We started today with a visit to the longest remaining remnant of the Berlin Wall. It’s been converted into a graffiti art gallery where artists from around the world have contributed various murals, of varying quality. Perhaps the most famous is this one recreating the famous embrace between Leonid Brezhnev and the head of the GDR Erich Honecker. It’s slightly unpleasant, fairly effective and certainly unsubtle. People sometimes ask about the circular block on the top of the wall. It’s to prevent grappling hooks being thrown up to aid escape.
Today (understandably) the wall has largely been destroyed but you can still trace it’s path through the centre of the city by following the cobbled marker line that runs the full length.
We continued on to various sights including Museum Island, the Brandenburg Gate and the statue of Frederick The Great near Humboldt University
And my favourite area in the city centre, the Gendarmenmarkt. Nearby is the elegant Bebelplatz Square, near the State Opera building and the University.
On 10th May 1933, the students made a large withdrawal of books that they disapproved of from the University Library, piled them up in the centre of the square and burned them – an activity that depressingly is only a few steps away from the present day University Student tactic of “No-Platforming” those whose ideas are not sufficiently ‘woke’. Some lessons, it would seem, are harder to learn.
I can never quite make up my mind about Berlin – It’s an odd place in some ways. For a start, very little is actually ‘Old’. The city centre was effectively destroyed during World War II and although much of it has been faithfully recreated, it isn’t original. On structures that did survive, wholly or more usually in part, it’s common to see war damage, either patched or left visible. The areas and highlights of the city that most tourists want to see are those associated with the 20th century almost to the exclusion of everything that happened before. It’s also a city that to my mind isn’t absolutely certain where its’ centre is having previously been divided by the wall, many areas feel duplicated to some degree.
For me, it’s also a city that feels… odd – It’s pretty, clean and tidy, everybody is polite, organised and reliable and the people look the same. “So…” You might well ask ‘… What’s the problem?” For me, the difficulty is that I’m more used to the rolling anarchy that is London, or Manhattan, or some Spanish and Italian cities, especially during Fiesta season. I’m sure that Berlin has anarchy too, but it ‘feels’ like it’s probably been given an official permit and parking space and it wipes its’ feet afterwards. Now you may feel that’s unfair and disagree, in which case please make your case for the defence in the comments section below! I’m tough enough to take it on the chin!
Finally… Here’s a Trabant. This was the only car available to East German citizens for the longest time. It was produced from 1957 to 1990, had an air cooled 2 cylinder 2 stroke engine that made a distinctive sound and smell and went from 0 to its’ top speed of 62mph in 21 seconds. It had no fuel gauge or fuel filler cap, sometimes no heater and the chassis was steel, the bodywork plastic. Oh yes… and the waiting time for delivery? Fifteen years. But then, there were not that many places they could drive to! Happy Days. Off to Warsaw tomorrow.