Posted on July 1, 2014

I went off on a weekend trip to Berlin with my oldest friends at the weekend, a visit that was supposedly part culture and part getting hammered. I am pleased to announce we managed to do both, the former with some aplomb.

Upon arriving, we checked into the Park Hotel, which handily, is the biggest hotel in Berlin and is virtually impossible to miss even with 10-15 litres of German brew swilling around in your gut.

The Park Inn is part of the Radisson group so it is clean and tidy and with a couple of late drop outs, I had the bonus of a room to myself. I would highly recommend it if you visit this city, as when you are staggering about at five in the morning, you will find it.

So, after a whistle stop shower when we arrived, it was straight on to business and we headed just around the corner to a Hoffbrauhaus where the carnage commenced and the evening, predictably, took a steady descent into conversations that became increasingly raucous and nonsensical with every passing litre.

We visited several bars in the square, though such was my deteriorating state I am in no position to name them and rather desperately, my last act of the evening was, according to all sources, a desperate nose dive into a flower pot before lying on my back, stranded like an upside down tortoise.

I am only 46 after all, I have plenty of time grow up.

However, I was in bed by 1:00 am (though some made it through until 5.30) and at least that gave me the ability to rise at a sensible hour on Saturday morning and join Steve and Richard on a bus out towards the Brandenburg Gate and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews.

The weather was warm and Sunny, so once off the bus, we meandered for miles through the streets and city parks and it became really noticeable was that Berlin is a city that is still working very hard with finding its true identity.

Flattened by the allied forces in WWII, Berlin feels like it is still a relatively new place and the endless cranes on the skyline show a city that is emerging from a past that has seen a  holocaust and then communist annexing in the last 70 years. The grey fifties concrete communist relics will soon be gone, replaced by steel and glass.

These are horrendous moments in history that have to be dealt with by showing remorse but also letting the world it is time to move forward. I guess that is why it feels so liberal in Berlin, there is a real sense of openness.

The Memorial to the Jews of Europe is,  according to the project text, is designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, with sculpture aiming to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. I can get that, it certainly makes you think when you see it, but the ambience was rather shattered by a huge World Cup football fans park in front on the Brandenburg Gate.

Berlin 3

The Memorial to the Jews of Europe

So after satisfying ourselves that we had learnt and seen something, it was time for a repeat performance of the night before and I feel that I must be congratulated for my worthy effort of actually staying out with the big hitters and leaving the final bar I visited in broad daylight; it was a fine effort.

I awoke with the obligatory post pissed/pre hangover euphoria and this allowed me enough energy to walk, with several others, down towards Checkpoint Charlie and what little is left of the Berlin Wall that eventually came down in 1989. What I didn’t know is that the wall didn’t go up until 1961 as the citizens fled westwards (2.5 million of them) for mainly, economic regions, as the East German economy collapsed.

I always thought it went up in the 40’s soon after the Germans were defeated…Idiot.

It is hard to comprehend the absolute human misery the erection of that wall caused to so many people, and just standing where it was and reading about it, send a shiver down the spine….It beggars belief.


Checkpoint Charlie

So that was it; we had managed to combine culture and carnage but also to feel what it is like to be in a city that is moving forward proudly, emerging as a place of culture and surging prosperity…Oh and it is also a fine place to get pissed.

Berlin still has some work to do as some people will never forgive, but in my opinion, the people of Berlin have showed that with a liberal outlook, genuine remorse towards recent history and an embracing attitude towards visitors, they are miles ahead of those who continue to choose an ‘eye for an eye’ over ‘forgive and forget.’

Ultimately, this was supposed to be stag night for me, but circumstances change, and though I had a few emotional moments in private, I spent much of my time being thankful that I have such a great group of friends who I have known for such a long time.

I certainly arrived back a happier and more knowledgeable person than the one who left Heathrow two days earlier.

Go to Berlin and learn how a city moves on.

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