One of the things that has struck me about Berlin over the years that I have been coming here is that, while it has changed with the times like any other city, it has also changed in a way that I can imagine is quite unique.
I always find it interesting to follow the route of the wall, especially in the centre of the city (where there is now a path two cobblestones wide marking where the wall used to be). I find it quite amazing to think that, for instance, around Potsdamer Platz, where not that long ago you risked death for just being there, now there is a quarter of offices, apartments, cinemas, shops and restaurants.
Similarly the Glienicker Bridge, once effectively a neutral zone between the US and Soviet sectors of Berlin, looks like any other river crossing point now. During the Cold War it was used as a place for prisoner swaps between the two sides. It was known as ‘The Bridge of Spies’.
Berlin is littered with these areas which were once forbidden but have now, in one way or another, been opened up. The latest of these is a place that also played a significant part in the Cold War, but was not part of the physical border between East and West Berlin. Tempelhof Airport was the scene of the Berlin Airlift, when over 200,000 flights were made in and out of the Airport to relieve the effective siege that West Berlin had been placed under in 1948-9. Without this Berlin, and perhaps Europe, would have been a very different place.
I have a bit of an ambiguous relationship with Tempelhof since Karen used to live on the flightpath, she was on the fourth floor in an area where the planes used to come in so low that you could see the pilots’ faces: there was no need for an alarm clock!
Tempelhof ceased to be an airport in 2008 and the city authorities have been left with a huge tract of land in the middle of the city, and to their credit have opened it up to the public. What was once an area of high security is now enjoyed free of charge by locals and tourists alike. It’s a vast area and people come to exercise, meet, have parties, fly kites and generally enjoy this great open space. Karen and I took the boys this week, and Jake in particular had a great time going up and down the runways in a pedal go cart that we hired.
Coming to Berlin over the last 20 years really has been a lesson in change for me. It is in many ways obvious and easy to draw parallels, but these don’t become any less valid for all that. It tells me that just because something seems to be accepted and stable does not mean that it should last forever, and that while change can be unsettling it can be positive and empowering.
I imagine that few who saw the Wall, gun turrets, guard dogs and barbed wire around Potsdamer Platz at the end of the 1980s would have imagined that they could have a meal and watch a film there less than ten years later, and I certainly didn’t expect to have a fun afternoon on Tempelhof Airfield a couple of years ago.
We are constantly occupying new spaces and new places in our daily lives, and I find this especially so with young children who are changing and developing all the time. When Jake was born I had no clue what life would be like as a parent. It has been an often hard and disorienting experience and no doubt will continue to be in the future as our lives change. Sam, for instance is learning new words and can reach more things every day, increasing the potential for mischief exponentially. And by the very dint of having children it takes us to places where previously we wouldn’t have gone: playgrounds, soft play centres etc… Our impending house move will also take us into new places, especially through Jake starting school, something I find both exciting and scary.
So while we are unlikely to go through the unbelievable change that Berlin has experienced in the last century our lives do change, and I think they would soon get boring if they didn’t. When all is said and done I think that we can enjoy living in our own changing spaces and places and what was previously outside our comfort zone can soon be encompassed by it.