City of Life: Berlin

The first time I was in Berlin was in 1962, the wall had gone up in 1961, and I wanted to go into East

Berlin. I was traveling with 3 other girls from Brooklyn and convinced them that it would be a great

adventure. So we changed our marks on the black market for East Germany currency. At that time,

when you signed in with the Americans at Check Point Charlie, you wrote your time of return.

Remembering the empty streets, the gray buildings and the silence, I was determined to buy something

with our cheap money. Most of the shops were empty, but we finally found one that had some tiny

porcelain statues and each of us bought one. Realizing we were late returning , we rushed back to the

checkpoint on the GDR side. As we showed our passports, ready to continue through no man’s land to

the American sector, the East German police asked for our currency exchange receipts. We were

stunned, realizing how ignorant we had been. They took our passports, confiscated our purchases, and

our illegal money. Suddenly American soldiers, concerned that we hadn’t returned, came looking for us.

Our passports were returned, we crossed back into the west and they gave us a deserved scolding.That

was when I still believed America was the land of the free.

The next time I visited Berlin was in May, 1990, 6 months after the wall came down. We stayed in an old

worker’s hostel in the east of the city, near Under de Linden. Wandering between the east and the west

of the city was time traveling. Each visit we had to show a passport and a visa to return to our hotel.

There was no longer a darkness and silence in the east but it felt and looked as if the war had ended.

The buildings were grey with soot, and the restaurants, lacking many food supplies were serving

pastries and lots of schlagsahne, (whipped cream). Almost every train back to east Berlin was filled with

people loaded down with anything they could carry, the consumer was reborn again. Alexanderplatz

was still a huge plot of grassland with the famous tv tower rising up into the sky. At that time Prenzlauer

Berg was the hot spot in the east of the city. Underground clubs, cafes and squatters, were the

precursor to an avant-garde rebirth.i remember thinking, this is the time to buy a building in Berlin.

By the time I revisited in 2008,Berlin had been reborn. The old east had become one of the trendiest

parts of the city. Alexanderplatz was a mega shopping area with department stores, and there was a

building near the trams with at least 20 ATM machines on the ground floor.

My recent visit to Berlin is happening as I write this story. Two of the most popular neighborhoods in the

city are Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. This s definitely a city of young people, and English is a language

they all speak. This trip I hear a lot of Arabic spoken on the streets. When I’m lost in Berlin, I look for a

twenty something to save me. Babies are in style again so everywhere I go, on the trams, in the streets

or at the parks, there are women or men pushing strollers. The baby carrier is not as popular here as in

the States, possibly because they have to shop and carry things on the trains. Americans are so used to

cars but here the public transport is so convenient . The French and the Italians are not the only ones

who spend lots of time sitting in cafes. It’s not necessary to look very far to find a place to indulge in

delicious pastries, ice cream, espresso drinks and alcohol day and night. My addiction to sweets is

becoming a serious problem here.

The neighborhood of Kreuzberg was known for its Turkish immigrants and there are still so many kebab

shops and locals still living in the neighborhood. But as the city becomes more trendy, the rents are

driving the working class out of the neighborhood like everywhere in the world. Big cities seem to be in

vogue again for living. Arriving at my friends apartment in Friedrichshain, I commented on the graffiti all

over the buildings, giving the neighborhood a run down appearance. Across the street from their house

was a discarded pile of junk and a broken down couch. I was ready to call the city to remove it but no

one else seemed to care. One day I saw a bunch of 30 something guys painting on the walls of a park.

They laughed when I asked them why they were doing this.” Its an expression of our creativity. “

There is definitely a feeling of openness and freedom in this city of 3.5 million, the largest in Germany.It

stands with New York, London and Paris in its diversity, culture and freedom. And it’s a city where anti

semitism is outlawed.

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