“Ich bin ein Berliner” and a few swear words was pretty much tantamount to our knowledge of the German language prior to our trip to Berlin. (I thought I could order a coke quite well, but it was later pointed out to me that, as it turns out, I could not.) All I’d seen of Germany up until this point had been the riverside villages of my Grandmother’s childhood which, although beautiful, did nothing to prepare me for the metropolitan edge that Berlin encompasses. We stayed in the eye of the silver-scale, high-rise centre, but only a short walk took us to the watercolour green setting of Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag building- Berlin is a wonderful melting pot of old versus new, nature versus fabrication. The Cold War has been my favourite period to study (mutually assured destruction does tend to bring a little bit of excitement into life) and to be visiting the microcosm of the whole war that is Berlin was just unreal.
Having said this, despite any interest we may have had in the history of the place- a lot of our collective excitement about Berlin came from Mark’s keenness for some currywurst. And we were not let down on the sausage front. Bratwurst, blutwurst, frankfurters, each more German and sausage-y than the last- I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many consecutive wieners (cheeky). Of course, there was also an unsurprising volume of beer consumed over our 3 days in Germany, despite being a group dominated by self confessed wine snobs. Although we were quite unlucky with the weather in Berlin (there isn’t a great deal of colour in Berlin, and the grey rain tended to dull what the sun made shiny), one of the brighter afternoons was spent at a festival behind Brandenburg Gate, drinking beer. I will usually avoid beer at all costs (I much prefer a glass of moscato) but I don’t think there is a better setting in which to enjoy a pint than sat in the warm shadow of an edifice as breathtaking as the Gate.
Besides the food and drink of course, the Berlin Wall is pretty much number 1 on the list of a History student in Berlin. It’s surreal to come from your nice breakfast, in a nice cafe, on a nice morning, with your nice friends, and suddenly be standing before a structure that symbolises the oppression of so many thousands of people. It was an interesting moment to reflect on what we might take for granted, particularly as the Wall constitutes such a recent part of history- we literally missed being alive during it’s standing by less than a decade. It’s impossible to look at the Wall and what it represents with the same distance, and perhaps sometimes detachment, that time allows us to when we think of the horrors of even the Second World War. A walk along the East Side Gallery is one to get you thinking- with often politically driven, and always beautiful, artwork plastered across its length. And while I did love the Gallery, the part of the wall standing in front of the Topography of Terror museum was, to me, slightly more impressive. The wall here has been left relatively untouched apart from the odd spray of graffiti, with some of the original crumbling holes left when it fell in 1989, iron rods poking through as a tangible sign of the ‘Iron Curtain’ metaphor. Here, you are also standing in the remains of the old Gestapo Headquarters. Being from separate decades but in such close physical proximity, the presence of both the Wall and the grounds on which the Secret Police reigned from are a reminder of what Berlin has been through and recovered from.
The Holocaust Memorial gives you the kind of punch in the stomach that takes some recovering from. The first thing that you notice is how massive it is. Neither my memory or my photographs can possibly do its vastness justice- the columns grow from ankle high blocks of concrete to slabs that tower at double my height, making a maze of beautiful ‘stelae’. The second thing you notice is that while you might just be looking at quite a cool, artsy grid of statues, they stand for a lot more than just art. An underground information centre attached to the memorial reads the names of close to 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. This art is another reminder of the immense suffering that has happened in Germany.
The most overwhelmingly bad thing we did in Berlin had to have been the HiFlyer. I should have known it wasn’t going to be good by the word ‘DIE’ painted on it’s side in 5 foot tall lettering (admittedly, the ‘DIE’ was actually part of the phrase ‘Die Welt’, meaning ‘the world’ in German, but that makes the whole thing sound much more romantic than it turned out to be). It was a thundering morning- SERIOUS pathetic fallacy- I was cold and my hair was already about 3 drops of rain from exploding into full on Hagrid mode, but for some reason I was easily peer pressured (peer encouraged?) into going on the Flyer. If you haven’t seen or heard of the HiFlyer, it is basically a big balloon attached to the (blessed) ground by an extendable cord, flying up into the air and giving you what might be an amazing view of ‘die welt’ on some days, but for us ended up being a grey, rain smudged painting of the city (see right). We went on probably the worst possible day where the wind caused an ominous swaying of the balloon and hideous creaking of the metal. In short- terrifying.
We had a very different experience that night at Matrix Club. Clubbing in Berlin feels slightly more sophisticated than what I’ve become used to at Uni- the 15 euro shots of tequila at Matrix don’t quite compare to the £2.50 treble vodka drinks you can get here in York- pretty much everyone was dressed in head-to-toe black and there was quite a consistent hum of pill-related conversation accompanying the base. The club itself has an interesting aesthetic, with brick walls and ageing character juxtaposed by bright white flashes of light and house music that rings in your ears the next morning. There was a lot of dabbing.
If you want to watch a video of our entire Europe experience, 7 countries in 21 days, you can do so here!