Oh how wonderful it is to be in a country where the weather changes naturally, gradually. Yesterday’s raininess was followed this morning by what? Oh my god, it’s a sunny day! And set to stay for most of the day. I was all fired up to hit the museums but two and a half years of vitamin D withdrawals commanded me from the sub-atomic level to stay outside as long as possible.
I found a secret Berlin walking tour (that is, of old secret stories in Berlin) and hooked up on that near Zoo station, the old hub of West Berlin, which basically looked like it hadn’t changed since the mid 60s. Our guide took us back and forth across town, including the Wall Memorial; a storeys-high platform looks down upon a recreated part of the original ‘death strip’, the space between the two walls. Just along is the newly built Church Of Reconciliaiton, a traditional looking church stuck in the death strip until 1985 when levelled by the GDR, replaced after 1990 with a small concrete and wood chapel.
In total contrast, the guide then took us to Karl Marx Allee, previously known as Stalin Allee, a good couple of kilometres of yellow and white tiled model apartment blocks in Stalinist style, still immaculately preserved, built in the early 50s to show the rest of the world the marvellous accommodation available for the workers of the GDR.
Not far further on the S Bahn was the Stasi headquarters, a bleak collection of office buildings, where the tour ended.
In all the stories told to us by the guide of ordinary people and officials bucking the various systems, a recurring theme was the ‘threshold’ – where was that space, that moment in time, what was that particular motivation, where citizens stopped being compliant and started resisting?
I guess this tied in with my own interest in the tour, in the society of Nazi Germany but also of the GDR. How did these people (indeed, how does any people anywhere) go around their business, in a relatively functioning society, with the daily knowledge that a massive secret police system, the Stasi, as well as a system of civilian informants (almost triple in number to the Stasi) was keeping an eye on their every move? How could you trust your neighbour, your family, indeed, anybody?
On this, my last night on the continent for a while, I took advice from the tour guide and walked about fifteen minutes south of my hostel to Bergmanstrasse, a gorgeous old suburban street lined with huge trees, full of cafes and restaurants.
In my role as travelling musician, I felt a little remiss at not having made more effort to check out the local scene, seek out some live music, but I was on holiday and I decided to do ordinary person things instead (like watching ‘The Simpsons’ movie at Potsdamer Platz last night – it was okay, but I liked ‘Transformers’ better)…