Sunday, 23 November 2014

I Am Not A Doughnut

JFK famously said "Ich bin ein Berliner", which caused journalists in Berlin to have a little fun at his expense. He was trying to say "I am a Berliner", a man from Berlin. What he probably didn’t know was that a Berliner is a local doughnut.

I didn’t actually want to make the same mistake so, while speaking pigeon German on my recent trip, I opted not to repeat the words of Mr Kennedy. We did actually try a couple of local doughnuts and very nice they were too.

We arrived in Berlin on Monday 3rd November, with absolutely no idea that the following Sunday (9th November) would mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I would have loved to have been there for that but the chances are that we would probably have struggled to find a hotel room. By travelling a week earlier we could experience the atmosphere of the city as they prepared for this momentous occasion.

I had missed Germany.

My previous visit there was thirty years ago when I attended the Oktoberfest in Munich. As I walked out of the train station at Alexanderplatz, I recalled just how friendly Germans were.  When I asked locals if they spoke English (mainly so that I didn’t embarrass myself for with poor German) they usually tried to accommodate me ("Ja – I speak a little”).

Of course, if they said “Nein”, which some did, then it was up to me to trawl my memory for words placed there almost forty years ago by my German teacher at school.

Mostly it worked. I was able to make myself understood on the occasion that I had to (although grammatically it was probably totally incorrect).

I am also trying to incorporate a scary thing in my life and on this trip I saw an opportunity. I had vowed never to climb a high building again and when Mrs PM told me about the Fernsehtrum (TV tower) I reminded her of this promise. The Fernsehturm is in the heart of East Berlin and very close to where we were staying. Standing at 1207 feet, it dominates Berlin and is visible from most areas of the city.

You're going to climb that? Really?
When I saw it, I gulped and had an inner battle with myself. Could I briefly overcome my fear of heights to experience amazing views of the city? Or should I sit in a bar at the base while Mrs PM took the lift to the top and allowed me to experience the views second-hand via the camera?

I decided to scare myself and go for it.

And I’m glad I did because I discovered something about my fear. As long as I am indoors and protected from the outside by glass I can tolerate the fear. At the top of the tower, I smiled with relief when I realised that I could stand slightly back from the windows and see the city for myself. Of course, Mrs PM still had to take the photographs but at least I knew my limits.

After that, we spent the rest of the day and the following two days, strolling around the city visiting churches, monuments and the odd museum.

Highlights of the trip include:

We visited the Brandenburg Gate where they were preparing for a big concert to celebrate the fall of the Berlin wall (Mauerfall). I discovered that in a major exercise of d├ętente, the East and West sides of Berlin clubbed together and restored this magnificent arch after the serious damage that it sustained during World War 2. Sadly, this was before everything went pear-shaped, resulting in the Berlin Wall being constructed.

The Reichstag building is another masterpiece. Now home of the German government it is a very beautiful and imposing edifice.

The anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall dominated our trip though and we were introduced to some very harrowing stories about people who had tried to cross the barrier from the East into the West. The one thing that struck me in particular was the sheer size of the wall. It’s hard for me to believe that all of this happened in my own lifetime.

As part of the celebrations of the demise of the wall, a “frontier of lights” (Lichgrenze) was erected consisting of thousands of illuminated lights marking a segment of the wall. We saw some of the preparations for this as we strolled along parts of East Berlin where the wall stood.

On a lighter note, of course, we sampled traditional German food, beer and wine, from Currywurst to homely German winter food, served in cosy restaurants that resembled fancy pubs in England, It was nice to wash it down with a reasonable amount of German beer. We even found a tiny German style market in Potsdamer Platz.

Berlin itself is constantly changing. We noticed lots of building work, roadworks etc. and once again I was struck by German hospitality and friendliness.

It was nice to visit them again  and I think I will be back soon.

In the meantime, here are some photos from our visit.

St Nickolai-Kirche - Two steeples for the price of one.

Berlin as seen from the Fernsehturm. Mrs PM took this - I couldn't.

Modern Berlin complete with skyscraper

A fantastic German restaurant

Brandenburg Gate being prepared for the anniversary

The Reichstag in all its glory

Berlin Cathedral and the river Spree

A section of the Berlin Wall that remains intact

Two unfortunate victims of the Cold War
Checkpoint Charlie

If you are going to have a Trabant, decorate it like this


Elephant's Child said...

Thank you.
I wish my German father could have seen the wall come down.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

It was a massive piece of history and very sad. In fact, the wall was still up when I last visited Germany way back in 1983 (West Germany as it was then) - I hadn't thought about that until now.




River said...

Interesting to see a section of the wall, I assume it is still standing to remind people of what was?
I know so little about my birth country.
I love the decorated car and the rubbish bin next to it.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

They are trying to preserve some of it but the vast majority has now gone.

It's an important part of their history and you can tell this simply by being there and reading about what happened.