A few days back, someone in my undergraduate class’ chat group posted something about the different types of students in any given class. One type described students who are “involved in everything”. Immediately this was posted, one classmate replied that I fell into this category. While, I would vehemently argue that I was not exactly a buzzing bee as an undergraduate, I would concede that I was involved in several activities, especially, ones that involved travelling. Now a postgraduate student, this “walking around spirit” has just taken me to see the German capital.
In April, a friend came over to the UK to explore the country. Seeing that league matches have home and away versions, it was required that I visit Abimbola in Germany. Unlike the royal Dutch who gave me a two-month visa, the stern Germans only gave me a month’s access to the Schengen area, perhaps offended I visited Amsterdam before thinking of Berlin. On the D-Day, my window seat allowed me to enjoy eye-catching views of the clouds and the tiny houses below them. Interspersing tasty views with oscillating sleep sessions seemed to provide an excellent recipe for the short flight across two countries that would now spend the next two years negotiating over a European divorce.
When one looks at Berlin, it is almost inconceivable that this is the capital of a country that lost two world wars. Add the two wars to the poverty that reigned after both German losses and the bitter division of the post-war era and one can only admire the tenacity of the German people. A common stereotype is that Germans are some sort of human robots with efficiency that exceeds the best Carnot engine. Although this stereotype, just as many other stereotypes, should be discountenanced, I am yet to meet anyone in Europe who would argue that the Germans do not target high efficiency in whatever they set their minds to do.
On reaching Berlin, Abimbola and I made our way to the famous Berlin Wall, a symbol of historical division between democratic and communist ideologies. The wall did not just mark an East-West schism, it also served as the execution ground for many Germans who tried to escape the East for the Western sector. Despite the possibility of getting shot if found climbing the wall or trying to wade across the expansive “no man’s land” that straddled the wall, many persons still tried to make a run for freedom in the course of the two decades that the wall stood defiantly in front of freedom. A contemporary act would be migrants risking their lives on rickety boats to make it across the seas to Europe or Australia, with many being rewarded with unmarked watery graves at the sea bed.
As you walk along what’s left of the Berlin Wall, you would see several artworks on adjoining buildings. To help visitors understand the events surrounding the wall, there are a number of descriptive texts in German and English that provide insight into each part of the iconic wall. In addition to the printed descriptions, audio descriptions and recorded interviews also provide a rich experience of what it was like to live in Berlin at the time when the wall held sway. One section of the memorial contains pictures of some persons who died while trying to escape across the divisive wall. So, as we walked along, we recognised that we were walking through an area where many persons lost their lives reaching out for freedom.
From the Wall, we went on to the Brandenburg Gate, the only surviving “gate” in Berlin. Like the Berlin Wall, this is also a tourist magnet in Berlin, and we found quite a crowd around the icon. There was even an ongoing concert with a group of people wearing white garments, reminding me of a certain Christian sect in Nigeria whose members adorn themselves in angelic whiteness. The spirit of fun in the air would make one forget that Berlin was recently the scene of a terror attack. The only indication that fun was not the only thing on the mind of Germans was the number of police vehicles around the Brandenburg Gate.
After leaving the gate, we moved on to the Holocaust Memorial, a sprawling area containing structures that seem to have the length of a standard human grave, but with different heights. The memorial is dedicated to the murdered “Jews of Europe”, a testament to the loss of up to six million Jews in a needless war that redrew European politics.
By this time, our stomachs had begun their infamous rumblings, so we went in search of a place to eat. A friend had recommended “Currywurst”, which he said is a famous German meal, so off we went looking for a restaurant with Currywurst on its menu. At 10pm local time, we could not find any open Currywurst-serving restaurant in the Mall of Berlin, so we turned to Google for recommendations. To be fair to the Germans, when the acclaimed Currywurst appeared on our table, I was disappointed. All I saw was sliced sausages sprinkled with what was apparently curry and some sort of sauce. For a meal that came highly recommended, this was a big let-down. Currywurst notwithstanding, one memorable part of the experience was an artwork that tried selling beer lovers’ club membership to me. Fortunately, thinking about how good my liver has been to me kept me from joining the club.
Since we had an early morning flight to Brussels to catch, we had to return to Abimbola’s place to catch at least an imitation of sleep. On our return to Berlin after touring Brussels, neither I nor my wallet felt energetic enough to resume where I left off on the first day. I think this means I owe Angela Merkel another visit some other day. This match is not over.