Tripping Over History

I have wanted to visit Berlin ever since I started studying Russian and East European history as an undergraduate in the mid-1980s.  At that time, Berlin was the iconic representation of the division of Europe and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall was the iconic representation of the end of those divisions.  As a young person interested in this part of the world, those images were powerfully ingrained in my imagination.  I was determined that this year I would visit Berlin and the past weekend, which included a Friday holiday, was the perfect opportunity (plus this is the last month that Ryanair is flying direct from Kaunas to Berlin).

It was an amazing weekend.  There is so much to see in Berlin and there are many things that I had hoped to see and didn’t.  But I was able to experience various aspects of historic and contemporary Berlin.  I’ll post more stories and photos this week about my adventures.  As a historian, I am of course interested in historic sites and museums.  In Berlin, it seemed that I was constantly tripping over history even when I wasn’t intentionally looking for it.  Statues, buildings and street names that refer to major events and people in German — and 20th century European — history are, of course, everywhere.  Yet the most intriguing experience was the constant crossing back and forth between what had been East Berlin and West Berlin.  Plaques on the ground mark the route of the wall so that, while the buildings and street life no longer indicate the division, it still there under out feet.

At the top of my list was a visit to Checkpoint Charlie because of its iconic nature.  I envisioned going one afternoon and seeing the museum, along with hundreds of other tourists.  Instead my first visit to Checkpoint Charlie occurred quite inadvertently.  We were walking to the metro station from a pub at 2:30 in the morning of our first day when we turned the corner and there it was.  We stopped briefly at the famous sign “You are leaving the American Sector” before continuing on our way.  I looked at the young people in the their mid-20s with whom I was walking — a Lithuanian, a Latvian and a Russian who had all been born in the Soviet Union when the Berlin Wall still seemed to be a permanent reality.  I realized that these young people have grown up and live now in a completely different world — one, at least, without this wall.

About amanda

Creating academic and public environments for the humanities to flourish Researching Soviet and Eastern European history Engaging people and ideas as a writer and interviewer Traveling as much as possible View all posts by amanda

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