I am now writing my thesis, and what better way to proceed than making a break in between? It was a coincidence that we traveled from the capital of then West Germany to Berlin which is now the capital of unified Germany. My first time in Berlin last March was marked by helping out a friend move in, and of course, taking the touristy route. This time, I spent the first day touring my Ozzie cousin around the city. The days after were dedicated to discover more of the city and its history.
Germany will soon commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall. Signs of this historic event 20 years after are starting to sprout across the city. In Alexanderplatz, an outdoor museum narrates the chronology of events until the fall of the wall. I zipped in and out of what used to be the Berlin wall, and it is difficult to imagine that only 20 years ago, this was impossible, or at least a death-defying act of courage. In Friedrichstrasse near Checkpoint Charlie, panels line the street where a timeline narrates stories of the Berlin Wall, from those who succeeded crossing the border, as well as those who lucked out.
Another point of historic interest is the Holocaust Museum located underneath the Jewish Monument, a few meters’ walk from the Brandenburg Gate. For those who are thinking of leaping over the marble monument (like we did) as if it were a modified labyrinth, better go to the museum before attempting to do so. The stories and memories of the lives lost during the Holocaust will make you think twice of doing so.
You can, however, do the jumping and leaping in Charllotenburg Palace. This palace was the home of the Prussian leaders. Behind the imposing facade of the palace is a hidden jewel that could be easy to miss if one doesn’t go beyond the front yard. Those Prussian rulers had it going good back then. A vast garden covers the rest of the estate, at the far end of which is a pond. Suffice it to say, it’s one of the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen. Looking around the upscale boroughs of Charlottenburg and Wilhelmsdorf makes one think the descendants of the Prussian upper crust settled here after the fall of the empire.
At the square of the Gedaechtniskirche, we whiled away the time one slow afternoon playing games from recycled metals and machine parts. At one corner of the area, a crowd gathered around a street performer doing acrobatic tricks on his makeshift stage. Scattered around are huts selling half-meter bratwurst, rice and curry combos, and Russian beers, and some more performers waiting for their turn under the lime light.
At the city center along Oranienburgerstrasse, with the friendly aid of a former Ossi (someone who lived in the former East German), we were led to Tacheles and dipped into some Berlin subculture. The run-down building with graffiti-wrapped walls now houses avant-garde artists and a popular venue of progressive art. Before our feet fully give up from the walking, there’s always a side-street cafe or a Kebab place that served as our refuge where we made our pit-stop.
I told myself I won’t find myself waiting in line when I decide to go up the dome of the Reichstag. However, I was persuaded to queue up by my cousins and our Ossi friend in the afternoon, probably the busiest part of the day. The hour-long wait was worth it though. The dome and the spiraling ramp to reach the top was an architectural wonder and bliss. The panoramic view, simply put, was breathtaking.
Berlin continues to develop into a “pattern” of spontaneous disorder. Getting to know the city for the second time brought fresh eyes and appeal to the German capital. This time I absorbed and got to know more of its not-so-distant past, that is now a part of history that made an indelible mark across the world. I think I will keep coming back to Berlin because it is a city that needs continuous discovery- and rediscovery.