Vertigo Leg 1: 2005, US

Jul
06
2005

Day off, Berlin

I was in a bit of a head spin this morning. Father Jack had remembered that last time we stayed at this hotel, we used to hang out at a little cafe across the street and a block or two down. It had been very pleasant, so I headed there for sustenance. Heading out of the hotel and in the direction I remembered, all I could see was an unbroken line of fences surrounding construction sites all the way down Unter Den Linden, the main street of former East Berlin. It feels like theres been a relentless assault to rebuild the whole of East Berlin, in fact it feels like theres been a relentless assault to rebuild the whole of Eastern Europe since the wall came down.

Abandoning the original cafe, I went to plan B. and found a perfectly suitable alternative, still serving breakfast, which is the eternal search of persons of the road. I tucked into an omelette and the Herald Tribune crossword (not too tough, its only Wednesday.) A friend texted to say that London had won the Olympics which made me burst out laughing. I am famously ambivalent about sport of any kind, but I find myself pleased that Londons got it. Good luck with the public transport, though.

On going back to the hotel, I discovered Frances, our press officer, drowning in Live 8 press clippings at the front desk. The amount of press which that event received is of course astronomical and dear Frances had to document and file the lot. I remembered her mentioning that she hadnt been to Berlin before (being of Antipodean persuasion) so took an executive decision to drag her out of the front door and make sure she saw at least a little bit of this incredible city.In the end we spent practically the whole of the rest of the day walking Berlin. Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Unter Den Linden, round and about. Ive been here on many tours, going right back to the late 70s when it was an entirely different city. It was a gorgeous afternoon, so we took our time and just enjoyed wandering nowhere in particular. The quantity of new buildings is staggering and the architectural stance is astonishing. Theres more concrete and glass than you can shake a stick at, which is not a style that I find particularly sympathetic to the needs of human beings, but as a whole it creates quite a statement. Around the far side of the Reichstag we came to the river. The riverbank marks the edge of what used to be the American sector of the city, whilst the river itself is in the former Russian sector. I remember a winter night in the 70s being right here, howling drunk and waving at the Russian soldiers on the other side. Theres still a memorial there for people who were shot trying to escape from the East, the most recent of which was in 1989 which is shocking to think about. When you look at the sweeping staircase and three storey circular glass windows of the building that now stands in the place formerly occupied by highly unimpressed furry-hatted Russian soldiers, it all seems like an impossibility that somehow became a reality.We ate Bratwurst from a pavement imbiss, fed the numerous and highly enthusiastic sparrows and strolled down to Potsdamer Platz, a former area of border crossing no mans land. Here we found a G8 demo in full swing with anarchists barking into loudhailers in a dialect of German which Frances said sounded like a machine gun talking.My favourite find of the day was the newly unveiled holocaust memorial. From outside it looks vaguely like a cemetery, with a regular grid of pathways perhaps a metre wide, between smooth black granite blocks of various sizes, knee-high and lower. However, as you walk toward the centre, the pathways dip down suddenly and undulate up and down in both directions. Very quickly the black stones are way above head height, leaving you in quite a claustrophobic environment, surrounded by them all. Its very impressive and also very moving in a way thats hard to describe; highly atmospheric with an extremely unusual beauty.

We walked some more and found a waterside bar where we decided that the sun was far enough over the yard-arm for us to start on the cocktails. After some dinner we headed home and ended up in the Losers Lounge with some of our colleagues. This is a city Ill come back to.

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