Berlin’s tumultuous history is pronounced by its architecture which is the remnants of three very distinct historic periods: its Prussian existence, its post-World War II Soviet era and the newly unified Germany, progressive and innovative. My hotel was located on Potsdamer Platz which once was the buzzing epicenter of the city until it was completely demolished during the Allied invasion. This area laid dormant for decades until the reunification infused investment dollars to restore it to its glory. An Apple store is coming soon.
Just two blocks north of Potsdamer Platz is where Hitler’s bunker once was. A parking lot and residential apartment building now stand at the site. The shame of the nation prohibits the site to be memorialized, so only a small informational plaque marks the area. There is an aura of guilt in the air throughout the city. The people of Berlin want desperately to move forward but they are haunted by the sins of their past – and they just can’t seem to forgive themselves.
The Western mentality tries to dominate in Berlin but it collides with residual Eastern Block thinking which stunts the people’s ability to thrive emotionally. Although the city has been modernized and progress is visible all around, scars from the communist era still weigh down the hearts of Berlin. No one seems to smile here.
I made friends with the porter captain at my hotel who happened to be an American. He was stationed in Berlin during his retirement from US Army and decided to stay. The year was 1989, just one year before the Wall collapsed. His name is Terry. He is dark like chocolate with a handsome face and a friendly smile. He is warm and kind. One reason that I like to travel alone is that it affords me the time to get to know people whom I would otherwise take for granted. And when I do, I often find that their life stories are much more interesting than mine.
Today the entire city of Berlin began preparing for President Obama’s visit which is scheduled for Tuesday. He is going to stay at my hotel so the hotel staff was all aflutter. The tension was slightly palpable this morning but seemed to increase as day went on. I myself am much more excited that the President is visiting Berlin while I am in Berlin than when he comes to NY and disrupts my commute.
Last night I went to variety theater and saw a show called Dummy. It was just as one would imagine an East German performing arts show would be. Everyone was very serious and again no smiles. At my table, I met a German doctor from Frankfurt. He recommended his favorite restaurant which told me three times that it was very expensive. I always question the impression I give when people underscore details like that.
Dinner was outstanding but no more expensive than your average nicer New York restaurant. There was a trendy-looking couple at the table that was caddy-corner from mine. The man faced my direction. He was annoyed that his woman was constantly texting. Although I couldn’t see her face, I could tell that she was bored. He worked to catch my eye and although I am rather shy in situations like these, I decided to play. I pretend to be a sexy, single, wealthy mistress of the world and capture his attention. The woman caught on and turned to see who it was that distracted her boyfriend. It worked. She stopped texting.
When I returned to my hotel from dinner, I continued to watch documentaries about Hitler, the War and the Wall. The history is so imaginable that it is haunting. A morbid curiosity creates an insatiable thirst that has me wanting to learn more. But that night I had nightmares. In the morning I left for Prague.