When I visit my dad every year in Germany, we always make the effort to do something a bit more interesting than cycling around and eating out in his local area, and this year we decided to spend 24 hours in Berlin and see what we could cram in.
Berlin is a three and a half hour drive from Herford, and on the drive we passed the Helmstedt-Marienborn border crossing that used to separate East and West Germany, so we decided to have a walk around the old site that has now been converted into something of a mini museum. Entry was free and the buildings didn't take too long to walk around (we spent perhaps 30 minutes there) but it's very eerie to walk around a place that once divided a country and learn about the divide and how each side viewed one another. It was also interesting to speak to my dad's girlfriend who remembers crossing the border herself as a child, as she explained how the journey felt as a child with little understanding, and how she now reflects back on it as an adult who understands the politics behind it all. It's perhaps a little out of the way and not a place I imagine many people would pass, but if you find yourself passing it's worth going in for a short while to have a look around and get a feel for the cold division of the country that used to exist.
We arrived in Berlin at around 4pm, unpacking our things in our hotel and heading straight out to the Topography of Terror. I didn't actually take any photographs while I was there, but my god was it worth the visit. It was essentially a two part exhibition, inside and out, that took you through the history of Nazi Germany, including their rise to power, their treatment of the citizens and the jews, and eventually their demise after the war. We spent three hours in there from 5pm until closing and didn't quite make it to the end, but it was a chilling and eye opening experience nonetheless.
You're taught about WW2 and Nazi Germany in school, but not to this extent. You're never really taught of the warped, psychopathic ideologies of the nazi party leaders, the extreme crimes committed against jewish citizens, the brainwashing, and you're certainly not educated on how some of the extreme ideologies of the Nazi party map perfectly on to the ones that the current British Conservative party possess. Honestly, the rise of the Nazi party in Germany chillingly echoes the rise of our current Conservative government and how they are scapegoating and sanctioning specific individuals just as the Nazi party did with the jews, and I urge anyone who visits Berlin to spare a few hours at the Topography of Terror because it will truly open your eyes to the past and the present. It's not the most uplifting of touristy things to do, but it's something that I believe everybody should do.
After an evening of historical and political enlightenment, we headed out for a curry and cocktails and took in the city by nighttime.
On our second day in Berlin, we first headed out to the East Side Gallery to take a look at the art that had been installed on some of the wall's remains. There was a lot of graffiti on the wall in a lot of different languages, and a lot of 1D and 5SOS scrawlings that annoyed the hell out of me. A lot of the comments I found to be interesting and an extension of the wall's narrative – political comments, questioning the art etc. – but the mindless scrawling of band names for me was a tad disrespectful of the artists' work and the messages they were trying to convey, and also the political history of the wall, but that's just my two cents. The wall itself evoked questions and emotions in me, so for a collective of pieces of art, the east side gallery did what it needed to for me.
My favourite piece on the wall:
"Many small people who in many small places do many small things that can alter the face of the world"
After visiting the East Side Gallery we headed out to a local flea market, a graphic arts festival and the now disused Tempelhof Airport, none of which I took any photos of, but I feel that all three were reflective of Berlin's character as a city. For me, Berlin seemed very laid back, relaxed and free of the sanitisation and commercialisation that's evident in most of London. Don't get me wrong, Berlin wasn't completely free of commercialisation, but the graffiti and abundance of independent shops and markets all helped to reflect that Berlin still had history and character that hadn't been stripped away from it by overpowering capitalism, and for that reason I really enjoyed being there.
The Tempelhof Airport, that has now been turned into a huge public park, I feel really captured the spirit of Berlin. The place was packed full of people socialising and enjoying themselves, and was truly there for the people, not profit. Within the park was a small building, and within it you could have your say as a citizen what you'd like to see done with the space, and I thought it was really great that the people of Berlin were having a say on what was to become of a space that they all seemed to really love. In all, I really think England – London in particular – could do with taking a look at Berlin as a city and adopting some of its ideas, but then again, that'd mean handing power over to the people, so I can't see that happening.
In a nutshell, Berlin was great. We didn't spend very long there and I didn't see too much of it, but what I did see was a strong sense of character, community, and a welcoming of independence and diversity. I can only hope I get to go back some day and spend a bit more time there to get to know Berlin better (and hopefully by then I'll have taught myself a bit more German, too...)