This week in horrible news has Stevie remembering Berlin. His thoughts remind me of how all of us are Boston Strong. Hate never wins. Our hearts are in Berlin (and so many places where horror happens), but Berlin can take it.
It was in Berlin where I apparently ordered a “Coffee with ice from the road, please.”
It was in Berlin where I smoked my first and last e-cigarette. The nicotine still hasn’t come off my face.
It was in Berlin that I leaned casually against a wall where, just a few decades earlier, I would have been shot.
It was in May 2012, that I visited a friend who was working in Berlin. I’d always wanted to see this legendary city so I finally had an excuse. Newly separated, I traveled alone. It was my first real trip as a single guy. It felt… odd. Berlin. Legendary. Land of spies. Ground Zero of the Cold War. Home base for the Holocaust.
And so, so many places to get beer.
Berlin is not generally a beautiful city. It can be as ugly as it is fascinating. Certainly, the part that was West Berlin is better looking than the former East Berlin. It’s sort of the difference between Brooklyn and Queens, if Queens had been flattened and been rebuilt out of bad concrete.
There are parts that are beautiful. The Grunewald is Berlin’s equivalent of Central Park, but ten times larger– plus a lake. Wannsee sits on the water here, a beautiful beach and home to the eponymous 1942 conference where the Nazis decided on “The Final Solution to The Jewish Question.” There are contradictions and cognitive dissonances everywhere.
At the Brandenberg Gate, where Ronald Reagan famously challenged Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” tourists mingled with street performers dressed, tastelessly, as American and East German soldiers, Darth Vader, Yoda and Mickey Mouse Gone Bad. This is now banned. However, you can still find costumed Fake Soldiers at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous gate that used to separate East and West Berlin.
I danced on Hitler’s grave in Berlin. Really. It’s not marked, but where Hitler was burned on a pyre outside his bunker in April 1945, now sits a small parking lot capable of holding, maybe, 10 cars. Germany didn’t want lots of Neo-Nazis hanging about the place, so they literally paved over history. (OK, almost literally.) My friend and I pulled in. I got out of the car, danced a small jig, and got back in. Good enough.
Berlin is no stranger to horrors, and this week’s is a mere scratch compared to what it’s been through. Still, how awful. How unfair. How absurd and shameful. An attack on Christmas shoppers. It’s beyond the pale. We all agree on that. And we stand, of course, with Berlin. Ich Bin Ein and all that.
But those who are claiming responsibility have nothing to claim. They haven’t accomplished a thing. They murdered people, yes. But they are a mere footnote to a great city’s long and complicated history. They stand for nothing. They may cost Angela Merkel her job, but another chancellor will come along. Berlin and Germany will go on, being a complex, industrious powerhouse.
You want to hurt Berlin?
Try harder. You’ve got nothing on history.