‘I need something to look forward to in January’, FF said to me before Christmas.
So we made plans to head east to Berlin for a short but sweet city break.
Everyone who heard of our plans who had visited the city got very excited on our behalf, waxing lyrical about what a cool place it is – the underground scene, the clubbing, the wall, the Jewish memorials and museums.
Based on the hype, it was going to have a lot to live up to.
It didn’t fail. Although I should state for the sake of impartiality, that anywhere where sausage is classed as something of a national dish can’t actually fail in my books. But still…
The ground was covered in several inches of snow, which kept falling onto the increasingly icy pavements. The temperature was at least three below zero, and there was a sharp wind with very few buildings to interrupt its path making it feel much much colder.
Staying in east Berlin, where the streets are wide enough for tanks and where brutalist concrete housing blocks stand alone like Lego towers, made it easy to imagine life before the fall of the wall. The snow only added to the atmosphere.
We took a free tour on foot round the city centre, with an enthusiastic American guide who held our attention(or mine at least) by being handsome and knowledgable, at the same time.
There were loads of interesting things I learned in those four hours.
– Berlin has room for seven million people, but only around three million live there.
– The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is coated in anti-graffiti paint, making it probably the only surface in Berlin that isn’t tagged with spray paint in some way.
– The site of the Nazi book burning has a memorial reminding us of the importance of free speech. But holocaust denial, contradictorily albeit understandably, is a criminal offence in Germany.
– Ninety per cent of Berlin was destroyed in Allied air raids, but the Luftwaffe building wasn’t. This is possibly because it was so large it was used as a navigational aid.
– The announcement that brought the Berlin Wall down that East Berliners could cross into West Berlin was made accidentally.
Also that everything I learned about Frederick of Brandenburg-Prussia at A level would have been very useful if I could remember any of it. And that I’m fairly sure my history teacher did not tell me the two things about him I’d be most likely to remember – that he ran away with his gay lover before he became emperor and that he played the flute.
We climbed the dome of the Reichstag and pondered how Norman Foster expressed transparency in government through architecture. We went to Potsdammer Platz to eat sauerkraut, bratwurst and German cheese and to drink blond bier and thought about how great holidays are for eating far too much.
We drank lots of gluwein and on Saturday night, FF decided to take action on my cold and cough, giving me a large glass of ‘hot whisky punch’ to drink. I’ve no idea what was in it – all I know is that I gradually lost the feeling in my legs, was asleep within two minutes of getting into bed and had the shivers and a headache the next morning.
‘It was meant to knock you out,’ FF said. And knock me out it did.
Berlin’s quirky and arty. We walked along the murals of the East Side Gallery, visited a flea market and then ventured into West Berlin to see the Bauhaus Archiv. By this time my brain was full of fonts and graffiti and political statements made in street art.
Tangible evidence of recent upheaval + fascinating history + good looking tour guide + memorials to the failings of conflicting ideologies + gluwein + graffiti + the company of FF + a quirky hotel + sausages = a great long weekend.