Berlin isn’t really what I was expecting. It’s a bit blander. To be fair, it’s freezing-ass cold. I mean literally moustache freezing into spiky little chunks of ice on face cold. So we’re not really too enthused about plonking about the city the way we usually do. And with the hurried departure from the UK, the whirlwind of preparations for the tour, the many tearful goodbyes, and trying to pour as many cocktails as possible so as to not be penniless on the long voyage… We didn’t really do all the research we should have done before departing. That is, we didn’t actually do any research. At all. So I guess what I was expecting was some sort of fanciful mix of cyberpunk euphoria and post-war depression. Or Run Lola Run. The reality is a predictably efficient German city. Daunting blocks of flats, eclectic indoor markets, and the river dividing it all, chunks of frozen water sliding slowly past us as we stand in the frozen morning taking it all in.
Of course, it passes like a blur – we’re here for less than forty-eight hours. Long enough to check out the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, explore the ruins of the Berlin wall, do our show at the Vagabund Baruwerij and earn ourselves a nasty hangover before getting on another flight (Turkish Airlines this time) to Istanbul. The experience fills me with a raft of feelings. On my mother’s side, I’m Sicilian and Polish Jew, and everywhere Trish and I go, we make sure to stop in to whatever Jewish History sites are on offer. Aside from helping to make me feel closer to an important part of my heritage, these outings provide a sort of continuity to our travels. A common thread winding through cities flung around the globe. And that’s lovely. But this on-going exploration of the past also means that I cannot think about Berlin without thinking of the holocaust.
It’s seventy-odd years on, and there’s very little trace of the war on the face of the city, but if one looks around at all, it’s all very apparent. Where many old cities are all about the past, or at least mix it liberally with the present, wearing their histories like peacock feathers Berlin wears a certain bland melange of seventies apartment-building. This is not a city that’s celebrating its past. Disinherited, Berlin reminds me in some ways of a man returned home from prison after a lengthy sentence. But these are all just fleeting impressions; we’re not here long enough to form more than a cursory opinion.