Published: November 14th 2007October 14th 2007
OK, I don't hate Berlin. In fact, when I arrived on the train from Prague, getting to my hostel turned out to be so easy that I was loving the city. And Hauptbahnhof, the new train station, is impressive. When I checked into my hostel, it seemed OK too. But the Lonely Planet said my hostel is non-smoking. The dorms are, but the common areas are not. And within a few hours, I started feeling ill. That's where the hate comes in. I can't tell if I am sick, or if it is the smoke, but my sore throat turned into a cough and runny nose.
My first day in Berlin was busy, seeing as many of the sights as I could in the somewhat central area of the city. My hostel is in the former eastern part of the city, and the neighbourhood is unexpected--except that it is exactly how I'd imagined East Berlin would be now. The buildings are tired, but at street level there is a sense of defiance and vibrancy.
I tried beating the crowds to the Reichstag, but even at 9am there was a 45 minute queue to go up the dome. The delay
is the security screening--after all, this is the German parliament--but it keeps the top of the dome from getting too crowded. The sun was shining, and as beautiful as the dome is, and the views, I was feeling impatient to get moving, so I didn't stay long.
The Holocaust Memorial took me by surprise. I remember reading about it and seeing pictures when it was commissioned in 2005. I'd wondered at the time, as did many critics, how effective it was as a memorial of something so big. From the edges, it is a mass (the size of a football field) of concrete blocks--each roughly the length and width of a single tomb. The heights appear to vary a bit, but as you start walking among them, it gets deeper, until they tower over you. Every way you look is row upon row of these 'tombs' with their shadows. It made me think about what the world learnt in 1945: for years there had been rumours of the concentration camps, but the world didn't believe it until the camps were liberated by the Allies.
Wandering through the Holocaust Memorial made for a somber morning, but what really brought
me to tears was the Wall Victims Memorial. It is a simple memorial, but it is very politically charged, and very moving. There are white crosses with photos and death information of people who died (shot or drowned) trying to cross into West Berlin. Some of them died in my lifetime. I just can't imagine a city divided like that, overnight.
In front of the Berliner Dom is a park--Lustgarten or the Pleasure Park I later found out. The massive statues of voluptuous ladies and gents, naked of course, in various poses reminded me of the fat ladies of the Maltese Temples. They were sensuous, and luscious, and it seemed strange in front of the massive cathedral, but it was a pleasant park. The Berliner Dom itself is beautiful, and the views from the top of the dome are better than the views from the Reichstag dome.
I felt a little as though I was retracing my parents' footsteps in Berlin. They were here, in East and West Berlin, in the late sixties. How different this city would seem to them now. Visiting the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedachtinskirche was the most surreal, as both mom and dad talked about it
just before I left. Just enough of the old church survived the WWII bombing (the belfry) to stir the imagination as to how beautiful the original church might have been. When my parents were here, the new church was still very new. Outside, the ruins are busy and touristy, but inside the new worship centre is tranquil. The blue light is soothing, and it is a good place to sit and pause for a few moments.
Checkpoint Charlie reminded me of Prague, with the chaos of tourists. So strange to be a tourist in a place where my parents once passed through under the watchful eyes of the East Germans.
I spent my Sunday in Berlin like a Berliner--walking in the gardens. After spending most of yesterday on the 'East' side of the city, I headed west to Schloss Charlottenburg. It was a fantastic, relaxing day in the sun, and has done wonders for my sore throat, cough, and fever. As soon as I climbed up to the street from the U-Bahn, I felt like I was in a different city. That's the amazing thing about Berlin--it is such a dynamic place.
It was too beautiful a
day to be inside, so I skipped the museums in the Palace, and went straight to the Royal Gardens. It was busy, but everyone was quietly enjoying their Sunday walks, minding their own business. It was hard to tell who were locals and who were visitors.
The sun was warm, and the light was golden, especially under the autumn trees. The day ended with an encounter that warmed my heart. A friendly German asked me to take a photo of him with some people he was showing around, because I had such a good camera. Then he wished me many happy times in Berlin. I'd like to come back to this city again, so it can reveal more of itself to me.
There are more photos below