A side effect of globalised world we live in is that wherever you travel (or certainly, wherever we’ve travelled so far), there are many familiar brands and stores and spaces. So much so it is sometimes easy to forget that you aren’t actually at home – you’re halfway around the world, in a new city and sometimes even a new country.
And then there are those cities that make it impossible to forget that you are exactly where you are. Edinburgh was like this, with Arthur’s Seat towering over the city. In The Hague, our apartment lifestyle was quintessentially Dutch – from the steep staircases to the massive floor to ceiling windows on the first floor (the only way to get furniture up there).
And Berlin, especially in the warm early days of Autumn, I am delighted to report is also inescapably Berlin. There may be the usual Starbucks and H&M and so on, but it doesn’t feel like another bland international city.
The above isn’t actually Berlin though – it’s Berlin in miniature. One of our ventures today was to LOXX Minature World – a mini Berlin.
It was an odd place. Basically a glorified model railway, but at the same time so much more. Daggy and wonderfully impressive all at once.
There were some serious model enthusiasts visiting, taking very serious photos on their very serious cameras. Meanwhile, Toby took delight in sending the hot air balloon up every time night ‘fell’. The idea of hot air ballooning at night (even in a model) was irresistibly funny to him.
It was actually quite useful to get a layout of the city, and we saw our next destination in miniature before we hopped on the train to get there. We’ve bought Welcome Cards for the duration of our stay, which give unlimited travel on public transport within Berlin. It would have been cheaper to buy tickets as we go, but we decided the peace of mind of not having to carry cash (and coins), and worry about buying the right fare was worth the extra money. Today it certainly made things easier as we could dash for the right U-bahn (or S-bahn, or tram – just the bus to go and we’ll have done all forms) without pausing to buy tickets or validate them.
So we headed to the Reichstag.
We went up to the roof where we had a lovely lunch overlooking the city, and then climbed the dome to see even more spectacular views. I don’t have any photos though, as I am not the best at heights. (Having done the London Eye and the Reichstag Dome on this trip though, I feel I may be finally making amends for the failed Duomo attempt in Florence when I was 13.)
The Reichstag, like all of Berlin, has so much history simply in its walls. It was burnt in 1933, and the fire was attributed to members of the communist party. It lead directly to the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended civil liberties throughout Germany, and allowed the Nazi state to flourish. There is still contention about the fire itself, with some suggesting that it was an inside job by the Nazi party. The original dome was destroyed in the fire. The dome we climbed was only built in 1997.
The neighbourhood we are staying in is also steeped in history. I must admit I chose this location purely on the basis of where the good coffee is in Berlin. But we got an added bonus. It’s part of the former East Berlin, and our apartment block is about 100m away from where the Berlin wall once stood – and indeed, where it was first opened in 1989. As we walk to the corner supermarket (organic – it’s that kind of neighbourhood), there are giant photos on the wall showing scenes in the same place in the past – an eager crowd in 1989, a lone soldier leaping over barbed wires in 1962.
The story of the wall, at this place, was also in Berlin mini:
I’m sure the above aren’t entirely accurate – my reading would suggest the wall in 1961 was a wire fence, not a wall as such, for instance. But it still tells a story.
Now the death strip behind the wall is a park. The road we are on is a wide, tree lined avenue. There are cafes everywhere (the reports of good coffee are not unfounded), with tables spilling out onto the footpath. It is full of people on bikes, and young families walking. There was a woman dancing on a skateboard earlier this evening. As I write this, accordion music drifts in through our open windows. Earlier, it was a jazz trumpeter.
At night, the different curtains in different apartments transform apartment blocks into gentle light installations.
It is beautiful, and peaceful, and it is terrible but all the more beautiful for knowing what went on meters from here as recently as 26 years ago.