2014 has been a big year for me: about 26 cities, 10 countries, 3 continents, 24 flights (8 of them trans-Atlantic), 10 road trips, five long train rides, and a bus. Add to that learning a new language, learning to cook, learning to live with S, navigating the German visa system, and a little bit of wedding planning, and it’s easy to say this ranks as one my biggest years yet. Throughout all of the traveling and the lovely little bits in between, it was a year full of growth, rest, excitement, food, and love. I can only imagine what 2015 has in store.
I cannot begin to imagine the feelings of confusion and fear that I’d feel after having gone to bed, just like any other night, only to wake up and discover that overnight I had been separated from my family, friends, job, and certain freedoms by a fence, later to become a series of walls, manned by armed guards and other devices to prevent escape. And yet, this is exactly what happened to those living in East Berlin one night in August of 1961. Before visiting Berlin, it was easy for me to think of the Wall as just another pop-culture reference in a U2 or Ramones song. However, the hardship, despair, and desperation caused by the GDR’s Berlin Wall, or, as it was officially known, the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart,” instantly registered as much more when I saw the Bernauer Straße memorial to those who died attempting to escape East Berlin, heard stories of people driving trucks into the wall and digging fifty meter tunnels under it, and observed the lasting disparity between West Berlin and it’s formerly Soviet-controlled counterpart. It was just twenty-five years ago that these two halves were divided, with West Berlin an island cut-off from Soviet-controlled East Germany, and East Berlin cut-off from just about everything. The city suffered such oppression and violence and today, it continues to actively recover, rebuild, and reconnect (they’re still working to connect the water pipes and electricity of East and West Berlin). In response to it’s troubled past and a consequence of it’s current rehabilitation and renaissance, the people of Berlin have taken on a somewhat defiantly proud attitude toward their city. In an interview in 2004, the city’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, gave his famous quote that is now the war cry of the gritty city’s young, proud, and cheeky artists and professionals: “Berlin is arm, aber sexy.” (“Berlin is poor, but sexy.”)