Walls come tumbling down
Berlin Travel Blog› entry 10 of 26 › view all entries
Peter was going to whisk Amanda off to wherever it was they had planned to go and I was left travelling on my tod again.
My next destination was Berlin and it was getting late by the time the train rolled through the city.
It had been 10 years since I studied German at school. I'd managed a couple of conversations in the country, when I had to, and I was a little surprised.
As well as language we had studied politics and geography of the country of course, so I knew this capital city was sliced down the middle, not many years ago, and I had to keep an eye out for my stop. Unfortunately I missed it anyway. You'd think I would have recognised it by the train emptying of everyone but me, but I think that actually confused me.
I didn't recognise the name of the next station as we pulled in so I leapt off the train and tried to suss out where I was. There didn't seem to be much to help me on the walls of the dark station so I found a telephone and rang the Youth Hostel. They were always very helpful.
The man on the other end of the line knew exactly where I was. He told me I had to go back one stop to the main station, but there was a problem as he didn't have room for me at his hostel tonight. He explained that I would have a bed if I went to the hostel out at Wansee and then gave me directions as to how to get there.
I thanked him and made my way to the platform.
This was the first of many many times I was greatful that my Eurorail pass had unlimited trips.
Wansee was a fabulous new hostel on the shore of the lake. There seemed to be a huge number of children there, some sort of school holiday trip perhaps, but there was plenty of room and the view out over the lake took my breath away.
The next day I made my way to the city centre. There was much to see and little time to see it. Although I said the Eurorail pass was a blessing at times, it was also a curse as I found myself wanting to travel as much as I could, to make the most of the cost of the ticket. This often meant more time on the train than in the places between journeys.
I found myself wandering in the Tiersgarten. A huge parkland with areas of naked forest and frozen topped lakes. Now and then I would come across some dramatic bronze statues of hunters. They fascinated me with the detail in the faces and the mood of the animals captured in an instant by the artist who created them.
Above the treetops I culd see the gold figure of the lady topping the Siegesaule monument. I made my way there and took in the surrounding area from within the impressive structure.
Several of the plates on the base of the monument were repaired with little flat pieces of metal and I realised these were plugging bullet holes, the marble pillars also showing signs of recent conflict.
Laid out before me were several roads stretching off into the cool fog of an early Berlin winter's morning.
I recognised the Brandenburg Gate at the far end of one road and wandered off in that direction.
At the gate a collection of people selling Russian trinkets were assembled. I looked at the big fluffy hats they wished to sell me, certainly the right stuff for a morning such as this, but I was doing alright with my Mujaheddin hat from Scotland, my Morrocan leather jacket and my Irish woollen gloves.
I kept walking and found an area by the river where the wall was still visible.
It was less than 4 years since Germans had unified the city and much was being rebuilt as the Eastern side was being brought up to the Western standard.
Everywhere I looked over Berlin the sky was filled with cranes. It was impossible to take a photograph of the skyline without at least one towering crane in the shot.
Down here there was little construction and the area was littered with strange monuments to the fallen regime. Tanks formed odd gateways and graffiti artists rejoiced in the new-found freedom.
Watch-towers, and segments of the wall, lay forgotten as if they had always been like this, but one part of the concrete structure had been painted to remind us of the tragedy of loss from each of the years the city was divided.
I walked slowly along the memorial and read of the names of those lost to the idea.
I hope this part of the wall remains, and that the city fathers have seen fit to leave much of what was here on this cool morning as a reminder, but turn the cold black mud into grass and trees.
This area has much to teach us but I could see it as a place for peace in the future by turning the ugliness into beauty.
Walking away from there, back into the built up area, I passed another marble statue -a man who had suffered his own tragedies in his lifetime. It was an very ugly reminder of man's need to destroy each other and I couldn't help thinking every tell-tale bullet hole in the stone was intended for the soft body of another man crouched behind this statue.
Nearby was a building with similar damage scattered about a second story window, more evidence of shots exchanged by men in differing clothes.
I visited the Allied East-West crossing, "Checkpoint Charlie" where nearby is a museum telling very interesting stories, giving the history of the wall and the division, from it's inception, to it's destruction. I spent some time here taking it all in and marvelling at poeples ingenuity as they struggled to return to family on the "wrong" side of the concrete.
In another area of the city I found more armaments left from the forces, discarded in the wastelands for people to do with them what they wished. A bright pink tank lay stranded beside several segments of discarded wall that someone had turned into a sitting room, complete with Lay-z-boy chair to complete the bizarre scene.
Later I was walking past the Berlin zoo and I saw several children dressed in yellow hats.
Children and animals seem to do so much better at getting on in life than adults and I wondered again about we as a race that can have such extremes of nature. Where we create things of incredible beauty in art and music, or we can bring death and unhappiness to each other because we believe it should be so.
Now I long to return to Berlin.
So much must be different from what I saw 15 years ago. Ample time to reconstruct the damage and bring balance to the Eastern side of the city. I imagine this would be the one place of all I visited that would indeed be nothing like it was my first visit.