit I was overwhelmed by the information overload, but this time I was able to take in the stories and really appreciate the history.
Having little knowledge on the Cold War the three of us decided to take a Red Berlin tour, which outlined the Communist history. We were shown cross sections of what was left of the wall and told devastating stories of those who’s lives were taken as they desperately tried to cross the barrier. It was shocking to hear how fast the division happened. Imagine waking up only to find that you’d been separated from your family or your lover, simply because they were in the West while you resided in the East. To think that your freedom had been taken away from you overnight. To have no choice in your political leadership. And to not know when any of this would end. I began to realise why people became so desperate. Why people would literally throw their children out of their apartments into the arms of those below in an attempt to be reunited with their loved ones. I simply couldn’t imagine a life like this. And to think that this all happened not too long ago.
Just when you think Berlin can’t get anymore fascinating you then have the abandoned sites to explore. As opposed to most countries where there is a constant push for demolition and redevelopment, Berlin leaves sites untouched. Abandoned. Fences are wrapped around a building, park or city with signs slapped on them to keep trespassers out. These places are left to suffer with vandalism and weather-induced decay. Vandalists break in to decorate the walls with street art. And yet amongst all the suffering you can again find a certain beauty.
As you sneak your way through weak points in the fence (sorry Grandparents) you feel immediately transported back in time. It’s difficult to look past the vandalism but I start to imagine myself standing in what would have once been a children’s hospital some 20 years ago. We gaze down long corridors of hospital bedrooms, spot the remaining walls of what would have been a nurses station and see the remainders of the children’s bathrooms. It’s eerie and fascinating at the same time. We whispered to each other as we pointed out works of art. We warned each other over piles of rubble to avoid and snuck our way back through the fence. I’m not a rule breaker – but that day I was glad I broke the rules! I would have been devastated to have missed exploring this treasure.
Following on from our communism tour I knew the perfect place to take the girls. Teufelsberg, meaning Devil’s Mountain, is a former US spy station from the Cold War built on a pile of war rubble. Today the three bulbous globes remain on a site which has been turned into a street art gallery. Pieces of junk have been turned into works of art, old German cars have been sprayed and decorated and giant pieces of art cover the previously cold, brick walls.
We scaled the stairs to the roof top where you would normally be greeted with views over Berlin. However today on a cold, snowy day we were lucky to see the ground beneath us. The final climb of stairs lead us into the highest of the globes. The intelligence-gathering station was designed for listening so it came as no surprise that our slightest whispers bounced immediately back into our own ears. It was almost like the voice in your head had come to life. It was enough to send shivers down your spine. Or was that just because we were standing in negative degrees?
Berlin you absolutely fascinate me. It’s incredible to discover a city with such a devastating history, which now provides so much fun and interest for all those that visit. I must come back to meet you again soon. I’m not ready to move on from you yet. There’s just so much more to learn…