“we took the u-bahn to the eastside gallery”

writing on the wallI’m thinking a lot about Berlin again for the first time since coming home from my visit last year.  Did I not tell you what happened last year?  Oh.  When I got back from spending ten days in Europe with a friend, the first thing I did was get sick.  Berlin was the last stop on our trip, so since I was still thinking about it while recovering on my couch, I ended up reading lots of Wikipedia articles about Germany.

Among other things, I read about the Reichstag fire, the rise of Nazism, Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler, Eichmann, Anne Frank, the building of the Berlin Wall, life in East Berlin, reunification, and everything I could about WWII-related monuments in Germany.  By the way, when someone calls or emails to ask how you’re doing, don’t say, “I’ve got a cold, so I’m laying on my couch reading about Hitler.”  People will worry about you.

At any rate, those topics were in fact very depressing, but I was also fascinated by the way that Germany has dealt with its own painful history.  Admirably, the country doesn’t shy away from talking about what happened, but it also doesn’t really go overboard with it either, at least not in a way that I found to be too overwrought.  The monuments and memorials I saw in Berlin seemed to be saying, “It’s not truly possible to forget or make up for things that happened, so we’ll just acknowledge it and remember.”

Of course, the fact that I’d just seen in person many of the locations I was reading about added some interest as well.

My cold went away and I went back to work and stopped reading about atrocities.* But now the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has me thinking about it again.  Here are some great photo essays I’ve found:

The Big Picture: The Berlin Wall, 20 years gone (photos then and now)

NY Times: A Division Through Time (past/present photos taken at the same angle)

The Guardian: Then and Now (more past/present photos at the same angle)

Germany 1978-9: Berlin (old photos I found via Metafilter)

there it is, the wallSince I’ve gotten to the point where Wikipedia articles and their associated links aren’t enough information for me, I’ve asked Metafilter (asked Ask Metafilter? Anyhow) to help me find a good place to start.  Since I can count on two hands the number of real nonfiction books I’ve read,** I’m hoping for something thorough but not too dry, in-depth but not too insurmountable.

But here’s the thing. Nothing I read is going to compare to standing there in the exact spot where important events took place.  I know that’s an obvious point to make, but look: Oscar Wilde’s arrest is more interesting because I’ve seen the hotel where it happenedThe Michael Jackson baby-dangling incident is more interesting because I’ve seen the hotel where THAT happened.  I don’t know about all the interesting things that happened in Ecuador, but hey, I might have seen where they happened.

Thinking about German history has given me the travel bug again. My sister likes to travel a lot, too, and one time I heard my dad say, “Gosh, I don’t know where the two of you got such wanderlust.”

I laughed in his face. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, DAD? I said. My dad, who would bring us currency samples*** and gifts and stories every time he left the country on business; my dad and mom, who for awhile took us to a new US state every other summer; my dad and mom, who counted among their friends a couple who went abroad every single year–to Russia, Australia, Peru, Europe, you name it–and brought us gifts and slideshows and stories every time; has no idea what makes his daughters want to travel.

He and my mom also, after taking us to Astros games on Sundays and watching them on TV with me every evening in the summers, wonder why I like baseball.  Hey, I can’t help that I got parented properly.

The sad thing is that while my states-I’ve-been-to map looks like this:

states I've visited

my countries-I’ve-been-to map still looks like this:

countries I've visited

I went to three places I’ve never been in Europe last year, so next year I think I’m going to go somewhere else I’ve never been. It’d be nice to leave the country every single year, but I’m not a gazillionaire nor do I have any sponsors, so every other year will have to do.   Which is too bad, because I’m rarely as happy as when I’m traveling.

So, who wants to ride the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway with me??!?!?!?

*Mostly. I went through a period a few months later where I was reading lots about Ted Kaczynski and McVeigh and Jeffrey Dahmer and such.  What?

**Most notably Our Guys by Bernard Lefkowitz and William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist by Stephen B. Oates. And by real non-fiction I mean non-Sedaris, because he doesn’t count.

***I still have a little zipper bag full of 80’s money from all sorts of countries.

7 thoughts on ““we took the u-bahn to the eastside gallery”

  1. East/West Germany is one of my favorite subjects, too. I was at the 10-year celebration in Berlin, which I can’t believe was now 10 years ago. At the time there was lots of fascinating looking stuff on TV about the Wall, which was frustrating, because it was all in German and my German wasn’t good enough to follow it all.

    As for media, I recommend reading “Stasiland” by Anna Funder. Also, if you haven’t already seen The Lives of Others, see it! And Goodbye, Lenin is a German film (on the cute side) that gives some insight. Wings of Desire is also a good one to watch. Two other things to check out, even though they have much less to do with that subject and more with other parts of German culture: Christiane F: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, and Gegen die Wand (Head On is the English title).

    Even better, speak to Germans who grew up there, if you have the opportunity. And you might want to research stories about trying to cross the border (several of which are described at the Checkpoint Charlie museum). Good luck in your quest. Your travel plans sound great!

  2. As someone whose travel map looks gobs smaller than yours, I’m impressed with where you’ve been. And as someone who reads your site and follows you on Flickr, I highly encourage you to travel gobs and gobs. That way I get to travel vicariously.

  3. So, who wants to ride the entire length of the Trans-Siberian Railway with me??!?!?!?

    This is totally on my list, though I’m afraid it may be one of those things where the idea of it is way way better than the reality. Also, everything I’ve read about travel in Russia kind of scares the hell out of me. But I do want to make it at least to Moscow and St. Petersburg someday, to scratch my Tolstoy/Dostoevsky-inspired Russophile itch.

    I’m sad I haven’t been able to travel much the past few years. It was kind of a choice between that and saving to quit work and try this crazy project and all. I do think I’m going to drive all around the country and visit internet people like you did at the end of this hiatus though. I want to get abroad too, but airfares have become just ridiculous. Maybe when I’m a student again next year.

  4. Another vote for Stasiland. I read it several months ago and it was one of the most fascinating books I’ve ever read. Also, it has some narrative (and a narrator) in it so I think it would appeal to people who aren’t big non-fiction readers.

  5. Your maps are impressive. I’ve got half a dozen states and ONE country outside of the US, South Africa. That’s it.
    I’ll ride the TSR with ya any day! ;)

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