On the Past / The Palace of Tears

After completing my previous post I was in quite good spirits but my night in Dresden went rapidly downhill. The hostel was not nice. It looked and smelt very stale and was generally depressing. However, the main thing about hostelling is the people you have sharing your room.

I was sharing with three middle aged Germans. Two went out whilst one watched the football on TV drinking beer. Once this finished he headed out for more beer. The other two came back late and talked loudly, not considering that I was there and trying to sleep. Then things get much worse when the other man comes back. He talks loudly, he goes to the en-suite toilet with explosive noises and he smokes in the room, which is forbidden (albeit with the window open). In the early hours he decides to put on German heavy metal music.

I am trying to sleep and wondering how long this can go on for. At one stage him and the other two go out for more drinks. He leaves the music on. I turn it off. They return and the music continues and the toilet noises continue and are joined by loud farts in the room.

At about 4am I reach the point where after going to the toilet myself I ask “when do you sleep?!” to the room. This gathers some sheepish looks and the music finally stopped. A victory. Except of course the main nuisance individual snores. At 5am he has gone to the toilet again and comes over to speak to the guy above me in the bunk bed. He then sits on my bed. At 4am and now at 5am I am considering showering and leaving. But I hold tight and finally get some sleep once he has gone back to his bed. The other two leave at about 6.30am. I then get a little more sleep before I have to get up. It was an awful night and one I want to put well into the past. I struggle to comprehend how anyone can be that inconsiderate.

Berlin is not the prettiest city, although it has some pretty spots, but it may be the most interesting place in the world. On my first day there I met up with Greg and Frida who I had seen in Stockholm, as our visits to the German capital coincided. Greg showed me around the area he grew up in, the Mitte neighbourhood, which was in east Berlin. It was fascinating to hear how much had changed in the area in just a couple of decades, but then Berlin is a city that has changed an incredible amount in both the 20th century and today. I have seen a lot of construction work here, maybe the most I’ve ever seen and I lived in London for three years. Bullet holes left in walls were a striking sight. Not only did Berlin face air raids but also there was fighting in the streets.

Reminders and memorials to the past are everywhere in Berlin. The most notable may well be the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or perhaps the preserved sections of the Berlin Wall, but the reminders go much deeper than this. Like I described above in Mitte it is the bullet holes in the walls, it is the blocks of new buildings, it is the relics of the communist East, it is the ongoing rejuvenation of Berlin. This is a city that is still being rebuilt. The East Side gallery has the longest existing stretch of the Berlin Wall built near the River Spree in the hinterland. Either side of the wall are gleaming white apartment blocks just being completed for sale.

Berlin is the city of the moment in Europe, and maybe the world. It has dynamism. It’s a ‘cool’ city. It has the nightlife, it has the art, and it has rent controls. This is a city people can come to reinvent themselves. Where better to do that than a city that is doing the same?

One particularly memorable place for me was the museum at Freidrichstrasse Station. After the end of the Second World War and before the completion of the Berlin Wall in 1961, it was this station in the eastern part of the city but close to the border that acted as a main point of departure for approximately 2.8 million people who managed to leave communist East Germany. The station became known as the ‘Palace of Tears’ as loved ones would part, not knowing when, or if, they would ever see each other again. In 1961 the Berlin Wall was built to try and stop the exodus.

It was my friend Holly who recommended the museum at Freidrichstrasse Station. We had met up the day before to catch up. Now a Berlin resident, once upon a time we worked together back in my hometown and it was good to catch up and talk about those days gone by, as well as the present. If I have not said this before then I have tried to allude to it, but I think it’s incredibly important for a city to be connected to it’s past and Berlin is certainly that. Walking back along the canal in Kreuzberg as the early evening sun glimmered on the water I reflected on how nice it was to meet old friends. It stuck me that perhaps people are like cities. We need to remain connected to the past too.




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