As the capital of Germany, Berlin represents the best of the German people and is a testament to the ability of a community to recover from times of hardship. As the capital of Germany and a large population center of about six million, Berlin is the main hub of culture, politics, media, science, and education with a close second being Munich. Berlin first came to be in the 13th century and grew in importance because it was at the crossing of two important trade routes. The city has a high quality of living and since the 2000’s has seen an emergence of a cosmopolitan entrepreneurial scene. This has resulted in it being a strong tech hub in Europe. As prominent as it is now, it carried even more weight in the past and in the 1920’s was the third largest municipality in the world.
By the end of WWII however, Berlin was in dire straits. During the battle of Berlin, over 125,000 civilians were killed and much of the city was destroyed by aerial bombing or shelling. The city was divided into a few sections between the Allies and remained divided along the Berlin wall until 1990 when the city was reunified. Today the city boasts beautiful skyscrapers and modern architecture and to this day is a bustling city with a rapid growth trajectory. I could scarcely spot a section of skyline that didn’t show a crane putting up another large building. The economy seemed to be booming. The city is very green and walkable with one third of the area comprised of forests, parks, gardens, rivers, canals, and lakes. The Spree river runs through the center of town developing an impressive skyline along its banks.
On our first day we decided to start the day by walking to the Berlin Wall and exploring the East Side Gallery. It was a gloomy day and we experienced some light rain, but it didn’t stop Berliners from going about their day and enjoying the weekend. On our walk to the Berlin Wall we crossed the Spree river and I noticed a large graffiti mural that read, “refugees welcome”. I couldn’t help but think of how much change occurred in this city over a few generations which seventy years ago endeavored to commit one of the worst crimes of depravity ever known to man. Fast forward to present day and they are welcoming refugees into the country with open arms. Granted, there are many exceptions to this open arms attitude, but I took it away as a lesson in how much change can happen in such a short period of time. This hit home for me especially in light of the prevailing attitudes of many in the US today.
Once we arrived at the Berlin Wall I was greeted by mural after mural painted in every style and color imaginable. The East Side Gallery wall is a living museum that houses 105 paintings painted by artists from all over the world. It is an international memorial for freedom and drives home the unifying character we all hold as human beings. Many languages, nationalities, and styles were represented but the overall message was the same. The message that we are all interconnected and by erecting walls and waging war, we are doing irreparable damage to the fabric of our society. Towards the end of the wall walk, we came across an outdoor concert in a park just getting underway. We enjoyed cappuccinos and listened to the first few songs before we were on our way. The wall itself was impressive - high and thick, and to me was a symbol of a different era. Back then it was easy to identify the adversaries in the geopolitical realm. Nowadays, that simplicity has given way to a much more complex and nuanced reality wrought with rogue states, terrorism, and rising regional powers. But the wall, just like the Soviet Union, fell; as will our status quo. Let’s just hope that things change for the better and not the worse. It has been shown that building walls and dividing humanity is not a winning strategy, but we as people have short memories.
We spent our last day in Berlin exploring some of the up and coming neighborhoods in town known for their hip restaurants and café’s as well as a brief visit to a museum of modern art. We ended the trip with an amazing dinner at an Asian fusion restaurant. It had a line out the door, but we were quickly seated at a table and served an amazing meal. The city seemed to truly embrace every culture and the people of Berlin appeared to be at the front edge of fashion and design. I felt like the city provided an open opportunity for expression and creativity which is why there seemed to be so much design and style innovation going on.
My time in Berlin gave me a new perspective about how societies can come together and change. Berlin is a city that was destroyed by the ravages of war, then stunted for generations through forced separation and control by outside countries. It was also the symbol of Nazi Germany and all the hateful and evil beliefs that came with it. Fast forward a few generations, and you can clearly see a thriving city, an open and accepting people, and signs of progress almost everywhere you look. Perhaps it was the pendulum swinging in the wrong direction so fiercely that motivated this current trajectory. I am excited to see the strides Berlin takes over the course of my lifetime, I plan on returning someday. // Jeff