Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Tale of Four Cities Part III: Berlin – Erich

Berlin is history. I don't mean it's gone. I mean it is so steeped in history.

Of course, many other cities have a great deal of history. In Athens, we saw ancient buildings from the founders of Western Thought. In London, there is fascinating history. But the history on display in these places is from long ago. In Athens you see the Parthenon, built a few thousand years earlier, and history is presented with a certain awe about how our way of thinking began. In London, a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London call tell you tongue-in-cheek stories of queens having their heads cut off. We are far enough removed that we can retell without reliving.

But not so in Berlin. It does have its old history as well, starting over a thousand years ago. But the raw history on display in Berlin is much more recent, mid twentieth century. And it is not presented with awe, but with awfulness. It is not tinged with humor, but with horror.

To its credit, Germany does not try to hide its past, even though there are elements of that past that are terrible to remember. Still, their history museums focus light on the rise of the Nazis (the National Socialists), the Holocaust, the division of Germany and Berlin, the GDR, and the Berlin Wall.

We learned how Hitler rose to power in what seemed like a moderate democracy, but one with a strong undercurrent of dissatisfaction and antisemitism. In some ways, it mirrors much of the situation in the United States today. I'm not saying we are going down a similar path, but we are in a similar place in our society.

We saw documentation of the horrors inflicted on Jews, homosexuals, the Roma, and Communists by the Nazis. It is presented fully in the hopes that by remembering it will never be repeated.

And then, with liberation from the Nazis comes the Cold War. Berlin is divided by the Allies. A fence is built, replaced by a wall. Families are separated. And people trying to cross from East to West are shot down. The wall itself is mostly gone. Only one section remains. But in addition to this one piece, there is a long memorial with information about the Wall and life in the border region.

We had many powerful and chilling lessons in Berlin.

But I don't want you to think that the city is only about its past. Berlin is vibrant, beautiful, alive, and flavorful.

We enjoyed one of their local specialties: currywurst. It's a bratwurst flavored with a curry seasoning. It is surprising that it is a German food and it is surprisingly good. Of course, we also enjoyed Schnitzel, Küchen, Kartoffelpuffer mit Apfelmus (potato pancakes with applesauce,) and Strudel. (Carver pointed out that since all of those are nouns in German, I need to capitalize each one.)
Ignore that tall tower that looks out of place
We saw lovely sights. Here you can see a massive church, Berliner Dom. Though the spectacle is somewhat comical with the Fernsehturm Berlin (the Berlin TV Tower) in the background.
It's okay. these days anyone is allowed through the central passage.
We saw the Brandenburg Gate, the symbol of Berlin and perhaps Germany itself. It was built when Berlin was a walled city. (Not the Berlin Wall, way before that.) It was a tax collection point for goods coming in and out of the city. The central passage of the five is wider than the rest. While pedestrians could use any of the five passages, those on horseback could only use the four outside passages. Except for the royal family. The central passage was reserved for them.
Now that's German efficiency. Sightseeing efficiency.
Of course, if you don't have time to see all of the sights of Berlin, no problem. Just look down at a manhole cover. What a time saver!
Take that D.C.
We were there in the spring, perfect time for cherry blossoms. I know Japan and Washington, D.C. have their blossoms, but so does Berlin. And they are beautiful.

Yes, we loved Berlin. The public transportation is everywhere and it is on time! The Germans wouldn't accept less. We noticed that the Germans do not jaywalk. They wait for the walk signal faithfully. Both the walk signal and the don't walk signal wear hats in Berlin. We did see a German man smoking in one of the U-Bahn (subway) stations, which is also strictly forbidden. So sometimes Germans break the law.

The kids played soccer with some of the local children at a park down the street. Though their communication wasn't always perfect, soccer is soccer (or football, but you get the idea.)
Euler! (You have no idea how many times I hollered that.)
And to top it all off, we lived on Eulerstraɮe or Euler Street. And it is named for Leonhard Euler, the great mathematician. You can imagine my exponential joy! Isn't that just the limit? (Perhaps Euler jokes are not the best for this crowd. Sorry.)

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