Berlin - thoughts, ideas, strong views. And my difficulty with the one language I 'studied' at school...
That's german for hello.
Easy language, nein?!
My sum total of the German language revolves around Bar und Ruh. Misspelled, probably. There should be some use of omelettes on some of the vowels, I am sure.
But Bar und Ruh were two characters - from my year 7 German school books - which followed the crazy adventures, in Deutsch and in Deutchland, of a Koala (the misnomer of the Koala being a bear was perpetuated in this supposed learned text) and a Kangaroo, respectively. (The likelihood of a Koala and a Kangaroo being friends, let alone the reality of Koala only being awake for the sum total of one hour per day - OR come to think of it, the fact that neither a Koala nor a Kangaroo could actually communicate verbally with words based on Latin or Germanic roots, is very very slim.) So, for the first few days, I felt a little like partaking in Eddie Izzard moments (with less highheels and make up: me, not him) where I find myself wandering around the streets of Germany looking for amazing things to be happening (which of course there are many) so I am able to exclaim: "Ach himmel! Was ist das?!" which of course means "Oh heavens, what is that?!" a little formal and 19th century, sure, but it'll come in handy when I feel like the sky is falling. Thanks Bahr und Ru und thousands of dollars in secondary school education. (Sorry Mum and Dad. I have other skills... Right?!)
And I remember how to ask 'how are you?', 'my name is___' and basic directions and questions, but I can't remember which is which, so I find myself walking into hostels saying "Excuse me please, oh heavens, what's the attention toilet time window little white dog, naturally you are a highway, thank you very much! And then wonder when they reply in English with a smirk.
Berlin is truly amazing, in and of itself. (Except, I am confused by the traffic lights that offer a sound like signal for the blind, but don't change their sound for when it is safe to cross! That's just cruel! Also, the traffic light characters, 'walk and stop', have a name - a left over from before the wall crumbled: Ampelman!)
Berlin! It's a big city, but feels really empty in a way. The streets are wide and long, but they're neither packed with cars or pedestrians. Sure, there's the tourist hot spots, catering for your tourist needs: flags, banners, bags - all adorned with The Word or pictures of: Berlin!. There's pieces of the wall, pieces of WW relics, flags that say peace. People dressed up as German Soldiers, Checkpoint Charlie officials and a native American Indian (I don't know why either) so that you can have your photo taken with them. Tourist buses, tourist walks and tourist traps... But mostly it feels like a city living and breathing it's own unique culture. Heck, I even visited an Aldi in Berlin!
There's so much to do and visit without actually stepping foot inside anywhere. The museums and galleries are monumental and beautiful in themselves. Often i cruised past them and thought : not yet, maybe tomorrow if there's nothing to do. Ha! There's free temporary exhibitions and art installations, backyard junkyard sculpture galleries that back onto bohemian bars, buskers and great people watching. The massive stretch of wall that makes up the East Side Open Air Gallery was one of the most amazing sights. I saved it until quite late in my trip, ironically as I easily crossed from East to West and back again, coming across bits of the wall here and there, or double brick lined markers embedded in the streets to signify where it stood. But the day I hired a bicycle and cycled up and down that stretch of wall was amazing. Beautiful contemporary art, full of meaning and feeling, love and angst. Quite the sight. And free!
Then there was Bebelplatz, the site of the first Nazi Book burning, which you could easily overlook as it is an open square near the Opera house and the University. But if you look closely, there's a monument to the terrible crimes against writers and their tomes of knowledge or truth, or fantastic stories of fact or fiction - a see-through 2 metre square gallery beneath the surface of the plaza, and in it, a series of white, empty bookcases. The people of Berlin are right into symbolism.
Like the monument to the victims of the Holocaust.
A series of 2,711 grey concrete blocks of varying heights, but all of the same length and width that adorn a square of Berlin city near the Brandenburg gate. People pass this every day, tourists, Berliners, dogs and cats. And there's nothing screaming at you about what or is, or what it means. You make up your own mind as to what it is and what it stands for. It is an idea(l) jumping off point - but don't jump off these slabs, you're only allowed to sit on and walk through this memorial - or else you get shouted at by the friendly German Officials patrolling the area.
Really, they're not that bad - but the thing about Berlin is it is so steeped in history, a lot of it very recent, that it's hard not to draw parallels or parody the place. For example: the first thing that jumped into my head as i arrived in Berlin: "don't mention the war, I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it". Or in fact, on my first night, I found myself asking the question: "Is it Kosher to sit in a bar looking up Berlin on google on my iPhone, and then halting on information about Hitler replete with photos? Is it in fact kosher to say kosher in Berlin?!" But, this is a city almost apologizing for itself by offering great art, sights, sites and culture - with friendly people and a great world view of itself by restoring disassembled monuments and providing such offerings as the Topographie of Terrors - an exhibition of the atrocities of Hitler and the German people against, well, everybody! Anyhoo, I digress - beneath this understated and eerily beautiful and urban holocaust monument, lies another tasteful museum, complete with the same oblong shapes appearing through the ceiling and reappearing as replicated pathways on the floor, amidst letters of poets, children, fathers and aunts - basically all sort is people as they were taken away by the Nazis and maliciously and with great calculation, murdered in the terrible act (understated adjective) of genocide.
