Noticing Things in Berlin

IMG_3656I first visited Berlin in 1990, not long after The Wall came down, when the scars of where it had stood were still unavoidable and prominent.  I was there for a work conference, but squeezed in as much of a tour of the city as I could.  The images of the derelict land in the centre of the city which featured in Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire were still fresh in my mind, and I found their reality all around me.  At the Brandenberg Gate I watched people repeatedly walking backwards and forwards across the gap in the tarmac where the Wall had stood; a simple act so long prohibited.

The roads were filled with traffic, a chaotic combination of dumpy little Trabants and shining Mercedes monsters.  Every tan coloured Trabi filled to capacity with four people, their shoulders crushed together, the tops of their heads pressing on the inside of the car roof; every shining silver Merc occupied by a single driver, luxuriating in space, one hand on the wheel, the other stretched out over the passenger seat….or so it seemed.

These were the pictures that stayed with me, and provided the contrast for what I saw on my visit to Berlin last week.  A lot has changed in the intervening years.  All the cars on the streets are shiny, and the Trabant has been relegated to a historical curiosity, an artefact in a kitsch museum or the vehicle of choice for a novelty ‘safari’  tour of the city sights.  The path of The Wall is evident only in specially preserved areas, and Potsdamer Platz is filled with dramatic high buildings.  As we went from sight to sight we walked backwards and forwards across the old demarcation line without noticing it, only periodically pausing to reflect, trying to imagine what it would have been like to have been prevented from crossing from one side of a street the other.

We had just visited the Topography of Terror Museum, built on the site of the Nazi Secret Police Headquarters, it was a chastening experience; reading documentary information about the perpetrators of Nazi terror, the banality of the individuals, and the horror of what they did.

Deep in our own thoughts, waiting at the lights to cross the road, on our way back towards Friedrichstrasse, there was some relief to see this jumble of tourist tat on the opposite corner.  Bear? Check. Trabant? Check. Curryworst? Check.  Big Balloon? Check. A sign using  a heart to replace a word? Check.  Graffiti? Check.

It’s still a city of huge contrasts.

And yes, I did try a curryworst, and would describe it as a cultural rather than gastronomic experince.

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  1. Your photo makes it looks pretty grey but striving for some sort of vibrance. Was the weather lousy that day? And I’m sorry, but anyone who orders a curryworst deserves what they get!!!!! 🙂 x
    Nice to read you again, by the way.

    • Thank you. That day was grey, but we had two bright sunny days afterwards. I may feature some bluer sky in a post soon. The curryworst was not the wisest menu choice, but it is allegedly the local speciality. I need never have another one!


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