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The adventures of the Mel

Berlin and the end of Germany

GERMANY | Sunday, 12 October 2008 | Views [801] | Comments [2]

It’s strange – being in an English speaking country for the first time in 7 months, and I don’ know what to say. It may be because I am feeling nostalgic and reflective and not quite ready to put my thoughts down, or it may be because I just spoke to Ross flat out for over four hours and my brain has nothing left (yeah, screw your columns). I’ve had the best airport stay ever – Ross came out to meet me and we chatted for the afternoon, sitting in the sun of the London Luton airport and taking in the sun and the spare time. In addition to making me reflect on life and friends that pass by, it’s also made me remember travelling times and think about the world that we live in. However, I think we also need somewhat more of a context, and that takes me back a few days to our adventures in Berlin.

It was fantastic to finally have Andrew to myself after 3 weeks of not seeing him or seeing him surrounded by others. We’ve had some great quality time together over the past four days – take that as you will. I was really looking forward to exploring Berlin, as it has been one place that I have always wanted to go in Germany. Call me silly (yeah, yeah) but whenever someone mentioned Berlin it conjured up images of Russia and fur hats and cold, and I could never figure out why. Only upon starting to research the history of Berlin did I remember that for some time it was under Soviet control – the Berlin wall only fell in 1991! I may not have paid much attention to the world around me at that time, but I obviously absorbed something to have that stereotype in my head. Anyway….it was an amazing city which we thoroughly enjoyed despite the cold (that part was certainly not just in my head! Stupid autumn).

We headed first to Alexanderplatz, one of the main squares in the city – a major hub for public transport and shops. In the centre of Alexanderplatz is the vertigo-inducing TV tower which stands in contrast to the humble market below and on the other side, the beautiful church and distinctive Rathaus. Also in this area is a fountain with King Triton/Neptune surrounded by various animals and semi naked women which thrilled Andrew more than I’d like.

Up next we walked past the beautiful Dom – reminiscent of the beautiful copper-domed buildings we saw in Prague and around the Czech Republic but eye-catching in its own right. Some people may complain about the ‘dirtiness’ of these buildings, but I think it adds a beautiful sense of history to them. We passed a beautiful building encroached upon by beautiful red, wilting vines and were delighted to find that this courtyard and fountain led into the public library. I like a city with their priorities right.

This brought us close to the Brandenburg Gate which has an important place in history, though unfortunately I cannot remember enough to write about it confidently. It’s called Wikipedia people. Get with the times. I do know that the Berlin wall Snaked around it, cutting it off to the West and essentially the usage of it to the East. One thing that I found…interesting, was that all (well, the majority) of the ‘to see’ sights are on the eastern side of the former wall – this was the oppressed Soviet side.

Ahhh…the Berlin Wall. I assume most of you know very well about this, but a short synopsis is thus: Back in the 50s (?) the Soviets had gained control of much of Eastern Europe and essentially half of Germany. There was a clear distinction between eastern and western Europe, and Germany to boot. Despite Berlin being well in the ‘Soviet’ side it was divided up into east and west as well. It started to emerge that the west provided better living conditions in addition to the freedom, and people started to migrate towards Western Germany to escape the Soviet oppression. The people in charge didn’t like this, and built that wall around western Berlin to stop people from emigrating from eastern Berlin, in 1961 I believe. This wall was in place until 1991, when the government bowed to public pressure and allowed the East through the wall which was previously not allowed at all – the west were allowed some movement, and finally the wall was brought down. I still wonder at this – how was this happening? It really makes you pensive, thinking about oppression that happens in countries we like to label as civilised, and happening now, not 50 years ago. It’s easy to write off atrocities in the past because you can take your damn moral high ground and pretend that we’ve evolved and that we will never allow that to happen now….it’s a security blanket that most people cling to. It makes me think of all the atrocities that happen now and how much the world ignores it, the ‘uncivilised’ countries and clash of cultures. Forgive my idealism, but it just makes me sad. However, it also makes me very, very grateful. I am grateful that I live in a country where our quality of living is so good the worst thing we have to bitch about is an apparent dichotomy of politics. From NO HoWARd to Recession 08….we are so lucky that we live somewhere that we are allowed to preach our opinions and stand up for what we believe in. Our government does not censor our criticism, it does not murder to protect its ideals (is that a silent l?) and whether you hate or love our current or past prime minister, they generally try to govern the best they can and create better living conditions for us. Don’t push your luck dad - don’t even think for a minute that I will say John Howard is okay! I’m just spouting my little idealistic head off, okay? I wear my rose-coloured glasses with pride.

