From the baking desert, fast forward five months to freezing Berlin where I spent New Year 2015. I had been to Berlin five years ago for Halloween and I remembered it being terribly cold, way colder than Ireland for that time of year. It was a good thing I was prepared for it this time because as well as being cold, it also snowed. It was beautiful but also hazardous because it made the cobbled paths very slippy. I was visiting an American friend from Japan (that seems to be how I travel these days) who has been studying there since September. A German friend of ours was there with his hometown friends so we had a ready-made social group for our New Year’s celebrations.Berlin is such a party city that it can be quite hard to get any sightseeing done, but I was happy to get one day of seeing some sights. We visited the Topography of Terror which is a permanent exhibition detailing through English, German and pictures, the rise, reign and fall of the Nazi regime. What happened during that time seems unbelievable, because that much horror should only be in fiction, but the exhibition did a good job of making it believable and comprehensible. The exhibition was quite near Checkpoint Charlie and there’s a good stretch of the Berlin Wall left there which was a sad reminder that Berlin’s problems didn’t end with the fall of the Nazis.
We went to see the Brandenburg Gate which was being set up for the New Years Eve party and we got some currywurst. Though we could have gotten better and cheaper currywurst elsewhere, we were hungry and it was good to have a real tourist moment. Unter den Linden seems like a nice boulevard, but unfortunately most of it was under construction.
There were still some Christmas markets on, and all the old buildings and statues looked very picturesque under the snow. We walked from the Brandenberg Gate to Museum Island as it got darker, following the blinking red light of the TV Tower over in Alexanderplatz. We were going to go to the DDR Museum as a kind of tonic to the Topography of Terror exhibition, as it seems to give a fun, interactive look at life in the former communist state (I think the darker side of life is addressed in the Stasi Museum). However, there was a long queue outside and we didn’t fancy waiting in the snow and cold.My friend lives in Neukölln and one of the days we walked to Tempelhofer Park which was an airport until 2008 and is most notable for its use in the Berlin Airlift from 1948-49. It was so foggy that you couldn’t see the other side of the park, and the ground was soggy with snow, but I did like the gloomy atmosphere. The next time I visit Berlin I’ll go in the summer time when I’m sure it’ll be beautiful. There was a lot of street art and graffiti which brightened up the rather run-down area.
Neukölln is a new hip area that has traditionally been one of the poorest in Berlin and known for its high population of immigrants, especially Turkish. There are still a lot of Turkish shops and restaurants around, but it’s definitely on its way up, and northern Neukölln has earned the name Kreuzkölln from its more gentrified neighbour Kreuzberg. There are a lot of cool and cheap cafes, bars, shops and galleries, but rents are rising and there’s a lot of tension over the gentrification of the area. The gallery below was using New York as an example of gentrification with what has happened to districts like Brooklyn and Harlem.
I had been warned that people didn’t go outside until after midnight when the fireworks had died down, and I understood why as from the afternoon when we were walking back from Tempelhofer Park, the streets were full of the smoke and sound of bangers and fireworkers. It seems like a silly comparison, but I did think of the people living in Syria who have to go about their daily lives even with the threat of bombs and attacks. We had a potluck dinner at home and then we braved the intensified fireworks and the icy paths to get to a friend’s house for a New Year party which was way better than going to a club, and we had views out onto the street for midnight when the fireworkers let off their best ones. Berlin parties are no brief affairs, and as the sun came up, I said goodbye to my friends, went back to my friend’s house to shower and get my bag, and I flew back home.