For Germans and others around the world, celebrations today mark twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I don’t have memories of Berlin from two decades ago, but I have many vivid ones from last year. My original intention was to visit the city for a short time. But Berlin, in all its dynamic, historic and aesthetic gloom and glory, grew on me and – like an onion – kept peeling off layers for a curious traveler such as I, to discover. Which is how I ended up spending nearly two months in and around the city – and exploring corners far beyond Checkpoint Charlie and Postdamer Platz.
Remnants of the wall remain entrenched in the ground for posterity.
But a stone’s throw from the East-Side Gallery, stands an uber-modern stadium where international stars perform to sold-out crowds.
The Brandenburger Tor, another symbol of Berlin’s reunification. Hidden inside its imposing structure, lies a treasure of another kind: the Berlin Room of Silence. Not far from the madding crowd of tourists, overflowing Starbucks and the Kennedys Museum on Pariser Platz, there is an oasis of calm and peace. Sitting in the small and mostly unadorned room, you could almost hear the drops of rain outside – and nothing else other than my own breathing.
Here’s Ampleman, the ubiquitous crosswalk guy; he glows in a walking pose for a green light, and stands with outstretched arms when stopped in red. Though initially an Ost-Berlin creation, the logo was adopted more widely into a reunified Berlin; a tolerant symbol of the East. In Ampleman stores throughout the city you can now buy stuff like towels and shirts, playing cards and cookie cutters, all covered with the guy in green – or red.
Alexanderplatz. Not just for tourists but for Berliners – and birds too.
The frenetic pace of shoppers, workers, artists, students, families and travelers reflects the inexhaustible energy that pumps through the heart of Berlin. Hakescher Markt, Friedrichstrasse, Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, the little cafes of Friedrichshain.
And yet, a short walk away, as you turn into a neighbourhood of what was formerly East-Berlin, the dynamism morphs into a dark and sombre landscape of bombastic standard-issue Communist-style apartment blocs, wide but empty boulevards, and much too much grey.
Here, time still stands still, a remembrance of things past.
Even so, yes even in Ost-Berlin, there are small bursts of colour and life.
Shadows of history hover.
And yet, Berlin has a vibrant art and music scene, with offerings of food , culture, films and festivals that are recognized around the world. With so many identities, it is a city that defies categorization.
What can I say: visit and, even if unplanned, stay awhile longer. Get off the beaten track, and you just might discover something altogether impossible, wildly illogical yet altogether real…