I’m in Berlin. Rather, we – the family Gray – are here, in Berlin, at the end of our six-day holiday. We chose Germany because both sides of our family are inextricably linked with Germany. My wife studied here, fluent in the language.
I first travelled to Germany, aged 19, in 1999, with three friends. I drove. We spent one night in Hannover, hating it. Our three nights in Berlin were grim. Generally, I found that the people were hard, unfriendly and – most memorably – refused to cross the road unless the green man was on – even if you could see for miles that no car was coming. I recall that the gulf between East and West Berlin was stark. I wasn’t eager to return.
The Berlin of 2023 is quite something: the coolest, most bohemian, safest and friendliest city I have visited. If anything could be described as “extremely Liberal”, Berlin is it.
Despite the widespread graffiti, which gives the impression that trouble lurks, it doesn’t. And the very few cars on the road reminded me of Vientiane (capital of Laos) of 2000.
Public transport, of all types, is available on every street corner, but good luck understanding how to use it, even if you are fluent in German.
Now the negatives. Being a coeliac over here is tough, as most staff in the food trade have no idea what gluten is. Mostly, the city is butt-ugly (understandably, given the history), with the occasional delightful building. The grassy areas are unkempt, though there is little litter. Frustratingly, we were refused entry to a lake – a lake! – because we didn’t carry photographic ID.
I wish I didn’t think this, but both trips to Berlin left me feeling that the horrors of the Nazi era, particularly the Holocaust, had not been adequately marked. Sure, there is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which we visited, but this was only constructed in 1999. Of course, no structure, nor any number of structures, could sate the unquenchable demand to mark the Holocaust, but what there was in Berlin simply wasn’t enough.
This challenging thought, though, reminded me of a line by the comedian, Josh Widdecombe. Whilst discussing the topic of refugees – to the horror of his audience – Widdecombe said that he only wished that Hitler was alive to witness modern Germany – a patchwork quilt of every type person, free to live as they wish: the embodiment of the total evisceration of an evil ideology.
This is the Berlin of 2023. Thank you for hosting us. Happily, I could live here.