Sunday, 11 June 2017

Berlin calling

Took a nearly spontaneous trip to Berlin in the last days of May. I had had the intension to visit the capital of Germany for many years, yet I must have lacked a proper incentive to get my act to together and venture there. Actually, I was first inspired to travel to Berlin around the age of 15 when I was fascinated by U2 music, where the theme of many songs was the very capital of reunified Germany, besides another inducement came from watching “Wings of desire”, a film by Wim Wenders, shot in 1987 in West Berlin. And it has been the unbidden desire (further on it in some time) that spurred the very decision to book the accommodation in the capital of Germany and try to catch the climate of the city, in the meantime taking a break from everything and everyone.

A resident of Warsaw has basically three options to get to Berlin.
Firstly, by plane. The only airline operating flights between Warsaw and Berlin is Air Berlin (Lufthansa Group). One can choose from around four flights per day, while the price of a return ticket may reach no less than PLN 400, or even lower if you opt for cabin-luggage-only rate. In terms of travel time, the superior option.
Secondly, by passenger train. The services between Warsaw and Berlin are run by Deutsche Bahn and PKP Intercity. The journey lasts nearly six hours station-to-station and costs less than EUR 100, if the former carrier is chosen or I do not know how much if tickets from the Polish train operator are bought, since they are not available online.
The drawback of the options above is that you cannot make any stopovers along the way (something I have planned for my journey) therefore I had chosen to get there by car. On the way to Berlin I popped by my friend in Poznan and spent a few hours with his family, on the way back I took a detour via Wroclove. The benefit of such option might be the cost per person, increased with the number of passenger of board, another drawback is the fact you need to find an accommodation with parking space or pay for a  hotel garage (getting about Berlin by vehicle would be a crass stupidity) – after all a car is a liability as well.

While dropping in on Berlin, it is definitely worth to take an S-Bahn train to Potsdam. The ride last less than an hour and brings the opportunity to stroll around a picturesque, well-preserved palace and garden complex. While I visited the site, the sun was scorching, temperature was reaching +30C and though the weather was taking the gloss off the spirit of the place, the scent of magnificence and history was felt in the air.

The sites on my trail around Berlin were nearly all linked to the history of the city, especially to the period when Berlin was split into two cities separated by the concrete wall, being the symbol of divided Europe. To the right – East Side Gallery, a fragment of the wall on the eastern bank of Spree river which has been redeveloped by graffiti artists, although with far lower degree of freedom than e.g. at the wall of Sluzewiec horse race track in Warsaw.

Such border markings are present in many places in Berlin, however since post-border premises have been quickly developed, had it not been for the markings, you would not have told where the wall stood. To the right, a marking in Gedenkstaette Berliner Mauer, a commemoration site located in northern Berlin in the middle of the housing estate, where the wall used to tear the city apart.

Unlike Warsaw, Berlin has not cracked down on communist symbols as fiercely as Warsaw did in early 1990s and as it senselessly continues to do. To the right, I am standing at the intersection of literally Karl Marx Avenue and Paris Commune Street (unthinkable in Warsaw, even though both the philosopher and the Paris Commune had nothing to do with felonies of communism committed in the twentieth century).

Karl Marx Strasse was the thoroughfare of East Berlin, designed and built in the spirit of megalomaniac architectural style of 1950s. The place reminds of locality of Marszałkowska Dzielnica Mieszkaniowa in Warsaw. As I have learnt from information boards, in the early 1990s the buildings were dilapidated, yet the city took the effort to restore them to original state (rather not glory), so instead of erasing the bleak history of Berlin, next generations are meant to remember this used to be a capital of communist Germany.

Another such example, a Soviet War memorial in Tiergarten Park, less than half a mile from the Brandenburger Tor. Actually such sites are hidden in many Polish cities, including Warsaw (east side of ul. Żwirki i Wigury) and Wrocław (between Al. Wyścigowa and Al. Karkonoska).

