Berlin is the kind of city that doesn’t give a shit if you like her or not. I suppose that’s what happens when your city is blown to smithereens and then walled up for 30 years. And that’s not to say it isn’t pretty…because it is – some of it at least.
It’s more so that Berlin isn’t there to impress you. It is what it is. And more than anything Berlin is full of history. We were there for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. At one point there were bands of Russians parading around the gate, waving a Russian flag and celebrating. It was strange.
Down the road from the Gate is the Holocaust Memorial (Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas) A series of stone slabs arranged in rows, varying in height and covering 4.7 acres. Unlike most memorials, there is no visible list of the dead, no dates to mark the atrocities. (Though that is available in the attached underground section). Instead as, you walk through the memorial, the slabs grow, eventually blocking out the street noise and sights, until you feel like you’ve completely disappeared inside the “tombs.”
I think the most effective part of the memorial for me is the way it uses abstraction to imply universality.
Throughout Berlin, you can find pieces of Die Mauer, the infamous Berlin Wall, which divided the city into four separate sectors run by the Americans, The French, the British and the Russians. If you paid attention in history class you learned that the Russians, aware of their dwindling population (many East Berliners “voted with their feet” prior to the wall and left their sector for the Western side), built a wall that cut through homes, streets, subway lines, churches, graveyards and families with stunning and fierce finality.
I remember watching the wall come down on television in 1989. Iconic images of teenagers standing on top, sledgehammers swinging. I recognized their youth, their anger, their intention even if I didn’t understand what their experience at the time was like.
I was 12 years old. Even then I understood revolution. What I didn’t understand was The Wall. To me, it was just a slab of concrete, something that if you could climb, you could escape. It wasn’t until I was standing at Bernauer Strausse that I fully understood that The Wall was two walls, and a death strip.
136 people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall – mostly men, in their twenties during the 60’s. So when you stand at the East Side Gallery admiring the graffiti, and there is much to admire, you’re looking at 1/3 of the barrier that the people who risked their lives trying to cross were faced with.
In case it wasn’t obvious, The Wall had a very powerful effect on me. Thinking about it in terms of my own life, what would it be like if suddenly I was no longer allowed to leave Brooklyn? If Manhattan was just a distant memory?
From Berlin, we took a train to Hamburg, Germany, chasing after the Beatles….
The Beatles (back then as John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe) spent from August of 1960 to December of 1962 in Hamburg, Germany where they played a variety of clubs, honed their skills and really became the musicians that would change music.
They played the Kaiserkeller:
(Here’s the contract that they signed with Bruno Koshcmider to perform at the Indra:)
They also played at the Top Ten (which has sadly been turned into a Pizza Hut) and The Star Club:
While they were there they met Astrid Kirchner, with whom Stu Sutcliffe fell in love.
Stu dropped out of the band, applied for art school in Hamburg and had hoped to settle down into a life of painting and photography with Astrid. They lived together at Eimsbuttler Strausse 45A:
The attic windows were Stu’s studio, and where he collapsed on April 10, 1962. Astrid rode with him to the hospital but he passed away before they got there.
While we were there we had drinks at Gretel and Alfons, a place the Beatles used to drink at, and where they have a note from Paul McCartney when he returned to Hamburg and paid his bill back in 1989.
Hamburg paid tribute to the Beatles and created BeatlesPlatz, where four steel outlined musicians were erected.
Off to the right, is this one, representing Stu.
And we found The Dom, the fete field that Astrid used as a backdrop for the iconic images she took of the Beatles.
One of the best things about Hamburg is that we could recreate THIS:
Aside from The Beatles, Hamburg is a pretty little German town with a really big church that has a whole lot of steps (453) that if you are stupid enough to walk to the top of you can get a picture like this:
Then, we headed back to Berlin….which we’ll pick up in Part II of the longest blog post ever…
Peace love and starbursts,