After a morning of walking around it felt nice to stop for a second and let the human traffic orbit me as I took in my surroundings. As always my meandering had a vague end goal which I had finally met. The sun was shining down on me with no threat of rain for what seemed like the first time on the interrail trip in two weeks. Satellites joined and then broke off from my orbit as I overheard fractions of their daily lives in a variety of languages. Orange clad tour guides proved to be just as multi-lingual, touting their wares with a wave of their equally orange umbrellas to anyone passing by over a backing track of street organ music.
The Brandenburg Gate stood proud overlooking the scene unfolding before it. It had seen this performance before. But the majority of the cast changed on a daily basis. In all its impressive, unflinching majesty, it is easy to see why Michael Jackson decided to hang his baby out of the window of his room at nearby the Hotel Adlon (don’t try this at home folks, or in a hotel for that matter). Perhaps he wanted “Blanket” to have a better view of the iconic Berlin landmark. My vantage point safely rooted to terra firma, equidistant between the two locations. One iconic, one the site of an infamous moment in pop culture. This, maybe more than any words I can conjure, sums up the paradox that is Berlin.
While the Brandenburg Gate is a Berlin landmark and there are many dotted around the city, THE Berlin landmark hasn’t been standing since 1989 yet it still draws tourists to the city with a magnetic force. Memories of the Berlin Wall are never far away. A stark reminder of a concrete vein which ran through the German capital cutting it in half, separating an entire nation in the not so distant past. To explain the complexities of this history is beyond my pay grade and if I’m honest I’m still not 100% sure my musings on these aspects of Berlin are accurate. What I’m saying in short, don’t go changing the Berlin Wikipedia page and citing anything I write here please. The last thing I need is to be sued for libel by an entire country.
My accommodation was located not too far from where the wall once stood, on the east side of the city. While it wasn’t the Adlon, if I was expecting austerity my fears were allayed on checking in to find sweet treats on my pillow. Not the standard chocolate either. Oh no, I’d hit the jackpot. Gold. Gold bears to be precise. Haribo is my kryptonite (just incase anyone from the company is reading and wants to offer me a sponsorship deal). I was disappointed to find out that the Haribo factory doesn’t offer tours. Disappointment I comfort ate away with some Haribo Tangfastics, the cherries are my favourite #KidsAndGrownUpsLoveItSo. Seriously, I’m not desperate. But call me? Please…
My hotel was a stone’s throw away from Checkpoint Charlie, a former guard house separating the American zone from the Soviet zone of the city (remember what I said about not citing this post on Wikipedia – this paragraph is what I’m talking about). The site is now home to a replica guard house overlooked by a double sided sign high up in the air. On one side a uniformed American soldier surveys the scene, on the other a Soviet counterpart does likewise. What struck me on approaching from the Soviet side was the close proximity of KFC and McDonald’s to the guard house on the American side. Whether these restaurants stood in this location while the guard house was in operation or not I am unsure but their large, loud advertising would be the antithesis of a communist ideal and all within metres of the border.
After visiting Charlie, he didn’t bite my finger, food was on my mind. This meant indulging in a serving of golden, deep fried chips. But what to have with them. A burger? Chicken? Forget that, it was time to delve into local cuisine. Currywurst. A Bratwurst sausage served with lashings of curry infused ketchup. On the plate it doesn’t look the most inviting. On the palate it does just the trick. It certainly wasn’t the wurst meal I ate while interrailing. If you’re in Berlin, it’s well worth the experience and it is kind on the budget too.
The culinary highlight of my time in Germany however turned out to be another straight forward meal featuring meat and the humble potato. If you’ve read my very first post, you will already know about it. If you haven’t: I had a steak in Berlin. It was good. For more in-jokes (what do you mean “what joke?”) feel free to peruse my past offerings on this thing I call a travel blog. The steak, chowed down at the restaurant Block House (you read that in Peter Griffin’s voice didn’t you) was accompanied by a baked potato, sour cream and two glasses of ice cold Bitburger. Side salad was optional. I didn’t take the option. This body is a temple.
While good eating and drinking opportunities abound, Berlin can flip you into a sombre, reflective mood at the drop of a hat. That is exactly what happened when I visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A museum occupies the space underneath the 2,711 stelae which make up the touching memorial to those lost during the Second World War. In a city where historical events, some of them incredibly unpleasant are in abundance, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews is a touching tribute to those who lost their lives. While I will never truly understand the horrors that the Jewish people went through, the memorial offered an opportunity to learn and reflect. It is an emotionally charged experience but one I feel it is imperative to undertake if you visit Berlin. We must certainly never forget.
Amidst the inescapable history that floats in the air around the city there is a vibrance to Berlin. The city has been the capital of Germany since 1871 but it has a hip feel, the feel of a younger capital. A capital reborn little over 30 years ago. Some places we visit can be comprehensively seen and experienced in a short period of time. To my mind Berlin is a city that could surprise you with something new at moment even if you had lived there your entire life. It could be suggested that it is a city in the throes of an identity crisis. I believe Berlin knows exactly what it is. A place with something for everyone. It acknowledges the past both good and bad. It has turned the negatives into positives, opportunities to educate or for business (as the piece of Berlin Wall, turned fridge magnet which now lives at my grandparents’ house will testify). Long may it continue.