Close to the very centre of Berlin is the Holocaust Memorial (Memorial of Murdered Jews in Europe) erected in 2005 and paid for by the government of Germany. 2,711 stone blocks symbolise the number of pages of Talmud. The very fact such place can be found at the very heart of Berlin proves well Germany is not afraid of speaking of its past sins and apologising for them.

Topography of Terror, an open-air museum in turn reminds of the dark period of 1933-1945 when Germany was under the rule of Nazis. This shameful heritage is presented in full light, with no understatements and no attempts to justify the evil. Germans can be proud of having atoned for its country’s sins and thus have set themselves free of the burden of history.

Not far lies another place which bears testimony to differences in approach to history by Germans and Poles. Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous border crossing in torn apart Berlin. The blood-tainted site is now surrounded by two fast food restaurants and if you turned around you would spot a pink pipeline. It is worthwhile to visit an open-air Soviet bloc museum, bringing close the dramatic history of the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

The TV broadcasting tower, over 300 metres high is the highest landmark in the capital of Germany. For everyone fond of watching the world from above, this is definitely a recommendable attraction, since a lift, running at average ear-clogging speed of 6 metres per second carries you to an observation deck (price: EUR 14 before discounts).

To the right – one of many shots taken from the viewing platform (I must confess I found the open-air one in Frankfurt superior). My compact Olympus bought five years ago and used currently only during holiday trips has been up to the mark, as for its class. The optical 12.5x zoom gave the satisfying quality of the close-up photo, needless to say the photo contains details not visible by human eyes from such distance. Note the large green area, the Tiergarten park, a place in the centre of Warsaw I would miss.

Berliners can boast of developing the banks of Spree perfectly. The river and the city have been brought into one and river banks are excellent leisure spots, with several restaurants and hang-out areas.

After driving around 300 kilometres around German motorways, I confess newly-built Polish ones lie far ahead the legendary German motorways. On the way there I got stuck for an hours in a traffic jam on a modernised motorway ahead of Berlin; the inner bypass of the capital is plagued by dense traffic (although it is a motorway, three-digit speed in kmph is out of reach) and by traffic jams during rush hours. To the right, somewhere near Dresden, while driving from Berlin to Wroclove. Tip – if you take this route by car, avoid DK18 between Olszyna and A4 motorway in Poland. Wroclove-bound lanes made of concrete slabs of this dual carriageway date back to Hitler and perhaps have never been repaired. Outcome – maximum speed of 80 kmph at times is too much.

Then I spent another day in Wroclove, recharging batteries and roaming around my beloved places. Those, by all accounts, were the best moments of the trip. Here, at the fountain park next to Hala Stulecia, my feet soak in water, my body basks in the early-June sun. Moment taken and made perfect, worries shelved.

Took a tram to Plac Grunwaldzki then and march towards Ostrow Tumski. Passed by Katedra Św. Jana and headed towards Most Tumski, being also called the bridge of lovers who hang there padlocks with their names. School trips seasons was at its height, so the side effect of visiting the place was enduring the gaggle of teenagers.

Further on foot to Wyspa Slodowa, a gorgeous hang-out for students and teenagers, for meet-ups with friends, dating and sipping wine or beer. The place is illuminated by late-afternoon sunlight. Temperature is ideal, just slightly above +20C. For some reason, Wroclove is the only place outside Warsaw that feels like home.

Towards the end of my trip, the market square, lively place, full of tourists and open restaurants. I have been there so many times that this spot beckons less than other beloved sites, but if you drop in on Wroclove, not turning up here is a shame.

Spent the second half of fortnight-long holidays at home, catching up with meeting friends I had been hanging back on seeing, ticking off items from a list of overdue stuff to handle and trying to figure out what the future holds. Since situation on the front is quite dynamic, I am holding back from saving this for posterity. Once it clears up whether it falls apart or keeps going, I will keep a record of burning hot spring I have experienced in 2017. Unquestionably, the holidays drawing to a close were my best since 2014. Hope the ultimately best are still ahead.

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