Sunday, August 12, 2007

Willkommen im Berlin! Gluklich zu sehen

Ever since seeing the film Cabaret for the first time I wanted to be right there in the front row of the sleazy Kit Kat club hearing the MC welcoming me to decadent Berlin and inviting me to bleibe, reste, stay. I got my chance to sit at a little round table on the front row of the audience of a fabulous Broadway production of Cabaret a few years ago at the former 70’s disco Studio 54 in Manhattan but still Berlin itself had eluded me. And now here we are in a city that has inspired so many writers and artists and still attracts a vibrant, bohemian population today. On our drive to Berlin from Warnemunde we’d viewed a thought provoking film reminding us about all this history of this fascinating place and our guide explained his love of East Germany and how reunification changed their world.

What struck me immediately was how recently so many world-altering events have taken place here. I remember the Berlin Wall finally being torn down in 1986 and even then I couldn’t really understand how so long after the end of the Second World War it had loomed over East and West Berlin.

This partitioning of Berlin featured in so many war and spy films, dramatic heart-stopping moments at Checkpoint Charlie, tense hanging around in starkly lit cafés (mainly the infamous Café Eagle) waiting for someone to successfully cross over from East Germany into the American quarter of West Berlin.

Naturally much of this all is now a museum, a slew of souvenir shops and a host of photo opportunities. If you play your cards right you can snap a photo of yourself with a man in American army uniform in front of the reconstructed wooden hut that was Checkpoint Charlie.

And you can possibly get your own little piece of pock marked, bullet shot wall to stick on you fridge. I don’t know if it’s genuine, there was rather a lot of wall and not much remains now, so it could be.

We visited the parts that are still standing, some with the original graffiti and some enhanced with modern art to delight the tourists’ clicking cameras.

The former course of the wall is marked by bricks laid in the pavement. Around the Brandenburg Gate you can view the daunting thickness of the former barrier.

The city of Berlin is both a mixture of the imposing and symbolic Brandenburg Gate and the quirky Eastern German traffic lights.

The Brandenburg Gate topped by the goddess of victory was once the entrance to Berlin and was closed and blocked off by the building of the wall in 1961, it became the place where many a US President has stood and called for the end of the Cold War.

Our Berlin guide was a student taxi driver when she heard rumours of the wall falling over her radio back in November 9th 1989, and drove to Brandenburg Gate to see for herself. She was greeted by Eastern Germans climbing through the opening many clutching pieces of paper with desperately scribbled West Berlin addresses of family and friends that they may not have seen for 28 years and no means to get to them.

She used her taxi to ferry these people to their long lost relatives and as they had no Western money, did this for free until the wee small hours when she could barely keep her eyes open.

She also explained that after reunification many differing aspects of West and East Germany were standardised and there was a call to use the West German generic traffic lights. But the more distinctive be-hatted East German symbols were fought for in an attempt to preserve a little of the East German nostalgia. And Berlin bowed to the pressure and the quirkier East Germany traffic light symbols have remained and become tourist attractions in their own right.

After all our explorations we were feeling peckish and fortunately we had a lunch laid on for us in a local restaurant. And it was a very impressive spread!

There was a ham salad on a table when we sat down and then the cloches were lifted on an array of German fare.

We tucked into tasty German sausages (much more like frankfurters that a British banger!) and to my delight an assortment of vegetables and potatoes. The creamy cabbage, mash potato and gratin potatoes were very fine, though I think M probably passed on those!

For desserts we have a local speciality of doughnuts and apple strudel with a berry sauce.

Whilst we are eating our lunch our guide tells us about a fabulous local chocolate shop that we are keen to investigate so we hot foot it over to Fassbender und Rausch.

The windows of this large chocolate shop are adorned with huge unfortunately inedible shiny chocolate sculptures.

The glistening chocolate volcano erupted with chocolate lava and there’s also a shrunken Brandenburg Gate and the chocolate ruins of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

There’s even a chocolate Titanic which causes much attention from our fellow cruisers as it’s a historical event I guess one doesn’t allude to on such a holiday! We buy some goodies to take home and I later discover this Fassbender und Rausch chocolate is exceedingly good indeed.

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