Leaving Berlin

Trip Start Jul 15, 2007
Trip End Jul 16, 2008

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Flag of Germany  ,
Thursday, September 6, 2007


Berlin is a city that engenders so many conflicting emotions.  With the exception of several areas where remnants of the Berlin Wall still stand, the city has delineated by means of brick pairs where the structure once stood.  Thinking of all the families who spent their lives separated, and of all the people who died trying to escape in pursuit of simple freedoms is disquieting.  I wish every person could witness what it feels like to stand here and to be so clearly presented with the reality of what happens when repressive governments flourish.  It is still the norm in so many countries -- how admirable opposition leaders can remain energized and hopeful for years that their countrymen will eventually be granted more freedoms.


Some brief impressions of Berlin.  Our first insight into Germany was the gleaming DBahn train that picked us up in Prague for the four-hour journey to Berlin.  On board we had a $125 lunch, which was definitely not a culinary highlight.  (Don't try to convince me that Germany is a foodie destination -- at least, not on our budget.)

We arrived in Berlin at the Hautbahnhopf train station, a glittering and magnificent piece of architecture, with multiple levels of shopping, both long-distance and local train tracks, flat-panel displays showing trains leaving for all European destinations.  And yet...

Quick dinner at the Pizza Hut in the station.  The cheese pizza with arugula looks good and pretty healthy.  It arrives with an enormous scoop of sour cream.  Two small pizzas finished and all still hungry, I return and ask for another pizza, but without sour cream.  I have no German.  He has no English.  Sign language, pointing at the picture, saying "Pizza ja, sour cream nein."  I am finally given an arugula pizza with extra sour cream and a large Pepsi. 

I stand in line at the information booth for information and a tourist map.  The stern German matron at the desk is actively hostile.  I'm in the wrong place, I must go to the tourist office.  I remember I have a question about train tickets.  She is even more hostile, points me to the ticket office on the next floor.

What is with her?  I have similar experiences for the next two days, every time I interact with any sort of minor official.  Not simply neutral, but fully-informed, competent, responsive and actively, intentionally unfriendly.

Two days later we do a tour of the greatest hits of Communist-era Berlin -- the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandenburg Gate, site of Reagan's great 1987 speech.  "Mr Gorbachev, come to this gate!  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"  Which the Germans of East and West did less than three years later.

A two-brick wide line runs for over 170 kilometres, tracing the former location of the wall, all around former Soviet East Berlin.   Little of the actual wall remains.  There is extensive documentation in both German and English at multiple sites.  The Nazis, Soviets and East Germans are all treated in accurate detail.  But the Americans are remarkably absent.  Some mention of Kennedy in 1961, shockingly little about Reagan in 1987.  The history of the Wall available in ten languages at every souvenir shop literally makes no mention of Reagan's 1987 speech.

I understand now why some say that Germany, especially the former East Germany, is the most anti-American country in Europe.
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