A Concrete Reminder
Though Germany has embraced the best of the new world, the Berlin Wall still stands as a witness to the turbulent times
"It was bad, very bad then,” said my co-passenger Mikael a few hours into the journey in the bus from Copenhagen to Berlin. “I ran (away) from Czech; we had to be in line for hours for food. I crossed the border into Germany and this, since then, has been my home.” Cheerful 55-year-old Mikael survived doing odd jobs. What surprised me was his love for languages. He knew Polish, German, Swedish and English and was learning Spanish. I was looking out of the bus window trying to take in the sights. Mikael interrupted again: “Go to sleep, when you wake up, the view is going to be the same. We have a flat geography, no mountains.”
I was going to Berlin to see the Berlin Wall that always had a mythical impression on my mind.Few years ago, a friend of mine had undertaken to study the graffiti culture around the world. While Calcutta had an overwhelming presence of graffiti, the rest of the cities in India, including Delhi, never really grew to the act. I wish my friend had come on this visit to witness the glorious paintings on the Berlin Wall — the screaming cries for world peace, freedom, oneness often punctuated with sarcasm.
The Berlin Wall now-a-days is limited to a corner of the city and cut down to a hundred meters. The ten feet high wall is so majestically decorated with crude hands that if you forget the content of the pictures for a few seconds, it looks like a landscape drawn by a promising artist. But when you understand what is in front of you, the underlying reality strikes you. They say no great work of art is ever born without anguish, hidden or otherwise. So true!
I walked from one end to another in hours, reading the graffiti, wherever written in English, taking notes to share with the friend researching on the domain. Looking at the wall, some were praying, while others, including me, took pictures. The most disturbing aspect was the presence of the death strip — a blank gap along the sides of the Wall to give clear view of the snipers of the people trying to flee. Germans are methodical and their discipline is reflected in the well-made roads and the intercity metro — the S Banh. The trains run on time and frequent. My Algerian acquaintance introduced me to the intricacies of the train schedule, which turned out to be quite simple to understand despite the multitudes of digits present.
At night, the city metamorphoses into a demonic character from its subtle form during the day.
Berlin is known as the clubbing capital of the world. With dance clubs located almost at every corner, clubbing is most visible thing to do for a tourist on any evening. Some of these clubs have evolved into privileged ones, for example Kit-Kat, a fetish club that requires you to be dressed in your weirdest best.
Berlin is a resurrected city, one that has successfully fought the demons and has embraced the best of the new world.
A version of this story appeared in The Hindu