Berlin has preserved and constructed many reminders of the country’s not-so-distant past in hopes that these memorials and museums continue to remind people of the horrors resulting from prejudice, hate, fear-mongering and war. There are at least 20 memorials to Holocaust victims in Berlin, including individual memorials for Roma (Gypsy), disabled and homosexual victims. The largest, on a site covering almost five acres, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Two thousand-seven hundred-eleven concrete slabs of different heights are arranged on a wave-like concrete floor. The sheer size, openness and abstraction encourage visitors to individually and personally interpret the space. Do you feel anger? Sadness? Hope?
Even more moving to me, are memorials that are a million times smaller. As you walk around Berlin, you’ll come across small brass squares built into the sidewalks. The 10 square cm “stolpersteine,” or stumbling stones, have a simple inscription, “Here lived (name), date of birth, and fate (internment, suicide, exile or deportation/murder).” Each commemorates a victim outside their last-known freely chosen residence. Talk about making history personal! (Over 70,000 stones have been laid in more than 1,200 cities across Europe and Russia. Look for them when you travel.)
A City Divided
For some reason, I did not recall that Berlin was a “hole in the donut” rather than merely one city along a vast east-west Cold War border. I can’t imagine waking up one day to find myself literally walled off from family and friends, a job, my school. At least 171 people were killed trying to get over, under or around the Berlin Wall. From 1961 until the wall came down in 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through the sewers and driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds.
Most traces of the city’s division have been bulldozed over — streets, bridges and mass transit have been reconnected; districts have been realigned and merged.
The Oberbaumbrücke or Oberbaum Bridge connects the unified districts of Kreuzenberg and Friedrichshain. Do you remember it from one of the Jason Bourne movies?
(Answer: The Bourne Supremacy)
Mitte was once the heart of East Berlin. Now it is basically the city center due to its location, the fact that it remains the most urban-looking district and because Mitte is home to many of Berlin’s most popular sights
Celebrating the present
Berlin now prides itself on its inclusiveness and acceptance. Nowhere is this more evident than at the annual Carnival of Culture. The weekend celebration includes a parade celebrating the city’s diversity. We were among the million people that attended!
Hanging in Prenzlauer Berg
When the Berlin Wall came down, prosperity moved through East Berlin creating some of the city’s most popular areas. We are staying in one of them — Prenzlauer Berg. Once a Jewish ghetto, next a haven for squatters and artists, PB is now an affluent district brimming with young families (honestly, I have never seen so many buggies!). Elegant buildings which survived WWII, tree-lined cobblestone streets, playgrounds, countless small restaurants and cafes — all add to the area’s desirability.
I mentioned the concept of ‘kiez’ in the previous post. Berlin became a city by uniting small villages within a city environment. Prenzlauer Berg perfectly illustrates this village/neighborhood concept. Within a couple blocks of our apartment and tastefully integrated into the neighborhood ambience are a grocery store, a library and some day care centers. You don’t need to leave your neighborhood for anything but if you do, mass transit is conveniently located on a main street just a few blocks away.
The colorful East
Many of the districts in East Berlin seem to be more edgy and artsy. We see a lot of young people and there seems to be more nightlife. Street art is everywhere but Friedrichshain is probably the most famous for it. Here, the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall is the world’s longest open air gallery (as well as a protected memorial).
East Side Gallery (Berlin Wall)
More street art in Friedrichshain
East Berlin —- always something happening
We spent our last night with our friend Thomas and his Shakespeare Company Berlin for their opening night performance of “Love’s Labour Lost” at Schöneberger Südgelände. Bravo on a wonderful show and Bravo to the wonderful city of Berlin!