Yesterday as we drove to Berlin we stopped in at Dresden another incredibly beautiful city that I wish I had had more time to enjoy… 2hrs isn’t quite enough… but I did get to learn that not all things WWII are depressing. Dresden… although its story is depressing, the ending… well at least of that chapter, is incredibly beautiful and proves that humans can actually work together… even if they are trying to make good for horrible things they have done. Dresden is a wonderful mixture of the old, restored to perfection. Beauty from ashes… I think I need to go back and spend some more time there.
Now we are in Berlin and after not really being confident I would like Berlin last night, I have been totally turned around today. I have absolutely loved learning about Berlin, and Germany both during and after WWII… Germany is incredible, truly.
Seeing the Berlin Wall is not just something that I have been able to cross of my list but something that I have wanted to do since I learned that it existed. It is something that I have struggled to understand, and even now find difficult to comprehend. It is something that, like Auschwitz, is so important to have as a reminder of what not to do again… to prevent a repeat. And it is something I am so glad I have been able to see, to touch, to experience, but something that I am so very glad is no longer the divide that it once was.
Last night at dinner I sat with our bus driver Zoli, who is Hungarian and he showed me some pictures of his family visiting East Berlin before the wall fell. They were sitting in front of ‘no man’s land’ with the Brandenburg Gate behind them and no one else around. He pointed out the wall in the background and told me how he had come with his family to visit his Uncle who was working in East Berlin at the time. Today as I stood where his family had stood for their photo, I could imagine where the wall had been, how eerie it would have been to be right next to the ghost train stations of Berlin, but mixed with the excitement and joy of a family holiday. It has once again challenged the way I see what we have always called the ‘oppression of the east’, the things I have been told were awful. There were lots of good things for those who lived on the other side, while they might not have been to the standard we have come to expect, a free car, a confirmed job, house and healthcare are all great things, and things that are greatly missed when suddenly taken away. While it probably wasn’t a great way to live, for many it was a good life. It just wasn’t our life… so we judge it. Now don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting we should all drop everything and change to communism, it has just made me question whether there is actually a lot more grey than black and white.
Ampelmann is probably the best example of this… an unofficial icon of Berlin… quietly showing where East Berlin once was, just by telling us whether to go or stop… he isn’t good, he isn’t bad… he is just different (thanks CGS) and to be honest, he just looks way better than our regular walk and stop man… its all about the hat. He has been kept because the people of Berlin like him, he is part of their history and he doesn’t need to be changed to the western alternative, just because the wall has fallen.
The other thing that has really struck me while I have been in Germany is the fact that the German’s have embraced their horrible (recent) history and learnt from it. They have a memorial to those who they hunted and murdered and do not in anyway shy away from the cruel nature of the wars they have faced. They also respond differently to war now… they will not get involved violently… they will offer aid, medical assistance and support, but nothing to encourage destruction, separation or violence… I think we could all learn something from Germany. They welcome the marginalised, support those around them and make really great chocolate.