We departed at a meagre 11pm from Tiverton parkway train station headily catching a train into Exeter to spy our entourage of the next few days when Louis and I made the executive decision to sensibly stop off at The Imperial for a night cap, quick woozy brew to keep our spirits high for the ominous journey to the East as we eventually bundled onto the back of a coach to Gatwick, ticked off the register and told to 'mind your language'.
What followed, through a thick fog of gross fatigue, inebriation and perpetual nicotine fixes from hanging round the back of the group as we entered Berlin after concluding our intrepid embark, fending through customs and other such airport jargon was a rich Eastern melange. Though not quite as rose tinted as my minds eye, skies were heavy and sheet white omnipresently. The sheer vastness was what struck me first, the sheer velocity and magnitude of German architecture- looming sheets of stagnant grey concrete, splayed luridly in graffiti tags, scattered over all manner of buildings and previously bare faces. It felt barren, sharp and a cold juxtaposition of old and new architecture; all with the unanimous intention to astonish- the 'Reichstag' gloriously ancient though with the recent acquisition of a glass dome. In the evenings we explored aptly put as a 'PG-13' segment of the nightlife in Alexanderplatz. Dipping our toes fleetingly in a gay bar the size of a larger than average postage stamp we poked our heads through of the doorway (the frame of which brandished a 'We Welcome HIV Positive!' sticker) inhaling a musk of an enclosed carcinogenic smog (-it's Berlin darling, you smoke indoors) and glancing a few withered revellers we made a hasty dash to a local bier garten- the likes of which are abundant.
The big American chains are prevalent on the high street, a startling reminder of globalisation as you stroll past the fourth consecutive Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks, the gag starts to wear a little thin. The Markets, though stunning are inevitably an almighty tourist trap and one can't help but be irked to compare to Exeter's own 'authentic German Christmas Market'. Here Gluhwein flows freer than water.
Given the 'History' facade of the trip we pay a visit to several local museums, Berlin wall commemorations and Sachsenhausen concentration camp to gain a contextual perspective to the city. What strikes many of us is the realisation of the relevancy of events in the relative recent time frame in which the Holocaust happened and the extent to which it still affects generations today. The image of the Nazi Medical chamber in Sachsenhausen is one that shall be indelibly engraved in my memory. The clinical labortory perfection of the room was silencing. Tiled entirely in white, two white glass cabinets stood at the rear with two operating tables in white on either side of you as you entered the chamber. One couldn't help but be persistently consciously aware of the mortuary beneath your feet, and the intense isolation and sparseness of the camp truly emphasised the tremendous number of those captured.
A city once divided, the astonishing history to the city of Berlin given the cultural, social and political shifts over the past 100 years gives for an intriguing and maturing voyage, and having ventured from my mild Devonian home I found myself cursing the wind at having missed out on the Dali exhibition. There's no chance in hell I'll ever get to see that in bloody Barnstaple.
All images my own.