Saturday, May 19, 2012

Against the wall

So, Berlin. It's a lively place, feels young, edgy, messy, a bit out of control. Tourists everywhere, posing with pretend US border guards at Checkpoint Charlie, to the bemusement of older locals who remember the real thing. For what I'd always thought of as a regimented society, it's much looser than I expected: no bike helmets, Segways fairly hurtling along on the road, punters drinking beer at a bar on wheels that they're propelling by simultaneously pedalling, people clattering past in little convoys of even littler Trabant cars, others lifting up 150m in the basket of the world's biggest tethered balloon.

There's still plenty of grand stuff, columns and domes and statues and such - but again, younger than it all looks, mostly just 50 year-old reconstructions. There's irreverent graffiti on monuments, there are nettles along the edges of the parks, tatty pink and blue pipes jink along the roads and over intersections carrying ground water away from building sites. There's still a lot of building going on, and empty sections - for somewhere that's still so focused on the past, the future is very much a part of the present.

And the past? Not shirked. At the Topography of Terror display on the site of the former Gestapo and SS building, Berlin's history 1933-1945 is thoroughly, not to say exhaustively, laid out, with plenty of photos and clear, honest explanations. I was impressed.

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