Published in The Saturday Paper, June 2018

Photo credit: Ricky French

One of the ironic things resulting from the reunification of Berlin is that it’s probably harder for the average person to cross Checkpoint Charlie in 2018 than it was for East Berliners in 1988, such is the crush of bodies. You get funnelled south down Friedrichstaße, past Starbucks and the Currywurst Museum, gathering momentum like a twig in the rapids, before you hit a bottleneck at the former Allied-controlled border crossing and stop in an unholy pileup of arms and legs and selfie sticks. You can buy military caps, badges, DDR stickers and chiselled concrete chunks of dubious providence but purporting to be part of the Berlin Wall, encased in a Plexiglass and gleaming with technicolour graffiti; opals of the East.

Over at the cemetery-like Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe buses unload tourists to weave among the 2,711 solemn stelae. All art is open to interpretation, and the purpose of this memorial is revealed en masse as a fantastic place to play hide and seek. Teenage girls stalked each other among the grey columns and shrieked with delight as they bumped into friends. The sad, brutalist slabs wore rounded lids of snow and looked like a procession of coffins. Throughout the tourist areas the Berlin Wall has left trails of cobble-stone breadcrumbs through the snow, as though it woke up one morning and just shuffled off.

But museums, memorials and mementos only get you so far (to the end of your tether in my case). To know a city you should see it through the eyes of a local, and to see Berlin through the eyes of a local is to see it through the eyes of an immigrant, such as my old friend Matt….

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