I’m a bit in love with Berlin. I want to go back – immediately. A friend quizzed me as to why I loved it so much (she’d had a recent ‘I loved it so much’ report from family). I couldn’t really answer “It was the vibe…” (because I’m not 18) but I think my answer is based around the fact that Berliners are quietly open, honest and accepting of their city’s chequered history. Remnants of and memorials for both WWII and the Wall that divided their city remain, reminding everyone that this ‘history’ is in fact all too recent.
Here are the things I loved most:
11. Deutsches Currywurst Museum – you have to admire any city that pays such homage to its food. There’s singing sauce bottles, a sausage couch that’s almost obscene, displays of chip forks and samples of currywurst. My friend almost didn’t let me go. She relented (and agreed that it was ace).
10. Tiergarten – our first morning in Berlin was spent strolling through the Tiergarten. After the green of London commons, the dark wood, bare trees and straight paths of the Tiergarten were striking.
9. Ampelmann – the East Germans had their own traffic signals. Ampelmann (translated as ‘Traffic Light Man’ – see no.2 below) is quaint, unique and only found in Berlin.
In the early 1990s, following reunification, and at the directive of the EU, the Ampelmann was to be replaced with a standard traffic symbol. Berliners were outraged. They protested – apparently cries of “Save Ampelmann” filled the streets. And he stayed. The story is beautifully symbolic of the challenge of what to keep from the past and take from the present.
8. Bebelplatz and the Book Burning Memorial: if you didn’t know it was there, you might miss this memorial – chilling, empty subterranean bookshelves to represent the 20,000 books which the Nazis burnt on May 10th, 1933 at Bebelplatz. The memorial includes a bronze plaque that features a quote from Heinrich Heine in 1820, that more than a century later became frighteningly prophetic –
That was only a prelude, there
where they burn books,
they burn in the end people.
7. The Reichstag – for a view (because I always like a view).
5. Tränenpalast – a small but impressive exhibition that documents the impact the divided city had on everyday life. Features personal stories, recordings and artifacts. The exhibition is located at Friedrichstraße Station, a border crossing between East and West Germany, which became known as the Tränenpalast – “Palace of Tears” (isn’t that so sad?).
4. The Wall – it’s fascinating, it’s devastating, it’s still in evidence (in some places large and looming, in others it’s just a shadow).
4. The Holocaust Memorial – 2711 columns of various heights, in a grid, on undulating ground (as you walk through it creates an odd feeling of instability). The meaning of the columns are open to interpretation. Architect Peter Eisenman said “There is no point in attempting to represent the extent and scale of the Holocaust.”
3. Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe Murdered under the National Socialist Regime – (re: the name, see point 2 below): the quiet, contemplative nature of many of Berlin’s memorials is evident here. They’re the stuff of deep and lasting impressions.
2. The German language is my joy. It’s a lesson in stating the bleeding obvious. For example, there’s an old museum in Berlin (called the Alte Museum [Old Museum]), a new museum (called the Neues Museum [New Museum]) and they’re both on an island, called Museumsinsel – yep, you guessed it, Museum Island. Isn’t that simply wonderful? One example of thousands.
The other thing I like about German: if you’re not sure of the word for something, describe it and join those words together and you’re often right. There was a book released last year that played on this. Get it for anyone you know who speaks (or thinks they can speak) German – it’s brilliant.
1. The old and new, next to each other, unapologetic. A skyline filled with nineteenth-century domes, modernist office-blocks and cranes. It’s dynamic, it’s enchanting.