Our apartment for the month of July is at Schumannstraße 16, very near the drama mask signs in the top third of the map above that indicate the Deutsches Theater. You can see how close we are to the Spree River, the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), and the red and blue lines that indicate the former location of the wall that separated Berlin into east and west until 1989.
For the first few days of our stay here, we’ve wandered mostly around what used to be East Berlin, exploring our immediate neighbourhood and strolling along Unter den Linden.
It’s been 33 years since reunification, and it’s becoming harder and harder for non-Berliners like us to differentiate between the two halves of the city, especially since the stark utilitarian Communist buildings of the post-war era are gradually replaced by attractive modern ones, and lovely historic buildings that were neglected under Soviet rule are repaired and refurbished. The most obvious reminder of the Soviet period is the massive Russian Embassy located along Unter den Linden a few blocks east of the Brandenburg Gate.
We took the opportunity on our first Wednesday here to visit the nearest once-per-week eco-market at the Nordbahnhof (north rail station), one of four “Marktzeit” (market time) branded markets, each running just one day per week in a quarter of Berlin. Sadly, this pop-up organic market was a big disappointment, with less than a dozen vendors, and only one sad-looking vegetable seller (the veggies looked sad too). So instead we ended up at REWE, another German grocery chain, and picked up fresh pretzel buns for lunch, some huge sweet cherries from Türkiye, and a large piece of Bienenstich (bee-sting cake) for dessert.
I’m still glad we walked to the market though, because the route took us right to the Berlin Wall Memorial, located very near the Nordbahnhof on Bernauerstraße.
It’s was truly sobering to walk on the grass that now grows in the area once known as the “death strip”: the belt of sand-or-gravel-covered land between the two main barriers of the Berlin Wall. From 1961 through 1989 it was constantly under surveillance, eventually by guards in watchtowers who could and did shoot anyone they saw trying to escape from East to West.
Between 1961 and 1989, at least 140 people were killed or died at the Wall in connection with the GDR border regime, including 101 people who were shot, accidentally killed, or killed themselves when they were caught trying to make it over the Wall; 131 of them are remembered via black & white photo portraits printed onto glass and accompanied by their birth and death dates on the memorial called The Window of Remembrance.
Dinner tonight was an “Elvis” (Italian salami, ham, mushrooms, peppers – and no cheese!) pizza and German blonde beer at Pizzeria Marienkäfer (“Ladybug Pizzeria”), just a 300m stroll from our front door. As you can tell from my smile, not much makes me happier than yummy food eaten alfresco on a street in Europe with my favourite guy!