My bit of the Berlin Wall - I hope it really is (in those days, I'd believe anything someone told me).
Apparently there's a lot of unemployment in the city, but the shops certainly looked busy. People are walking out of clothes shops holding full bags, food stores are very busy. Consumer society - not much different in NZ. Good business also possibly due to summer holidays. Many sales signs on store windows.
Wednesday, 31/7/91- 9.30pm Berlin's neat. Got here nice and early, was one of the first at the accomodation office, which is how I got one of the cheapest rooms. That Let's Go: Europe guide was one of the best investments I made. Found a lovely cosy room in an old apartment block in the east side. Staying with an old woman (I call her 'Frau') and her son in what looks like an old apartment block. He looks a little shady, but I've been given a key to the room. It's even got an enormous old-fashioned TV set in it! Taking S-Bahn all over the place - horrible but does its job. Speaking heaps of German. People are very friendly - not so in the past, according to the Frau. Food really cheap too - 0.65DM for a bottle of water.
Took ages to book my tickets for Sweden. The reservation system was slow, but the station staff kept me constantly informed about what was happening - queues are long, people are patient. First time I've been offered an all-female overnight sleeper cabin!
Walked about a little, took photos of what looked like pre-1989 Berlin, came across Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial church near Europa Centre. What a gem! Will visit tomorrow. Love the way they left it standing just like it was after the bombing. Poignant reminder of the zilch value of war. Germans are very environment-conscious - recycling facilities all over the place for paper, aluminium and glass. Not so frequently sighted in the former commy areas. Matter of time, I suppose.
Saw a lot of both Berlins this evening as I was going back to the room on the S-Bahn. The differences are still quite stark where the wall once stood - one side looks modern, the other is under construction or just plain shabby. Asked people on the S-Bahn whether the trains used to stop and check passengers going in and out of the West, but didn't understand the answer. The trains still ran through both sides. Someone told me that the S-Bahn passes a spot where in the past people climbed up to see what was going on over the other side of the wall, facing West to East, not vice-versa.
Thursday, 1/8/91- 10.00am Frü hstü ck with the Frau - her son wasn't there (couldn't figure out if he was still sleeping or gone to work). She's very chatty once she gets going. Good for my German skills. She told me that the apartment block is scheduled for demolition, and she'll have to move into a more expensive one. She worries a lot about this. She was very curious to know about my situation in Leipzig. It sounds like this is what will happen to her too. The general set-up goes something like this: old commy-style apartment blocks get demolished, new ones come up and the tenants pay much more money to live in them than they did for the older ones. Their pensions/salaries did go up a little, but they aren't used to paying so much on living expenses.
... 3pm Came out onto Nikolaiviertel and Dom area . Then to Friedrichstrasse . Took me a while to get to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum . Spent 5 hours there, really interesting. Saw a couple of films too.
... 5.30pm Went to Kaiser-Wilhelm church where I saw the exhibition of photos showing the building of the church, its destruction and its restoration. Another interesting building right next to it - like a church in the shape of a sky-scraper covered in blue glass. Beautiful mosaics in the old part. Then went to Europa Centre dome area. Let's Go tells me to check out the 22-storey shopping mall in it - what on earth do backpackers want to do in there?! Would rather see KaDeWe instead. Am now having a late lunch in Europa Centre - luxurious surroundings. It's next to a plaza, so lots happening around the area. South American band playing here - they could be the same ones I saw in Leipzig!
Friday, 2/8/91- 3pm Brekkie with the Frau - she can sometimes be a bit cranky, but she's more interesting than the folks staying at the youth hostels. Out to Waldemarstrasse to find anything remaining of the wall - alas, I am out of luck . It's going down rather more quickly than Let's Go suggests!
Took U-Bahn to former SS-Gestapo headquarters . Turned out to be staging an exhibition about the 1941-1945 years, showing German and Russian war period. Title: "The war against the Soviet Union" (there's still an 'us' vs 'them' feeling). Photographic exhibition similar to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, but this one was even better. Excellent depictions of futility of war. It was only in German - no English captions, but the photos spoke for themselves. Part of the exhibition was staged outside the museum - I think it was the first exhibition to be held here in the old prison cells used by the Gestapo. It was made all the more vivid by being staged so close to a remnant of the wall - finally got to see a good chunk of it! The differences between East and West are very visible at this point.
Passed what looked like an enormous S-Bahn station before it was destroyed - now, only a part of the front entrace remains on the West side. It was maintained in its ruined state, just like the Kaiser-Wilhelm church. Had some revolting chocolate cake but very good cappuccino at a nice Kneipe -restaurant, in the 'über'-trendy Kreuzberg .
...5pm Passed Potsdamer Platz in U-Bahn. Pity there's no signage explaining the area. Maybe it will be renovated now with unification??? Savignyplatz - revolting. Drunks and prostitutes all over the place, no inhibitions here. KaDeWe - just another Harrods. Off to K'damm now. Can't wait to get back to the room and have a shower. The weather really sucks here. Yesterday was a steamy muggy 35C, today it's cloudy, raining and 27C! Wonder what it will be like tomorrow.
Saturday, 3/8/91- 2.30pm Left quickly after breakfast to get to the station with all my luggage. Had problems with my reservation for Sweden - noticed at the eleventh hour that my tickets were for 3/9, not 3/8!!! Talk about a stuff-up. Had to go all the way back to Berlin-Zoo station, then to Berlin-Lichtenberg to leave my luggage until I return there in the evening to catch the train.
To take these photos, I stood on the space where the wall that divided the city was erected, snapping photos of different views between East and West. The wall was no longer standing, but the differences between the two Berlins were quite evident; the part of the road where the wall stood had not yet been tarmacked.
Got back to Alexanderplatz for another delicious doner kebab. Then to Tiergarten where I walked through some West Berlin suburbs full of non-Germans, to Plotzensee memorial . Plain simple site marks place where opposer of Hitler's regime were sentenced and buried. Earth taken from German concentration camps placed in urns . Also passed on the way an ex-Jewish area, with a Jewish memorial of a train full of people, made of marble, on the tracks going to Auschwitz. Another poignant reminder of the futility of war.
...5.30pm Did a lot of walking around, and got really tired, all due to the weather: hot, sticky, muggy, humid - horrible! Ended up getting very sweaty, constantly hungry and thirsty. Wasps all over the place, hovering above my drinks. Nothing gets served cold here, only tepid. Returned to the station with a non-valid ticket because I had no more DM and since I'm leaving for Sweden tomorrow, I couldn't be bothered changing more money. There should be one currency here - the cambios de change all over Europe do a roaring trade making money just by exchanging one note for another. Heaps of creeps on the S-Bahn today. Don't know if they were there before - I simply didn't notice them.
...10pm Had a shower at the train station. Feel a lot better now. Train compartments are really nifty!
Sunday, 4/8/91 - 12 noon, Malmö/Sweden What a journey - did not sleep well at all. Got woken up at various points throughout the night by a guard. Had my passport checked each time. Even got a stamp in it - first time since Bangkok! Horribly expensive place - most expensive youth hostel so far. Not much to do around here, maybe because it's Sunday. The weather's really gloomy. Walked around the flea market, now in a botanical garden. Bored already. Should have stayed in Berlin.
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All the above excerpts have been based on my diary entries. The photos are all my own from that 1991 visit.
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