A walk beyond the Berlin Wall

Note: This is the second of two posts recounting Eye on the East’s recent visit to Berlin. The first post can be found here.

“You were just there, I was there, and now you say you may move there. Why is it that everybody’s in Berlin these days?”

“Someone told me that Berlin has the same energy and vibe today that Beirut had five years ago. I guess that may explain it…”

So I finally made it to Berlin, one of those cities high on my travel list for many reasons and no reason whatsoever. Coming from Beirut and after having visited Belfast last year (see Eye on the East’s account of Belfast here and here), I’m starting to believe my travel priorities are mandated by alphabetical preference or by a hidden fascination to explore cities that are quite like my own…

scarred, divided and constantly reinventing themselves, while trying to preserve a rich and loaded identity.  If I ever make it to Belgrade and perhaps Baghdad anytime soon, I think both my theories will be substantiated…

Back to Berlin, I would be lying if I said it didn’t take some time and effort to get past the intrigue of the Berlin Wall (see A walk along the Berlin Wall). And it isn’t only because of the physical presence of the wall itself, but of the many random vestiges that still stand as a result of it. Whether through the numerous Vietnamese restaurants opened by former comrades based in East Berlin, or the typically communist gloomy and monotonous architecture that still stands, the former East-West divide is apparent throughout the city. But once I did get past it, this “energy and vibe” my friend talked about slowly began to come to the surface…

Karl Marx Allee
Karl Marx Allee or a walk back to East Berlin in the height of the Cold War.

Of course, you also need to get past the legacy of World War II before that. Numerous museums tell the story of that war, as well as countless memorials throughout the city – to Jews, Roma, homosexuals and others – to make sure Hitler’s crimes against them are never forgotten nor repeated. And though important, it sometimes felt that a heavy burden of guilt weighs on the city, which will live on the shoulders of generations to come. One sometimes wonders when a nation should stop paying the financial and psychological price for the crimes of its ancestors? “We just can’t keep on paying reparations to Israel after 70 years, and we don’t want to keep on paying taxes for these reparations, when Israel uses them to destroy Gaza,” I overheard one German say. It is something to think about…

Jewish Memorial

Graffiti in Berlin

But when I finally got past that too, there is something about Berlin that you would never expect before visiting it. The fact that it lacks excessive discipline and structure and that chaos is sprinkled throughout town, most notably in its airport. The nonchalance of beer drinkers, immersed in casual conversation in the dark corners of wooden bars, some of which certainly witnessed more than a war or two. That it is a cosmopolitan city, whereby Turks are no longer what make it diverse, but the many other people who have followed them instead, apparent in the music you hear, the international food you eat and languages you can speak around town. The fact that the city is literally drowning in graffiti, which never fails to provide a sense of rebelliousness, courage and unchecked freedom. And then there’s the bikers, let’s not even mention the bikers, responsible for photobombing a lot of my pictures that were not photobombed by graffiti. Pedestrians, as myself, cannot express much love to Berlin’s fierce bikers, although they can’t fail to give the city an added flair of accessibility and ease, an ‘approachability’ if anything like that can be said of a city, despite it being so vast, its roads so wide, and lacking a center or downtown like many other European cities.

Bikers in Berlin
Bikers in Berlin

I am quite certainly biking around town the next time I’m in Berlin, if only to release all my anger at unsuspecting pedestrians for stepping in my lane, as if it were the most normal thing to do in the world. Yet Berlin retains a feeling of mystery, drab doors under bridges that open to luxurious dining and first class music entertainment or decrepit facades hiding a burgeoning art, music and literary scene bursting with ideas and inspiration faster than what audiences can absorb. The “energy and vibe” of it all, an eclectic mix of so much, which continues to attract so many people to its midst.

And if the energy and vibe aren’t enough, there is nature itself with which Berlin has been blessed with…

Autum - Tiergarten, Berlin
Autumn in Tiergarten

So here’s to Berlin, not to its sausages and currywurst, but to the beer and gluwein (mulled wine); and not to the mystery of its division but to it dealing with its turbulent past and its ongoing journey of self-discovery…

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