July 28, 2006
I was in Berlin for a weekend. Did the usual touristy stuff. Among other things, had Fabian as our walking tour guide. Instead of the advertised 4.5 hours, the tour took like 5.5, but I absolutely loved it because Fabian was great and so was Berlin. We had walked around a bit before on the previous days, and it was great to have the walking tour take us around the same paths and confirm what we had already seen before, beefed up with funny stories.
The story I liked most about Berlin was about how the Russian embassy (previously a Soviet embassy) had a statue of Lenin around in the yard facing Unter den Linden (the main boulevard in Berlin) and the Russian ambassador thought it was fine. Then suddenly it was announced that Bill Clinton would come around so they had to do something about the statue. You see, the Russian thinking goes, its fine the statue of Lenin having stand around in democratic Berlin, the capital of Germany, for five years, but once the American president comes around, it suddenly becomes a problem. So they needed to remove the bust. But it wasn’t hollow – it was full cast bronze, weighing about two tons, and they couldn’t remove it by hand, neither could they get a crane in one afternoon.
So Clinton drives by Unter den Linden, and in front of Russian embassy he sees not a statue of Lenin, and not a line of people or Russian or American flag covering it as we had expected, but just an awkward wooden box placed on the whole thing. I think this story illustrates Russian imperialism and its recent patheticness all in one.
The other personal epiphany I had was visiting what they call the Typography of Terror, and specifically the work of Robert L. Jackson, chief U.S. prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials. I think everything that happened in the post-WW2-trials years remains underappreciated, yet it was a great contribution to humanity. The following words of prosecutor Jackson sum it up briefly, yet impactfully, at least for me.
That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hands of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgement of the law, is one of the most significant tributes that Power ever has paid to Reason.
Plus there was the CSD Berlin, a.k.a the Gay/Love/Whatever parade. I was happy about having a chance to being around such an event, because there’s too little tolerance around still. It does not matter whether you personally belong to one of the factions that’s represented in the parade – it matters that these ideas and the people carrying them are safe and happy to present them in our current world, claiming tolerance but really rife with racism and hatred. These latter ones were not around at that parade and it was, for me, a celebration of humanity and tolerance, above all. And nothing symbolizes it better than a police van with the rainbow flag :)
All in all, I felt Berlin to be a human city. Of human proportions and a comfortable crowd. No matter what time we went to the subway (“U-Bahn”), it was never too crowded to feel yourself still comfortable. And you could get around in a short timeframe and the historic centre was pretty walkable. Plus it just felt nice – but I’m sort of a fan of German language and culture (which a lot of Estonian is based on, anyway) so I’m biased.