Imagine if someone built a 15′ wall running along Fifth avenue in New York. Or along the Thames in London. Or Champs Elysees in Paris dividing the city in half. Separating the east side from the west. One might think that to be a ridiculous notion. Perhaps borderline absurdity. Well that is exactly what happened in Berlin in 1961. Many people forget this sad chapter of Germany’s past was a part of modern History. Without warning people were separated from their families, their work and many lives were lost in valiant attempts to escape from the east to the west. Both East and West Germany were mired in shadowy conflict and this tug-of-war became the epicenter of spy activities between the US, Britain and Russia resulting in the cold war. During the WWII much of Berlin was leveled.
- The infamous Checkpoint Charlie still sands as a grim reminder the of past
Transportation systems and service networks ceased to exist. Any infrastructure that remained after the war was so badly damaged it has been replaced or redesigned. So most of what you see in the city proper was built in the last several decades.
- Ominous billboard of Russian soldier staring into the west at Checkpoint Charlie
In 1987 an American President gave a stirring speech at the Brandenburg Gate encouraging the Soviets to “tear down this wall”. This incident stands in stark contrast with a current contender for the US Presidency who is trumpeting the virtues of building walls. Berlin is a living reminder that building walls to separate people does not work.
- Present day the Berlin Wall still cast a feeling of gloom in the street light.
- Picturesque view along the Spree river
The good news is Berlin has overcome its past shadows through active engagement and outreach as a leader in world affairs. Through sweeping reform and implementation of bold austerity measures it has not only survived but thrived. As Europe’s third largest city Berlin has become a powerhouse and the anchor to the European economy. However, venturing into the eastern side there is still a bit of catching up to do. As a foreign traveler I was amazed at the freedom modern Germans have. They were friendly, even exuberant and seem to be able to do whatever stroke their fancy regarding freedom of expression and public discourse. In the trendy Kruzberg area people were milling about, some dancing in the open air. Its quite common to see people enjoying a bottle of beer of wine while strolling and chatting. Many sat by the river Spree enjoying the evening sun and friendly conversation. The focal points for social gatherings are the numerous outside restaurants and beer gardens lining the river and neighborhood areas. Unlike most European cities there is no real city center in Berlin. Alexanderplatz is a favorite of mine because of the variety of cultures, myriad shops and diverse open air gardens.
- Charming outside gardens at Prenzlauer Berg
But Prenzlauer Berg is not to be outdone featuring quaint shops and fantastically colored architecture. The glass facades of Potsdamer Platz, could very easily fit into the skyline of Manhattan. Each area showcasing its own unique charm.
Best of all, Berlin is quite inexpensive to enjoy. For 5.50 to 6 euros you can enjoy a nice meal. A frosty stein of German beer will only set you back 1 to 2 euros. Its a fine thing to return home from travel under budget. I actually returned home with money in my wallet. A rare thing indeed!;) ZT