So, this day in Berlin I want to tell you about. It’s the best day I’ve ever had. I have so far failed to get my friends to feel excited about it, so here I am. Do pretend you’re excited. For me.
Imagine an autumnal day — early September, cool breeze, falling leaves. I was visiting a friend in Berlin. This was my second time there and I felt like exploring. My friend was kind enough to suggest a route, and off I went. This is when you might like to pull up your mental map of Berlin, or look up a digital one.
From Kottbusser Tor in fashionable Kreuzberg, I set off on foot — leather jacket casually slung over one shoulder (my friend insisted that I bring it, and he was right — the wind did get a bit chilly). Direction of travel? East Berlin.
I have always had a fascination with East Berlin, and of 20th century Germany in general, but more about that later. Armed with my jacket and my music, I followed the canal that would lead me to the Spree and East Berlin on a small tree-lined road called Paul-Lincke-Ufer (I don’t know how they come up with these names).
I passed by a café and duly stopped for a coffee. And I had one of those transcendental moments when you feel at one with yourself and your surroundings. One of those moments of absolute stillness. I felt at peace with myself. Have you felt it? I hope you do at some point — it’s an exhilarating feeling.
The ‘moment’ I’m on about
Benches overlooking (former) East Berlin. I found this deeply fascinating and sat down for a while to absorb the moment. Some of the passerbys seemed puzzled and looked at me sympathetically — they must have thought I was too tired to walk. Or something.
Eastward and upward I trodded, expertly dodging incoming runners and cyclists (one of those survival skills you learn early as a pedestrian in London). I crossed into East Berlin. I’m not sure when exactly. I don’t think there was a sign. I don’t think anyone would want there to be one. Sometime later, though, I turned onto Puschkinallee — and there you can’t possibly feel more ‘East Berlin’. Sufficiently awed by the impressive tree-lined boulevard, I continued onward to Treptower Park.
You have probably heard of Berlin’s famous Tiergarten — and my oh my, that park is an absolute beauty. Treptower Park, though, is of a different breed altogether, and equally stunning.
I was literally gaping taking this picture. #originalcolours #seriously
If you like history and have heard of World War II, I’d recommend a visit. Treptower park is home to the Soviet War Memorial — a “vast war memorial and military cemetery” according to Wikipedia. It opened in 1949 (or so Wikipedia tells me). And it is a breathtaking piece of Soviet architecture. I must have spent at least two hours there, reading. Reading Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 while sitting cross-legged, back against the wall, on the granite steps of the Soviet war memorial in Berlin — there’s nothing quite like it.
Me and my Catch-22
Having had my fill of World War II and starting to get cramps, I left the park and crossed the Elsenbrücke (‘brücke’ is bridge in German) to my last destination of the day:
An absolute must-see for a history enthusiast like myself: the East Side Gallery — the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin wall featuring some of its most famous paintings, notably Vrubel’s re-painted ‘Fraternal Kiss’ (or its longer and much more comical name: ‘Mein Gott, hilf mir, diese tödliche Liebe zu überleben’).
In a moment of sparkling brilliance earlier that morning, I had decided to incorporate a leisurely stroll along the length of the East Side Gallery in my walking route. And what a brilliant idea it was. There’s nothing quite like walking the last remaining stretch of the Berlin wall. If you’re thinking of doing the same, though, don’t.
It’s long. Hire a bicycle, borrow one, take one from the streets if you will. By the 1km mark, the jacket I was wearing felt more leaden than leathery, and the decision to bring an umbrella (in case it rained — one of the acquired habits of a Londoner) and a book didn’t seem so smart any more.
The famous painting. Yes, the one with the really long German name.
1.3 kilometre of sweat (literal) and tears (metaphorical) later, I made it to a bridge that would take me back to Kreuzberg.
The first thing I did when I got back to my friend’s? Demand a beer, to which he readily obliged. My friend is, after all, German.
It was perfect.
Originally published at pksaksornchai.wordpress.com on November 29, 2013.