Hello, my name’s Kim. Vanessa has invited me to write a guest blog post as I’ve just got back from visiting her and Jason in Berlin. I felt very proud (and a little guilty) to be their First Visitor, elbowing my way past other friends and relatives to land on their doorstep and scoff their delicious homemade apricot jam just four days after they arrived.
On Saturday I visited the Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind, an incredibly moving museum about a brush factory owner who employed blind and deaf Jewish workers in 1930s and 1940s Berlin. He forged papers to allow them to work, helped them hide from the secret police, and, after many of them were deported to concentration camps, sent them packages of food. Many of the workers died but others managed to escape or survive the war. Their letters to him – so full of hope and gratitude in an utterly desperate situation – moved me to tears.
We also saw another museum that will stay with me: the Tränenpalast, or ‘Palace of Tears’, in the old departure hall of Friedrichstraße railway station. During the era of the Berlin Wall, the station was a border crossing between East and West Berlin, and the building gets its name as the place where friends, families and lovers bid their emotional farewells after brief (and highly controlled) visits. One boy from East Berlin went on holiday to West Germany with his parents the day before the wall went up; they never returned but their outward train ticket, stamped 12 August 1961, is displayed in the museum. We also saw fascinating cine-reel footage from East and West German news programmes of the same incidents, including the building of the wall and violent protests against it. These riots – according to the East Germany programme – were of course caused by troublemakers who broke in from the West.
Both museums are free and highly worth a visit. The name ‘Tränenpalast’ confusingly doesn’t appear on the museum, but look out for the blue building with the sign ‘Grenz Erfahrungen’.
Back at Vanessa and Jason’s in the hip and happening district of Neukölln, we enjoyed a wonderful garden party for their block of flats, organised by downstairs neighbour Heinz. This included the fabulously German combination of coffee and three different types of cake, followed by copious amount of beer and a barbeque. As if we hadn’t indulged enough, we also explored a very cute local bar later on. And we even found time inbetween for a few rounds of the extremely addictive word game Bananagrams. (No hangover for me the next day, but I did find myself suffering Bananagram withdrawal symptoms…)
We also went to the Hackescher Markt and visited the Ampelmann shop, where anything you could possibly think of to buy (from a pen to an iPhone case to a cycling helmet) is now available with the old-fashioned East Berlin traffic light man, who struts out jauntily in green, and then stops with arms outstretched in red. And we had a very enjoyable stroll around Museum Island, where we took photos in front of the beautiful Berlin Cathedral, and narrowly avoided getting in the way of a family playing ‘kubb‘.
Thank you so much, Vanessa and Jason, for a wonderful weekend in Berlin. If anyone reading this is thinking of visiting them too, get in there quick!