Currywurst and Cold War in Berlin
by Julie Baxter | 27 September 2016
So, one minute I’m cheerfully quaffing my first Berliner pilsner, practicing my John F Kennedy 'Ich bin ein Berliner' impressions and trying to imagine just what I might find in the Currywurst Museum. Then in an instant, I’m rocked into a thoughtful reverie as I happen upon a vast and moving memorial to six million Jews killed across Europe; and feel the chill of the city's dramatic Cold War history at notorious former border points and in an underground nuclear bunker.
Berlin is a suave and shocking eclectic mix that plays fast and loose with your emotions and couldn’t care less what you think of it. It’s a place that somehow says: ‘I am what I am, take me as you find me. Make of me what you will.’
So fuelled by apfelstrudel, bratwurst and beer and, mostly on foot, I set out to join the dots on the tourist map ticking off evocative musts like The Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag Building, Potsdammer Platz, Checkpoint Charlie and graffiti-clad remnants of the infamous wall, and I soon find my sunny saunter is being savaged by tales of a truly turbulent past.
Headlines from my history revision books rerun in my mind: the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, the Holocaust; Bismarck, Hitler, Stalin, World Wars and above all that messy division of Berlin that came with the peace and went on to so define the city of today.
I find the city is fabulously regal in places with beautiful and grand gothic buildings set in striking squares beside lush landscaped parks; yet shockingly scruffy and edgy too where rough rappers thump out an angry beat and draw a spontaneous crowd of the streetwise on a side street littered with cigarette butts and broken bottles.
But it is the stories of the escapees that speak loudest to me and seem to sum up the city. The ingenuity and courage of those determined to cross the border before reunification is almost unbelievable. They were smuggled through in suitcases and petrol tanks, in hollowed out surf boards and shopping trolleys; they dug tunnels and built makeshift flying machines; and brazened it out disguised as Americans or using forged papers.
Many made it and more died trying, and now that the dreadful divide has itself been consigned to history, it’s their stories that make you see it is little wonder this is a city with such attitude.
It’s a city which has been shaped by tumult and trauma but has risen above it all to be proud and brave, gritty and unpretentious. It’s an authentic survivor of a city, unpredictable yet charismatic, accepting, creative and buzzing with an apparently urgent energy that excitingly moves it on and makes it endlessly fascinating and potentially addictive to those who visit.
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