Touring Europe while stuck in Berlin

Even if Berlin wasn’t in its fifteenth month of a pandemic and the seventh month of a hard lockdown – with the recent addition of a 9pm curfew – this would still feel like a strange year. It’s early May and this morning I awoke to blue skies, brilliant sunlight and soaring temperatures. Nothing strange in that, except yesterday there was a snow storm followed by a thunderstorm that incorporated a hailstorm. This is not typical.

In medieval Europe, people interpreted these types of events as signs of the End of Days. The mass hysteria brought on by the Black Death saw 14th century writers record sightings of large demonic dogs roaming the streets of towns just before everyone started dying. In 21st century Europe, signs of the covid and climate apocalypse have come to feel vaguely normal.

Wedding District Court, Berlin, Germany
Colourful housing, Wedding, Berlin, Germany
Protest statue, Berlin, Germany
Karl Marx, Berlin, Germany
Märkisches Museum, Berlin, Germany
German Parliament
Bundestag, Berlin, Germany

Still, it’s a relief that Germany’s vaccine programme has finally kicked into gear. This seems largely in response to a realisation that if millions of people had to face a summer without a holiday, mass civil disobedience would be the outcome. It’s no coincidence that there’s an election looming. We get our first vaccination very soon, raising hopes that we might finally be able to leave the city limits.

The last time that happened was seven months ago. Over the winter Berlin began to feel a bit like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village and brought to mind the Berlin of the Cold War. I remember taking the train from West Germany in the late 1980s, travelling through communist East Germany to reach exotic, West Berlin. A literal island of the West surrounded by a wall in a sea of Soviet red.

German Parliament
Bundestag, Berlin, Germany
Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
The hand of time, Berlin, Germany
Apartment building, Wedding, Berlin, Germany
Siemenssteg, Berlin, Germany

In the absence of free movement, when the weather has allowed we’ve been pounding the streets of Berlin. In a different era our peregrinations might have led us to be recognised as Berlin’s version of Phyllis Pearsall – the woman who walked over 3,000 miles down 23,000 London streets over the course of a year to create the London A-Z – a story told in the book Mrs P’s Journey.

We haven’t walked 23,000 streets yet, and we have the benefit of a smartphone, but if lockdown goes on for much longer I might just start a Berlin A-Z project. The upside is that, even though Berlin has largely been shut down for almost half of the time we’ve lived here, we have explored even the most far flung corners of the city on foot.

River Spree, Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany
Berlin Wall watchtower, Germany
Sophienkirche, Berlin, Germany
No One Left Behind, Berlin, Germany
German Parliament
Bundestag at sunset, Berlin, Germany

That’s how we found ourselves walking streets named after Belgian towns in an area of Wedding, known as Red Wedding due to its communist ties in the 1920s and 30s. These quickly turned into streets named after Dutch and Luxembourg towns. This area was in the French-controlled sector when Berlin was divided in 1945, nearby is a collection of streets known as ‘Little England’.

It’s not the same as travelling to other countries, but in lockdown you take what you can get. Wedding is an area we’ve not spent much time in and, while traditionally a poorer working neighbourhood, gentrification seems to be transforming parts of it into havens for trendy coffee shops and rent inflation. This will only accelerate now the German courts have struck down Berlin’s five-year rent cap.

Poor But Sexy, Berlin, Germany
Outdoor seating, Wedding, Berlin, Germany
Marx and Engels, Berlin, Germany
Wedding District Court, Berlin, Germany
Berlin, Germany
Konzerthaus, Berlin, Germany

It’s hard to get a real feel for a neighbourhood when most things are still closed. We’ve been noting down nice looking cafes, restaurants and beer gardens, and now have an extensive list for when things reopen. Typically, after three years in the city, we’ll be leaving Berlin in the summer and now find ourselves up against the clock to do all the things we’ve missed out on in lockdown.

17 thoughts on “Touring Europe while stuck in Berlin

  1. Thanks for all these photos. I was especially drawn to the statues in this post, but then again I always love looking at architecture and buildings. Glad you will be vaccinated and ready to get out and about when the time comes. I had my first meeting with a group of ladies today — no masks required!

    1. I am so envious! Really looking forward to returning to as close to normality as possible. Can’t wait to get the vaccine and start the process of re-engaging with the real world.

  2. I do remember some of the spots you show. The Marx and Engels statues in particular. I also appreciate in those days of statue teardown, that Germans have left the East Germany statues as they were.
    So waterzooi is scheduled for this summer? Goed. Tot ziens Paul.

    1. Both the Marx statues are indeed in the former East, the single statue is on Karl Marx Allee – there aren’t so many left these days, but Marx’s reputation has been rehabilitated. Unlike Stalin Allee, which thankfully did get renamed. We should be relocated by end of July – a whole new experience, moving countries in a pandemic!

      1. Stalin Allée should indeed be renamed. One might start a lot of debate on Marx. I did study him in College.
        Hopefully July should be a tad better? Any chance of your getting your shots soon?

        1. Marx is something of an enigma. I read a biography of his time in London which humanised him for me – the boozing raconteur always short of cash, fighting with his allies and foes alike, often living one step away from destitution (although with rich friends who helped out), and always putting his family through misery.
          I finally got jabbed earlier in the week. I felt horrible for 36 hours but much recovered now and looking forward to the second jab so I can finally go places again. How are things with you Brian?

        2. Rousseau was also a sorry fellow, particularly with his kids. Abandoned a few along the way.
          Marx should be left in the History books, as a painter of 19th century exploitation, but outside economy books. 😉

        3. And about the shot, you seem to have had a strong reaction. Well, it’s done. When is your second shot due?
          All well. Thanks. Spending a week in Cuernavaca. Out of the monster city, to enjoy some sun and a pool. Cheers

  3. Berlin must offer many resources for a prolonged lockdown. I’m curious to see more now that the better days are back.

    1. We’re lucky that it’s a large city with lots of green space, it certainly could have been a lot worse! Looking forward to things reopening though.

  4. Ooh! You’re moving on again…
    I’ll miss your discovery of Berlin, it’s been fun.
    I have to say we know so much more about our own neighbourhood as a result of lockdown. However, I do miss having bigger places to explore. This is a town of around 10,000 people, and we do now feel that we’ve exhausted most of the possibilities for walking and exploring.

    1. I know I shouldn’t complain, but walking for hours on end is more rewarding if there’s a cafe or beer garden to break up the journey. Although on some walks I’d have settled for a public toilet. We’ll miss Berlin, I don’t feel we got the best of it this last year, but we’re not going far so can revisit anytime. Brussels is next up, looking forward to the food!

      1. Ah Brussels! You’ll need to walk a lot if you’re waistline is not to suffer! My 13 month stint there took about another 8 months to remedy. There are some VERY fine places to eat and some very fine places to visit nearby, although if you plan on driving much you’ll curse the road system, especially the tunnels and underpasses that you vanish down just as you see the sign up above telling you your exit was there. My first work day there, I set off in very good time and 40 minutes later found myself right back where I started, with no idea how that had happened.

        1. I’m very much looking forward to variety of culinary treats Brussels has to offer, but combined with a love for Belgian beers it is one of the risks of moving there. I’m hoping it’ll be more like the Netherlands when it comes to cycling, which should help, if not long walks in the surrounding woods!

  5. I loved this odd lock-down tour of Berlin during the quiet time there, I hope you get to do your bar and Cafe visits really soon. Stay safe x

    1. Thank you. I’m hopeful things will begin to reopen soon and life return to something close to normal once most people have had a vaccine. I can’t wait!

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