With the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaching and knowing that it had fallen on the day my daughter was born I had added Germany to my itinerary for my European vacation in the hopes of getting a piece of the wall for her 21st next year.
I didn’t know much about Germany except they liked beer, they invented Adidas shoes and aspirin and they lost both world wars both of which they had started.
Travelling through the German countryside I gave up counting the wind turbines that dotted the landscape. I wondered if I could get council approval for one to be put into the back yard as they are an impressive looking piece of equipment.
Arriving in Berlin I was soon to find that Berlin is actually the city of two’s – 2 zoos, 2 aquariums, 2 airports, 2 opera houses etc. I also found out that they didn’t like the French, they love David Hasselhoff for reasons that totally elude me and McLeod’s Tochter (Daughters) dubbed in German made more sense than the original.
Catching bus 100 we were soon at the Brandenburg Gate where somehow I managed to find myself smack bang in the middle of a union rally. I joined the Colombian contingent as they had the best and most colourful banner.
The next morning I woke to the sound of the rain that wasn’t so bad except we were booked on a bike tour. Booking a bike tour four months ago seemed like a good idea at the time now with reality telling me that I have not been on a bike for over twenty years along with the torrential downpour was suggesting that I may be needing more travel insurance.
We made our way to the tour office to be informed that in the rain it was the best time to see the city. I was actually hoping for a cancellation. With the twenty other fools I made my way outside to choose a bike. “Do you have one with training wheels?” I asked.
“Oh, you Aussies.” He laughed.
I was serious.
My anxiety of not being on a bike for so long was dismissed with the guide telling me that he had people who had never been on a bike and it was just like riding a bike. That didn’t make me feel any better and neither did the Dutch guy who bragged about his feats with a bike. With the rain blinding me I wobbled along. I fell to the back of the pack in the first five metres. The Dutch guy whizzed past me like he was in the Tour de France. No one likes a show off. I hoped he got a puncture.The rain hadn’t eased up as we arrived at Checkpoint Charlie. The hot chocolate beckoned me. We made our way to a section of the wall that still remains. It was protected by a fence. I thought that was interesting if not ironic. 13,000 marriages were destroyed overnight. Families were torn apart. We listened to stories of escapes. We stood under the window where desperate families threw their kids from the office building to be caught by other family members on the other side. The windows were soon bricked in. We listened to the tale of a 4yr old boy drowning in the river as his family watched from the western side and the East German guards watch from their vantage point. No one could save him. If the guards went to help they would have been shot and the family couldn’t leave the West to save him. Communism versus capitalism equates to utter madness.
“There was a bit of confusion when the border was to open,” our guide began. “The hierarchy were giving a live press conference about the issuing of visas and the bumbling politician was asked when the visas were going to be given out. In his confusion and unable to read his own notes he declared, ‘Immediately.’ Within minutes of this being broadcasted tens of thousands of East Berliners descended onto the checkpoints demanding to be let through. The West Berliners on the other side began to chant. The guards had no idea as the West Berliners began to climb up onto the wall demanding they be set free. They began to attack the wall. The guards gave up and the East Berliners came marching into the West to the cheers and delight of the crowd that had gathered. It was a great day,” he declared, “A great day.”
Hitler’s bunker was our next stop. “It’s over there,” he quickly said as he pointed in the general direction. “Goebbels killed himself and his wife killed their six children before killing herself. He didn’t want the Russians to get his children.”
We didn’t stay long.
Arriving at the Reichstag we soon learned how Hitler managed to come to power. He didn’t have the support of all the people in fact most opposed him but this was to change quickly. Somehow the Reichstag was set alight most now believe it was organised by Josef Goebbels but at the time the official version (Hitler’s) was vastly different. Hitler declared that it was the work of terrorists out to destroy the country. He even paraded the culprit, a poor unfortunate and most likely innocent man, to emphasis his version either way it did have the desired effect. Hitler promised to protect the people. The people listened and worse they believed him.
I was eager to learn more about a man who had shown himself to epitomise evil.
Visiting his summer place, Eagle’s Nest, a few days earlier told me he was paranoid. He couldn’t travel in reverse in his car. The driver would take him through the tunnel to the elevator before the driver would reverse the car out and then reversing it again to collect him. He would always have six people in the elevator with him in case it broke down as the emergency elevator needed six people to operate. He never stayed the night there no one did not even his guests and his guest list read like the who’s who of evil. I stood on the balcony that he himself stood. I travelled in the elevator he travelled in. I looked at the same 360 degree view of Germany and Austria that he did.
Eagle’s Nest was given to him for his fiftieth birthday by Martin Bormann. Japan gave him the rug and Mussolini gave him the marble fireplace. All I could think of was what I was going to get for my fiftieth.
After our lunch in the Tiergarten where the beer flowed faster than the river Spree we headed off again. Maybe it was the lunch maybe it was the over confidence or maybe it wasn’t as simple as ‘riding a bike’. But outside the President’s home and in full view of everyone I came a cropper. I knew it was going to happen but I was powerless to stop it. As I was falling ever so ungraciously to the ground I was thankful for my travel assurance and wondered if my airlift home would be in economy I hoped not. Our guide came running towards me. “Are you hurt?”
Only my pride.
The flying Dutchman came over to see what damage I had done to myself. I assured him and everyone else that I was fine although the bruising would take a week to leave.
“The President is home,” our guide announced, “his flag is showing.”
I didn’t see him rushing out to help me.
“David Hasselhoff is going to sing at the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the wall,” he announced.
Why are the Germans punishing themselves? It wasn’t until he stared at me I realise that I had said it out loud.
“We are celebrating with dominoes to denote the wall coming down,” he continued.
Desperate to make up for my earlier faux pas I smiled and asked if David Hasselhoff was going to start it off.
“That is a great idea.”
Sometimes I really should just stay quiet.