09 June 2007

Berliner Denkmal

Nicely settled in our friends' garden, with a chilled Weißbier at one elbow, and a bowl of gemischtensnacken at the other, I placed side by side on the table a small-scale bus map and a pictorial tourist plan of the Berlin Wall in 1962.

Studying them intently, I tried to work out whereabouts exactly on our walk from Mexikoplatz to Kleinmachnow we had passed from the old West Berlin into the old DDR

It was hard. Tracing my finger along the along the route I looked back and forth at the two inadequate diagrams... trying to work it out.... looking for some sort of clue... well, now, judging by that bend in the road it must be just about....there!... yes, just where... Hang on, just where Benschallee becomes Karl-Marx-Straße.

A little stupider, but undeterred, I thought hard - trying to visualise it. So that would about around that odd bend in the road...where that strip of woodland was, and the empty lot and.... that memorial to "Berlin, a city divided"....

Our friends' house is just beyond the Berlin city limits; in 2007 this places it outside the dotted line that marks Zone C of the S-Bahn. Twenty years ago the house was outside a twin barbed wire fence and in the DDR. Our friends didn't live there then. It's a brand new house in an always desirable suburb, once the haunt of party workers, since turfed out and banished to small apartments, now the haunt of property developers.

We had a busy weekend. We sailed on Wannsee, toured the Pergamon, walked over Glienicker Bridge inspected Checkpoint Charlie, just missed Knut's visiting hours at the Zoo, tramped the length of the Kudamm (haunted by images of Knut) footsore and dusty until in KaDeWe we bribed the children with €10 each to explore the toy department while Mrs Botogol and I enjoyed smoked salmon, oysters and champagne in the food hall.

Berlin has become a city of symbols and memorials: through the centre snakes a double line of cobbles, marking the path of the wall, of which a few fragments survive (I wondered what would happen if I tried to add to the graffiti - are they still just wall or have they become monuments?) At the site of Checkpoint Charlie a sign still announces that you are leaving the American sector, the Reichstag stands proud, in Friedrichstraße the Topology of Terror records the Nazi history of the old ministry buildings, while near Potzdamerplatz we entered the eerie, disorientating, holocaust memorial, more than one tourist in tears on its blank grey slabs.

Strangest of all monuments: driving from the airport I saw a structure that I couldn't understand, but was sufficiently intriguing for me to note down the text. VVN / Der Toten Mann.

Google tells me the VVN is an anti-nazi organisation, the Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes Der Toten Mann means The dead man.

Did I write it down wrong?

On the last evening we had dinner in a converted mill. It was easy to imagine it lying derelict under the communists' now with its aperitifs, amuse-bouche, ice-buckets, gliding waiters, it was an appropriate symbol for upmarket and sophisticated place that Berlin has become.

Still Germanic though: we had booked a table indoors and our decision to sit on the terrace for a pre-dinner drink caused just a tiny stir... but the Maitre D recovered himself, and ushered us smoothly through with a warm smile. And told us firmly told not sit in any one of the seven tables with the best view. They were all empty, but all Reserviert, all evening.

The menu was big on asparagus, and we did it justice - but not quite brave enough to indulge in that bizarre middle-class English idiom of eating it with our fingers (when in Rome...you use you knife and fork). For main course I had the veal (tasted like chicken) and my companion enjoyed the chicken (tasted like veal). Afterwards we enjoyed A selection of cheeses 125 gram. Don't you love the Germans?

Walking back several bottles of Trockenwein the merrier, a few yards off the road into the woods we came across a war memorial for the citizens of Kleinmachnow who had died for the Fatherland. 1914 to 1918.

There were fresh flowers at the base.

I asked if there were a second world war memorials. "Yes, I have seen one. It's not far from here... It commemorates the fallen Russians"

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