Sunday was – thankfully – not raining, but it was officially the coldest we’ve been since we moved over to this side of the planet. It turns out that as well as frozen we are also stubborn (surprising nobody), and since we’d decided to do a walking tour of the city we put our icicles slash hands into our freezers slash pockets and carried on. I’m not prepared to say any of us were delighted about the predicament.
The tour started at the Brandenburg Gate, which we suspect was designed to be a wind tunnel specifically focused on cutting through our inadequate clothing. Luckily for it, the gate was also reasonably impressive.
Berlin is, of course, an amazing city. Actually that’s incorrect – it’s an amazing metropolis. It’s a major world hub, complex (and potentially sensitive), diverse, super cool, proud yet humble. It’s the heaving capital of a country about which everyone knows and has an opinion of some sort; infamous is too negative a word and does no justice to this magnificent place, but I can’t come up with a better description.
It was fitting that our first stop following the gate was the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe.
There’s not really too much to say about it, and the sculptor didn’t. It’s a site that allows you to walk through and think your own thoughts without restriction.
The focus of the day was, probably naturally, on WW2 and the following years. The visual impact this has had on the city was significant, and there was discussion on the perceived impact on the people and culture. Many fascinating sights were seen, including Nazi buildings (still inspiring terror today as it is now the taxation office), the wall, and Checkpoint Charlie (note the dude in the sign ain’t actually called Charlie, which is a reference to the phonetic alphabet-named point). Many tales were told of successful and failed border crossing attempts, of life on either side, and of how the city has developed in the years since 1989 when the wall fell.
The infamous JFK speech was also discussed (‘I am a jelly doughnut’, for the record. Apparently it endeared him to the people of the city more than the intended message would have, so all’s well etc).
We saw some of pre-war Germany. Not all of it survived bombings, and some has been rebuilt in the image of its former glory. Some are kept in their bombed state as a reminder of the war. Yet others remain, miraculously untouched.
A site of particular personal impact was the Bebelplatz: the site of the Nazi book burnings held in the evening of 10 May 1933. Studying modern history at school, this particular event (even though many more horrific ones occurred later) always stuck in my mind. It wasn’t so much because of the intent – the restriction on thought and expression, the imposing of one way of thinking over others, and the stripping of both individuality and culture together, but rather that we had always been taught books are invaluable, almost sacred and should be treated as such. The idea of even slightly tearing a book, let along deliberately burning masses, was unthinkable to me. Even now, we repeat the manta ‘books are precious, be gentle’ to the girl as she pulls random tomes from our shelves (to be fair, she has taken this on board and rips are now rare)(unless you’re a pop-up book, then all bets are off). This mentality was more likely based on the expense of books, and their finality once destroyed, but I am sure also harks to a deeper concern regarding content and destruction of so much more. Either way, this beautiful place (beautiful perhaps because the sun finally decided to show up) and the seemingly incongruous actions that occurred here resonated, and are summed up in a quote from Heinrich Heine, written many years prior to the formation of the Nazi party let alone the burning: ‘That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people’.
(Also, yes, that’s my noggin in a borrowed Roosters beanie.)
Our tour over, we reunited with our kiddo who had been moved out of the cold to hang with her aunt and uncle, and made our way to another healthy Berlin lunch – the doner (our joint was situated on the street on which David Bowie lived, and a petition is currently underway to have its name changed to Bowiestrasse in honour of the man and in recognition of his time in Berlin).
To atone for such sins we spent the (less frigid but still chilly) afternoon walking through Tempelhof Airport. It ceased operating as an airport in 2008 after being a major hub during the war years, arguably keeping Berlin a functioning city. The main building is now used as an emergency refugee camp, and the tarmac and surrounding grassed areas are a public park. It has a slightly surreal, industrial feel and seems to align perfectly with the city.
That night, we had a birthday eve celebration which included an epic chocolate caramel cheesecake, courtesy of Dommie. It was every bit as magnificent as it sounds (and as Dom and Tim appear to be gesturing below).
Despite the cold (and related commitments to pack smarter in the future), it was a brilliant weekend, once again catching just a taster of an epic city. Adelaide had a wonderful time being spoiled rotten by her aunt, both with a slinky spring and endless cuddles (and astounding patience in reading the same three books over and over and over), and given that we’re so far away from home it’s amazing to have family a short plane trip away. A short plane trip that was pretty much hell the following day on our return home, but I’m working pretty solidly on repressing that memory in preparation for our next adventure.