Easter weekend in Berlin
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you would know that one of my biggest enjoyments in life is travelling. I have always made it a plan to travel whenever I can. I think this is something I picked up from my parents, who took us on trips all the time since me and my sisters were kids.
However, since I moved over to London last September, I technically haven’t been anywhere. There was that short trip home for Chinese New Year, but I don’t think that counts. So when my friend Mike suggested that I tag along on a trip he had arranged with his friends Hannah, Ash and Laura, I quickly bought my tickets and crashed their Easter weekend plans!
This trip to Berlin was not my first to Germany – I have been to Frankfurt previously, as well as a smaller city somewhere many years ago as part of a European tour my family and I went on. Still, I don’t think I soaked up much of Germany on those previous trips. This one, however, was totally different and I totally enjoyed it.
We had four days and stayed at the Holiday Inn slightly outside of the city. But with the efficient U-Bahn and S-Bahn commuter system, and the tram (as pictured above), it was really easy getting around. Oh, and people drink every where too … even on the trains. You know what they say, when in Germany, drink beer on train like everyone else. So we did.
But it wasn’t the beer drinking (although there was a lot of that during the trip) that was the highlight for me.
What I could really feel about Berlin was how recent the history was. Like most of us, I am vaguely familiar with Berlin’s “recent” history. But it wasn’t until I got there that I really felt it. I can’t believe that World War II was in my father’s lifetime, and that the fall of the Berlin Wall was during mine. It all seems so long ago, yet when you think of it, it’s not.
The picture above is of me and Mike at the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. The concrete blocks filled up a whole area. From a far, it looked pretty morbid. Up close, it looked a bit scary and maze-like. I’m not sure what the creator of the design had meant but it really set a sombre tone. But it really was the museum under the memorial that got to me. We only spent a couple of hours there, but emotionally, I was exhausted.
Over those few dyas, we did several touristy things. We visited the Brandenburg Gate in the pouring rain, and we also popped over to see the Reichstag. We also made a trip to Check-point Charlie. Of course, we had to see the wall. I wasn’t even sure that the wall would still be up. I imagined there would be bits of it still up as part of a memorial but I did not expect to see this amazing 1.3km of wall with meaningful and beautiful art work on it.
The tour guide told us that various artists from around the world were invited to pain something on their respective section based on the theme of freedom/liberation, in line with the fall of the wall. I took many pictures, and many were beautiful but this one above really stood out for me. I’ve since used it as my Facebook cover picture as well.
The tour that we took was the Alternative Berlin Tour and our guide was named Amy (she was a Brit). Basically, the tour took us to see a different part of tour compared to the usual tourist spots. One of the stops, my favourite among the many we made, was at Tacheles. We had encountered it as we headed over to the meeting point, and it immediately caught my (our?) attention so we stopped to take some pictures.
We found out later from Amy that Tacheles is the last remaining “alternative” art space in the area that was formerly East Berlin. Apparently, after the fall of the way, many of the derelict building were turned into art spaces but commercialism had reared it’s ugly head and most of the buildings have been taken over for commercial purposes. She told us that Tacheles is going through a legal case at the moment, and might not be around in a couple of weeks. I do wonder if that’s tour guide speak only though, to make us feel special that we managed to see it before it came down.
We also made a visit to the Tommy Weisbecker Haus (above) and many other buildings with lots of graffiti all over. Among the ones she brought us to was a housing building where the pillars at the based of the building were painted with pictures of, we were told, faces of residents. It was a community project aimed at bringing people together after a horrible incident (rape) occurred in that area. I loved the story because I personally believe that art can be therapeutic.
But it wasn’t just these buildings that had graffiti. The whole city seems like a giant canvas. I really liked that because it showed a lot of character and I always found street art to be a liberating form of self-expression. I may not be an artist, but street art is one of the few forms I like to see. That said, the whole city had character – not just the walls of buildings but even the people. The style of dressing was unique, and I found myself constantly distracted by something different, like this person just sitting down randomly under the bridge watching cars drive past.
Berlin was a short and enjoyable trip. There is something about the city, a certain energy and buzz that I can’t describe. I would like to visit again, but I also think it’s important who you have for company. I have the most amazing time with Mike, Ash, Hannah and Laura so I was really lucky. We saw a lot of things, ate a lot, walked even more and partied quite hard as well. German techno is mindblowing.
I was really tired by the end of the trip, and although this picture was taken on the second day, it really reflects how I felt by the end of the trip. There was a little bit of tiredness, slightly emotional, some bits of awe and constantly surrounded by art and culture. Good trip, indeed.
p/s More pictures on my Flickr page.
12.13am Greenwich Meridian Time