*** more Wordless Wednesday posts ***
… this week, instead of a Wordless Wednesday, I give you a Wednesday, spent on a really long trip.
*** more Wordless Wednesday posts ***
During the visit of the fine2meline to Sofia, on one of our many extensive and exhausting walks around the city (I’m not complaining!), we happened upon a fragment of the Berlin Wall. A gift from the municipality of Berlin to the citizens of Sofia, it stands, somewhat awkwardly, in the park of the National Palace of Culture, next to the memorial to the victims of totalitarianism. I was surprised to see it here, but apparently there are dozens of large wall fragments now on public display around the world. (Here is a map.)
It’s strange to think of these fragments, now scattered around the globe, but actually so closely connected and forever tied to a single place. On the other hand though, the wall obviously meant something enormous, something that deeply affected even those corners of the world faraway from it and, today, still stands for something that split not just Berlin but the entire globe in two and which is now, thankfully, in the past. So, in a way, it seems that these remnants do belong to the world and not just to Berlin.
This year marks 40 years since the start of the wall’s constructions and 22 years since its fall. We are a part of the last generation that was born and started growing up behind the Iron Curtain.
Had I been more conscientious, I would have made sure to go and take a picture of this. Instead, I just hung out with my lovely friend Dechen (who came from Bhutan via Copenhagen) and stumbled upon things by chance.
The last time Dechen and I saw each other was exactly three years ago – in a cold November in Berlin, so this was a huge, and hugely pleasant, reunion. The two of us have a connection with and a soft spot for the city – both independently and because of one another, so it wasn’t entirely accidental that we decided to meet there. Once we did, however, it became clear that we could have been anywhere, and Berlin simply provided a pleasant place in which to roam around.
And that we did. We went out to brunch, stayed in for dinner, looked at Christmas stands and browsed through flea markets, sipped Glühwein and afternoon tea, spoke with accents, ducked in underground bars in the middle of parks, crashed hipster parties and art openings, and strolled around Berlin’s streets aimlessly.
During our walks, in what were surely symptoms of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, I couldn’t stop noticing and compulsively reading the ‘stumbling stones’ that I had initially discovered during my last visit to Berlin at the beginning of the summer and just recently seen in Budapest, which commemorate individual victims of National socialism.
Among all the others, we found an apparently, and unfortunately, rare one, which commemorated a man who was deported to Auschwitz, but instead of the usual ermordet (‘murdered’) at the end, his plaque read überlebt (‘survived’). That was nice.
Turns out airport floors don’t offer much in terms of exciting surfaces to take pictures of. What they do offer is made even less exciting by me being rushed and using my phone, but in this case aesthetics fell victim to the need to simply document.
I’m well aware that setting foot in different cities’ airports hardly constitutes visiting those cities/countries. But the sucker in me (same one who this summer crossed over the border from Slovenia and entered Italy and Croatia, for 15 minutes and one hour respectively, just because I could) is quite proud of having set foot in four countries in the course of six hours. Admittedly though, the whole EU/Schengen thing doesn’t exactly make the crossing of borders spectacular anymore. And thank god for that!
Be that as it may, I’m now in Bratislava, which I’ve never been to before. Also, I keep calling Slovakia Slovenia by mistake. I guess all that coming and going there this summer wasn’t for nothing.
I’m usually not crazy about spending time at airports between flights, but it could sometimes be all right, especially if two conditions are met. Namely: a. if the day of the trip wasn’t preceded by a long sleepless night and b. if the airport is nice.
So, today I was in luck. Last night, I went to bed at a decent hour and this morning, I didn’t have to get up too early. Plus, the Munich Airport would be my top choice (and, apparently, that of millions of others) to spend a long layover.
Today, the six-hours of aimless strolling around, window-shopping and gawking at fellow passengers were interspersed with several coffee breaks, lunch, an impulse buy, two snacks and even a 15-minute massage. And, of course, taking pictures of the ground beneath my feet.
I also had time to think about the trip that is just ending and lessons learned from it that will, without a doubt, prove to be extremely useful in the future. In no particular order they are as follows:
Overrated: sleeping in your own bed, in sheets and with a pillow, or for that matter in a room with less than 50 other people
Underrated: several glasses of wine in the evening, earplugs for the night and coffee in the morning
Overrated: good weather at the seaside
Underrated: the fun things that can be done if it rains during a holiday on the beach (see this)
Overrated: well-watered, living plants at home
Underrated: spontaneously picking up my bags and getting an unexpected second chance to see and hang out with cool kids
Overrated: national borders
Underrated: crossing them just to have a special soup and some delicious cookies served with your coffee
There are other things, too, but I am now too tired from all the fun I had in Munich to list them.
We ducked away from the noisy and crowded area of Hackescher Markt into the peaceful Große Hamburger Strasse. The late afternoon, the soft, cool breeze and the unexpected quiet made it feel as if we had stepped not just onto a different street, but into another city and time altogether. “The air is different here,” my friend Eleni, whom I was walking with, said, and I agreed. It smelled like linden trees.
As we walked, the shiny brass squares set between the cobblestones of the sidewalk made me pause. As I looked at the words etched into them, the quietness became daunting and no longer peaceful. Each plaque read “here lived,” followed by the name of a person, their date and place of birth, then the year they were deported (1941 or 1942) and the place where they were murdered (Riga or Lodz).
Later, I found out the miniature memorials, called Stolpersteine (literally – ‘stumbling stones’) were created by artist Gunter Demnig. Believing that a person begins to be forgotten when his name is forgotten, he installed such plates in over 500 places around Germany and Europe, documenting some of the many Jews, Gypsies, political dissidents, homosexuals and other groups of people who fell victim to National socialism. But not collectively – one by one, individually.
Grosse Hamburger Strasse used to be one of the main streets in Berlin’s Jewish quarter before the rise of the Nazi regime and the outbreak of the Second World War. Along it stood a Jewish school for boys, a home for the aged and the city’s oldest Jewish cemetery. The Nazis eventually converted the school and the aged people’s home into internment centers, where they held Jews before deporting them to concentration camps. Today, a memorial tablet and a sculpture depicting a group of Jews being led to their deaths, serve as reminders.
Although I am daunted by those two, as well as Berlin’s other memorials commemorating the victims of the Nazi regime, somehow I find these small stumbling stones more powerful in some way. Maybe because they manage – at least in my mind, to reduce to a single individual the enormous tragedy, usually represented as a whole by large collective monuments. It all becomes more immediate and concrete, as I stumble, literally, into the details.