Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Where in the World was Kellie Hazell: Berlin, 1996

Last week I posted my first installment of the "Where in the World was Kellie Hazell" series: East Germany and East Berlin in 1988.

As mentioned in that college-paper interview, I went back to Berlin in 1996. Instead of driving, I took the train. (About half of my European adventures were accomplished via train; I miss that transit system.) And I went with my then-boyfriend instead of my family. I think we were on the faster-than-average train but not on the fastest available. I tried to find a distinction between the former West and East Germanys similar to what I had observed before, but I couldn't see it. There was no drastic change in the color scale, there was no sudden difference in building style. Maybe the disparity of those elements was much more prevalent right up against the border during the times of the Iron Curtain? Times like these I wish I hadn't been so young during that time.

I said it in the interview: the only real distinction between East and West Berlin was the shocking number of construction cranes dotting the eastern side of Berlin. The wall was only there in memorialized slabs, and the sterility of the border on the former East Berlin side of things was all but gone. I found it oddly disappointing that there wasn't still a bigger stretch of it left so I could see the past and the present and the future in greater relief. That and I really wanted to chisel out a piece of the wall with my own two hands.

We only had part of a day to explore Berlin. I don't remember much about the trip aside from a few scattered images of the train ride, standing in subway stations, those cranes, and the Brandenberg Gate. Last week I talked about how you could only see it from a distance, and even then it had the garish Berlin Wall marring it in the background. But on that trip we could walk right up to it, and the only thing detracting from its history and beauty was the marketplace of cheap tourist souvenirs that had sprung up at its base. Ah, how perfect a juxtaposition of memories: the cold, cruel leaching of color and life from the communist era against the chaos of capitalism in its most opportunistic venue. I should've bought a T-shirt.

I wish I could remember more about this trip. Berlin has so much history and beauty; surely we had enough time to see more than I remember. But it was 1996, I was a senior in high school. I spent most of that school year in a disconnect, eager to "get on with my life" and experience college and take the next step toward my dreams. There's a lot that happened that year that I only half-remember or remember as if it happened to someone else. I had the ridiculous notion that that year had to be perfect because it was my last year of being a child. I never daydream about reliving my youth, but there are times that I wish I could whisper some advice in my younger self's ear, namely, "Pay attention here."

Next week I'll detail my journey to Prague in 1992, when it was still the capital of Czechoslovakia.

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