I arrived home in a completely different state than when I arrived in Berlin. I had spent the month before Berlin on edge and in some ways isolated. Also I was exhausted after a 3 day trip to Berlin. Coming home the flight was quick and I had definitely unwound over the past month. I was seeing my wife for the first time in the past two months but I wasn’t anxious or caught off guard, it was a reassuring thought.
After arriving in Germany I adapted to my situation as quickly as possible and started doing “as the Romans did” but coming home it was a slower transition back to normalcy, and one that I fought against. I would say some short responses and phrases in German without even thinking about it. I spoke German in my sleep. I tried to carry on some of the cultural norms that I had picked up abroad but they gradually faded away (though not entirely) much to my chagrin, but that was inevitable because they don’t fit with the lifestyle I lead here.
Arriving in Berlin I forced myself to adapt as ragged and exhausted as I was and for the first few days and as a result I was mentally drained. Coming home I spent a day in bed then spent the next few weeks camping recovering from camping and preparing to go camping again so I just slipped into my old self naturally and I worry I lost a lot when I came home.
The first weekend was my trip to Dresden. My pronunciation of “Dresden” was a source of endless entertainment for my host family. Our first stop in the city was the famous and thrice built Semper Operhaus in the old city. However it didn’t seem appropriate to call this the “old city” since it had all been firebombed to nothing and rebuild in the 50s and on. The opera house was beautiful but not quite as remarkable as I had hoped. The palace and surrounding building caught my eye. I could distinguish the old sections from where it was rebuilt by the colors, the old sandstone was black and the copper roofs were green, from oxidization but the new sections were light but otherwise indistinguishable. According to our guide all the new sandstone construction will be darkened the same as the old in another ten years. In one section of the palace I found a sign that was somewhat unsettling. It was a plaque detailing the reconstruction of the palace and offhandedly mentioned the 100,000 civilians that were killed in the bombings by the allies who “liberated the city” as if they were grateful out of shame for of the collateral damage. More interestingly the sign must have been erected recently since it was in English and Dresden was in the DDR.
Around the district every building seemed to be a completely different style of architecture depending on what organization or ruler built each building and when it was built within even a couple years, for example the opera house is very typical baroque but the ticket office for it is a Roman style building, Or a hotel that had been repeatedly expanded and slightly different each time, but with one extremely ornate section that stands out and was the home to one of the king’s mistresses.
I got the overall impression that Dresden used it’s nearly blank slate to idealize this part of the city as well as preserve it. Most of the royal buildings and fortifications are now museums of all kinds and libraries when they were essentially ornate government and military structures. Along with separating the modern factories from the historical buildings anything new must have a 1800s style façade.
View from the defensive wall along the river Elbe, now a row of museums.
I’m a little behind on my posting and the spotty internet hasn’t helped (actually my internet’s out right now). When I finally woke up about Wednesday and got into the swing of things I started to notice the city and the people below the surface a little more. As is I’m more of a watcher and on top of that one of my courses has a sociology angle to it applied to Berlin. On Tuesday we visited some of the main sights Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburger Tor, Tiergarten and the memorial to persecuted homosexuals juxtaposed with the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe across the street, and ending at the Room of Silence to reflect. All of this not as tourists but as students discussing what it means to the history of Berlin and for the people that visit there with an emphasis for the day on what makes a city center. Potsdamer Platz was of particular interest for me with its rich history and superficial present. For a little background; Potsdamer Platz was the heart of Weimar Berlin a worldwide symbol of decadence and splendor amid chaos, it even had the world’s first electric street signal. During World War II it was heavily damaged and later completely bulldozed for the construction of the Berlin Wall. In the late 90s it was rebuilt in homage to what it represented in the 20s but instead it’s a grand memorial to internationalism and corporatism that is mostly populated by tourists and has a false empty feel to it. I love it, especially for a coffee or a beer on the way home from exploring the Mitte or Kreuzberg which are completely different, one being reconstructed old Berlin and the other old alternative Berlin. Berliners don’t really go to Potsdamer Platz they think it’s fake it’s touristy and overpriced. I wouldn’t spend too much time there but nevertheless I think it’s an important part of Berlin one of the city’s many centers even though it’s nothing like the Alexanderplatz area that is Berlin’s functional center. I don’t have anything against Potsdamer Platz because it’s so commercial that’s just the changing times and I think Berliners will warm up to it in a few more years as the city continues to change. For now it’s beautifully modern with relaxing background music and colored lights behind never ending panes of glass.
This is a picture of a piece of original wall from a 20s era hotel incorporated into a new building in Potsdamer Platz
Piece of the Berlin Wall in Potzdamerplatz, only for tourists probably not even from there
Very interesting and highly symbolic, no words only a video playing on the inside
It’s like a maze, the ground slopes down toward the center about 3 meters
Makes a great orientation point as you wander the city
I had to take my own Brandenburg Gate picture
I am physically and mentally exhausted so no photos right now. Lately, my only respite has been in airports and I still have 20 hours to go. I’m excited to finally get to Berlin, I’ve spent the last 30 days hating life at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington for the ROTC LDAC. After spending half of that time in the field and living deprived of all electronics and any other facet of normal life (simply for the sake of being unpleasant), the return to civilization will be a welcome change, provided Berlin isn’t a sensory overload for me. This will be a difficult transition and a slow start, I left during finals week and couldn’t touch my computer until the day I left for Germany, and I haven’t taken a language class in over a year. To make sure I was prepared I did my best to research German customs and culture. My intent is to blend in as best I can and not look like a tourist foreigner. I’ve been in Germany three times before but only for a few hours flying through, and even then I was locked down in an isolated terminal. From what little experience I have and from what I’ve read/heard Germany should seem pretty familiar to me; organized, clean, polite. I’m expecting there to be an ever-present stark contrast between modern Germany and centuries old Germany. I definitely don’t feel prepared for this but that’s my first challenge and half the fun.