Connection Finally Made

 Berlin Postings – #4

 

The Wall came down and the two Berlins were reunited way back in the early 90s. As it turns out, it would take about another 25 years before they came together inside my head.

For the historically challenged, I will explain that the city got drawn and quartered after WWII by four different occupying nations. It was later re-stitched somewhat, but a big chunk was left off. Berlin became two cities, in two different countries, in two different economic and political systems. All the former streetcar lines and roads that had connected the two halves became mirror image dead ends.

European cities characteristically have an old center where the most awesome buildings congregate – the palaces, the opera house and theaters, the massive churches or cathedrals, the impressive museums, the renowned universities, the libraries, the City Hall . . .  When the barbed wire went up after the war this old center, “Berlin Mitte” landed in the East and was off limits to me in many of my earlier visits. Instead of all these magnificent structures, I pictberlin-mitteured East Berlin as a collection of non-aesthetic gray concrete blocks. But on Day 3 of this trip, we explored lots of the center on foot and those old false images got a correction.

 

Here’s a taste:

Gendarmenmarkt and the Neue Wache – a monument dedicated to the victims of war:

Bebelplatz which was the site of a huge book-burning in 1933 – I assume the first of many. There was a glass plate through which you can (normally) see an empty underground library – unfortunately the glass was so scratched and fogged up that I could barely make anything out:

Outdoor waiting lines made us decide to put off the museum for our next visit and the chilly air made us all crave a warm café and hot chocolate. On the way, though, we stopped at the Berlin Cathedral and ended up spending quite a while in there:

With a few hours to fill before dinner time, Ly’s sweetheart came up with an inspiration: American bowling. My daughters had never tried it and . . . (Warning! Confession!)  . . . I used to be pretty good at it – even had my own ball. It was a riot.

The final highlight of three excellent days was a “jam session” in a club where patrons were welcomed to sing or play along. The sweetheart finagled getting my elder daughter onto the stage by calling her “(Mitzi) from Chicago”. One line into her “Ain’t No Sunshine”, the crowd started enthusiastically whooping and clapping. Then they settled down and really listened. The musicians kept her up there for two more songs and then asked her to come again the next day. While it was going on, my guilty Raven Mother conscience (for bringing my underage daughters into a smoky bar) faded as my inner Stage Mom emerged full force. I turned to the stranger next to me, pointed to the stage and bragged, “MY daughter!”

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For going on twenty years now, I have been arriving at Tegel Airport and immediately handing over the reins to the world’s most gracious hostess (and, in later years, the sweetheart host). They drive me around, feed me, act as my personal tour guides. In recent trips, my family members have enjoyed this treat, too, along with sundry strangers from, let’s say, Kiel. In all this time, I never really had to know where I was – Ly had a plan.

For some reason, this time it occurred to me that I had no city map of Berlin in my head. So I finally bought one. I have studied it and located all the places I’ve seen and photographed . . .

That’s where I’ve been! What do you know!!

 

No Escape

 

Berlin Postings – #3

 

memorial

Day Two in Berlin began somewhat solemnly again as our walk through the center led us past the site of the Christmas Market attack right in front of Berlin’s iconic “Gedächtniskirche” – the bombed and burned out remains of the cathedral left standing as a reminder for the population of war’s devastation. But thereafter, things got happier and my biggest complaint of the day would have to be the peas in my tuna fish salad sandwich.literatur-cafe

We let the girls roam KaDeWe and Bikini Berlin with wads of cash in their fists while Ly and I toured bookstores (“Ka-ching!!”) and then went to the Literature Café for a light lunch. Fabulous place – except for the peas.

 

the-room-kopie       go-west-kopie

 

From there it was on to “The Room” – a live game with the theme of escaping from East Berlin in the 1980s. (My hubby made the reservations for us as part of our Christmas present.) We were given a short orientation and then led to a room. We entered. The door shut behind us. We had one hour to use all the clues hidden there to find our way out – the secret escape route to the West. If we failed, the East German Stasi (secret police) would break down the door and arrest us . . .

It was A LOT of fun, but unfortunately our teamwork and communication were a bit lacking. To make a long story short . . .

I’m adjusting to the Gulag very well.

Unhidden

Berlin Postings – #2

 

Our first full day in Berlin had a recurring theme. Bringing to light what once was intentionally not seen. Hidden treasures and hidden atrocities.

