Berlin is very open about its past. It knows its place in history.
It neither hides from nor celebrates it … it merely is what it is: a very important city in the history of mankind.
We approached it from the west having spent the morning wandering around the city, taking in the Brandenburg Gate, Pottsdamer Platz and the Reichstag building, and it was surprisingly low-key when we finally found it. As you walk away from the Pottsdamer part of town, you walk through a typical city centre with small lawned squares between larger commercial developments, big corporate buildings and expensive residential plots, before entering a slightly less salubrious area that is clearly being renewed or gentrified, depending on your viewpoint.
All of a sudden, you realise there are hundreds of people here and it’s then that you see what all the fuss is about: in the distance you can make out a large hoarding with the face of a young soldier on it, while on the streets leading up to it there are more hoardings, but these ones are more like those found in a museum.
They detail what happened in the years after WWII and leading up to the construction of the Wall in 1961:
What struck me as more significant is the clear divide between east and west. If you stand on one side of it, you’re very much in the west and you see the clean, confident face of a US soldier and are close to the business hub of the city itself. A few metres past and you’re back in the east: turn around and you see a Soviet soldier, slightly less confident and quite a bit younger and thinner than his western counterpart on the other side of the hoarding:
As our trip took us further into the east, I actually found a rather utilitarian beauty to a lot of the buildings and the level of town planning, perhaps typically given that we’re talking about Germany, was excellent, with plenty of greenery, space and light and lots of recreational areas. I could see the appeal of living in a city like this, even under communist rule. When the wall finally came down, many easterners were afraid of the future and some didn’t want the state apron strings to be cut: they liked the low-cost housing, the security of the system and the cheap beer. I’m happy to report that the latter is still in evidence:
I find it quite amusing that every time I hear the words “Checkpoint Charlie” I picture Elvis Costello singing “Oliver’s Army”
… There was a checkpoint charlie
He didn’t crack a smile
But it’s no laughing party
When you’ve been on the murder mile …