On Tuesday morning I went to visit C at work. After that, I got the S-Bahn back into the centre of the city and walked through the eastern part to the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km long stretch of the Berlin wall which, after November 1989 was painted in sections by artists from around the world and the pictures definitely merit a post to themselves.
There are many attractive districts in the east side of Berlin but the area around the East Side Gallery is definitely not one of them. The day I went was cold, grey and miserable, and by the time I had looked at all the pictures, I was ready for some capitalist consumer culture, so I took the train over to the Kufürstendamm, which is one of the city's main shopping streets.
As well as being home to the posh shops of Berlin, the Ku'damm is also the location of The Story of Berlin museum, which, oddly, is housed in a kind of shopping centre. One of the main attractions of the museum is a guided tour of a nuclear bunker from the Cold War era which is in a car park under the shopping centre. The bunker was designed to give shelter to nearly 4000 people, with around 1 square metre for each person and bunk beds stacked 5 high on metal posts for them to sleep on. It was a cold and eerie place but if it were full it would be hot and horribly overcrowded. It was never actually used, but seeing what the 1% of Berlin's citizens who would have found a place there would have had to endure really made me think about what human beings are prepared to inflict on each other in the name of war – and the ones in the bunker would have been the lucky ones.
In Berlin it's very easy to get caught up in thinking about the events of the 20th century and forget that the city has a history before the war or the wall. I was hoping that the museum would give me the bigger picture, and to some extent it did, but there was still a huge emphasis on the past 100 years. They had tried very hard to make the exhibits lively and interesting but sometimes the noise and the moving pictures got in the way of telling the actual stories and I felt that they could have made some parts clearer. In the end, my favourite bit did turn out to be about the wall once more, as the last exhibit shows Berlin in the rubble and then how life developed differently on either side of the divide.
By this stage, despite all the interesting sights, I was starting to feel a little bit down. Discovering the history of a war torn city on a grey November day when you are cold, alone and slightly inclined to be miserable anyway is not the best way to cheer yourself up, so I was pleased to go and meet C at Alexanderplatz for a walk around the pretty Mitte district, where there are lots of little art galleries and shops. We had dinner in a little café and talked about all the things that I had been thinking about all day. All I remember of the fall of the Berlin wall was that the second-hand atlas that I had at the start of secondary school in 1994 was out of date, but C grew up in Dresden and remembers her parents coming home with stories of riots in the train station as people tried to get on the trains reserved for diplomats who were allowed to travel to the west. We both find it amazing to think how recent all these events really are about how, only decades later, C, who grew up in a communist state, can work for a Jewish organisation, I can get on a train to visit her without even needing a passport, and it all really does feel like history.