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Our first stop was the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. As usual my own emotional reactions came after a delay. While walking through the exhibition my focus turned quickly to my daughters and how they were taking it all. In the first building dealing with the rise of fascism, there was still some conversation, but we all got increasingly silent.

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Things got really rough at the “killing station” with its chilling matter-of-fact descriptions of efficient extermination procedures. Immediately afterward we weaved our way through larger than life-sized pictures of dead Russian soldiers. These images were printed on sheer cloth banners hanging from the ceiling. We had to zigzag through them and avoid their eyes. We were walking among ghosts.

That was when we all felt it. We had taken in as much as we could handle and it was time to go. At some point both girls wondered at the reasoning behind showing all these things – as if it were a tourist attraction. We talked about the importance of seeing these things with your own eyes. Of knowing what happened, facing it, and then maybe recognizing the warning signs in times when it could happen again.

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That is all the words on this I have at the moment. For a moving and more detailed account, read Lyart’s blog posts “Sachsenhausen” and “Sunday Matinee

In the evening we went to the movies and saw “Hidden Figures” which did what it could as an antidote for the morning’s impressions. It wasn’t a perfect film, but this time it felt GOOD to see the once unseen being seen.

hidden-figures

 

Re-Berlin

The first time I heard about “the Berlins” and the Wall (and actually understood a bit of it) was probably in German class in high school. This was only about 15 years after the Airlift and long before the declared end of the Cold War. My teacher told us then that, in her opinion, the two Germany’s (Germanies?) would never reunite. The Wall in Berlin would never come down. Based on her own experience, she simply couldn’t imagine it.

Five or six years later I was in college and doing an exchange year in Germany. Hitchhiking was a thing then and it was common knowledge that the easiest place to get a ride was at the border between East and West Germany. People were scared of the long straight stretch of highway connecting West Germany to West Berlin – with no exits and nothing to see but watchtowers the entire way. The drivers wanted as many people (or should I say “witnesses”?) as possible in the car. So, young people lined up at the border as if at a taxi stand, with every other car stopping to take a few of them along for the ride through communism.

(Now, Mom, please close your eyes for the next paragraph.)

On hearing this, two friends of mine decided to take the trip and asked me to come along. They were quite upfront about the fact that two young men were not likely to get picked up, but with a woman along, they would have a much better chance. In return, I could use them for a free stay in their friend’s apartment. I hesitated about the hitchhiking part, but finally couldn’t resist the chance. First I was low on funds, this being the only year of my post age 15 life during which I was not allowed to work. This was travel of the cheapest kind. Also I figured “What’s the worst that could happen? We stand for hours and don’t get a ride? (That happened) We get caught in the rain? (That happened too.) It takes us more than a day to get there and we end up having to find a place to sleep? Maybe at some stranger’s house? (Yep. That too.) We give up and buy a train ticket, like I wanted to anyway? “ (And yes, that’s what we did for the trip home). The only truly easy part of the journey was getting a ride through East Germany – it was exactly the taxi stand scenario we had heard about.

 

Once in Berlin, we hit all the obligatory sites:

  • the Gedächtniskirche – a bombed cathedral left in ruined condition as a reminder of the devastation of war
  • the Kurfürstendamm – the main drag and shopping street
  • the Kaufhaus des Westens – “the store of the West” with all the American junk food goodies we had been missing
  • the infamous Bahnhof Zoo as in “We Children of . . .”. It’s is a book about heroin addiction and a girl named Christiane F. – Germany’s version of “Go Ask Alice” (but with fewer lies).
  • the Brandenburg Gate – forlornly grand and just on the other side of the Wall
  • some club in Kreuzberg where David Bowie had supposedly played a lot (He didn’t show up.)
  • and, of course, Checkpoint Charlie where my more adventurous friends crossed into East Berlin just for the heck of it. As I remember it, western visitors had to exchange a certain amount of money into East German Marks – an amount that was practically impossible to spend in one afternoon and which could not be exchanged back. With my limited funds, I preferred to use them for the train ticket home. Little did I know that this country would cease to exist 8 short years later. It’s my only regret from the trip.

It would be another 15 years before I got back to Berlin. Once Lyart moved there I had a compelling reason to return – and have done so many times since. I am so glad now that I was able to see the city before, during, and after it’s re . . . –union / -creation / -vival / -sistance / -sillience / -furbishment / -conciliation / -discovery . . . . .

. . . . . its re-imagination.