I had always avoided visiting Berlin. I suppose I didn’t want to give them the benefit of my presence. Berlin had kicked out my family in the 1930’s.
But this June, at short notice, decided to relent.
We arrived to jubilation in the streets – but not for us. Germany had just beaten Australia 4-1 in the 2010 world cup and young men were banging on the roof of the taxi and shouting and dancing in the street. Our Turkish driver was amused.
Circus Hotel at Rosenthaler Platz http://www.circus-berlin.de/circus_hotel_berlin.html in Mitte, in what was East Berlin, is one of the nicest hotels Jacquie and I have ever stayed in. An old building which has been stylishly and functionally renovated with a nice outside courtyard – sunny at breakfast time, good unfussy food, and reasonably priced for a European capital city. A young man from Malta was playing guitar and singing rock songs in the bar when we arrived. There is a brass plate on the wall outside acknowledging the earlier Jewish owners who had been murdered by the Nazis. The young staff were exceptionally charming, and eager to advise how to get about Berlin. Not a straight forward business as I was going around Berlin on my mobility scooter. (They also have a very inexpensive Circus Hostel across the road).
Taxi drivers were easy going about putting my scooter in the boot for no extra charge. It’s a small scooter which can quickly be taken to pieces and reassembled.
Caught a taxi over to the west. Went to the building in Kurfustendamm where my mother Liss and her sister Nell lived in a flat as children. The poshest shopping street in Berlin. Downstairs is a Louis Vuitton shop. Unexpectedly I found myself in tears. On the way back out west Berliner taxi driver complained about the unattractive modern buildings and she told us Berlin is much worse since the wall came down.
A 4 hour guided walk around many of the areas of historical interest organised by Brewers Walking Tours – http://www.brewersberlintours.com was the best way imaginable to see Berlin. A 4 hour walk? Of course, I did it on my mobility scooter which was a perfect way for me to join this tour and our guide was very helpful about it.
Our guide, a young Australian guy who has made Berlin his home, was extremely knowledgeable, interesting and amusing. We heard the history, saw some of the sights – Checkpoint Charlie, the very moving Holocaust Memorial, Brandenberg Gate, but also learned about some places like the Tacheles artists colony on Oranienberg Strasse which started off as a squat, and were taken to a nondescript carpark built on the site of Hitler’s bunker – no signs or other paraphernalia, so as not to attract the attention of neo-nazis.
Berliner Philharmoniker at Pottsdamer Platz. A great concert by Deutsches Symphonie Orchester and the place to see aged Berliners on a night out.
Went with scooter on a trip to Wannsee on the S-bahn. Find a station with a lift – they are marked on the maps. Drive the scooter to the front of the train, wave to the engine driver who gets off the train with a smile, gets a ramp and you drive on (you can also do this on the U-bahn. Wannsee is a pretty lake with some tour boats and a few uninteresting cafes. Went to 3 Ansandwerder, opposite Wannsee station which is where Liss, Nell and family moved to after the family money was lost in the depression and rampant inflation of the early 1930s. My Grandfather said he woke up one day and discovered he had married for love.
B flat jazz club on Rosenthaler Strasse http://www.b-flat-berlin.de – nice easy going jazz club with friendly people. I didn’t enjoy Kalima/Blaser/Huber Trio who made an unpleasant sound and played perhaps atonal jazz, but did enjoy the Radeberger beer and the charming, chatty girl who brought it.
Had an extensive wander around Mitte – Jacquie walking and me on scooter. An interesting area with small shops, cafes etc. We were struck by occasional small brass plates in the pavements, outside buildings previously owned by jewish people, who had been deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Also took the scooter by U-bahn to Kreutzberg – then a wander around for window shopping and people watching. Had a Turkish meal. Danced with some street musicians. Took a ride back to Schonefeld airport with another friendly taxi driver who pointed out where he was brought up, just on the west side of the wall.
Berlin was calm, cheerful and laid back. Pushbikes everywhere. In the streets young people predominantly. Much less frenetic than London, easier to move about, traffic flows reasonably smoothly.
(I recommend Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood – atmospheric for Berlin in the 1930’s and beautifully written.)