So, where was I??? Ah…the Brandenburg Gate. We looked around for a while and eventually jumped on a number 100 bus which takes you around the town past nearly all the major attractions that you pay €20 for on a tour bus (minus the commentary obviously). The sky started to darken and we hustled over to the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall still standing – the East Side Gallery. It was very interesting to look at (not to mention not exactly easy to find!). Back in its ‘heyday’ the wall was painted only on the western side – the so called death strip (or security strip, they called it) prevented people from getting close for fear of being shot and hence did not paint the wall. However today, painted murals are visible on both sides, indeed the eastern side is most prominent. Most of the murals symbolise freedom in some manner but couldn’t quite shake off the former horror of the wall – 3m-ish high with rounded edges to prevent people from climbing it, the Iron Curtain was indeed deserving of its name.

The next day we made our first stop at Checkpoint Charlie (so named for the phonetic alphabet of NATO rather than some darker reason), which was an important gate through the wall. Here many people passed through from west to east, some important people from east to west and some even luckier people who managed to smuggle themselves out. Here the original sign stands “You are entering/leaving the American sector” and they have left in some of the checkpoint. Much of the area is surrounded by boards detailing the history of the Berlin Wall, and also a tribute to the known people who died trying to cross the wall, including the infamous death of poor Peter Fechter, the eighteen year old who was shot whilst trying to escape and was left to bleed to death – the western guards could not intervene and the eastern guards left him there until too late. Also detailed are a few successful escapes, including ones using a car, a hot-air balloon and others smuggled in boots and disguising themselves in American uniforms, though this did not always work.

After this we headed to Madam Tussauds wax museum. I’ve always wanted to go to one of these, so I was thrilled to finally find one without a massive queue. It was fantastic – I would probably even go again to see the different wax figures in another location. We had, (well, I had at least) a great time romping through the museum taking pictures of the amazingly life-like figures. It was funny to actually see the stature of some famous people – Tom Cruise IS a short ass and so was Beethoven. I felt like a real person! Highlights included hugging my true love Albert Einstein, giving Bush the bird and pretending that I was Angelina’s partner, not Brad. The figures are just amazing – each hair is individually placed on the scalp (or chin if needed) and is real human hair – making their haircuts perfect! They even wash and restyle their hair every week. They have to clean the figures regularly as even though the wax is hard and set (kind of a strange feeling actually), you are encouraged to touch and ‘interact’ with the figures. Definitely a highlight! They even explain the process and the history of the museum. Get to one if you can – it’s well worth the €18.50 we each paid. It is definitely a museum with a difference.

After this we headed in and Andrew cooked me a yummy dinner and we retired, having to move places the next day. We ended up getting a really cheap room out at the airport, handy for the 9:40 flight that we had booked. Doesn’t sound early, but considering you have to be there at 7:40am….certainly made it easier that we only had 5 minutes to travel. We flew into Luton after being grilled leaving Berlin (didn’t help that Andrew doesn’t have an entry stamp into the EU in his new passport) and again coming into Luton. Sheesh! I don’t want to stay in your stinky cold country! I will be coming home for the Aussie summer, thank you very much. Idiots.

So here I am, waiting in Luton airport for a plane to take me to the Cam Cam and the Sare Bear. Just spent ages chatting to Ross about random crap and I’m about to go and see some crazy cats! Hurrah!

Before I go, it’s time to do another crass country summary:

Bottom Five:

5. How bored I was a lot of the time.

4. Being sick for a week. Sucky

3. Stupid crappy cobblstones. I hates them

2. The toilets. I apologise for the image, but it just ain’t nice standing up and viewing past meals once again.

1. How absolutely ridiculously expensive it is to travel in Germany.

Top Five:

5. How cheap most accommodation is.

4. Having a ball in Madam Tussauds.

3. Munich.

2. Walking around and immersing myself in Berlin’s history.

1. The beautiful Heidelberg.

Berlin photos

 

Comments

1

Mel, I have to say that your visit to the wax museum is one of my favorite parts of your trip, I pissed myself laughing at every single photo.
We all need laughter eh.
and you are so right about how lucky we are
safe travels
Sal

  Sally Oct 13, 2008 7:45 AM

2

I knew that you would eventually come around to my way of thinking. It's about time.......

  Dad Oct 16, 2008 7:57 PM

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