Berlin: A City With Visible War History and an Alternative Art Scene
It has been a two-month hiatus since my last post, but now I’ve got a lot of fun things to write about. As I type, I’m in Germany, Freudenstadt to be exact. Before now, I was in Amsterdam and before then, Berlin. In this post, I’ll focus on my time in Berlin
So, you may be wondering why am I in Europe? Well, two months ago, I heard from my sister that my good friend Irina (the very same Irina I met in Mongolia over three years ago) was moving back to Mongolia in early September. Her plan is to stay and work as a park ranger for the Gobi Desert for two years. During this time, Irina will also work closely with local biologists to study the Gobi Bear (the last known desert dwelling bear in the world. There are only a few dozen left, I believe).
I had meant to visit her for the last three years and I realized that my only chance for the next while would be now. This is when I decided I needed a two-week vacation to see my friend before she leaves for her trip, as well as to explore parts of Europe I hadn’t been before. So, I bought tickets to Berlin (which is where Irina would be), and due to incredible timing, my twin sister did as well. She didn’t want to miss out on the European adventure!
So, now to Berlin.
Colleen and I arrived early in the morning in Berlin, meaning we would have our first whole day to combat the time change. Luckily, Irina picked us up from the airport and spent the whole day with us as our tour guide. After dropping off our bags at my friend Anka’s apartment (another friend who I had been meaning to visit as well), we went to city central to see the museum district, the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, and the Berlin Wall.
While walking through the museum district, what struck me first were the visible bullet and shrapnel scars strewn across the museum buildings and pillars in the area. Irina told Colleen and I that after the war, Berlin did not have the funds to fix the scars, so they have been left since. It was easy to imagine that there must’ve been heavy gunfire between the allies and nazis in this area during WW2, especially since it wasn’t far from the parliament building (Hitler’s headquarters).
During this time, Irina, Colleen, and I were reminiscing about memories shared, though what made that moment special was that it was Colleen and I’s first time together with Irina. We had formed our own friendships with Irina in the last 3 years, so it was fun to finally experience that.
Not too far from the museum district is the Jewish Holocaust Memorial (and other persons persecuted during the war). Colleen had wanted to visit the memorial because she learned about it in one of her college classes. The memorial itself looks simple from the outside, just a bunch of pillars of concrete populating the square. But, the inside creates a different atmosphere. The paths between the pillars go deep into the ground and are paved unevenly. Once in the center, it’s natural to feel an eery coolness and an insecurity in your footing. The architect wanted to create a physical space where persons who did not experience the holocaust could feel uncomfortable, lost, and sad for those lost during the war. Feeling only a very small percentage of what the persecuted felt while during the war.
After the memorial, we walked all over the central part of the city and ended our afternoon visiting the Berlin Wall (at least the part the city kept up). This portion of the wall contains well-crafted graffiti on one side and a rotating art project on the other side. The art project at the moment are photos and quotes from Syrian refugees. While walking along the wall, I was reminded of the repercussions of war and the reality of what happens when other countries occupy already occupied areas. The Berlin Wall split the Russian occupied side of Germany and the Western-occupied part of Germany. The Russian side had automatic machine guns stationed, facing toward the city, ready to shoot down any East Berliner who desired to jump the wall. This and many other things resulted in tensions, eventually causing an uprising and eventual decree to bring down the wall.
This happened in Berlin and is happening in Israel and Palestine. In a way, it is also happening in the USA. Will this happen in Syria and in other countries caught in the crossfire of war? These were the thoughts going through my mind while walking beside the wall.
Our second day in Berlin started with an authentic German breakfast and an amazing cup of coffee. After, Irina took us to a flea market and I was impressed by it. Almost all of the stalls were full of antiques and used clothing. The others had refurbished furniture, dating back to the mid century. With the dated clothing and furniture, it was like stepping back in time by a few decades
From there, we walked to another market, but this market had an alternative art/punk scene. There were more art stalls, food carts, and an indoor food stall plaza with graffiti as its wallpaper. I believe the plaza was called Neuehemat.
I’d say the best times spent with Irina was on our third day in the city. Irina, Anka, Irina’s boyfriend Robert, Colleen, and I met in the morning to picnic beside the canal. We bought coffee, fresh bread, meat, and cheese, and enjoyed a sunny morning chatting and eating together. I have learned that it’s very European to picnic beside the canals. After, we walked to the parliament building and then meandered our way to the south of Berlin to an air field, which is now a community park. Irina invited her friends to enjoy one last evening together before leaving to Mongolia. People brought wine, beer, and blankets, so to fully enjoy sunset and revelry. Once it got too cold, we went to a nearby bar to continue the festivities. I fully enjoyed my last evening with Irina and her friends and am grateful to have had the opportunity to see her before she had left for her big trip. Who knows, maybe I’ll go see her in Mongolia?
For Colleen and I’s final day in Berlin, we decided to go to the Jewish Museum, so to learn more about the holocaust, as well as the history of Jewish people. Colleen and I learned a lot. I didn’t realize how little I knew about Jewish history. After, Colleen and I met Anka at a falafel shop to eat dinner. Anka told us about a park nearby that has a great view of the sunset, so we walked over (picking up ice cream on the way). I noticed that the hill in the park seemed out of place. When I asked Anka about it, she said that beneath the hill is the remains of bombed houses from the war. She said that the city didn’t know what to do with all the debris, so at the time, the best thing to do was to place it in the nearby park. Over the last half century, the debris has evolved from crumbed homes to grassy hills with a view of the city skyline.
And for our final Berlin moment, Anka and her friends brought us on a tour of the canal in the dark of night. I rowed for the first time and got to see the city from a different angle. As we paddled along the canal passageways, I enjoyed seeing other young folks on the edge, feet dangling above the canal, smoking cigarettes, and drinking wine. It felt so Europe. It felt so Berlin. It was the best way to finish Colleen and I’s experience in Berlin.
I’m sure there are a bunch of errors, but for now I must rest! Hope you enjoyed my post. In my next post, I’ll write about my time in Amsterdam.
All the best,