Berlin

As World Cup fever raged, Brett and I made our way from Kaliningrad over to Berlin. Having never set foot in Germany, I was very curious about this fabled European epicenter of the arts.

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From our street art tour of the East Side Gallery to busking musicians to a slew of delicious Asian fare, Berlin lived up to its reputation.

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We spent a few days touring the city, renting bikes beneath the giant TV tower, stopping into museums and grabbing beers to catch World Cup matches each afternoon and evening. We even ran into coworkers of mine from Moscow outside the Martin-Gropius-Bau.

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We were there for Germany’s disqualifying World Cup loss – seeing the extreme reactions on the 24 hour news cycle and in the streets was quite an experience in itself.

Omnipresent throughout our journey was the Berlin Wall. With our hotel mere steps from Checkpoint Charlie, we walked along the brick path which denotes the wall, disrupting the pavement like a scar across the city’s landscape.

Berlin has not erased signs of the occupation, perhaps as a show of respect for those lives lost as well as an attempt to ensure it will not happen again. It is incredible to fathom the recent right-wing riots in Chemnitz, Germany, ostensibly in response to an influx of immigration into the country. Xenophobia is still very much the issue of the day.

We enjoyed the biergarten in the Tiergarten, adjoining the Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin.

Possibly the best part of the trip came on our final day in the city. Researching prior to arrival, I had found an Airbnb experience called Life Behind the WallThe description touted the chance to talk with two women, Valerie and Regina, who had grown up on opposing sides of the Berlin Wall.

Valerie’s lovely apartment in the funky Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. We shared jelly donuts in honor of President Kennedy’s speech with two Germans and a woman from China, all of us history buffs visiting the city.

To brush up on our history before the meet up, we stopped into the Holocaust Museum. Harkening back to high school World History classes, I found I had jumbled many pivotal details of the Cold War. As we moved through the galleries, we both pieced together a more accurate timeline.

My greatest realization was that the entire country of Germany was divided into four sections with the British, Americans, French, and Soviets each taking a share. The additionally divided city of Berlin sat in the Soviet zone, hence the need for the Allied-led Berlin Airlift.

I was also surprised to find that the wall did not appear suddenly, but rather gradually over the course of nine years (1952-1961). Only on the night of August 13, 1961 did the Iron Curtain officially negate entry between East and West Berlin, surprising many and stranding some who lived and worked on opposing sides.

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Valerie and Regina also led us on a mural tour down to the East Side Gallery, where many famous murals hang today.

I doubt I will ever forget Valerie and Regina, who so thoughtfully shared stories and mementos which brought history alive for us in that small apartment. If any of you travel to Berlin, I could not recommend this experience more.

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Berlin is absolutely a city that requires more than just a few days to see, taste, and feel. I only scratched the surface of the architecture and design which touches every corner of the city. Teeming with life and a rapidly expanding population, Berlin is exciting, magnetic, and ever-evolving. Ich bin dir dankbar.

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