Kiri and


Just another brick in the wall

May 26th, 2014 (by Steve)

What’s the first thing that most people do when they get to Berlin? Well, I’m sure it’s not hand-washing 78 socks and a selection of other undies! Despite teamwork, we both ended up with minor blisters, and all because the washing machine at the campsite was only open during office hours. But hey, we had a lot of walking to do in the next couple of days, so those clean socks would come in handy. The following morning, we caught the U-bahn to the centre of Berlin (48 hour pass for 16.90 Euros each which also gave us several touristy discounts) and 20 minutes later we stepped, blinking, into the city streets. The map suggested that we walked along the Berlin Wall (or part of it) as it was the 25th anniversary of its fall. 10 hours later we were glad we’d done it, but quite exhausted!

Both of us are too young to really remember the events of 1989, however we were keen to expand our knowledge and one of the best places to begin was at the Berlin Wall memorial near Nordbahnhof. This is an area of the “death strip” that has been preserved, with not only “The Wall” (the 12 foot high concrete blockade on the border), but also the patrol area on the East Berlin side with markings where the various other barriers were to stop people escaping to West Berlin. Yet in this solemn environment and against a soundscape of names being read out (of those people who had died at The Wall) people were posing for “selfies”. I’m not against selfies in general, but it didn’t seem an appropriate place.


After seeing several hundred motorbikes drive past as we tried to cross the road (not sure what that was about!) we followed a path alongside existing sections of the wall that took us through a memorial meadow. Where the original wall had been removed, in its place, throughout the city, a double row of paving bricks marked its presence; a subtle scar to remind people of a divided city and a different time. This physical line etched through Berlin took us past the Bundestag (the parliament buildings, which are now symbolically linked by a bridge across river) and down to the Brandenburg Gate where various demonstrations were taking place on the eve of the European elections.


Just past the Brandenburg gate, we took some time to take in the memorial to the murdered Jews; a square packed with what initially appear to be uniform blocks of concrete on a grid. You think you have the measure of it from the outside, where the stones are at waist height, but as you start to walk between them, soon they tower above you and you lose your bearings as the undulating ground between these monoliths stops any form of regular footstep. What got me the most though was that due to the density of the towering blocks, it’s impossible to know whether there’s one other person in this maze or several hundred. This seems to be a very fitting memorial to those who were murdered… and very moving too.


Potsdamer Platz thrust us back into the 21st century with a huge advert for the iPhone 5C on what would have been the East Berlin side of the square, dwarfing parts of The Wall which provided yet more historical information. There’s not really any need to visit a museum in Berlin, when information is so available and public on the city’s broken past. The next part of the tour took us via the “Topography of Terror” that read through from 1933(ish) to 1989, covering the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, followed by the fall and the division of Berlin, through the rise of the Wall, followed by the fall. To go off on a slight tangent, Kiri and I are currently reading through the book of Romans in the bible and have just covered the first part of Romans 13; all about submission to authorities. Not sure how that sits against the backdrop of Berlin’s recent history…

With our wallets helping us to resist the temptation to go on a “Trabi Safari“, where you get to drive a Trabant through the streets of Berlin (well, we’re already driving a museum piece around the whole of Europe!), we moved on to Checkpoint Charlie, where you could pay to pose with someone dressed as an American soldier. I was a bit disappointed that such a key location in the Cold War conflict could be reduced to this for the sake of tourists… but then again the other tourists seemed to be loving it, so who am I to judge?

The final part of the suggested walk (you can see why it took us 10 hours to make it round!) was to the East Side Gallery; a part of The Wall where artists were invited to paint murals in 1990. As we were flagging a little by this stage, we caught the U-bahn to the nearest station and refueled with a doner kebab. We’d been told that in Germany, kebabs aren’t things only to be sampled at 2am, after a heavy night. Sam was right… a delicacy to almost rival Serbia’s pjeskavica… with probably similar Turkish origins. Replete, we viewed 5 years worth of grafitti on top of the murals which had been re-painted in 2009 whilst musing on whether the grafitti was disrespectful to the artists, or just the way things are when it comes to street art… which provides a nice segway to the next day (no, we didn’t go on a segway tour); a street art tour.

But, as it was a Sunday, church came first. This trip has really been an education for us in the different ways that people “do” church. The church we chose this week met in the large Cinemaxx building in Potsdamer Platz and it was really welcoming. The service was a slick multimedia production, full of energy and zeal, but not much depth and time for contemplation. The part of the service which grated a little for both Kiri and me was a song with the repeated words “Speak Lord”. If God had been wanting to speak during that song, I’m not sure He would have got a word in edgeways.

After church we grabbed a pretzel to accompany our cheese, meats and salad before setting off on the alternative walking tour of Berlin; a walk promising street art and visits to skate parks, artists’ squats and abandoned warehouses. The tour started with a clarification on the difference between grafitti and street art. The former is about getting your name “out there”, often through tagging. The latter is a protest against those with money getting to choose what people see on the streets; it’s about reclaiming city space for art. Sadly, there were no squats, skaters or warehouses, but there was plenty of street art and soon we got to recognise the different artists and “crews” around the city. We also passed an extremely cool “flea market” (although it was more like a festival) that happens every Sunday.


Matt, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the street art scene, but it was in chatting about politics that we really got value for money (in my opinion). It was fascinating to hear him talk about his parents’ life in East Berlin (Matt was only 1 when the wall fell) and his current interest in European politics (he’s doing a Masters in some form of European relations). Who would have thought that it would be a region of former West Berlin where there were riots recently when a McDonalds opened? The tour finished at the site of the Berlin air drop; Tempelhof airfield where that very day a referendum was being held about whether apartments would be built there. With the tour over, we planned to return to the flea market, but (rather uncharacteristically of me), we couldn’t remember which U-bahn stop it was near, so we headed to a shop dedicated to the former East Germany traffic lights, before having another kebab.


There is way too much in Berlin to see in just 2 days (and probably way too much to try to cram into a single blog post), so we’re glad that it’s only a couple of days drive away from the UK (in a vehicle other than Bertha!) so that we can explore more of it in another season of our lives. But for now, it’s “au revoir” (or something like that!)… heads we turn back towards the UK, tails we head further east. Well, actually, as it’s me, it’s slightly more scientific than that… but the outcome is the same as if it we’d flipped tails… Poland here we come!

All posts about Germany

Homeward bound

Barefoot in the Black Forest

Ups and downs in Bavaria

Melting in Munich

Fußball und Achterbahnen

Just another brick in the wall

Speeding in the sunshine

Little people in Hamburg

Currywurst with a side of pondering

2 Responses

Encouraging to see the increasing number of kebab references since you’ve entered Germany – glad you took my advice! Have fun in Poland!

We would have been fools not to listen to you… and we would have missed out!

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