My first visit to Berlin was in March 2005 as part of a football trip to Warsaw, Poland. I hadnt even visited Germany pre-unification, but always held an interest in it. It’s the fascination about the World Wars as a child, and certainly my Great Granda, John Mawhinney’s time fighting for Britain had always made me proud and appreciatitive of the freedom we enjoy today. Our forefathers certainly did fight for this life we live today. So where does Berlin fit into all of this?
Well, the Berlin Wall for a start, the fact it is the capital of Germany, one of the most powerful nations in Europe and the world and who the hell is Checkpoint Charlie? So I went in search of the answers…
A great way to see Berlin is by walking (everything seems quite close), I found it much more interesting than a bus tour I did in 2005. Strangely, Berlin is the only European city (outside the British Isles) I have been to three times, and it’s easy to see why. The history of the world falls in front of your eyes in Berlin. So make sure you read up on everything before you arrive. Read about the Berlin Wall, read about the East-German and West-German divide post World War II, read about the two world wars and do read about Adolf Hitler, the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Museums will pump up the history you’ve already learnt.
I was 9 years old when the Berlin wall came down, but at that time, I tended to watch the local news a lot more, Northern Ireland having ‘walls’ of its own in places like West Belfast, Short Strand and Londonderry. I knew the wall came down, there was public celebration, but I didn’t get why. So I took a step into the history books. It’s really the Cold War between the USA and the USSR that you should check out. That’s where the wall came from…
As someone who considers themselves to be knowledgeable about history, I fear I have many flaws in my knowledge. I need to read up on the Cold War. Basically it was something threatening since 1917’s revolution by Lenin, which brought the idea of communism, controlled sharing to the USSR. The obvious difference between this and the USA’s capitalist society brought about the Cold war. Oh yes the USA is always involved, but at what price? why did it happen? why did a battle between the USSR and the USA end up being the reason for a wall being built in Berlin? And what of places like Hungary and Slovakia. Go find out…
Walking round Berlin you notice friendly, happy people. It is a fantastic city, and one which I am sure I will return to. From the galloping horses at Brandenberg Gate (and you focking know there’s history there) to what remains of the Berlin Wall, you feel yourself gaining knowledge of the world without meaning to. Find out who Erich Honeker is, and Gunter Schawbowski…that’s the guy whose speech back in 1989, led to thousands of (former) East Germans running up to the Berlin Wall at Brandy BG demanding to visit the commercialised West Berlin. What a story that is. It is also worth visiting the Jewish Museum, which gives only an insight into the horror of the National Socialist (NAZI) regime under Hitler. The holocaust momuments near Brandenberg Gate and the Reichstag also free your mind and escape your ignorance for being too British to give a fuck for once. You’ll enjoy it.
Then there is the night life and the street life. You don’t see litter on the streets. You may see hookers and you will see twenty four hour bars. I visited quite a few bars on my three visits to Berlin, including a fantastic music night in Kilkenny near Oranienberger StraBe. Which while I’m on the subject, you must do the U-Bahn and the Berlin trains. Your journey will be remembered. Without trying, I found some love in Berlin as well. My sweet young German damsel waits for me, forever the dreams of parading round Checkpoint Charlie may linger. I left her one day at Ost Berlin Bahnhof and returned to the British Isles. I guess I’ll be back then?
Auf Wiedersehen Berlin. Choos for now…
Bars Visited – Aldea, Oscar Wilde, Alex’s, Kilkenny, Dax Pax, Guiseppee Kaffee, Cafe Mohring, Schoenefeld Bar.
Beers Tried – Beck’s, Bitburger, Guinness, Berliner, Warsteiner, Heineken, Berlin Weise.
Transport Used – U-Bahn, Normal Overground Train, Taxi, Bus, Aeroplane.
Nationalities Met – Australian, English, American, Canadian, German, Former East German, Northern Irish, Republic of Irish, Scottish, Icelandic.
Strange Currencies – Deutsch Marks are gone, bring Euros and Euro Cents next time.
Where I Stayed – Aldea Hotel and Bax Pax Backpackers (the latter of which was better and included a cheaper bar plus an awesome balcony view of the city, perfect for romance as well).
Average Price of a Pint of Beer – Nat cheap. Expect 6 Euros.
Favourite Food – Currywurst is worth trying.
Favourite Drink – We say water this time.
Favourite Thing About Berlin – The HISTORY involved. It’s amazing!
Moving Moment – Kissing outside Brandenberg Gate.
Key Song – Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.
FACT ABOUT CHECKPOINT CHARLIE – The name Charlie came for the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet; similarly for other Allied checkpoints on the Autobahn to the West: Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt and Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden, southeast of Wannsee. The Soviets simply called it the Friedrichstraße Crossing Point . The East Germans officially referred to Checkpoint Charlie as the Grenzübergangsstelle (“Border Crossing Point”) Friedrich-/Zimmerstraße.