but as a history and people buff, I always strive to see as much as I can of this amazing place. Like all cities, you could spend weeks in the German capital, and not discover all there is to see, but physically being there encourages me to read more about its history. I am an avid history reader, but for me the role of fiction and memoir is equally important in learning about a place or time: Judith Kerr’s wonderful When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit illuminates what it was like to be a child in Berlin and fleeing from oppression, Paul Dowswell’s excellent Auslander is a great read for teenagers studying Nazi Berlin. I can recommend two witness accounts by non-natives about Berlin during the war years, Christabel Bielenberg’s The Past is Myself and Marie Vassiltchikov's Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945. And last but not least, there is Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, based on his father’s experience of the Holocaust.
I can’t speak too highly of the tour guides I’ve encountered in Berlin: at the Wannsee Villa, Topography of Terror, German History Museum etc. They are clearly dedicated to presenting 20th century German history for visiting schoolchildren with as much clarity as possible. So what did I see this time? We had a guided tour of the Olympic Stadium in Charlottenburg. The ideology behind the building of the Stadium was explained: how Hitler rejected the glass structure first suggested and brought in Speer to devise the monumental, classical final version; how the stand where Hitler stood to view the games was cut out and removed to avoid it becoming a neo-Nazi shrine; how the 1936 Olympics were used as a massive, and mostly successful, propaganda campaign for Hitler’s regime (nothing changed there then?); how the signs saying No Dogs, No Jews were put back up as soon as the athletes and journalists had gone home. Recently a new modern roof has been built, and Berlin’s much-loved football club Hertha BSC commissioned a special blue running-track in their colours. The surrounding sports fields, once parking-place for the British Army’s tanks when this area was part of the British Occupation Sector after the War, have now been returned to Berlin residents for their recreational use.
On Saturday evening I went to see a German friend in an amateur production of Agatha Christie’s The Unexpected Guest. I followed quite a lot of the play in my now less than fluent German, and just managed to work out who-dun-it in the last few minutes! The venue was a beautifully restored 19th century covered market hall – the Arminiusmarkthalle – in Moabit, and the evening was enlivened by a small diamante t-shirted miniature dog in the company of a large adoring lady, who barked at crucial moments (dog not the lady!), and a drunken man who laughed and commented very loudly throughout the first half. The man was gently persuaded to leave at the interval, the dog stayed for the denouement!
On Sunday we took the school group round some of the WW2/Cold War sights, using Berlin’s superb public transport system and shanks’ pony. We paused in front of the Reichstag for a quick revision of Hitler’s take-over of power and then on to a circuit of the Brandenburg Gate, the Jewish Memorial, the old Nazi Ministry building in Wilhelmstrasse, Checkpoint Charlie, Alexanderplatz, the Dom and the German History Museum. The students had visited Bergen/Belsen en route to Berlin, and the little museum underneath the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was a good counterpoint, an excellent visit for people of all ages, but particularly for schoolchildren. With its quiet, darkened rooms, illuminated by large lit facsimiles of postcards and letters, its photographic displays taking you right into the centre of some of the personal family stories behind the terrible massive numbers and facts of the Final Solution, and the room filled only with benches, where the short facts of lives of those murdered in the Holocaust are spoken by an aonymous recorded voice, one after the other (apparently it would take over 6 years to read them all), this is a place that goes right to the heart. I had to wipe a tear from my eye, and one of the teachers had a similar experience when he read a letter written from a young man to his father en route to Auschwitz.
There is currently a fantastic display on the street corner by Checkpoint Charlie of the background to the Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall. Particularly touching was a photograph of the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich playing for passers-by following the fall of the Wall in 1989.
Berlin. Their train journey from Amsterdam had been interrupted for 8 hours by a WW2 unexploded German bomb under the line. Not an uncommon experience even now seventy years on apparently in an area of Holland that was severely blitzed. The two young women catching up on their sleep in the seats next to me on the flight back had gone to Berlin for the ‘clubbing’.
I hope to visit many more times, and with a bit of luck and a fair following wind, the Berlin Marathon would be a nice cherry on the top of my running ambitions!