Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
333Trip End Ongoing
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I've stepped out in glorious sunshine just down from Checkpoint Charlie, my first stop of the day. I have vague memories of the wall coming down, and visiting a carbon copy of this place at Granada Studios in Manchester. I'd never actually grasped why it existed in the first place, so I was determined to find out.
That's if I could move for the tourists.
The place is overrun. Camera's everywhere. Sovernier shops. Where there should be some kind of memorial, maybe even a reconstruction of the wall, perhaps an eternal flame, there are take away food booths and money making machines. 'Snackpoint Charlie' I overhear a disgruntled tour guide tell his 'large' American audience. It's pretty horrible. There is nothing actually here except a visa hut, grub stands and shops selling tat. I didn't visit the museum, as everything I wanted to know was written on large wooden boards, the kind that workmen erect to cover up scaffolding. The site itself is bitterly disappointing, and the story behind the creation of the wall was to make it all the more heartbreakingly souless.
'I heart Checkpoint Charlie" reads a number of overpriced T-shirts. Why would you buy something like that? Doesn't anybody point out that this was a god awful place that signaled the divide between people who were the same? I just don't understand it. It's as if they're cashing in on the tragedy of what happened here. I'm amazed they have the bare faced cheek to do it, but I'm even more ashamed of the people who are buying this crap.
When the Red army marched on Berlin which signaled the end of the war, Germany was essentially divided between the allies and Soviet Russia. You don't need a history lesson, but the wall was constructed to prevent people fleeing from the East to the West, which was struggling under the burden of communism. From 1961 to 1989 Germany and Berlin was split in two. It amazes me how so much during this period was linked to what was happening in the capital. The Cold War, The Cuban missile crisis, The Soviets entering Afghanistan, Vietnam; it was all based around the struggle for power after Berlin fell. Both facinating and on a humanitarian scale, extremely upsetting. I was standing by the last information board when I read about that night in November 1989 when they pulled it down. I don't mind telling you that I couldn't stop crying.
I left the munching masses silently to contemplate the power of what I had read and learned. As I wandered the city streets, I got a real sense of a pheonix from the ashes, a people suppressed by years of communist rule, that they rose up to not just tear a hole in the iron curtain, but to rip it down and piss all over it. This is without doubt the most incredible city I've ever been. It's buzzing with life, teeming with art and culture, exploding with people who resfuse to conform and can do whatever the fuck they want because they feel like it. Don't you dare tell them what to do anymore. Within a long afternoon of drinking in the paint splattered walls, bill postered streets and the strongest sense of freedom, I'd forgotten any ill feeling I had when I woke. Berlin had seen to that.
I lost myself in the life of the TierGarden, and then walked East to be amazed at the long section of the wall still standing, now an open air art gallery, a fitting memorial to the power of unity. When the East was empty, the artists moved in. Painters, actors, DJ's and street artists flocked to low rents and empty warehouses. Clubs sprung up and disappeared a week later. Nobody cared who squatted where. It was a vibrant meeting of talented people ready to express the new found freedom in the city. As horrible as the past was for Berlin, once so divided, the wall itself is the very nature of what makes this the coolest city in the world today. If you've not been I suggest you do so; it may very well change your life.