Oh, I love Berlin. I’m happy to say that after plenty of globe-trotting these past few years, Berlin is still perched firmly on top of my favourite cities list.
We’re pretty lucky to have our own apartment in Berlin, and when you have your days off there, it actually feels like a break. The apartment, much to my nerdy delight, is right smack-bang in the middle of Alexanderplatz, in the shadow of the TV Tower. It almost makes me too excited to sleep at night.
But I’ve needed the energy – in some places where I have days off I just relax, but not in Berlin. My to-do list is still a mile long, so off I trotted to Bernauerstrasse, where the Berlin Wall is still left intact. I walked there from Alexanderplatz, which took me through mostly residential streets, but still even on these streets there were little relics of times gone by. I passed communist statues, golden plaques in front of former Jewish-owned houses and vacant plots of land that are still subject to ownership disputes decades after both the Wall and war’s end. I would shake my head at it all – in so many cities you hear about its ‘history’ – in Berlin, you’re still hearing its current story.
I ended up walking there in a funny old way, getting distracted by monuments, and found myself in a cemetery. I walked through it and realised that I couldn’t get to Bernauerstrasse – the wall was in the way. Yep, THE Wall. I had wandered into St Sophia’s Cemetery, whose southern boundary was and still is famously cut off by the Berlin Wall.
I had to end up going out the way I came in and going right around the Wall – it took a good twenty minutes extra but I didn’t mind at all – I am quite possibly the only person in history to be happy with being inconvenienced by the Wall.
Throughout the cemetery were countless family plots – I took my time reading them – with so many documenting family members’ deaths as far apart as 1943, 1971 and 1992, for example. Imagine that – just how much would that family member who had lived until 1992 have witnessed during their lifetime? Other tear jerkers included husband and wife graves – again and again, the husband’s death would date in the 1940s and his wife’s would be decades later.
By the time I got to Bernauerstrasse I was already in the right mindset. The site and accompanying museum was excellent – and in true Berlin style, they’re still building the second part of the museum. Every year there seems to be a new monument in Berlin – back in 2007, the Topography of Terror exhibition was only an open-air excavation site, which showed the old SS and Gestapo torture cells. Now a brand-new museum has opened on top of it, completely free (just like most attractions in Berlin) which I busied myself in the next afternoon.
It’s not all history, though – Berlin’s got a great day-tripper’s option in the very lovely Potsdam (only word of advice – hire a bike, it’s a bugger to walk it all), cute little laneway bars which remind me of Melbourne, and the cheapest food this side of the Iron Curtain.
Oh Berlin, I love you so… still!