Our last day in Berlin dawned spectacularly hot and humid. I mean, sweat dripping off of your chin, mascara melting, crotch pot cooking HOT. After consuming the required Kaffee and pastry, we explored the city on foot and by bus trying our best to move quickly enough that the soles of our shoes wouldn’t melt to the sidewalk.
The thing about Berlin is this–it SHOULD have stunning churches and quaint city areas that date back to the 1300’s because that’s when the city was officially founded. It should have ridiculous roccoco buildings and romantic renaissance churches. It should have spectacular museums that are a tribute to the lengths that people will go to attain freedom and monuments that are a daily reminder of what happens when people blindly follow a bad government or how disastrous the results can be if well meaning governments give just an inch to a power seeking regime. And it does, a little bit.
More than 70% of the city of Berlin was destroyed during the second World War and it took almost a decade to just clear the rubble. On the West side of the wall, the rebuilding efforts are awkward–they rebuilt all of the buildings exactly as they were before but with new materials so it has kind of a Disney feel to it. Yeah, Snow White’s castle is cool, but it’s not a real castle, you know? On the East side of the wall, it was of utmost importance that everything be “Soviet Blocky.” This is the name that I am going to give all of the boring square cinder buildings that line the streets. Boring, grey and, well, boxy. One thing the city planners got more than right, though, is the art. There’s art everywhere. On the streets, in the buildings, in the subway stations. Even when it’s not trying, okay, especially when it’s not trying, it’s a very cool city.
We took in some Berlin Wall. Among the most interesting things we saw were the monuments to the escape attempts and monuments that showed how families divided communicated through the wall. I was amazed to learn that the decision to create a physical barrier in the city was carried out in one day. Families who lived in homes on the border were evicted and the windows and doorways of the buildings were boarded or bricked closed. The wall was the primary physical barrier, but buildings were raized to create an empty space where additional physical barriers like mines, wires, beds of nails and attack dogs made passage nearly impossible. The guard towers were manned with snipers and more than 130 people lost their lives and thousands were imprisoned for their escape attempts.
Our last stop in Berlin (besides the fantastic local eatery that we camped in each night washing down schnitzel with local brew) was the Computerspielemuseum. This museum dedicated to the history and development of video games was a crowd pleaser. We played Pac Man with a giant joystick, Kevin beat the Giant at the Pain Game, taught his children the joys of Asteroid (Space Invaders is still better) and we all reveled in how far things have come.