As we were driving further into East Berlin, I was being amazed by the tranquility of this part of Berlin that used to be socialistic back in the day. As tranquil and serene as it was, with a few people enjoying a brisk morning run or a leisurely ride on a bicycle (which made my friend incredibly jealous of Berliners having such a lovely environment-friendly means of transport), I could feel something socialistic linger in the air (when you were born in the USSR, you know a socialistic thing when you see it). I was under the impression that this part of Berlin was a thriving construction site, with buildings being demolished and new ones emerging at an increasingly rapid pace. It felt as if Berliners were making a mammoth effort to move on from its horrific past when this gorgeous city was oppressively divided into two parts by a formidable barrier that we were to see later on our trip.
Another wonderful piece of architecture came to my attention as we were driving past the Eisenbrücke. That was a memorial of the Molecule Man that commemorates the reunification of Berlin’s two parts. It was a 30-m aluminium statue which features triangulated men facing each other with hands joined in the middle. Only a closer observation reveals that there are actually three men because when you’re looking at it a longer way off, it seems like there are only two. Russian tourists have a running joke of calling this monument “A Party for Three”. This was one of the moments when quirkiness and ingenuity of Berlin struck me as the idea behind that monument was that this tiny molecules or holes, as the architect who designed the monument put it, represented people coming together to create unique things.
People in East Berlin seemed friendly and cheerful. As we stopped at the lights, we effortlessly caught the eye of some construction workers who seemed to be enjoying a break from work. When they saw me and my friend, they raised a bottle of lovely German beer to us. I was a bit embarrassed by this gesture but that made surely my Berlin experience more authentic and memorable.
It didn’t seem long before this array of ruins and newly designed high-rise buildings led us into the Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall). This is another must-visit in Berlin. It didn’t look as I had expected it would. I thought this would be a massive concrete wall that would convey the scale of pain suffered by Berliners as this structure emerged in 1961and tore families and loved ones apart. In a documentary I saw on Berlin I heard countless heart-wrenching stories of people dealing with the oppression and pain caused by this horrendous division. What was a poignant and lasting reminder of Berlin’s dark past was a thin wall (it seemed just as high as the one I see out of my window back home). We saw the section along the river Spree opposite the O2 arena (this was where I first met a lovely cuddly symbol of Berlin – a bear). Actually, two similarly pronounced words – beer and bear – sum up Berlin. I enjoyed all the pieces of art but to me they were looked as if they were inspired by tremendous pain felt by people coming here from around the world. Later, we came across chunks of this wall on sale in many souvenir shops but I couldn’t quite believe those were real ones. We were so excited by these quirky pieces of art that we were astonished to find out it wasn’t against the law to write our names on it, which we sure did. I was sad to hear about the plans to take this wall down. It just didn’t seem right to demolish what came to signify a huge part of Berlin’s history and was there for almost thirty years. I also had plans to come back here again to see if our names were still there.
We made our way further into what was one of the main hubs of East Berlin. That was Alexanderplatz. Here we saw a brick building of Red City Hall (Rotes Rathaus), the Neptune fountain and the Ferhsehturm (TV tower) which was so massive that I had to look up really really high to take a picture. I was almost dizzy with excitement and joy. This tower dominates the city’s skyline and is visible from many areas. It was now time to go to West Berlin. I was wondering if it was going to be a big change from what we saw here in East Berlin. I felt so in touch with this country and especially its language as I was reading the signs, advertisements… They all seemed pretty clear. This city struck me as truly lacking a structure of any kind but this fact obviously lent it some charming appeal. I think at that moment I had no clue where we were going. West Berlin seemed to have a bit of a structure to it, though there were also construction sites everywhere. This part of the city was home to some really iconic images of Berlin which I was looking forward to seeing later that day.