Ich Bin Ein Berliner

Translated as “I am a Berliner” from J.F.K’s famous speech (you didn’t think I’d do this whole blog without quoting J.F.K at least once did you?) in Berlin soon after the wall was constructed, the line “Ich bin ein Berliner” will forever have it’s place in history.

Remnants of the Berlin Wall

Berlin is a city soaked in history and truly moving. Again I ended up on a “free” tour (where I met some very fun Icelanders from my hostel) and we were taken through some of the great history of Berlin. I’ve learned more European history on this trip than I can really take in. Berlin managed to add to it considerably. I can’t possibly go through it all here, but the highlights were as follows: The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the lack of memorial to the spot lying above Hitler’s bunker (or the Fürbunker), the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, a Mother’s Memorial, bullet holes, architecture from Hitler, Communists and the more modern stuff, and currywurst.

Hitler's bunker... is now a parking lot

I also spent a good amount of time just walking around the city, trying to get a feel for it. It’s definitely not a small city. It has everything and a lot of it is under construction. It feels big and more like a capital city than, let’s say, Prague. But at the same time its cloudy weather accentuates its troubled past. It’s hard to imagine how a city can go through so much, especially recently, and still come out doing pretty well. Just imagine being born at the end of WWI in Berlin. You grow up in a city ravaged by war and the deal it made at the end of the aforementioned war and then grow up while Nazi power is rising, culminating with WWII and the attempted systematic extermination of a race. Then your country loses WWII too and is basically separated into two halves, one controlled by the western powers and the other by the communist U.S.S.R.. Your city, divided and panicked, has a wall put through it over night and anyone you know on the other side is instantly and seemingly permanently lost. You live most of your life in either a relatively well off capitalist western Berlin or in a not so well off communist eastern Berlin. Believing the wall may never fall as you age, it actually does at the end of the Cold War as you turn about 70. You have the opportunity to see friends and/or family that you haven’t seen in decades. People who you thought you may never see again. Finally, your country is united and on the upswing as you hit 80.

A fancy church and the TV tower in East Germany

And I’m sure this is just the tip of the iceberg for someone out there. Berlin just brings so much into play I couldn’t take it all in. It feels kind of like Rome with all its history but much heavier and much more real. Rome seemed like a fairytale; Berlin like a horror story.

The historian part of me really enjoyed it. It was definitely a must see on this trip.

-Phil

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