All stories originating from Berlin that I have heard before were, at least, extraordinary. Mine is no exception.
Not only is Berlin a place where history lives and breathes - it is also by far the most multi cultural city in Europe (sorry Paris). It shows. On the front lines of a former division between the West and the East grows the spirit of change and unity, rivaled, perhaps, only by the multicultural inclusiveness of Canada. Although the belief in equality has become slightly undermined by some recent events, Berlin manages to stay interesting because nobody cares about you. I know it sounds silly, but bear with me. It is perfectly acceptable to show up in a club dressed in a long trench jacket, a WWII helmet, wearing skis and with a plate of kebab in one hand and a sword in the other - and no one would seem to notice.
You really have to try real hard to be extraordinary in a place like Berlin, because it is a mix of everything. Walking along Karl Marx Allee you might find yourself in a perfectly preserved Soviet dystopia, with the nightmares of social block housing and Stalin-themed government buildings, culminating in a huge TV tower and a "Moskva" restaurant close to the Alexander platz.
In the Soviet Union, the stuff from DDR (GDR) was the best. Especially valuable was any kind of paint and it was really hard to come by. Comparing the condition of Berlin architecture with that of Soviet one, it clearly shows. Soviet housing is falling apart, both in its exterior and in its interior, whereas, ironically, the best existing monument for the collapsed socialist state architecture ever has been built, strangely, by the Germans themselves. Almost all and every DDR building is not only "just standing", but also looking like it was build quite recently. It is still hideous - but the Germans did a great job building those things.
To me personally, Berlin is, first of all, a place of late modern history. Notice the word "late" - I am specifically referring to all that has happened after WWII. Of course, stuff happened in Berlin before that, and lots of fascinating stuff, especially hyperinflation. But the concept of MAD (mutually assured destruction) always spices things up a bit and makes history "deadly" interesting. The only two powers who were able to, in a union, destroy the entire planet were watching each other every day from 1961 until 1989, with only a wall separating them. On both sides there were guns and not once has the usage of those led to the final conflict. Somehow, that tension is still there, every though the Wall is gone. First of all, you can just see the difference. You can be led to a part of Berlin while blindfolded and when the blinds come down and asked to tell which part of the former divided Berlin you are, there is only a small chance you will be wrong. It is obvious almost every time, even today. Secondly, everything is there to remind you about the former division. It had penetrated into all aspects of Berliners and those scars will take ages to heal, if ever. Even McDonalds boasts a sign at its exit, claiming, jokingly, "you are leaving the American sector". Why would they be allowed to stir up the memories of those who have suffered because of the Wall? Shouldn't all recollections of the Berlin Wall be destroyed, just like they were with Nazi artifacts, monuments, buildings and so on? The wall did come down, but in many respects it is still very much there. You might be enjoying art at the East side gallery, but for some, that place might also be a spot where somebody has died while trying to escape. Thus, you have to be careful, respectful and knowledgeable in Berlin - it is full of history, and a large part of history is the history of the people. That shall be respected.
We have met and re-met lots of great people in Berlin. Special thanks goes for Amy, a tour guide, who has given us a fantastic tour around the Historic Mitte. Alina, our Japanese-German friend, has spent a day with us, silently following me in my insanely slow walk through the Stasi museum and listening to the sound of questions and fascinations. She then took us to the place of 100 beers and we had a great time together. I think Anya will join me as well when I say that Alina is very welcome to visit Ukraine, and big thanks to her for showing us around Berlin and even giving us a taste of true German cuisine - kebab.
Most of all, though, I have to take the time to thank Anya. She has stirred up the travel spirit in me for the past 2 years or so, starting with numerous tours in Japan, followed up by some travel in Ukraine and finally culminating in this trip to Berlin. It was as spontaneous as ever - I only found out about it 4 days before the start. Instantly, I was in for a ride. What a ride it has been ... we have had it all - small talks, big talks, serious talks and not so much. We have always been able to work out the details quite easily and deciding what to do on this trip was even easier than usual. Most of all, we just enjoyed each other's company as best as we could, just going for it.
We have ended this trip with many more plans still to come, but most importantly - we have enjoyed our time there. That, to me, is the most valuable thing by far.
So, thanks Anya for showing me Berlin. I can not think of Berlin without thinking about you.