2nd-4th October 2016
Sisters at large
This weekend I was graced with a visit from my very own Schwesterlein. Her arrival was even more eagerly anticipated, given that her flight was delayed two hours, meaning a rather late night trip to and from the airport. Still, it was worth it!
Bright and early on Saturday morning in true tourist style we headed off to Alexanderplatz and joined a free guided tour. For the next three and a half hours we walked all over Berlin, learning more about the city’s history, from medieval times, through the Second World War, during the division of Berlin by the infamous Berlin Wall, and its reunification.
If you are ever in Berlin, I would thoroughly recommend doing one of these tours. It sounds long, but I have done three such tours now, run by three different companies, and they have all been extremely interesting, engaging and personal – each guide adds their own personal touch and brings German history to life. (And no, I’m not on commission.)
After a well-deserved cake stop, we headed on to Mauerpark, which I had been reliably informed was a must-go Sunday destination for Berlin locals. Think flea market meets international street food meets karaoke. Market stalls seemed to offer everything, in variable quality. Anything goes – I was impressed by the crazy dancing going on among some dreadlocked hippies to the music of African percussionists – each person was immersed in their own world, not caring at all what other people thought, totally carefree and expressing themselves in their own unique way. Certainly refreshing, even if I wasn’t ready to join them.
Monday was a significant day in the German calendar as it was Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity), which celebrates the reunification of Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9th November 1989. It was a significant day in the office calendar as it was a Feiertag, and therefore a day off! It was therefore perhaps fitting that Anna and I began our day with a trip to Bernauerstraße, the street made famous for being the border between East and West Berlin, running alongside the Berlin Wall. Many dramatic escape attempts took place here, many of which ended in casualities and fatalisities. Bernauer Straße is one of the longest preserved sections of the Berlin Wall, and today there is a memorial park and information centre, Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, where it is possible to hear and watch first hand interviews with people who experienced life in divided Berlin, of all ages, from all sorts of backgrounds and professions.
From there we headed to a little café at Zionskirchplatz called Kapelle for brunch. I thought I would introduce Anna to a specialty that originates from the Alsace region of Germany/France: Flammkuchen (or tarte flambée in French), literally “flaming cake”. Bread dough is rolled out very thinly into a rectangle, and is traditionally covered with crème fraîche, thinly sliced onions and small bits of bacon, although Kapelle offered many alternatives to those otherwise inclined. Despite the incredibly long wait, I thoroughly enjoyed mine. Unfortunately Anna was slightly more disparaging, likening them to “disappointing pizzas”!
Next on the programme was Tempelhofer Feld, an old airport, now a large public park. Tempelhof was famous for being West Berlin’s lifeline during the Cold War: on 20th June 1948, Soviet authorities blocked all traffic by land and water into and out of West Berlin, claiming technical difficulties. The only remaining access routes were three 20 mile-wide air corridors above the Soviet occupation zone. This attempt to limit access for Great Britain, France and the US to their sectors of the city became known as the Berlin Blockade. However, rather than abandon the city, the Western Allies decided to sustain the 2.5 million inhabitants of West Berlin by delivering thousands of tons of supplies over the next eleven months by air , using Tempelhof airport.
Today the old runways provide excellent inline-skating, skateboarding and cycling paths, there were loads of kites, allotments, and, of course, a beer garden. It reminded me of going for walks and flying kites on York Racecourse with my Grandparents, the runways replaced by racing lanes, and the beer obviously not on offer.
Not feeling up to the previous night’s cinematic intensity (I would definitely recommend The Railway Man, but it is not easy watching), we opted for The Kite Runner – now that I think about it, this also seems rather appropriate given the kite-flying activity at Tempelhof.
On Tuesday, alas, it was time to say Auf Wiedersehen. I’m already looking forward to her next visit.