B is for Berlin

Graffiti in Berlin

The first thing I noticed about Berlin was the graffiti. It’s everywhere. Not just the illegible, messy scrawling kind (although there is a lot of that too), but the interesting and often quite impressive modern styles of graffiti. It adds a certain touch of contemporary character to a place of inherent history and in some ways I guess demonstrates that the modern and the young do exist alongside the historic city walls.

East Side Gallery - Berlin Wall

Berlin is not just a city of the past.

The Berlin Wall was my first ‘official’ stop, with my brother as guide. He moved to Germany some time ago, and I’ve always found it far more interesting visiting places with someone who lives there, because they usually know a lot more than you can find in a guide book. Harry didn’t fail in this endeavour.

The Berlin Wall

It was cold, raining and miserable, though to be honest, Germany failed to offer much other than that during my brief stay. It was strangely appropriate, however, when visiting the sites in Germany; a certain misery still hovers about the monuments that remain of the chaos it has seen over the centuries, so much so that overcast days still seem fitting.

East Side Gallery - Berlin Wall

Bits of the Berlin Wall can still be spotted across the city, but the most famous is the 1.3 km stretch of the wall now playing host to the East Side Gallery, an international memorial of freedom.

Artists from across the globe have contributed to the paintings that cover this large section of the wall, each depicting their own interpretations of freedom, their perceptions of Berlin, and some serving as reminders of a time before freedom existed.

Probably my favourite part of Berlin was the Brandenburg Gate. I’m always totally enamoured by towering monuments, colossal old buildings and giant statues. The Quadriga atop the gate with its horse drawn chariot is enormous, which makes it even more impressive that Napoleon Bonaparte stole it after the 1806 Prussian defeat and took it to Paris. It was of course eventually restored, but how he got it off the gate (and how they got it back!), I have no idea.

Brandenburg Gate

Another stand out place in Berlin was the Bebelplatz. The Bebelplatz was the location of the 1933 Nazi book burning. About 20,000 books that did not correspond with Nazi ideology from writers such as Hemingway and Marx were destroyed.  Today the Bebelplatz is the site of the book burning memorial. In the middle of the square there is a glass plate set into the cobbles, beneath it a room of empty bookcases to commemorate the burning.

The Nazi book burning memorial in the Bebleplatz

The thing I will probably remember most about Berlin, however, is my public transportation misfortune one night when going out for dinner. My brother Harry, my friend Hayley, and I, hopped on the train with growling tummies. About 10 minutes into the journey the train came to an abrupt stop. After a brief announcement in German and a translation by Harry, we discovered there had been an ‘incident’ involving a person on the tracks. The announcement was shortly followed by two paramedics who just happened to be in our carriage, prying open the train doors to let themselves out; thankfully being in the first carriage we had stopped just at the start of the next station’s platform.

We sat patiently for a few minutes before deciding to get off the train, a luxury the people in the other carriages behind us could sadly not afford, only to discover the paramedics crouched in front of the train, looking under it with torches.

With the sound of sirens in the distance we began to guess at what the ‘incident’ with a person on the tracks may have been.

The night followed with us thinking we could walk the remaining distance, until 20 minutes later we realised we couldn’t. We hopped on a different train line, which our tickets did not permit us to do, and had to hop off again a stop before our station due to the train controllers getting on to check tickets.

When we finally made it to dinner, it almost didn’t seem worth it. A 20 minute journey had taken about 2 hours. But alas, we ate til our heart’s content and laughed more than is polite in civilised company.

Berlin isn’t a place I think I could ever feel at home, and I’m not just saying that because I think we ran over someone on the train! It’s a place full of history and wonderful monuments and you can still see bullet holes in many of the buildings, which I find fascinating. But it’s also full of tourists and like many big cities, I felt a persistent nagging to keep moving, walk fast and push through the crowds with unmatched determination. I didn’t feel it was a city I could just stand back, observe, and enjoy, which let’s be honest, is one of my favourite things to do.

That said, I wouldn’t say no to going back one day when the sun is out and my feet aren’t wet and cold from the rain. Perhaps I’ll even be able to find a little quiet spot to watch the city unravel from afar.

Statues in Berlin

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15 comments on “B is for Berlin

  1. Interesting take on Berlin. I always thought of it as a forward thinking place, not sure why. I’ve never been, but would love to go someday. Thanks for sharing.

    • If I had not been so jet lagged and dismal from the weather, I probably would have noticed more things about Berlin, such as it being a forward thinking place! It’s definitely worth visiting though.

    • I’m so glad I got to visit Germany after intending to do so for so long now, but I confess I’m more partial to the romantic countries of Europe, such as Italy and France. There is something quite ‘hard’ about Germany that forbids me to love it as much as I did the other countries on my trip. That said, my brother refuses to come home and doesn’t want to live anywhere else, so I can see it has a certain allure to many.

  2. I’ve got vague memories of watching the fall of the Berlin wall on the telly with my Mum. Being but a child at the time I didn’t have any real idea what was going on and couldn’t help but think it was very naughty for those people to be pulling down a perfectly good wall, they were going to get into so much trouble!

    I’ve never been a fan of big cities either, it’s as if I can feel the sheer weight of the accumulated masses of humanity weighing me down, surrounding me, crushing me. It leaves me feeling just a little uneasy and on edge.

    Hope to hear more of your exciting globe-trotting adventures soon.

    • Incredible! I was 4 at the time so don’t remember a thing.

      I know exactly what you mean. There are some cities that I love to visit, Sydney being one of them, but I often get the feeling that they’re all the same but different, if you get my meaning? I’m partial to a bit of peace and quite myself, and having grown up in countryside England I think I’ll always feel a little anxious in the big smoke.

  3. You have inspired me to do for sure what I want to do next month, commenorating my trip to Berlin exactly one year ago! (I wasn’t blogging then, so I’ve been saving up!)
    I lived my last two years of high school in Berlin. I loved it. And it was still a divided city then. (The wall came down a year after I graduated.) I’ll save most of my thoughts about the city for my post(s) but suffice it to say, it was great to see it from your eyes! (And how terrible that someone was hit while you were on the U-Bahn! Ugh!)

    Yes, the Brandenburg gate is fabulous. And what a FANTASTIC picture you got of it! I love, love, love, that the allied embassies are all around it – even touching it. It’s an amazing city and I actually felt very comfortable there. Now I’m so excited to blog about it!!

    Thanks for this post –

    • Very much looking forward to your posts, Gretchen. I would love to hear about it from the perspective of an ex-local!

      The Brandenburg Gate is currently my desktop background; such an amazing monument. And I know what you mean about all the allied embassies surrounding it. Incredible.

  4. I love your photos. I think you should publish these posts into a travel guide wen you’re finished. I know I would buy it.

    • Reading this made my day! Once I’m done I might look at what I’ve got and think about compiling it all together. I’d probably have to do a lot of editing, but it’s nice to know I have one potential buyer :) If not, even one published copy would be good to have on the coffee table as a memory of the trip.

      Thank you!!!

  5. Pingback: T is for Transport | storytelling nomad

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