At Checkpoint Charlie there are a McDonalds, a KFC and a Starbucks, all inside big soviet style buildings. H&M and other big brands constantly pop everywhere, to the point I found this city more beautiful 10 years ago, without all these shops and without being so globalised. I didn’t need a passport to come here. I can come anytime with a low cost flight for a quick weekend. This is all normal to me. Berlin is a free city. Actually, one of the freest around the world. In this place, human rights are strong and important. And yet.
Here freedom is my age. Actually, it is younger than me.
There’s a thin yet dense veil of history covering everything in Berlin. It never allows to forget. It imposes people to consider their present condition: freedom is not such an obvious one, on the contrary.
I came here to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday. And I can’t help but thinking that had my parents been born here, they would have lived in an open sky cage for more than half of their lives. In Berlin it’s enough to be 40 to have grown up with the Wall.
Many may argue that wars and segregation keep characterising this planet even at this very moment, and that Berlin’s history is not different from many other horrible histories. However, I can’t help but feeling bewildered by the fact that a city so free actually has one of the lest free histories in the European Union. Probably, I just profoundly admire their capacity to learn from their own mistakes, which is not such an obvious consequence nowadays.
There’s no way one can walk around these streets without remembering at least once an hour that freedom is not granted, ever. That people would be shot dead while looking for it. And even earlier, that people would die by the millions because of their diversity. Horror used to live here. Its headquarters were here. Orders departed from here.
Oppression is a vivid reminder that we’re all together in this and that we all have to make sure it won’t happen again.
We are guardians: of freedom, of human rights, of equity. All of us.
The Tao: the Wall Memorial and the Flee Market.
As I said, I’ve already been here twice 10 years ago, so this weekend I didn’t visit the main sites, except for Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Straße. What a monument!
Many look for a feeling of the Wall at the East Side Gallery, which is gorgeous and absolutely a must see, indeed. However, that’s not the Berliner Meuer.
The atmosphere here is thick and solemn. The wall is grey and austere. Its iron skeleton can be seen, disturbing and without any sort of embellishment. A little monument shows the victims of this concrete cage. Some of them were less than six-year-old. A man died only six moths before the fall, trying to escape. No one could see the wall coming, no one could see it going.
The paradox is that people would try to escape inside. That’s where freedom was. Inside the wall. To be born surrounded by a wall was “a blessing”.
From the museum’s terrace, a section of the real Mauer, with all its “pre-wall”, surveillance towers, restricted areas, lamps and magnetic sensors to detect fugitives, can still be seen. The impact is a major one.
People running through that zone would be like targets at the polygon, rabbits for hunters. And yet, someone did manage to elude the surveillance. Would I ever have the courage and strength to face such risk? How would I have been like if I had been an East Berliner during those long years of tireless repression?
A beautiful video inside the museum shows when borders were finally opened and the Wall could be eventually climbed over: when people realised they were eventually free. The emotional impact of that video can’t be described. The amount of thoughts and questions rising in each spectator’s mind should be kept intimate. Because despite the huge scale of this event, which involved the lives of millions of people, I think it is a very personal one, effecting the very core of every human being that came in contact with it. Truth and freedom are global concepts, yet they resound in such personal ways.
An Albanian woman sitting next to me commented how that same thing happened in her land as well. How they lived the same oppression and the same feeling of regained freedom.
And can’t help but wondering why, despite all this consciousness about boundaries and their consequences, people still build walls and support division.
Some beautiful street art decorates the buildings along the monument, representing slaughter and division.
But then, like a beautiful Tao, at the end of this Wall Monument that documents disunion and oppression, the beautiful Mauerpark Flee Market invades the park with a huge mix of cultures, tastes, sounds, faces and life in general. Diversity here enriches everything. Freedom is the password.
The dichotomy between these two places is strong, yet it makes sense. It allows people to both remember and appreciate at the same time. People can feel both conscious and lucky. Gratitude makes and entrance and empowers everything and everyone, underlining how human beings can conceive something as horrible as the Wall (or the Holocaust, or war in general for that matters), but also something peaceful and collaborative like the flee market, its activities and its arts.
It’s just a matter of choice, where you want to stand and what you want to create. What you want to be the ambassador of in your life.
Other things to do.
So if you already visited Berlin or you want to see something different from the usual touristic venues, I suggest you pay a visit to Tempelhofer Feld. This used to be an airport, now turned into a leisure and sports park. The place is truly fascinating and its huge landing strips make it the best place to train or to go on a ride with your bike.
The Turkish Market in Maybachufer is another really interesting place. Here you can find delicious tropical fruits at a very cheap price, as well as some amazing fabrics of all sorts, and stands selling the typical turkish tea, of course. Really worth a visit!
Last but not least, the Central Kino’s courtyard, which you can access from Rosenthaler Staße. It’s a very amusing courtyard full of street art, where you can take some very creative pictures if you are keen on photography. I’d say it could be a supersmall, but fair substitute of the now closed and actually irreplaceable Tacheles.
Even here, the Anne Frank Centre will give you a quick reminder of where you are and what happened in this place.
Talking about photography, if you wish to see a nice exhibit, the Berlin Biennale of Photography at Palazzo Italia is highly recommended.
If you’re planning to visit Berlin in October, it might be worth it to make it coincide with the Festival of Lights. It’s not the most amazing festival of all times, however some very interesting artwork can be enjoyed projected on some of Berlin’s most beautiful and important buildings.
If you’re looking for some good food, the Briefmarken Weine on Karl Marx Allee is a very nice place where to enjoy an amazing glass of wine and some italian food, even if you’re in Germany. As an Italian, I guarantee it’s really worth a visit and a hearty meal.
What do poststamps have to deal with wine and Italian food? This place used to be an old poststamps shop. The owners decided to keep the beautiful sign and the majority of the interiors. So the atmosphere of the restaurant is rather peculiar, besides being very warm and intimate.
So here it is, my quick weekend in Berlin. Now I’m back in Rome, where freedom is probably taken a bit more for granted. On my flight back, I promised myself to always keep in mind how lucky I am to have been born free, despite all the problems of this western society.
I intend to evoke everyday that beautiful Tao, the equilibrium and harmony between awareness and creativity. I’ll make sure to make the right choice each day of my life. To stand on the right side. And I’ll always keep in mind my role as a guardian and a grantor. Berlin is the proof that every choice matters.