So, Berlin. The last and most unexpected of my June trips. I was kind of conflicted when work announced that they were sending me there. On the one hand it was yet another thing to do in an already very hectic month, and it would mean more time apart from Laura, and only one day back in the UK after Sweden before having to rush off again. But on the other hand I love Germany, so I decided to embrace it and take advantage of the fact that work were paying for my travel. I did something I haven’t done before and booked myself into a hostel for an extra two days after the meeting, intending to do some proper sightseeing.
Maybe age 32 isn’t the best time to suddenly discover you really like going round European cities and staying in hostels… but it could be worse, and by this point I’m so used to doing everything at the “wrong” age that I might as well just go with it. People are so chilled out and friendly! They actually talk to you and it feels like you’re part of a community of sorts just by hanging out at the hostel, unlike hotels that seem so impersonal and soulless and tend to be full of stressed out, sour-faced business travellers who just want to be left alone (I fully admit to being one of them myself on previous work trips). I think I will be doing this more often! That four weeks of annual leave that I don’t know what to do with is beckoning…
On Saturday morning I visited the former East Berlin to see Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and one of the largest surviving sections of the Berlin Wall. The guidebook only gave it a passing mention (which surprised me), but I felt drawn to it for some reason and felt I wanted to go there. As it turned out, I found it unexpectedly moving. I’ve been to places that have great historical significance before, but probably never to anywhere that’s changed quite so profoundly during my own lifetime (I can remember the news reports of the wall falling and German re-unification, though wasn’t old enough to fully appreciate what it meant at the time). The streets could be a part of any European city now… clean, safe, full of smart shops and camera-toting tourists. It’s mind-boggling to think that when my parents were here Berlin was split by miles (sorry, kilometres) of concrete and barbed wire, and that they could have been shot on sight for even trying to take the same route that I so casually strolled around on my visit. Afterwards I bought genuine (I hope?) pieces of the old Wall in a souvinir shop for two of my more politically minded friends and family. I was surprised how hard it was to see the former course of the wall in most places – there has obviously been a lot of redevelopment since.
Apart from my little walk around the East, it was too hot to do very much else except visit a very nice bathing lake (Strandbad Wannsee I think it was called) and sit at pavement cafes drinking cold German beer. So that was what I did.
(Sometimes when I see warning or instruction signs, I can’t help but imagine what potentially amusing event might have led to that sign being put up. A shop I passed with metal hooks on the wall outside had a big sign saying “nur für Hunde!” [only for dogs] and it made me wonder what other creatures/things/family members people must have been tying up there in the past that made them feel the need to put the sign up. Similarly the “Swimming costumes must be warn at all times!” sign at a pool I used to go to… there must be a story behind that).