Sunday, July 23, 2006

Visit to Berlin

On my summer trip to Europe I not only spent some time visiting
friends and family, and some more time working in Freiburg (Germany),
but I also decided to take the train to Berlin on my way back. Berlin
is quite an impressive city, with a lot of history, albeit somewhat
painful. After arrivinng in the brand new train station Berlin
Hauptbahnhof, I spend the night in a hostel so I could explore the
city the next morning. The first thing to visit was the Pergamom
museum, which hosts a lot of beautiful Roman, Grecian, Babylonian and
Islamic art. It's always a lot of fun to just stand there between the
statues and mosaics and imagine what it would have been like to live
in this time, especially as a woman. An even more interesting thought
experiment is to imagine how it would be to time travel there, knowing
so many more things than they did about the universe and the mind, or
what would they think of a women dancing on the tips of her toes, or
an airplane? You can almost write a novel in your head in this way!

I then went on, passing through Unter den Linden (what a beautiful
street) and the Gendarmen Markt to Checkpoint Charlie, the boundary
between East and West Berlin. Just imagine how many people tried
desparately to escape there, or to reach their friends and family on
the other side of the wall. This is really quite painful. Even more
painful was the headquarters of the Gestapo, close to there. After
walking by the Tempodrome (a very futuristic building which I read
about in the interesting novel Omega Minor by Paul
Verhaeghen) and the Potsdamerplatz, I visited the Holocaust
Monument. The latter was also very painful, with lots of stories of
people who died in this dramatic period of recent European
history. the sadder part however, and the reason why we have to keep
remembering these events is that these things are still happening
these days, think of Rwanda, Tibet and so on... A powerful reminder of
the suffering in the world and for Buddhists maybe also a reminder to
practise tonglen, giving (of happiness) and receiving (of pain and
suffering) or loving kindness and compassion. A more joyful impression
of Jewish life I got in the Jewish museum, which was a quite
interactive display of customs and culture of the Jewish people. One
nice example were the cards in the shape of pomegranates on which
visitors could write their wish. these wishes were then hung in a
tree; pomegranates symbolize something like happiness and hope for the
Jewish people and are often eaten during holidays. In short, Berlin is
quite an eventful city, for which I had way too little time, yet even
short visits are quite good (since I do not very much enjoy being a
tourist, one day was quite good for me!).