Ten years ago I came to Berlin at the age of sixteen. I saw some things and learned some things and was surprised by some things, but I didn't realize until we were back in the city for a couple days last week how much went over my head the first time around. What really surprised me, though, is how I could have possibly managed to miss it.
The history in the city envelopes you the moment you step off the train. It's in the street art and graffiti, it's in the memorials that are all over the place, and it's in the architecture that switches, noticeably, as you cross from the former east to the former west in this now rejoined city. I'd guess that most anyone reading this knows that my family hosted some exchange students when I was in high school, a couple of which we have been visiting and staying with these last couple weeks. Talking to them brought Berlin alive even further, hearing the stories of first trips from the GDR into West Germany with people throwing the East-scarce bananas and oranges into the car windows as a welcome. That's the kind of feeling Berlin has; it's the kind of place that is still adjusting and changing after an obliviously complex and ridiculous century.
We took a free walking tour on our first day into the city. This was great for getting an overview look at a lot of the more known and anticipated sites in the city, but it was a bit overwhelming and we found ourselves on the train back to Potsdam trying to think of how best to tackle a second day. Answer: a little research goes a long way, yielding us a Wednesday filled with a lot of great art at Tacheles
, the best design book collection I've ever seen in one place, a little memorial museum to a man named Otto Weidt
and a sense of seeing at least a little slice of the actual Berlin that people live and work and play in.
Post Berlin, it has been back to reconnecting with some of those amazing exchange student friends who have spent the last couple weeks helping, hosting and spending time with us. In Magdeburg with Carla and Sebastian, I went wakebording for the first time (behind a cable, not a boat - another new curiosity that a quick Google search reveals does actually exist in the States). Those are my pasty gams strapping in, captured so nicely by Casey's photo below. What she didn't manage to capture is the sore muscles that still haven't entirely departed a week later, though it was most definitely worth it.
And here are the best game faces Casey and Robert had yesterday at the Kletterpark in Plau, where we all balanced, swung, and held on for our lives through an obstacle park in the trees.
We helped build a baby crib for one of my exchange sibling's impending parenthood last weekend and I carried the toddler son of another on my shoulders this week while we were wandering around Plau. I guess that's the kind of change that can happen in ten years - the same amount of time between when the wall fell and when I met these friends. I don't mean to get all serious or lecture whoever might be reading this on historical happenings. I think I just keep coming back to it all because I am still trying to wrap my own head around it. Tomorrow we will head back to Berlin for a couple more days before venturing on into Poland, and I look forward to taking one more look at the city - to hopefully understand all of the layers and parts it has a little more and a little better. We'll try to cover some of the specifics we may have breezed over here once we get to the German highlights.
We owe a huge thanks to Peter, Carla, Sebastian, Robert, Sara, Michael, Christine, Helke, Wolfgang and Christoph for all they've helped us with (not the least of which is building up a tiny little random understanding of the German language) these few weeks. We look forward to figuring out a way for it to not be ten more years until we see them all again.