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Monday, January 22, 2007

Berlin Blues

Here is Granny who had planned to beat post Berlin blues by leaping out of bed and taking herself swimming; instead she is still in her dressing-gown watching Murray play Nadal. No apologies. Why the hell should she apologise? She is a doddery old pensioner, isn't she? If this post comes out jerky it is because she will be retiring to watch/groan/or as at this moment cheer; Murray having just won the third set...whoopee. Really she is only writing it to offset her decadence; marginally anyway.

Sorry no fairy story yet. She really does have to wait for her feedback. This story is not about her.

She thinks she said somewhere that all the rain not falling -alas - on her small island was falling on her big one. She was wrong. It was falling on Berlin. She got wet. So did Beloved Son. Beloved Son has longer legs so walks faster. Granny has much experience of trailing along behind males with longer legs. In this case, as always she ran often to keep up, which was wearing but better than getting still wetter. Going around with your adult children can be tricky at the best of times; as she said to Beloved son at one point, crossly, it is the role of ageing parents to irritate their adult children. This is one reason she elected to take him to a city where a dear friend lived, thereby easing the pressure on both of them. Even despite the ordeal by mobile phone (Dear Friend's nutty girlfriend on one hand, Beloved Son's work crisis on the other saw them taking turns at furious texting or disappearing into corners, phone pressed to their ears - Granny can't quite decide whether this was worse or better than the interminable searches for working public phones which she remembers on holidays in the past) cool was mostly kept, company mostly enjoyed, rain or no rain a good weekend was had by all.

This was her third visit to Berlin. The first was almost immediately after the wall came down; mostly, by then, it hadn't come down. By her second visit, the following year, it mostly had, but its course was still obvious; where it had been was wasteland still. Now, 16 years later, but for the carefully preserved sections it would be hard to know it had ever been; new buildings have filled the space. Both those times too the difference between the consumer glitz of West Berlin and the run-down lack of it in the East was striking. Then the only reason to visit the East for reasons other than simple curiosity was to go to museums or the opera; there was no incentive to hang around otherwise. Anything but. Everything was grey; the delapidated nineteenth century buildings; the concrete blocks built for the workers by the GDR. Friend living in the revived East Berlin said he could hardly believe it could have been like that. Oh but it was. This time round Granny found it hard to believe herself looking at the elegant buildings painted pink, yellow, cream, whatever. Only the odd building left untouched hinted at how it had been before. The consumer fest has appeared too; it has hit in particular Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse, the street that leads from Checkpoint Charlie. Etc etc. But it has hit in a way which hasn't spread into the back streets. And which seems more restrained somehow. Guyana Gyal asked in a comment on her last post if she'd got into country outside Berlin. No, she didn't. She did 16 years ago and found a country untouched by consumerism in any way. No ads, posters, nothing, the few places to eat - where the elite GDR lot used to go - like those in the Germany she encountered in the 50's as a child. She is told that it feels pretty much in a timewarp still. But she is only reporting what she heard from someone else. She hopes that's right. It's good to know that there are still parts of Europe where you are not bombarded by people trying to sell you things.

West Berlin itself - or the older part - Granny is not talking about the world corp festivals of glass sprung up nearer the wall - looks tacky now. They pulled down most of the older buildings left up there and what they put up was not distinguished and hasn't aged well. The East is altogether quieter, pleasanter. And in parts much more distinguished; the survival of the nineteenth century entirely to its advantage. In the West the more interesting architecture pointed out by the guide on the tour bus almost all belonged to embassies, all newly built and a credit to their countries. Guess which one wasn't? No, don't - even the Queen, apparently, was not impressed - or rather, the guide said 'not amused'. This is the more ironic when almost next door are the wonders done to the Reichstag by Sir Norman Foster, no less.

There are all the new government admin buildings of course. There is also a huge new railway station made mostly of glass, held up by steel. One large piece of which fell off in the storms of last week (let's not talk about them; Granny, moaning faintly, was flying through what felt like the middle - imagine being on an erratic rocking horse a long way from the ground - not nice. ) The station hasn't been opened long. Nothing fell off any of the old buildings, pointed out a taxi-driver, gleefully, breaking into the English conversation in the rear of his cab. (Imagine a London cabby breaking into a conversation behind him in perfect German. But then all the cabbies, she noticed, spoke good English, except for the Turkish ones, whose very German was dodgy.) Apart from which - no, Granny will not canter you round the museums and picture galleries visited or anything else for that matter - she will limit herself to mentioning the odd fact that ninety percent and more of the women having dinner in the same restaurants as she did wore black. Oh and that it rained a lot; which she has already said - rained so much it almost needs saying twice. And that compared to London the streets in East and West alike felt empty.

ANDY MURRAY HAS LOST. Ah well. It was an amazing match. Granny declines to hear the commentators discussing how many break points he missed and now has no excuse not to throw her clothes on and go swimming. Toodle-oo.

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