Friday, July 20, 2012
Berlin: Poor but sexy
Officially, Berlin is the capital of Germany. Unofficially, Berlin is the capital of cool.
It's one of the most graffiti friendly, bike friendly, art friendly, party friendly, freak friendly cities I've ever visited. It's exciting and dynamic and all of the other adjectives that hint at the atmosphere of the place but don't quite do it justice.
Berlin feels free to me. It's refreshing to be in a city where a guy wearing crystal-studded stilettos doesn't raise eyebrows or to know that whatever your fetish is, there's a club that caters to it. (Which is great in theory but not so great in reality when it's 4 a.m. and the party outside your hotel window is still raging.)
But what tips Berlin over the edge, what makes it truly interesting, is that amidst all of the fun and freedom and forward-looking progressiveness runs a somber undercurrent. Its horrible history isn't on full display but it isn't hidden either. The memorials, the museums and the galleries are a testament to the city's heavy historical burden. Berlin is a juxtaposition between the past and the present, between horror and hope.
Division is a constant theme: even the monument to the Berlin Wall is split in two. You can go to the Topography of Terror where a section of the wall stands above a series of panels that take you through the history of Hitler and the Holocaust to the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. Or you can go to the East Side Gallery where the murals painted on a 1.3 km stretch of the wall are a symbol of freedom and the euphoria of reunification.
So you have two walls. One wall symbolizes humanity at its worst. And the other symbolizes humanity at its best. Either way it's a powerful symbol of hope, a reminder that things can change. Walls can be built up but they can also be torn down.
It was surreal to see the Berlin Wall with my own eyes. It was equally surreal to see that the wall -- once used to control and divide people -- has been reduced to little more than a backdrop for Facebook profile photos.
The fall of the wall was a larger-than-life historical event and it happened in our lifetime. When I was learning about the Berlin Wall in history class, never in my wildest dreams did I think that one day I would actually touch the wall with my own hands.
This was meant to be a somber pose but it turned out to be unintentionally sexy. But since Berlin's mayor gave the city its "poor but sexy" tagline, I figure the photo is apropos.
I've posted a few other photos below. The rest are on flickr.
Of course, a highlight of Berlin was catching up with Marni and Laura, who I hadn't seen since the last time I was in Canada, which was three years ago. We all arrived in Berlin on Friday morning, spent the weekend together and then took the train back to Bonn on Sunday night.
They spent a couple of days in Bonn before heading out on their own, and I met up with them again the following weekend in Belgium. We've known each other for a long time so even though we hadn't seen each other for a few years, there was an immediate ease and comfort. We slipped back into familiar roles, like family.
On the train back to Bonn, we had visions of eating in the dining car a la Orient Express.
However, upon arriving in the dining car we were informed that there was a limited menu because of a malfunction in the kitchen. I ordered a Snickers bar, which was served on a plate. All that was missing was a knife and fork.
A Snickers bar served with a side dish of surreal. A fitting end to the trip.