Yesterday, the lovely Dietmar arranged for me to do a tour with his company – Berliner Unterwelten.
What a nice thing to do, I hear you say. And really, it was all the more so as this was the third time he’d arranged it. Honestly, I don’t know why this man puts up with me.
He had originally wanted me to do a tour of the flak tower in Humboldthain Park and organised it several weeks ago. I was instructed to be at the office no later than 2.45 to pick up my ticket. As I’m practically German now, this was no problem. I was even a few minutes early. Unfortunately, it was the wrong office.
After a dash on the underground, I made it to the right office at around two minutes after three. The girl was very nice about it, but the tour had already started so I was out of luck. (Incidentally, this girl would become my new landlady around two weeks after this – small world.)
The next week, Dietmar kindly arranged for me to do the tour again. This time, I was on time, at the right office – but unfortunately in the wrong shoes. I’d somehow missed the bit in the programme about sturdy footwear being a must. After four years in Latvia, sturdy footwear is just not in my vocabulary.
After apologising profusely again, Dietmar organised a ticket for me yesterday. Unfortunately, the flak tower tour is now finished until April – bats take over the building as their preferred hibernation destination – so I was going to do Tour M instead, “Under the Berlin Wall”.
Dietmar also provided me with a ticket for the Germania exhibition which I was to go to before the tour. My landlady handed over the tickets, gave me directions on how to find the museum and off I went. I realised shortly afterwards that I clearly hadn’t been listening properly.
For anyone who has never been in Gesundbrunnen station, this place is a maze in mental asylum green. I went up and down stairs and escalators, in and out of doors, walked along platforms, and did more u-turns than a vodka-fuelled Latvian driver. Eventually, after a rather one-sided German conversation with a transport worker, I found it.
“Myth of Germania” is an absolutely fascinating insight into the mind of a megalomaniac. Aided and abetted by the architect, Albert Speer, “Myth of Germania” explores Hitler’s planning of an über metropolis, “not meant merely to serve Berlin’s citizens with a modernized habitat but rather as a representation of the Nazi regime’s sheer power.”
Saying that I enjoyed it sounds all sorts of wrong – “enjoy” is just not the right word for an experience like this, but it’s an important and extremely well put-together exhibition and one that I highly recommend. (Drop me a line and I’ll give you detailed instructions on how to find it…)
After a quick cuppa, I made my way back to the meeting point for the tour. I was a) early, b) in the right place, and c) in the correct footwear. Success.
The (rather cute German) tour guide had everyone’s attention right from the beginning as we explored bunkers and heard stories of the Germans’ ingenuity in figuring out ways to escape East Germany, by going under the Berlin wall. The transport system, the sewerage system and self-made tunnels were all utilised and we got up close and personal with two out of three.
We learned of the successes and the failures, the tales of true love, and the sheer bravery and spirit of these people that just would not be kept down. Although everyone knows about the Berlin Wall, this tour really hammered home the human aspect of it.
After (finally) managing to take one of the Berliner Unterwelten tours, I can’t even find the words to say how much I admire Dietmar for setting up this association. If you ask him about it, he’ll be incredibly modest, so I’m going to blow his trumpet for him – which I’m sure he’ll hate…
Established in 1997, Berliner Unterwelten researches and documents Berlin’s underground. I may not be completely correct with the figures, but I think in its first year, BU had 3,000 visitors; last year, it passed the 280,000 mark. And although 450 people are part of this organisation, it really is a testament to the awesomeness that is Dietmar.
Easily one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met, I think meeting him on my first night here was probably one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. (And his brother can sing the Irish anthem.)
In this city which I now call home, but that is still relatively new to me, it’s amazing that I already have someone that I can call a true friend. I honestly feel that with him in my life, anything is possible. And if that’s too mushy for most of my readers to handle, “tough titty” as another good German friend once said.
So, if you come to Berlin, be sure to check out one of BU’s tours. Who knows, some day, I might even be your tour guide – as soon as my German gets good enough to call emergency services in case you have a heart attack on my watch…