I love Berlin. I wish I could say, like JFK did, “ich bin ein Berliner”. Except I guess I would have to say “ich bin eine Berlinerin” as I am female – but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Perhaps a German speaker could enlighten me on the correct grammar here. Some people have suggested JFK mistakenly called himself a jam donut, however this article in the Smithsonian labels the rumour as fake news.
I first visited Berlin in 1987, travelling there by train from West Germany. As someone who has only ever lived in free and democratic countries, it was a shock to see police and border guards with machine guns patrolling the train. My hands shook whenever I had to present my passport. One other thing left a lasting impression on me. Whenever we stopped at a station in East Germany, no one looked up at the train. The gardeners, the cleaners and the passers-by deliberately kept their gaze at the ground the whole time the train was at the station.
Berlin at the time was a fantastic place to be – and by that I mean it was strange and wonderful and not quite realistic. The people who lived there truly lived for every minute of the day as they had no idea what the future might bring. Although I enjoyed every minute I was there, when we flew out safely I was just a little bit relieved.
I cried a lot in Berlin. I walked along the Wall and cried at each cross marking the spot where someone had died trying to escape. Tears travelled down my cheeks in the museum next to Check Point Charlie. I didn’t go into East Berlin at the time. The train ride had scared me sufficiently.
Since 1987 I have returned to Berlin as often as I can. It is like a magnet; it draws me toward it. Along with San Francisco and my hometown of Melbourne, it is one of my favourite cities. In all three cities I love the atmosphere, the people, the food and the street art. I bought the artwork above from an open air market, I just cannot remember which one! It was somewhere within walking distance of Mitte, where I was staying. Mitte is in what used to be East Berlin and is now my favourite area.
Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember watching the news on the television that day. I saw the crowds of East Berliners at the border crossings, each hoping they would be able to make it to the West. I remember watching the surge as the barriers were opened. I remember seeing the people trying to break down the wall piece by piece. Once again I cried but this time my tears were happy ones.
What I love most about Berlin is the way the city and its people hold onto their history as they move forward. Tourists can learn about the politics of the time and visit places where the Wall still stands – no longer dividing the city, instead acting as a constant reminder of how precious freedom is.