I lose another vitally important item but begin to explore one of the world's great cities
Wednesday 21 Sep 11 - Thursday 22 Sep 11
I left fairly early the following morning for Berlin. There didn’t seem to be any seats available, so I sat in the corridor for the entirety of the five-hour trip. We certainly covered a fair distance in those five hours, though, reaching speeds of up to 200km/h.
I had to navigate the S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems to get to the Australian Embassy, where I needed to obtain my emergency passport to get home. I’m not allowed to travel home on my British passport with an Australian visa, apparently, because as an Australian citizen it’s not possible for me to get a visa.
They were incredibly helpful there, from the security guy who didn’t make me unpack my rucksack and then brought me a glass of water, to the consulate guy who guided me through the process. All done in half an hour, and I could collect it the next day.
Back on the train, and I caught the S-Bahn out to the Berlin suburb of Wilhelmshagen, where the Lerch family was waiting for me. They’d very kindly agreed to let me stay for the four nights I was in the city, giving me their daughter’s bedroom. This was fitting, because she was in my room back in Melbourne – she’s been staying there since early in the year.
I met the father Tom, brothers Noah and Vali, and later mum Ina, who all spoke brilliant English (in stark contrast to my absolutely useless German), and made sure I settled in well.
Ina even drove me most of the way into the city the following morning, and gave me her yearly transport ticket to use. I used it to get to the Jewish Museum, a particularly striking building with sharp, jagged edges and the use of some very interesting architectural motifs.
The basement of the building is broken up into three corridors, or ‘axes’ – the Axis of Exile, the Axis of the Holocaust and the Axis of Continuity.
The Axis of Exile shows some artefacts from those who fled, and an explanation of why they did. It leads out into the Garden of Exile, which is comprised of a number of high concrete pillars, out of which grow birch trees, and is constructed on a slight slope. High concrete walls prevent you from seeing the road. This was supposed to make you feel slightly confused or disorientated, like exiles would have been upon arriving in new corners of the earth – lots went to the States, but many, like my family, went to Australia, and others went to South America or even India.
The Axis of the Holocaust tells moving stories of those who were killed, and leads to the Holocaust Tower. This is a single room, surrounded by high concrete walls, which block out all light other than a small strip, and do let some sound in from the road outside. The feeling is supposed to be similar to a concentration camp, the same sense of entrapment, and it certainly works.
The Axis of Continuity, as its name suggests, continues, and traces the history of Jews in Germany and elsewhere the start of the modern era. Mostly, unfortunately, it’s a tale of repression and anti-Semitism, but a very interesting and insightful story, with occasional tales of people who rose to the top of their profession despite prejudices, and also explaining some of the customs, such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings.
About halfway around this trip, I checked my pockets and discovered that I no longer had the yearly ticket. I checked again and again, and still couldn’t find it – to this day, I still don’t know how I lost it. But I did.
Trying not to panic, I went out of the museum, found an internet café and looked up Tom’s number on the email. I gave him a call using a payphone, and he told me that it only had a week left to run anyway, and not to worry about it. That was a huge relief. I suppose I would have gone to the police and made a report, but I don’t know how the system works or even whether they could have done anything about it. As it was, I just left the money for a weekly ticket when I departed.
So, panic mostly over, I went back to the museum and finished it off, as it were. It was strange thinking that many of these German Jews were potential distant relatives. And I’m sure I’ve thought of this before, but it still strikes me as weird – without the Nazis, I wouldn’t exist. The Liebholds wouldn’t have moved to Melbourne, and so my grandparents on Dad’s side would never have met, and that’s generally bad news for one’s existence.
I went back to the Australian Embassy and picked up my passport, then walked to Alexanderplatz, one of Berlin’s biggest squares. It’s also located at the east end of Unter den Linden, quite possibly the city’s grandest street, with a disproportionate number of incredibly grand buildings.
I stopped at one of them, the Marienkirche, or Mary’s Church, and took in the statues and altar. The fountain just next door was incredible, too, with crocodiles and angels spurting water in all directions.
I saw the university, the Berliner Dom (Cathedral), the art gallery, some modern building, and then finished at the best of the lot, the Brandenburger Tor (gate), once part of the Berlin Wall and before then a gate for the city, I presume.
There was a ‘room of silence’ to one side, where you were invited to sit down and hear nothing. It was quite interesting – my brain kept up a bit of a hum, as if in disbelief that there was absolutely nothing to hear. Then someone’s phone went off.
I caught the S-bahn back to Wilhemshagen, where I joined the men of the family at the dinner table for a bite of pizza. Ina had gone off to a conference in southern Germany, but she’ll be in Australia visiting Marie when I get back so I’ll see her again soon.