If you have 40 minutes, just watch this documentary. If not, I will try and summarize. But keep in mind that I was a terrible history student…
Between 1945-1991, after the defeat of the Axis Powers (Italy, Tokyo and Germany) in World War Two, Eastern Germany (under the administration of the Soviet Union) was barricaded behind a 3 meter high wall known as “The Iron Curtain”. This wall was built to separate East Germany from West, which was under the administration of America, France and Britain.
Where the Soviet Union ruthlessly demanded obedience and loyalty to the state, the western powers wanted free market economies and trade. Hence the division. So, in my view, where one group wanted to make money off the spoils of war by direct ownership another group wanted to make money by trade. This history of economic separation then subsequent reunification is one of the pieces of what would define Germany as an economic stronghold globally.
This is what it feels like to enter Berlin. The history of the city literally hits you at once. I was sitting in the cab from the airport thinking, “It’s just a cleaner Nairobi with more white people…” Then I saw her in the distance…
The Victory Column is not particularly popular among German youth who do not like, and want to distance themselves from, the country’s history of war. The lady on top of it is named Victoria, Roman goddess of victory. She literally watches over Berlin atop a giant tower. Signifying victory in war. This kind of artistic symbolism has always played a role in Germany’s war history. During the rise and fall of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany, art and symbolism played a big role in Hitler’s ability to light a fire in the hearts of the people. Still, with a history of war which culminated in Nazis, you can see why young Germans are eager to get away from this legacy.
There are plenty more monumental statues and buildings around the city. Not going to get into the history of each of them. Mostly because that is a lot of research I don’t want to do for a blog post.
But beyond being a giant museum, Berlin is also a city of and by design. My experience in marketing has taught me to spot clever use of typography, images and innovative product design. Berlin has all the above in spades. The city is actually, to some extent, an artist playground where art is allowed to thrive. Considering art is such a big part of the story of Berlin, that is not surprising.
The city is actually, to some extent, an artist playground where art is allowed to thrive.
Although some of the elder generation don’t like it. Graffiti and a rebel culture have thrived in Berlin. You see it in the marketing posters and street art on public walls. A lot of it actually IS just basic graffiti, but I saw a whole street dedicated to it while riding the bus at night. I wanted to get off but the whole not knowing where I was thing was a deterrent… I will be back!
“The devil rides your greed…”
You can watch this one to understand why the fall of the Berlin Wall inspired a strong street art culture.
And you can watch this one if you just want to see some cool stuff 🙂
Let’s move away from art…
Another interesting feature of Berlin is transportation. How people get around is designed to minimize the carbon footprint either through affordable and reliable public transportation or bicycles. People still have their vehicles but the city is definitely less congested than Nairobi. My guess, less use of private means.
My boss told me about this. I was happy I got to experience it first hand. There is a transport unit known as BVG in Berlin. It is a combination of underground trains, buses and trams. All of them run on a very tight schedule around and outside the city. For 7 Euros (about 750 Shillings), you can ride any of these vehicles anywhere for an entire day. You can also get a weekly and a monthly rates. By Kenyan standards it is expensive but in Germany they get paid more so it evens out… For them!
The cool thing about these vehicles is that the timings are absolute. 7AM means 7AM! There are also electronic signs around the city and on the buses showing when the next one will be by. Armed with BVG and Google Maps even the most basic tourist (me) can make their way around the city relatively easily. This also explains why German people are so time conscious. It is in their day to day culture that if you want to get somewhere on time then you have to catch the related transportation on time. There is no traffic to hide behind when explaining lateness.
Beyond BVG, you can rent a bicycle in Germany, ride it to your destination then leave it there for the next person in that area who wants to rent one. These rentals even come with baby carriers so that you can move around with your wee ones. It made sense in Berlin but I cannot see that in Nairobi. There is also a special red bricked bicycle lane on the sidewalk. Again… Not seeing it in Nairobi.
Ultimately, it was a pretty good trip. I was there for work, so not much time to actually get my tourist on, but pretty sure I will go again in future. Then I can really annoy the German people with my mildly racist shenanigans. And now, some obligatory random photos taken during my one afternoon/evening walk (I literally had no time during this visit for a proper photo walk. Next time.)
In China, Chinese food is just food. In Germany a Mercedes can be a taxi… Both seem wildly inaccurate but it happens.