Since my first Berlin post, I haven't gotten any closer to deciding if the contradictions should matter. I felt comfortable enough in Berlin; it isn't the city of 70 years ago, or 25 years ago. I can't imagine what either of those were like; I just can't know what life was like with the Wall. Much as I can't imagine life today in Jerusalem, or North Korea. I am only a visitor for a few days; would I understand more in years? There is a saying I heard from a few sources while reading about the city: "The wall remains in Berliners' heads." How could I know what it's like, since I've never lived with a wall?
OK, no answers there. Onward to tourism and pretty pictures. (The pictures link to flickr; there are 41 pics in that collection, some with descriptive text.)
Friday morning, it was clear that dan needed alone time after a tough week working with his Göttingen colleages, so we went off touristing separately after a buffet breakfast at the hotel. I walked down to the nearby Zoo train station to buy a three-day transit pass (a bit slowly, as my backache was worse after overdoing it on Thursday). Nearby was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which I thought was mostly a memorial in the broken remains bombed in 1943, like the church I saw in Hannover. Um, no. There was an octagonal boxy building blocking the church from one side. Wuzzat?
Wow. Of all unassuming exteriors... what an amazing interior. It blew me away.
I sat for 15 minutes. Very peaceful. Surrounded in blue. Every tile appeared to be different, and there were shades of red and green along with the blue. The Jesus was very... solid, and yet floating above the very simple podium at the front.
I've been in awe-inspiring churches (in fact, that is probably why I go into them on my travels) but this is perhaps the first one that I sat down in and felt comfortable.
And then I went through the old church, which stands as a memorial. It has stood more than half its time with half its steeple, and only a small amount of remaining interior. The text on a placard inside refers to "the insane politics" that led to the second World War, which was a weird dodge against saying "Germans did that." The overall message was one of remorse and loss and the new church being built not to replace but to remember.
I had a pause, reading a large description of the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation, a liturgy started at a British church similarly destroyed in WWII and which is repeated at this and other churches, a more humble prayer than at many Christian churches. (And looking at another photo, I realize I missed that service by not sticking around another 20 minutes. Heh.)
And then, onto a train, because from my Lets Go book, it was clear that there was a lot of Berlin to see. In the end, I only spent time in two of Berlin's twelve districts, though I think I took elevated trains over a few more. Berlin is big.
Next I went to Alexanderplatz, which used to be the center of East Germany, now also home to the Fernseterm, aka "The Asparagus" a large communications antenna with a rotating tourist thingy (dan can describe better, as he went up to see the city from 500m high).
I rode a tram over to the eastern side of the centermost district, in order to go to the Berliner Dom (Cathedral) and DDR Museum (a hands-on museum of life in East Berlin).
That museum succeeded on some levels; there were concrete pieces of daily life, such as coupon
books and the Republic's answer to blue jeans (plastic fabric; cotton was too expensive) and a small nook on the Stasi. I sat in a Trebant car, which was quite uncomfortably tiny. There was a positive-toned film about socialist housing construction that made me laugh out loud once. The interviewer asked various people about their new housing. Some had neutral/negative things to say like "I'm still living with my parents; it will be a while before I'm given a flat for my husband and I" But one woman was cheerful: "I have to say I'm very pleased." "why?" "I'm from the housing office." (Well, yes, you would have to say you were pleased, wouldn't you.)
Unfortunately, most of what I got from the DDR museum was kitch. I was hoping for a bit more honesty about day-to-day life, or perhaps stories of peoples lives; or how individual lives changed when the wall came down.
But I was entertained.
Also worth seeing: an aquarium elevator-shaft in a hotel lobby (thank you, Lets Go Guide) and the iconic winged column from a favorite Wim Wenders movie.
I got myself a bit lost and wound up looking at the Reichstag from a bit up the Spree River:
Back to the hotel, met up with dan; we had dinner at a Greek restaurant near our hotel and let them pick what we ate, something like 15 tapas-sized plates. And it was quite tasty. And we traded touring stories and crashed fairly early.
On Saturday I was going to tour with dan but my back was in bad shape and I didn't want to hold him back, so we went touring separately again, which was fine, as I do like my own company. :)
I wound up at Potsdamer Platz, which has a complicated mix of new and old. I've never seen a partially bombed building preserved under a glass front; surrounded above and on the sides by new construction; and I was impressed with the tent on top of the collection of buildings; it tied together the buildings into one "center." I'm not sure what the "Sony Center" was for; it sort of looked like a mall, but I was mostly interested in the architecture of the place.
Potsdamer Platz also was the site of a dozen or so segments of the Berlin Wall, including one inexplicably bearing a URL.
And I went into the Berliner Dom, which had two floors of architecture to look at, plus a museum on the top floor that I wisely decided to skip. The basement crypt was creepy.
I walked my way over a chunk of the central city to "Museum Island" (another UNESCO World Heritage Site), a dense collection of museums, to the Pergemon, which contains a large-scale collection of ancient Greek and Islamic stonework and statuary. I don't feel like I saw enough of this museum, but by this time I was fairly bushed. I did see the Ishtar Gates, which were gorgeous.
And some other interesting Islamic art.
Then I took the train to a gay bookstore, Berlin's largest, which was much smaller than Glad Day in Toronto or (wuzzat called, the one in DC. Sorry, I'm not going to remember). They had lots of English books, but nothing that appealed...
And again, back to the hotel to trade stories with dan. He had found parts of the Pergamon that I hadn't, and vice-versa; in the end I wish I had been able to spend more time there. We went to a Japanese / Korean restaurant that fed me an amazing amount of tasty food for €18. Yum.
On Sunday, we spent the morning brunching at the hotel restaurant (after discovering that nothing else in the area was open; this seems a theme for Berlin. They like brunch, but not until close to noon). After saying goodbyes, dan saw me off to the airport while he stayed in town before his flight to Slovakia (to see his former students at their university in Bratislava).
I wrote enough about my followup night in Frankfurt city, but I added a few photos to flickr.
Also, random newspaper ad selling Kanadian Wasserfront property in central Nova Scotia. Only €6.2 million!
I left Germany envious of their public transit and wishing I were a fluent speaker of the language. And thinking that even sticking with mostly looking at architecture I could have filled a few more days in Berlin. Oh well, it will still be there. Perhaps the next time I could visit a local to give me more insight into the questions I won't answer by reading a guidebook.