Home > Uncategorized > “Berlin! Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!”

“Berlin! Berlin! Wir fahren nach Berlin!”

I’ve been in touch with the office of Michael Cramer (EU Parliament Member, major force in the creation of the Berlin Wall Trail and author of the corresponding guidebook, author of the Iron Curtain Trail guidebooks) for several months regarding this project. They’ve been enormously helpful, providing me with information, local contacts, and on Sunday, the chance to meet Mr. Cramer in Berlin.

I got the email on Friday evening after arriving in Neustadt. I made arrangements as quickly as possible and on Sunday morning, I began a 10-hour, 6-station journey by train to arrive at Literaturehaus Cafe that evening for the appointment. I was sweaty and a bit disheveled by the time I got there, but Michael welcomed me warmly with a handshake and an invitation to eat ice cream. For nearly an hour and a half, we discussed the Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, how they are represented in German history, and, of course, remembered by the cycle paths that now trace the former borders. Mr. Cramer stressed the importance of the trails in preserving the history of Europe’s division, and when I asked him about the generation gap I’d noticed among Germans, the teacher in him shone through as he agreed with the necessity of educating the next generation.

One of the goals of the Iron Curtain Trail is to promote the creation of a European identity, which Mr. Cramer believes to be essential to future peace and understanding on the continent. The experience of cycling the trail, as opposed to travel by train or car, therefore offers more opportunities to interact with different countries and cultures in a tangible way and allows cyclists to form a deeper connection with the land they traverse. The political efforts to coordinate the Iron Curtain Trail across the continent also constitute a step toward a new sense of unity with many nations working to commemorate their shared, modern history of division and reunification.

A bit off-handedly, I asked Mr. Cramer why so many GDR watchtowers and border posts remained on private property, and were even repurposed by the residents. He gave me a very thoughtful response, explaining the mentality of German history. German history is so bad, Mr. Cramer said, that Germans have a more reflective attitude toward the past than other nations. German history is instead often regarded as an open discussion where there are few taboos. The watchtower that has been converted to a house, and the striped post that now functions as a flower pot hanger are not flippant dismissals of their dark history, but instead serve to simultaneously acknowledge the past, but also demonstrate that it no longer binds the people.

At the same time, it is undeniable that ghosts of the past remain. Mr. Cramer told me about a recent study on deer living near the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. By placing sensors on the animals, scientists showed that even today, the deer on both sides would approach the border and turn around without crossing. This habit was apparently passed down to younger generations as well. I asked him whether this applied to people and Mr. Cramer said that he himself was hyper-aware of the border, and was always aware of having crossed it, even if he had been sleeping on a train. I also asked him about ongoing stereotypes or differences between Eastern and Western Germans, and he acknowledged that this was unfortunately still the case, and would only be erased by time.

I was absolutely thrilled to meet with Mr. Cramer and have the chance to hear his own views on the Iron Curtain and German history. Mr. Cramer was not only generous with his time, but also bestowed upon me more of his guidebooks, and a suggestion to attend the Berliner Mauerstreifzüge next Saturday, which he leads occasionally throughout the summer. I agreed eagerly and immediately made plans to put my new guidebook, “The Berlin Wall Trail” to use in the meantime…

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. July 15, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    Love this post Kate! What a great perspective to learn about how the German people “acknowledge the past, but also demonstrate that it no longer binds” them.

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