When I reached Brandernburg airport, I was tired. Almost dead with exhaustion. And if that wasn’t enough, I developed a splitting headache and couldn’t keep my eyes open. On top of that, it was hard to tell which way were the conveyor belts, and how do I collect my luggage. Labels were mostly in German except the gate numbers (A, B, C…)but I managed. I collected my baggage from a place that looked like a factory, and came out of the airport. Easy! At a distance of 5 mins. of walk, we found a taxi and in half an hour, I reached my hotel.
I thought I would reach the hotel and crash out. That was my plan! No evening outings. No evening walks. Through the tinted glasses of my cab, everything looked dark. The buildings, the fallen leaves from the trees and the people walking about in their black attire. Although I had a big, wide window in my room that let in the outside views of the train station & a nearby bakery. But I wasn’t ready to enjoy anything just as yet. For dinner, I had an amazing pizza. Before I knew, I was asleep.
Breakfast: Breads and Spreads
The next morning, I woke up to a bright and sunny day. It was cold but bright. Unlike the gloomy winter morning of Delhi, this one sprung me into action rather than making me cozy up inside my blanket. May be it was the city. Do you think so? No no. It was the central heating 😀
After a hearty breakfast of super awesome baked goods, I went for a walk. The next few days, it was going to be the best format to explore Berlin. Meeting people who would rarely return your smiles. But also meeting people who would take interest in you and strike a conversation. I would like to believe that it’s the chirpy, vibrant version of me that makes the toughest of souls to come out of their safe space (read: cocoon) and mirror my energy. In short, be friendly like I am. But then, it’s never personal. Most of the time, we just remain ‘us’. And with the change of perceptions, people change their behaviour too.
Speaking of perceptions – Berliners, you don’t make good impressions. Come to India and experience the hospitality (the true meaning of hospitality). We might stare but we also care. We might come across as intrusive but we would also go the extra mile to make you comfortable. And we are super nice. A tad bit too nice if you ask me.
Historic places need no introduction. As soon as you enter, you can feel the vibe. You know that something is different. You sense the energy. So was the case with Alexanderplatz. I could sense that I was in a place that is brimming with emotions, stories and souls. My radar just went berserk there.
Today this place is full of shopping complex, malls and retail outlets. You can find both: a tram & a train station. Great glitz and glamour. But a few decades (a century) previous, this area became the heart of city’s transportation, for organising protests and soon evolved into a cosmopolitan city!
Numerous walks through the city in mornings, evenings and late nights showed me different, eclectic sides of Berlin. This one night, during dinner, a German lady shouted at us and asked us to shut up because we were making noise. The other time, this gentleman at Saturn store, who was also a native, refused to show me a telephoto lens that I wanted to buy. And he kept discouraging me till the very end…but I anyway bought it. Come to think of it, I didn’t meet even one nice person who would smile, welcome me inside their store & ask me if I would like a cup of tea or cold drink. Hahaha! India has spoilt me especially Delhi. Maybe I need to start cribbing less about the capital. 😉
On our walks, I saw a lot of vibrant and bright Berlin. The kind of Berlin that saw political shifts, the Berlin that gave protection to a lot of troubled families, the Berlin that also harassed those families, the Berlin that once remained so divided that a man died a slow death on the barbed wire and no one came to help, and also the Berlin that revolted against the divide and emerged united, the kind of Berlin that is still cautious, proud and reserved and also the Berlin that’s free, liberal and generous enough to offer refuge to many families that get displaced.
Here are a few captures from my numerous walks. Pls don’t ask me the names of these places because I got it all mixed up in my head. German is not the easies language, you see. And I haven’t yet included anything new in my arsenal other than Hindi, Sanskrit and English! And SQL (if that counts of course ;))
Beer Bike Tour
One of the best experiences of my trip to Berlin is the beer bike tour. There were 10 of us who pedalled our way through the streets of Berlin while listening to music and drinking beer in the month of October. Our version of Oktoberfest! 😝😝😝
Cycling has always been my favourite thing. And hence I was looking forward to the beer bike tour. Although the bike is fashioned to fit taller people, but I managed just fine. 🙂
Our guide who also took control of the bike when we went a little too happy, was a nice person who kept telling me, “Darling, Pedal”. After a while, I joined his team and kept telling everyone else on the bike tour to pedal. It was one of those things where you forget that you are an adult and the ‘adult code’ just doesn’t apply. You laugh, crack poor jokes, laugh a bit more, behave silly, don’t care if anyone judges you and dance when you love the music. It could also be the beer but let’s just pretend that it was the bike tour.
The Berlin Wall (East Side Gallery)
On 22nd December 1989 when I was two years old, the Brandenburg gate was opened. And On 13th June 1990, just a few months after my little sister was born, the demolition of Berlin wall officially began.
I will not get into the what, why and how of Berlin wall because honestly I am not capable enough to describe such a huge event in words, but I do want to share with you what I experienced when I visited the East Side Gallery.
East side gallery is a 1.3 km. long open-gallery that was part of the Berlin wall once upon a time. What stood as a divide between people, is a medium of self-expression and liberalism today.
After the wall was demolished, 118 artists from 21 countries got together to create the masterpiece that’s known as the East Side Gallery today. It officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. And in 1991, it was given protected memorial status.
When I stood in front of the wall, I was conscious because I didn’t want to do anything disrespectful. I didn’t know if there was an unspoken code, if there were some strict rules to abide by. But in a minute, I saw people just being people around the wall. And that’s when I knew, the East Side Gallery is really the place where all codes, rules and divides cease to exist.
That gallery is most ‘free’ place in the whole wide world, in my opinion.
Topography of Terror, Berlin Wall
Just a few minutes away from checkpoint Charlie, exists the open museum of Topography of Terror. Once upon a time, this place was GeStaPo headquarters- a place of torture and execution of many political prisoners. Later, the Berlin wall was constructed along the southern side of the street. Today, a part of the wall still exists and the exhibition is laid out in the trenches. Start from the Left and move towards the right to view the events in their correct chronology.
The whole tour begins and lasts in silence. You would experience many emotions during the tour: sorrow, surprise, fear, disgust & complete darkness. It’s hard to believe that it was possible for humans to kill and torture fellow humans & then justify it using paperwork, labels and words.
Germany was a fun trip. On some nights, we also went out and experienced the clubbing scene of Berlin. I must say that I saw some eccentric fashion on those nights. Later when I thought about it, I couldn’t help but wonder – how liberal Berlin can be. Throughout my stay, I enjoyed breads and croissants baked to perfection. The best thus far, hands down! Excellent architecture, historical buildings, places of historic significance, diverse yet reserved Berliners and a city that’s huge enough to harbour innumerable secrets- is how I will remember Berlin! I left with many memories, a few questions and a widened perspective. Life can be so rich, so refreshing and both dark & bright at the same time!