Granted, we are tourists in Berlin, looking for the symbols of the past that we grew up with.
But regardless of one’s age, the aftermath of WWII and the horrors of the Cold War have left scars and unavoidable reminders here.
We went to the Wall Museum today, reached by one of the underground stops once known as “ghost stations.” These were stations where trains could not stop as they briefly passed through East Berlin, so that no one could escape through there. Openings to the street were barricaded, and the trains passed slowly past guarded and dimly lit platforms.
But today we could exit the Nordbahnhof stop, and see a preserved section of the wall, with both interior and exterior partitions, separated by the ‘death zone’ where one was sure to die in the effort to escape. There is also a museum, which tells the story of the gradual restriction of freedom that culminated in the building of the wall in 1961. The wall here ripped apart a neighborhood, and was one of the first parts to go up.
The story of the ending in 1989 is always uplifting, but the fact that it took 28 years for East Germany to fall with only a whimper, is still sad.
So the end came and reunification followed. But the traces of the wall remain everywhere here, and the fascination with it will probably never stop. It’s just that now Checkpoint Charlie sits across from a McDonald’s.
No McDonald’s for us today. We had a lovely lunch at the historic Hotel Adlon, next to the Brandenburg Gate. The staff couldn’t have been more charming. My wiener schnitzel and Don’s German meatballs in caper sauce with mashed potatoes and beetroot were wonderful.
We spent the rest of the day touring by bus, just to get a better sense of this very large city. Keeping in mind that 75% of the city had been destroyed by the of the war, it is amazing to see what has risen from the tons of rubble. Unless one tends toward the Bauhaus, it may not be possible to find great beauty in the buildings that have risen here. But it is possible to find great energy and industry, and a sense of pride in what has been accomplished.
The old, the new, the memorials and the people make it a city that will be hard to forget. We all have a piece of the history here.