That quote (from JFK, if you’re curious) coupled with ‘Mr Gorbachev, open this gate,’ (Ronald Reagan) are two of the few things I remember clearly from history class. Impressive, huh? Berlin actually featured quite heavily in my high school history class, we spent one semester studying the Cold War, and another WWII. Of course, as previously demonstrated, I have forgotten a lot of the finer details. But that didn’t stop me from appreciating the true historic significance of Berlin.
First though I should mention that my reason for being in Berlin was a German course. I’d been feeling linguistically inadequate. After six months in Austria I was still unable to (confidently) order something at a restaurant. I’m not going to go into the details of my German-related insecurities, normally I’m quite good with languages, but to put it simply speaking German made me nervous. The aim of the German course was to fix that. It did. Kind of. Speaking German still makes me nervous (as I approach the cash register at the supermarket I mentally rehearse how to ask for 20 euro credit), but at least now I have the confidence to try (the checkout chick looked at me funny, I don’t think I asked properly, but I did get my 20 euro credit so kudos to me).
4 hours each morning was spent at BWS Germanlingua where I was drilled on verb conjugation, perfect tense, the cases, and basically enough German grammar to ensure that by the end of the week my brain was a pile of mush that couldn’t even think properly. In English. I would have liked to stay longer. Give me a month in that place and I think I’d be happily babbling away in German at any given opportunity. On the other hand, my English probably would have diminished along with Japanese and the small amount of Spanish I am capable of.
My afternoons however were completely free, and armed with a key to my host family’s house I was free to go about my own devices. I started every day with an elaborate plan, first I will go here, then there and then take the metro to that place and and and. However, one of the reasons I’m not good at travelling on my own is that I am easily distracted. I need to have someone around who’ll tell me; no you don’t need to go into that four floor book shop. Why? Because all the books are in German. I spent longer in that bookshop than I’m proud of. If the books had been in English, I’d probably still be there.
That being said, I did manage to pack a lot of sight seeing into those afternoons.
I got out to the East Side Gallery, which was one of the things that I had really wanted to see. It was the end point of a tour run by Sandeman’s New Europe. However, the weather was less than ideal so shortly after finishing the tour I turned tail and fled back to the warmth of my host family’s house. I had hoped to get back later in the week and walk along the Gallery, but due to my short attention span I ran out of time. For now, I’ll have to put it on the ‘when I go back there’ list.
The next day was the same miserable weather so I designated it a museum day. I’m not a fan of museums, generally. But what I had heard about the Pergammon was impressive, and it is. But I probably would have been more impressed if I’d been able to see the whole museum. One wing was entirely closed off for restorations, which I didn’t find out until after I’d bought my ticket and gone in.
The city has an atmosphere unlike anything I’ve experienced before. There is a phrase that seems to sum it up perfectly, ‘Berlin ist arm, aber sexy.’ Berlin is poor, but sexy. And, yes, somehow it really seems that way. There is an almost rebellious vibe to the city, it seems to say ‘Yeah, we went through some pretty tough crap, but you know what? We don’t care, love it or leave it.’
And it really has been through crap. There aren’t many major buildings in Berlin that predate WWII, so it lacks the refined, antique feeling that you might get if you were say, in Italy where you would easily find a 400 year old church. But that’s okay, I’m kind of over old churches. Italy does that to you. The oldest feeling part of Berlin was Museum Island where you will find not only the Pergammon, but several other museums and the extremely photogenic Berlin Dome. The area around Brandenburg Gate also feels a lot older than the rest of Berlin, but it’s one of the most touristy areas as well.
Okay, it’s about now that I should admit I didn’t actually do much in Berlin. I saw a lot of things, buildings primarily, but a lot of other things were put on the ‘when I go back’ list. Charlottenburg palace, the Neues Museum, walking along East Side Gallery and through Tiergarten, and visiting the Zoological Garden are all on there. Yes, I was lazy and slightly unmotivated. But in my defence, my brain was mush. I have since promised myself that I will revisit Berlin, in a season that is not winter, and will do all of these things.
So until then, ich habe noch einen Koffer in Berlin.