I learnt more about this and other horrors of war at the most deliberately and super designed Sachsenhausen, one of the first concentration camps set up by Himmler and his henchmen. Even when there, listening to the stories, reading articles and documents and standing amongst the grounds and the bunkers and the killing houses, the pathology labs and areas of cremation after trialling new methods of killing tested on the Soviet allies (for Sachsenhausen wasn't a death camp like Auschwitz II-Birkenau, rest assured, it was a *work camp* or prison, not designed to be a place of mass murder, apart from those brought in to be killed, or indeed those that dropped dead from the work, cruel torture or medical experimentations... if you went to this camp you had a 5% chance of getting out alive at least - good odds, eh?!)... I still can't actually contemplate the horror. And I'm glad. I think there's some kind of plumbing in your brain that self clogs when there's too much bad stuff going in, and you can't actually absorb any more. You hear it, but it gets trapped at the surface, maybe by nicer things or just an overload of bad - so rather than it ALL seeping in - you can go back to your ice-creams and nice ideals, the latest facebook game and ignorant but fun movies and fully charged iPhones (the irony that I am writing this on an iPhone is not lost on me)... But it is important to see this stuff, be aware of history and modern day atrocities, and yet learn from it and still happily function in the world...
I find it interesting that some people think that this stuff didn't actually happen, or isn't still happening. Phnom Penh with Pol Pot, S21 and the Killing Fields was in my life time... (showing my age) and still nothing was done. The wars (or search for weapons of Mass Destruction) in Iran, Iraq, Palestine and so on... You name it, there's horror. But I have to say, none so organized as the Nazis. I mean, they had stuff set up in place years before it was needed, so that when some small man with a stupid haircut and silly mustache (both Hitler and Himmler) gave the orders, the well oiled machine was ready to be greased with the blood of the Jews and the Gypsies, communists, homosexuals, the elderly and disabled - anyone deemed not worthy of living as part of the glorious and pure Germany. And they documented EVERYTHING! Not only through some form of necessity, but probably due to twisted pride as well - as when the world was rid of these scum, and they were being congratulated, they would also be able to show off how they did it!!!
And to think, there were two (known) very narrowly botched assassination attempts on Hitler's life. One is in popular knowledge due to the Tom Cruise film, but the other was a little guy, a nobody carpenter who thought "Hang on. This Hitler guy has some weird ideas. I think he might be up to something... best kill one of him before he kills millions of people". And he almost succeeded... Check out the story of Georg Elser: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Elser, and I'm gonna track down the film 'Seven Minutes' based on this event when I get back home. Of course, anyone who wants to join me in this, let's get that popcorn a'popping and pull up a chair. I'll be home at some stage...
Back to some nicer things: the Bauhaus http://www.bauhaus.de/index+M52087573ab0.html - the collected and documented works of the Bauhaus design school in Berlin. Very interesting and cool place. No photos!! I found out the hard way... I understood that German phrasing due to the look on the woman's face. Sneaky; they are there to catch sneaky photographers by sneakily blending in with the crowds by wearing sneaky plain clothes and sneaking up on you mid snap...
It was nice to be absent from the constant, but required, reminder of the war and the wall. The Bauhaus is better than Ikea! (for other thoughts on ikea see below*) Except, you can't sit on any of the furniture. Sad face. But you can definitely see where rip off designs have come from. Oddly, it also seems that the chairs that were used as dining chairs when I was growing up, (the ones I thought weren't that cool) are actually an almost antique design. 1923 was a big year for the canter levered, steel tubed wicker chair! You know the ones, I am sure we all had them!
So there's lots of design here, but nothing sinister (as in Sachsenhausen- some bits get past the plug, remember?!) for once, my audio guided, placarded adventure has no killing or bloodshed at the end. Or none that I was made aware of. (I also try and use humour to counteract the horror, I am not being disrespectful... and often I am not that funny! So it all evens out.) Teapots won't transform themselves to gas chambers or art builings aren't going to become bunkers... etc. Here, it's just form and function with style as the imperative. Nice. Really nice. And neat! All of Berlin is cool and neat, but the happy stuff is easier to take with you, but just as important as the sad stuff.
The phrase (or one of the phrases) that kept going through my head over my 11 night stay was: "Ich bin ein Berliner." said by Kennedy in his address to Berlin. But, as I have learnt through Eddie Izzard's insightful comedy, (where I seem to learn ALL of my historical facts) Kennedy referred to himself not as a "citizen of Berlin", but as a "jam doughnut", which is known in parts of Germany as a "Berliner". Hilarious? Ja. And not helped by the amount of Dunkin' Donut outlets throughout Berlin. C'mon people!!! Where's your advertising campaign?!
* okay, so in my experience of hostel travelling, the Metropol Hostel has been one of the better ones. Not only was it a great breakfast experience (surely you've read that blog by now), the staff were nice and helpful - and assisted in my accommodation happiness by keeping me in the same room or at least for the same price for as much as possible over my final count of 11 nights as opposed to my initial reservation of 3. But the other thing I loved about Metropol, or indeed any modern hostel with kit furniture, is it's reminiscence of visiting Ikea showrooms: kitchens, bathrooms, lounge areas, bedroom furniture. It's like I am going from area to zig zagged area in Ikea, but actually entering and living in the display set ups! My very own Narnia! And the cutlery was also the very same as my own! So that is always a nice touch. I trust ikea cutlery. I hope they got a discount...! (I told you about the brain clog, right?! - this type of inane happiness is an example of the filter trap in place)
My love of Cartoon Food is realised in the 3rd Dimension.
That's just SOME of the stuff from Berlin.
Watch out for more updates, photos and overstressed links to other material that you may or may not read...!
Achtung Jelly baby! xx
P.S. I have peppered this blog with links, images and information from sources other than my own (for the moment), so I thank those third parties. No infringement of copyright was intended and all are supposedly within the public domain.
P.P.S. The Duff photo is my own... naturalich.