It was close to lunchtime now so we set out to find somewhere suitable to eat and made our way from the Wall to Potsdamer Platz, the modern centre of new Berlin but I found it too modern for my tastes, with glitzy buildings made of glass and steel, expensive shopping malls and restaurants with menu prices way above my modest budget.
We were looking for a simple pavement bar with a lunch time menu but found it surprisingly difficult to find one. I imagined Berlin to be overflowing with pavement bars serving steins of foaming beer and inexpensive hearty meals but this was not the case.
Eventually we found somewhere, ordered beer and scrutinised the menu. It has to be said that the Germans eat a lot of rubbish food! Ninety percent of the menu consisted of various forms of sausage and unless you want sauerkraut then vegetables are completely absent.
Thanks to Wiki here for an explanation of sauerkraut – “finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive sour flavor, acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves”
That puts it on my list of things I don’t want to eat alongside liver, snails and tripe.
By way of comparison Berlin has no Michelin three star restaurants, London fares little better with only two but Paris has ten. There is an explanation for this, Michelin is France based and has been described this way by the Guardian newspaper – “… the guide’s principal purpose is as a tool of Gallic cultural imperialism“. I am not absolutely sure why I mention this, I have never once dined in a Michelin three star restaurant.
We took our time ordering food because any German menu conceals possibilities of unpleasant surprises and the threat of ordering and receiving something quite unexpected – almost as dangerous as trying to cross the Berlin Wall. So we stuck to sausage. Kim had a trio and I had meat balls which are really just sausage in a ball rather than its traditional long form. I had sauerkraut and Kim had chips. We shared our meals on a 50/50 basis. We ate all of the chips but left a lot of the sauerkraut.
From Potsdamer Platz we walked through the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, which is a controversial structure in terms of both concept and design – controversial mostly because no one really understands it.
The monument is composed of two thousand seven hundred and eleven rectangular concrete blocks laid out in a grid formation. No explanations, no names and no dedications, a sort of graveyard full of stones without inscriptions. I suppose it might be conceived as a memorial to lost people.
According to the architect the blocks are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly once orderly system that momentarily lost touch with human reason.
Several people have had a shot at trying to provide a more definitive explanation but I find none of them absolutely convincing. Personally I found the memorial rather bizarre and difficult to comprehend but I suppose it is a memorial to a period in history that is impossible to comprehend. Perhaps then that is exactly the point of it, we look at it and wonder ‘how on earth did that happen?’
Several of the blocks are cracking open. Concrete Cancer. Appropriate I thought that the memorial should only be ultimately temporary – just like Nazi Germany.
To my mind a completely pointless memorial and a waste of valuable commercial urban space, much better to erect a vertical column and rent off the land and send the profits to the families who suffered because of the Holocaust.
From the Memorial it was just a short stroll to the Brandenburg Gate which is without doubt the most iconic symbol of Berlin. I found it a rather underwhelming, I was expecting something like the the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (the largest in Europe, correct me if I am wrong) but I have to say that at only half the height it is nowhere near as impressive. So we walked a while along the Unter den Linden, a wide leafy boulevard in Summer and one of the most famous streets in Berlin, in December Christmas lights replace the blossom and after a drink at a pavement café we returned to the gate passing the uneasy neighbours of the Russian and the American Embassy buildings.
On the walk back to Alexanderplatz we wandered through Museum Island, across a wide open park flanked with Museums and the City Cathedral. Museum Island is another UNESCO World Heritage Sites but it was getting late so we didn’t have time to go inside any of the buildings and it was at this time that I thought to myself that I was so glad that I had returned to Berlin for a second visit and thought that surely I would have to return for a third.
I was born in 1954, less than ten years after World War Two had ended and grew up on stories about evil Germans. Later that evening Kim tripped and badly sprained her ankle. Back at the hotel staff and guests were kind and did everything they could to help. I wondered why we had ever been in conflict with these people? What a dreadful thirty years in European history!