I'm spending the festive season (that is the tail part of Hannukah and Christmas itself) in Berlin and - here's the interesting part - it's not just a regular break, but an enormous trip down memory lane. Many many years ago, when I was a young woman, I spent a year living in this city. I was merely 22, the wall had fallen just a couple of years before, and Berlin was undergoing the extraordinary process of life post-unification.
They were strange and heady days. Some of the time I worked on a government programme ("Umschulung" which, loosely translated, means ) 'retraining.' Along with other teachers, we met regularly with citizens of the old East (the former DDR) and tutored them in all kinds of classes - business, economics, English, etc. Other times, I worked with students in the West - young and old, privately and with major banks. I spent my days shuttling between ritzy upmarket suburbs like Charlottenburg and once- thriving but by the early 90's almost-defunct factories in Treptow. I dressed like a Berliner (all in black), partied like a Berliner (went out at midnight and came home at 6am), made a wealth of friends and spent Sundays (back then a day in Germany where all businesses - and I mean everything - were shut by law) taking long, aimless walks across the old East.
Now I'm back, partly because I want to enjoy myself but also because I'm curious to see how dramatically the city has transformed itself. I know it has, obviously - from reading and stories I've heard from friends. A good example from 25 years ago is that Potsdamer Platz was nothing but an empty piece of land with chunks of the Berlin Wall lying about it. Today, it's a thriving commercial centre (think big brand names and bright lights). I haven't seen it yet but I'm afraid I'm already going to prefer it the way it used to be!
In the following blog posts, I'm going to walk in neighbourhoods I used to know (and live in), From Schoenberg (my old stomping ground) to Kreuzberg (now hipster central) I plan to explore museums, galleries, exhibitions, and cafes. I also hope I'll be able to brush up on my German (which truth be told is now very rusty but, in the good old days, was often described as 'zeimlich gut'). I'm going to enjoy the old (who doesn't love a bit of nostalgia periodically?) and try and embrace the new. Whether it's bourgeois or grungy, I want to see it - and all with cups of hot chocolate with mounds of whipped cream and a few plates of German cakes (think apple strudel and liner torte and you'll get the drift).
I'm also going to smell Berlin (It has extraordinary smells, ranging from the ubiquitous curry wurst and diner kebab stands to the unique whiff of the ubahn stations), stare at Berlin (bright lights, big city) and listen to Berlin (it always was a bustling city, with all kinds of voices...young and old, local and international, rich and poor...). I'm going to soak up the atmosphere, wander aimlessly and also visit a few tourist traps too (come on, what visit to Berlin would be complete without a look at the Checkpoint Charlie sign and the Brandenburger Tor).
For now, a few photos I took on my first full two days walking the streets...think five hours at a stretch, endless kilometres covered, aching feet and hot baths needed but a huge grin on my face the entire time.
1. Alexander Platz - ferris wheel
2. Red facade in beautiful Schoenberg
3. Glühwein stall at Wittenberg Platz
4. Ich bin ein Berliner (Kindl)...Mitte
5. All the fun of the fair - Christmas Market stall in Alexander Platz
6. "Queer" - bookstore in Schoenberg
7. Nollendorf Platz u-bahn facade in Schoenberg
8. Beloved Nelson at the site of the old Berlin Wall, and now the East Side Gallery
9. Der Tagesspiegel - mural at Wittenberg Platz
10. Potsdamer Platz, decked in festive Christmas lights