Berlin … Remembrance of Things Past

When I saw Olen Steinhauer’s tweet with a pic from a Berlin café a couple of days ago, something in me snapped.

It’s been about 15 years now, since I’ve last visited “the capital” but there were times in the 30 years before, when I was there almost every month. As much as I love my “gingerbread” hometown of Nuremberg, in my heart “Ich bin ein Berliner”. So this blog today will be a little walk on “Memory Lane” and contain some memorable films and music related to Berlin …

transitstrecke
Passing this iconic tower meant that you had only about one more hour to drive before reaching Berlin. My most memorable adventure on the “Transitstrecke” was, when the old car we were driving, broke with burning motor, while we were stuck in a traffic jam, still on the eastern side. A truck driver rushed to our aid with an extinguisher, but then we were stranded. This was in the 80s, so no cell-phones and wandering around on eastern territory was out of the question, if you wanted to stay alive and not be mistaken for a fugitive. But it seemed that all in all it was our lucky day, because after a while a diplomat’s car stopped and towed us across the border at Drewitz *phew*. This was the smoothest crossing ever 😉

For those not so familiar with Berlin’s situation back then, some historical information. West Berlin really was an island in the German Democratic Republic (= the soviet zone). You could fly there, drive there by car straight on the “Transitstrecke” or go by train. You got stamps in your passport when entering (and leaving) the GDR and you could only stop at assignated points, because you weren’t to contact locals while transiting. The trains would stop for hours in the middle of the night, at a non-public station near the border and then they were thoroughly searched inside and outside (with dogs) to prevent East Germans from fleeing.


David Bowie’s very emotional trip on “Memory Lane” through Berlin with lots of old footage.

I’ve travelled really a lot of times between Nuremberg and Berlin – and my passport was full to the brim with those ridiculous stamps:

passport-stamps

So, my father is from Berlin and also my mother’s father. As a kid I went there regularly to visit my grandparents in West Berlin and delighted in driving around in the yellow double-deck busses. When I got older, I read the biography of “Christiane F.” a young heroin addict who had to prostitute herself. That made me see “Bahnhof Zoo” in a slightly different light …

schweineimweltall
These are my Berlin grandparents and my great-grandmother (the kid is one of my uncles) in the mid 50s, roughly 5 years before the wall was built. Now everyone would guess, that they gathered proudly around their “Volkswagen” to have that pic taken. LOL … very wrong! This is the so called Berlin humour: they actually never had a car, but I’ve inherited my granddad’s grin 😉

My mother’s sister (my godaunt) moved to Berlin in the beginning of the 80s and when we visited her in Berlin-Kreuzberg for a week in 1984 I really fell consciously in love with the city. When I got 16, I was allowed to visit my aunt together with my best friend(s) and we spent some interesting rather “nocturnal” weeks – as Berlin had no “closing time” like the rest of Germany. I particularly liked the “Bhagwan” disco “FarOut” on Kurfürstendamm next to “Schaubühne” – unlike other discos I knew, this one was not dark, sticky and labyrinth-ish, but just one really big room with a high ceiling, warm lighting and bars in every corner and they played great music too 😉


This is still my (inofficial) hymn to Berlin – from early 80s new german wave band “Ideal”. When this – their first – record came out, my father listened to it literally non-stop during a full 14-day-family-holiday in Bavaria – you’d think, we’d freaked, but I still love every song 😉

Other unforgettable experiences included driving through Berlin in the early morning hours, with someone we just met and who turned out to be a) obviously pretty wasted because he was b) ignoring EVERY red light he came by while going at c) about 70 km/h … yeah well … when you’re 17 it’s really all a bit YOLO 😉

Also when you’re 17 and in Berlin, sleep is clearly overrated … so once we went on a daytrip (trip as in TRIP … as this was still more surreal as just driving on the “Transitstrecke” and not only because we had a hangover!) to East Berlin. We crossed the border at Friedrichstraße and had to walk over a mirrored floor there – so if we had skirts on they could have checked, if we were smuggling whatever under them … please?!. Then we each had to change 50 german Mark (about 25 Euro now) in (ahem, worthless) GDR cash. We’d set up a date with east German relatives of my friend, who met us outside. They had a full sightseeing schedule prepared: visiting the Brandenburg Gate to finally see the Quadriga’s horses heads and not only their butts like from the western side, walked “Unter den Linden” past the Berlin Dome to “Palast der Republik” and then they invited us for lunch at the restaurant on top of the East Berlin TV tower. When we entered we were seated (although almost no seats were taken) and were told that we had one hour to order and eat. This would be the time that the restaurant (who was slowly spinning) would take to make a full turn, so you could watch over the roofs of Berlin in every direction. Yeah well, almost every … because when you were able to look in the direction of the western part of the city, the hour was almost up and exactly THEN your meal arrived. I realised that our “seating” hadn’t been random, but calculated – you really had to watch your plate, eat up and then leave during that last quarter hour – no looks at the “fiends in the West” allowed. In review, this was the most ridiculous experience I’ve had in my whole life so far.

When they walked us back, they motioned us to follow them behind the pillars of “Neue Wache” and gave us german Mark in exchange for the east cash we’d been forced to change earlier (wherever they’ve got the west cash, as this was obviously forbidden!). They were a bit panic-ish and constantly looking over their shoulders (but telling us not to). You really felt like in some sort of bad spy-movie…


“The lives of others” won an Oscar and is really worth seeing – it shows exactly why my friend’s relatives felt uneasy in their own country – just everyone could be an informant and working for the “Stasi” (state security, well more to secure that everyone was staying WITHIN this state).


This is an excerpt from Billy Wilder’s hilarious movie “One Two Three” shot in Berlin in 1961 just before the wall was built. The film was a total flop when it came out, because after the wall was built, obviously no one found it funny anymore. But it really is and you can see (as well as in Wilder’s “A foreign Affair’ with Marlene Dietrich) a lot of Berlin and how much was still destroyed and in ruins.

After the fall of the wall in 1989 I was mainly in Berlin for business reasons (setting up software-systems and training staff at arthouse-cinemas and indie-distributors) or to attend the Berlinale filmfestival. Northern parts of Germany are really not famous for their food, but Berlin was an exception: apart from “Currywurst” and the first “Döner Kebap” who was invented in 1972 not in Turkey, but in Berlin (in a small snackbar between “Zoo station” and famous cinema “Zoopalast”), you could get pretty amazing Falafel, all sorts of really good asian food and my favorite restaurant always was “Cafe Einstein” in Kurfürstenstraße – I’m sure that they still serve the best “Wiener Schnitzel” outside of Vienna.

So finally a last movie-tip:


“Lola rennt” (Run Lola Run) one of the first movies – and also a pretty amazing one – from a re-united “new” Berlin.

• moving pictures • play it again Sam BLAME IT ON THE MUSE SIGHT SOUND & TASTE THINGS FROM DINGS