. Now the city is unified and the lines are very, very blurred. My first time here, Potsdamer Platz was a shell, a mostly empty construction site. Now, it's a vibrant bustling crossroads of the city. The people of Berlin are a lot different, it seems, from the rest of Germany. I can't quite put my finger on how, but they just are.
Since Debbie commented on my last entry that she was anxiously awaiting Berlin photos, I decided to spend my afternoon revisiting some of my favorite sites to snap a few shots. I hope you'll enjoy. Of course, I had to make sure to include another of my favorite monuments in the world. Another little known but incredibly poignant expression in the form of public art. This time, it's the Jewish Holocaust memorial in Berlin. I think it's probably the most unique monument I've seen. A full city block filled with rectangular granite blocks. I've never heard a consistent explanation of what it all means, but that's the beauty of it I think. It is at once a somber reminder of a horrific time, but also a celebratory experience that brings laughter and surprise. Each of the blocks is uniformly aligned in a grid-like pattern across the block. The have the same length and width. Is it coincidence that each is about the size of a coffin? They are all exactly the same color, but with the movement of light and shadow across the memorial, each block takes on a personality of its own, yet maintains a sense of belonging in the pattern
. Does this symbolize the importance of both individuality and community? Each block is a different height? At the outer edge, the blocks start at about knee or thigh height and as you look across the block, they seem to undulate in increasing waves of taller and taller blocks before shrinking again on the other side. But once you begin walking amongst the blocks, you realize that the ground itself is sloping down in the center, creating almost a bowl shape underneath all the blocks. When you are in the middle of the monument, the blocks are two or three times the height of a person. What does this mean? The further you descend into this experience, the more lost you are. It is almost consuming. You feel like you are shrinking beneath the weight of it all, surrounded in shadow, the temperature noticeably cooler. Then, you come out on the the other side, the ground rising up, the towering blocks shrinking, the sunlight reaching your face again and when you look back you see a sea of light and shadow, individual blocks forming a whole pattern. It's really amazing. And it's really fun to play hide and seek in. It sounds strange to do that in a monument like this, but everyone does it. It's almost like a playground, and I think that was the intent. Anyway, I really like the place. I think it's my favorite spot in Berlin!
Of course, I also stopped by to snap a few photos of the Bandeberg Gate, which was the iconic crack of the Cold War chessboard, sealed up for decades by the Berlin Wall, east on one side, west on the other, now a towering symbol of the unified Berlin and Germany
. And I stopped by the Reichstag, former parliament building famously burned during WWII, now reconstructed with a neat glass dome. And walking up the Unter den Linden toward Alexanderplatz, snapped a few photos of the monument to victims of war, formerly housing the hall of heroes for the Nazis, now a monument for all. And the Berlin Cathedral with the TV tower in the background (which is where my friends Silja and David were married at the top).
Next week, I'm going to head back out into the city for some in depth exploration. I bought a couple of books mapping the historical sights of the city from 1933-1989, from the onset of WWII to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hopefully, I can track down some neat stuff. Also, since Debbie mentioned she's reading Elie Wiesel's Night with her summer school kids right now, I thouhgt I'd head out of the city early next week to visit a museum about the death marches out of the concentration camps near Berlin during the war. If I do get out there, I'll post on that next week.
Finally, just another update on the Iran visa. I went to the embassy early this morning and was the first one there. They guy was really nice and said they weren't busy at all (go figure) and offered to process it right then. So, I waited about 30 minutes in the embassy lobby and voila, here comes the guy with my passport and the visa is stamped in it! So, instead of taking a full week, it only took half an hour! Anyway, I'm good to go now, officially going to Iran!! It's such a relief after waiting since last October to find out if I'd be approved!
Famous words spoken by John F Kennedy during his visit to Berlin back in the early 60s: "Ich bin ein Berliner." Depending on how you translate it, he was either showing his solidarity with the West Berlin residents who were trapped behind the wall by saying "I am a Berliner" or he needed to fire his speech writer because he said "I am a jelly donut." Take your pick. I think both are great! Even though it's a bit of a back track, I have to mention the lovely treat I bought back in Cologne a few days back and share a photo as well of the stacks of 'berliners.' Which are essentially just sugar covered jelly donuts. Very Yummy! And of course, I'm now in the city of Berlin, which is fast climbing my list of top cities of the world. Every time I come here it gets better and better. Part of that is probably increased familiarity, but certainly a lot has to do with the fact that Berlin is developing at a surprising rate. When I first came to Berlin almost 10 years ago, it was clear whether you were in the former East Berlin and West Berlin