Grant and Susan in Germany

18 August, 1996 - Berlin, Germany

We crossed over from southern Denmark, then rode through East Germany to a guesthouse on the outskirts of Berlin. Not nearly as bad as we expected, clearly the 7 years since '89 has made a huge difference. Many of the apartment blocks are truly ugly and in sad shape, but many are very nice with beautiful flowers spilling over every balcony. Hordes of motorcycles everywhere, lots of new cars, still some old communist block cars staggering and spewing their way along, but overall it looks pretty good. The countryside looked very nice, well kept farms and beautiful tree lined highways. We were surprised and pleased to find more trees and forested areas just in northern Germany than in all of Denmark and Sweden combined (which is basically flat farmland).

We stayed in a campground in east Germany last night, very green and nice and clean. It's obvious the East Germans haven't yet got the hang of capitalism - they weren't charging extra for the hot water in the showers, which was commonplace in Denmark and Sweden. In fact, in one campground in Denmark, they have installed a computerized magnetic card system which you swipe for 2 minutes of hot water, linked directly to their main computer! And of course they charge more than the others for the hot water, since they have to pay for the computer system.

22 August, 1996 - Berlin

We left the motorcycle with BMW for repair work, and have been exploring Berlin for the last few days via buses, trains and subways. We picked the bike back up today, but in the process of installing a new timing chain they put the timing cover back on not quite right and it's now making a terrible noise, having destroyed the cam bearing. So, they have to order a new bearing, and although the bike was actually built in Berlin, the part has to come from Munich (go figure) and won't be there until Saturday. Of course, they don't work on Saturday so they can't fix it until Monday. The fix is at no charge, but it means staying over here until Monday.

Art display at the former Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall.

Art display at the former Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall

Berlin is a work in progress. The east side, even after 6+ years since unification, shows the effects of a lot of neglect for a lot of years before that. The roads in the suburban towns in the east (where we are staying) are cobblestoned, and really bad to drive on. We're now used to seeing cobblestoned roads as pedestrian ways in the centre of very old cities, but these are commonplace even on supposedly main roads.

One effect of the wall coming down is decreased police presence in the east, and the graffiti writers have gone really wild. All over the subway / train seats, the train walls, the subway platforms, apartment buildings, just about every available surface seems to have been graffitied. The unemployment rate in the east after the end of communism just skyrocketed, and many people were out of work for years. After they realized that their standard of living was not going to match the west's overnight, I think disillusionment set in.

We got hair cuts on Tuesday, and my hairdresser (born in East Berlin) spoke quite good English (very unusual), so I asked her about conditions. She was 16 when the Wall came down, and remembers it vividly as a wonderful event in her life. But her mum was unemployed for almost four years afterwards, and now the crime rate is much higher than it was under communism, with more young people with idle time on their hands. She says, they now know that some things were better before.

Still, there's construction going on everywhere, many stores and hotels and restaurants have opened up in the last few years, and obviously some people are making money here. But capitalism has not proven to be a panacea, and it's clear a lot more investment is needed to bring the eastern infrastructure up to western levels. I would say Germany has bitten off quite a large mouthful, and will need all the money it can get for another ten years at least.

Berlin Wall graffiti - Berlin, Germany.

Berlin Wall graffiti - Berlin, Germany

As to the Wall itself, there's only a 1.3 km stretch which was not torn down, either by the "wall peckers" or by bulldozing by the government itself (bad memories to be erased if possible). They invited artists to paint this one stretch afterwards, and we found it and got some good pictures. It's in an out of the way area, and they don't publicize it at all. The only way you know for sure you've crossed the line in most of Berlin is by the general repair of the train stations and the relative prosperity of the neighbourhoods.

Bombed out Berlin chuch, the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche

An interesting feature of central Berlin is the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche.

This church was built on the Kurfurstendamm between 1891 and 1895 as a memorial to the Emperor Wilhelm I. It was badly damaged during the war (1943), but the ruins were preserved as a reminder of the horrors of war. An exhibition traces the history of the church, recalls the victims of the war, and pleads for reconciliation.

The Kurfurstendamm is the main shopping area in the west, and it reminded us of Singapore's Orchard Road. There is definitely money here. Last night we did the western thing, found a Pizza Hut and afterwards went to see Mission Impossible in English. That was much harder to find than in Scandinavia (the movie, not the pizza), as most movies in Germany are dubbed, not subtitled. That's also why few Germans speak English compared to the Scandinavians.

As usual, we get by with a few words, fingers and hand gestures most of the time. We have a phrase book which has French, German, Spanish and Italian, but it seems a lot of the phrases you want (like "can we have the bill, please?") aren't in the book. Instead they have some gems. In the German section, on going to the hairdressers, they actually have the phrase "I think I'll have something exotic today". Can you just imagine going to a hairdresser in a strange country and trying that phrase? I'm not sure where the people who write these books come up with expressions like that, maybe some other planet.


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