“I still keep a suitcase in Berlin.”
– Marlene Dietrich, Singer, 1957
Welcome to Berlin on Day two of the Blogging A to Z April Challenge, where we’re revisiting Places I’ve Been. Of course, this was back in the day when we could leave our homes and ordinary travel wasn’t a matter of life, death or being quarantined for 14 days on your return.
Today, we’re returning to 1992 and continuing further along my backpacking trip through Europe. After landing in Amsterdam, Lisa and I caught the train to Koln (Cologne) in Germany. We went our separate ways there and I continued onto Heidelberg, stayed with friends at Grenzach-Whylen on the Swiss border where we went on a day trip through Basel and into France. This area is called “Die Drei Ecke”, or “Three Corners” because Germany, Switzerland and France border each other. Being able to visit three countries in one day was mind-blowing for an Australian used to being confined to one country almost all of my life.
From Grenzach, I caught the train all the way through to Berlin. Back then, the track on what had been the East German side of the border, hadn’t been upgraded and the train slowed right down. It felt like it was crawling, and from memory it was also delivering the mail. Of course, I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to get there!
However, as we pull into Berlin Station, let’s play a bit of Bowie. It’s only fitting after all. In the late 70s, he lived in Schöneberg for two years and recorded the biggest hits of his singing career there and his song ‘Heroes’ has become a kind of anthem for Berlin.
‘Berlin, the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine.’
— David Bowie, Singer, 1970s
“I couldn’t have written things like ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes,’ those particular
albums, if it hadn’t have been for Berlin and the kind of atmosphere I
I was meeting up with my parents in Berlin. However, while they’d booked themselves into a swanky hotel, I was heading for the backpackers. Well, that was until I ran into a student at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, who invited me to stay in students’ quarters in what had been East Berlin. Wow! That not only save me precious dosh, but it would also be an experience. I loved meeting the local people and getting a real feel for life on the ground away from the tourist traps. That night, I was invited to an intimate student party. They’d all grown up in East Germany and talked with me about their hopes for Germany post-reunification, especially for improving the environment. It was riveting. As much as it was incredible to soak up the museums and visit old Churches and the like, meeting real life locals was through the roof exciting.
Of course, I was also very excited to meet up with Mum and Dad. I’d been away for a couple of months by now and we didn’t have email, Facebook or Skype back then. We had to tough it out with the odd very expensive phone and the only form of mail…snail mail. Mum and Dad were on the clock and were only in Europe for a few weeks. So, instead of walking everywhere like the impoverished backpacker that I was, we zoomed around Berlin in black Mercedes Benz taxis…very posh!
“My first visit to West Berlin was in February 1983. The drive through East Berlin, the fact that West Berlin was surrounded by a wall that was more than 100 miles long – the absurdity and intensity of it really knocked me out.”
The highlights with Mum and Dad included being able to walk through the Brandenburg Gate and going to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. I’d studied German at school and our teacher used to read us stories of daring escapes across, under and through the Berlin Wall which had us all enthralled. We met an American family who were living in Berlin and they actually gave us a chunk of the Berlin Wall. It looks very simple and is just a chunk of concrete with white paint on one side, but to me, it’s priceless treasure.
“All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!”
— John F. Kennedy, U.S. President, 1963
Our son was meant to be in Berlin around now on a school history excursion. It’s very hard even for me to to think about where he’d be now and what he’s missing out on. However, it’s obviously a relief that he’s home with us in Australia. There’s going to be a lot of people with some very special things they’ve missed out on thanks to the Coronavirus, and some will lose their lives or their loved ones. It all reminds me very much of 9/11 and how the world was just going along and minding its own business, and then BANG. Nothing was ever the same. Let’s hope not!.
Obviously, I’ve left most of Berlin out, but this is just a fleeting visit and hopefully one day I’ll get back.
Have you been to Berlin? Perhaps, you live there? I’d love to hear from you and please link me through to any posts and do the same if you”re taking part in the Blogging A to Z April Challenge.
PS: I thought some of you might find this article of interest, which talks about artists’ plans to rebuild and re-demolish the wall as an art installation. https://www.afar.com/magazine/this-fall-artists-plan-to-rebuild-and-redemolish-the-berlin-wall