Since I’m now on holiday I’ve decided to take the blog on a little diversion over the next couple of weeks. We flew to Berlin yesterday, a city which I love and am quite familiar with. I have been coming to Berlin on a regular basis since 1992, since Karen is from here and continues to have family here. In fact I’ve worked out that I’ve spent over two years of my life in Berlin even though I’ve never been here more than four weeks at a time. So for me Berlin is different enough to feel as if I’m away on holiday, but familiar enough to feel quite at home here. I can orient myself well, and don’t find the public transport system (too) confusing; but as a city I find it endlessly fascinating and am always finding new things here that interest me
Berlin is also very interesting for anyone who is thinking about change since it has been central to many of the changes that have happened in Europe, if not globally. In fact I have heard it said that to understand the history of Berlin over the last few hundred years, is to understand the history of Europe. It has also been said that Berlin is always aspiring to be something but never quite makes it. Whether that is the case is arguable, but these two comments together show the history and dynamism of the place.
This was underlined for me when I took Sam out for a walk in his pram this morning, not around the many great buildings and other tourist destinations, but out on a shopping trip in the Schöneberg area of the city. There were two things that immediately reminded me of two of the most significant events of the twentieth century in which Berlin played a central role: the lead up to the Second World War and the Cold War
There are 80 signs in total and they reflect and remind us of the life and culture of the significant Jewish population of the area before the introduction of 80 anti-Jewish laws, beginning in 1933; with a summary of one of the laws on the reverse of each sign. How different this area must have been before then, and what turbulence it must have been through over the next 15-20 years. It seems really unbelievable walking round the sunny and tranquil streets on this summer’s morning.
Secondly, we walked past Rathaus Schöneberg, the then political centre of West Berlin, in front of which President Kennedy made his famous “ich bin ein Berliner” speech in 1963, one of the key moments of the Cold War.
It is one of the many symbols of the Cold War in Berlin, from both sides of the ‘Iron Curtain’, and a time when we really did think, with the proliferation of nuclear arms on both sides, that the world might end at any time through nuclear war. Today the Rathaus has reverted to a local town hall and looks relatively unassuming as it sits on the edge of the Schöneberger Volks (People’s) Park.
On our walk around this locality today it struck me that it can be quite easy to forget the significance of the places that are familiar to us in our daily lives. Of course, not all of us live in places of such globally historical significance, but they are important to us and our lives. Berlin is very important to me for my own historical reasons too, I’m looking forward to my holiday here and hopefully sharing more of it in this blog.