Europe | Germany | Berlin – Buy You Happy
müssen: german word for MUST but more so english equivalent of to have to
entschuldigen Sie: Excuse me, pardon
U-Bahn: german subway system
trabant 601 S: only car model available in east germany
kauf dich glücklich : name of a sidewalk cafe, play on words meaning Buy you (some) happy
*** This is my mega disclaimer before you continue any further…
Because I was never an applied student of History, I apologize in advance for misspellings, misinterpretations and just plain mistakes in my overgeneralized presentation.
Having said this, no doubt you will notice my tendancy to avoid precise dates, names, and other historical events but hopefully this will motivate readers to look into this subject a little more indepth on your own time.
Thanks for reading! ***
So I didnt know what to expect. I only knew that it was the New capital of Germany reunited.
ie: Euro-stylin, free lovin uber happenin place to see. Not much more convincing needed, I knew that I müssen check it out!
I arrived on a Sunday evening by car with a couple of German friends, Jan & Aili.
Were Here! Aili announces as we cross a sign indicating the entrance into the city.
Half asleep, I sit up quickly and grab my camera ready to shoot. I dont want to miss a thing as we drive into what Im expecting to look like the Champs Elysees, Sunset Strip or just any congested main street brightly lit with neon and tall impressive buildings. Ooooups.
Instead, I am greeted with rows and rows of housing complexes, some abandoned others just looking like it and yards that have not seen a lawnmower in a couple of weeks.
Uhhhhh, entschuldigen Sie, but where is the grandiose rebuilt city that everyone was raving about? Did we take a wrong turn?
Is this a joke?
I got lost in my own thoughts and Jan & Ailis voices trying to explain bits here and there had suddenly turned into this uncomprehensible garble, a droning sound in the background.
What has happened here? Where am I, really? Where is Berlin? I slumped confused into my seat. I was feeling strange and out of place. I didnt understand and I didnt like it. I needed more information. Whats going on? Where have I been?
I realize now that its my fault. Until recently, I never was one to keep up with current events, but THIS was BAD! I had heard about the events in Berlin but images or details were never registered.
(Sadly enough, I know Im not the only one!)
Im trying to remember just what the heck I was doing all this time or what was absorbing all of my attention that I didnt know what was going on around me…
Back to Berlin and my school report like summary.
Due to political conflict in the past, we have endured WWI and WWII after which Germany was divided into 2 parts (east and west) and the city of Berlin divided and administered in 4 different parts.
East = Soviet Union/ Southwest = USA/ West = Great Britian/ Northwest = France
In a nutshell:
The Soviets wanted to keep the people of East Berlin from leaving for the better economy and free government of the West side. East Germany lost many skilled workers at this time as well.
The East government saw no other way to prevent from moving to the West via Berlin than closing off the border between East and West Berlin on August 13, 1961.
It happened overnight without warning thus separating many families. Just barbed wire at first and a few days later a concrete wall, hence The Berlin Wall. It stood for 28 long years.
Can you imagine?
It was like two completely different worlds, side by side but one not allowed to acknowledge the other,
or the rest of the world for that fact.
Im sure its difficult for some of us to fathom the thought of living without the simplest freedom of choice. Not to mention no name brand anything. Food, Clothes and government censored television, radio and press. If you wanted to buy a car, only one model was available for everyone and you had to wait about 10 years to get it! Yup, that was the Trabant 601 S. Try that!
Its just a wall, right? So jump over it. Indeed many did, others were arrested and many others died trying.
Finally in November 1989 the wall came down. All that remains now are markers scattered thoughout the city here and there as reminders of where the wall used to be. Oh yes, and two of EVERYTHING.
Two airports, two opera companies, two zoos, two, two, two….uh huh.
Imagine me tumbling into the city not knowing half the story. Damn, I feel small!
We arrived to our destination, an apartment on BrunnenStrasse and I didn’t want to get off the car.
I felt temporaily paralyzed.
I thought rebuilding a city was just an expression and referred to changing the mentality of people or perhaps blocking off a street for repairs and renovations.
The entire eastern side of Berlin is one big construction zone crowded with cranes, bulldozers, yellow tape and barricades like candy sprinkles on a donut.
It took me a couple of hours to absorb my surroundings. After having climbed 100 stairs (yes, I counted and yes I was out of breath) we were greeted by Christian and his girlfriend Nora. Christian was our wonderful ear to ear smiling, speed walking, lively host. Despite the harsh exterior, the apartment was proper, renovated and since he had just moved in, no doubt that the decor would be fabulous as well.
Dunno why, I wanted to cry.
Aili and I went out for a walk that night. She was an amazing tour guide. We met in France about 2 years ago, she is about the same age as me and a former East Germany resident.
What anyone else would have considered RETRO elsewhere, is just a sign of how time froze and things did NOT change in East Berlin when the wall went up. Outdoor cafés and bars are spilling over with furniture from your grandmas attic had taken over the busted up sidewalks. People were out having a good time everywhere. There was even one bar that we went to on another night called kauf dich glücklich where you can buy everything in the place, from the chair your neighbor is sitting on to the painting in the bathroom. I had seen so much that night, I was in a daze.
On this night, Aili had taken me not only on a walk through the past, but in her childhood footsteps as well. It is an experience that I will never forget. She explained to me all the dos and donts, all the can and cants, all that was possible and the impossible, all that was allowed and all that was forbidden.
But despite all this, she has happy souvenirs of her childhood.
Its really late now, and walking away from Alexanderplatz towards the U-Bahn, I am overwhelmed with emotion. A Trabant 601 S cruises by leaving echos of Elvis Love Me Tender in the air.
So surreal…Im short of breath and my eyes begin to well up.
I dont remember when I became such a crybaby…but here I go again.
The next day we visited the West part of Berlin and I got to see the architectural marvels I had heard about, but I wasnt satisfied. I was strangely dissapointed.
Strolling down the Kurfurstendamm boulevard (the Kudamm) with all the busy name brand shops and restaurants, I could have easily been in any urban city USA.
Last night, this is where I THOUGHT I wanted to be. Dont get me wrong, ther were lots of great things to discover on the west side as well but it just didnt capture my soul.
Today, going to the Hard Rock Café to get a T-Shirt to add to my collection seemed like a pretty lame idea after last night.
My trip was too short, as they all are but now I understand. I cant really explain but I know what everyone was talking about when they said Berlin was not to be missed.
You have to be there. Its the people, die Berliners and their dynamic attitudes that make this such a vibrant and thriving city so tenacious of life.
And as I slip into my funky armchair and clink my beer with the others before drinking, I look at my friends smiling faces…their german chatter becomes a familiar drone again, but this time Im on a cloud, a euphoric sensation comes over me and I want to share it with the world…and if I truly could, I would be the first to kauf dich glücklich.