Anyhow, I got back from a short stay in Berlin two days ago, and I felt like jotting down a few words on the subject. It was my third visit to the city in recent years, and I feel like I'm getting to know it pretty well. This is in part due to my travelling companion M., who never leaves home without an itinerary worked out to the last detail. To my mind, this can be both a blessing and a curse: it's good to have some sort of plan of what to see and how to get to what you want to go and see, but...I don't like to be ruled by plans. As far as I'm concerned, they should be more like guidelines, to be deviated from if and when circumstances (and my mood) change. M., unfortunately, doesn't agree; and so, after four or five days, I could barely bring myself to be civil to him. I remember rebelling on the fourth day, saying I didn't care what programme he had planned for the day, I was gonna go shopping...and then getting really stroppy when his response was that if I really really wanted to, perhaps I could, if we timed it right, and if he could tweak our itinerary just so, possibly maybe have half an hour in KaDeWe at the end of the day. He's suggested I take him to see New York next time, but if he thinks I'm taking him across the pond, he's got another think coming. It's bad enough being miserable on my own continent, thank you very much; I don't need the same hassle on another.
Other than that, we got along fine (well, we have been friends for like 15 years or something), and I did get to see some interesting parts of the city where I hadn't been before, like Tempelhof, the old airport that closed last year. They're doing guided tours round it now, and our guide, an old man who had spent all his working days there, took us to see all the nooks and crannies. The stories he told were amazing, full of personal detail and very informative.
We also, on this occasion, paid a visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I wasn't sure I wanted to go at first, but I'm glad I did. No matter how much you think you know about Nazi atrocities, no history lesson can ever quite make you imagine what it must have been like than to see the desolate place where some of these took place. Also, I was surprised to learn that after the war, the Soviets took over the camp and ran it as a facility for their undesirables for a number of years, and people continued to live and die there under appalling conditions. All this, of course, was swept under the carpet during the period of the GDR.
Speaking of which, I really enjoyed going round the tiny DDR museum (which hadn't been included in M.'s itinerary initially, but I threw another hissy fit)...the mind boggles how people could put up with a regime that couldn't even provide them with a decent cup of coffee and forced them to wear nothing but man-made fibres for forty years before they lost patience and tore down the Wall...And then there was a very interesting exhibition on the Bauhaus in the Martin-Gropius-Bau that we saw.
But the brilliant thing about Berlin, to me, is the vibrancy of the place. Even when it's grey and wet like it was last week, the place feels alive, and welcoming. The people are nice and friendly, and the food they serve is tasty and wholesome and (compared to Dutch prices), cheap. Yeah, I like Berlin; but next visit, I'm going on my own.