The first thing that struck me about Berlin was how attractive the people were. I’m not sure if I was surprised by this because in my mind, I had painted Germans as a stoic, unappealing bunch. Instead, I find myself a tiny mousy Asian in the land of the gorgeous- the same place that Heidi Klum came from. I should have known better.
Friends urged me to go Munich instead; it’s light on mood with beautiful sights, a far cry from the muted German capital. But I really wanted to visit the Berlin Wall, to feel a fragment of the stone cold barrier that once divide a country into two contrasting sides.
It’s instantly clear where East Berlin ends and West Berlin begins. There’s a line on the ground between east and west where the Berlin Wall once stood. But even without it, you can still see an imaginary divider between the cheerier west and the gloomier east.
Greyish older buildings begging for repair are remnants and reflections of the Eastern bloc’s influence, while contemporary buildings with a more colorful palette soar in the West. Some locals I met lament on the city’s lack of funds to rebuild the east side, but I much rather it remain as it is. It adds character to the city.
Berliners are enterprising. My first encounter with the Berlin Wall was at a souvenir shop. Shops all over town hawk “authentic” pieces of the Berlin Wall encased in tiny glass bottles, urging tourists to bring home a piece of history back. This one-time symbol of oppression is now a goldmine targeted at wide-eyed travellers. I’m not sure how many have fallen for this, but I did wonder how many of these fragments were real.
Berlin’s city dwellers know how enjoy life. Cafes that line the sidewalk beside the river are filled with people enjoying ice-cold beer in the afternoons. There are even deck chairs facing the river, for a siesta if you have time. The expansive field in front of the Reichstag are strewn with pockets of people, some picnicking, some sunbathing and others, studying. At dusk, restaurants ring with laughter and chattering, and dinner can last deep into the night. Pubs pulsate with dance music and strobe lights. Drunken youths stumble home only at 2 or 3 am.
But as much as they live in the present, the Germans haven’t forgotten their past. A Holocaust memorial was erected near the city center, a tribute to the Jews who perished during the Nazi occupation. I wonder if its location is their way of saying “we’re not afraid to hide behind our past generation’s mistakes”.
A melting pot of culture, history and modernism, I find Berlin a fascinating city for history buffs.
Have you been there before, where’s your favorite places to visit?