‘God! Help me stay alive, among this deadly love’ by Philippa Hawley
It’s good to stroll the hard, grey pavements of Berlin, pass by Unter den Linden, wander in the Gendarmenmarkt, walk beneath the giant arches of the Brandenburg gate, saunter along the River Smee; even visit the Reichstag and climb its glass domed roof. It’s moving to see buildings and galleries set between sections of wall, or to stand in utter silence among the emotional blocks of Jewish memories. Pavements lead to stations, stations look like cathedrals, cathedrals look like palaces, and the museums have their very own island.
Modern architecture seduces me in Potsdamer Platz, and near Checkpoint Charlie the old bombards me with more, painful history. This is a city to wander through if you have good shoes, but there are efficient, well-labelled buses too if your legs become tired. The rail network seems less straightforward at first but one soon can find the way.
I take the U1 train to Warshauer Str. to find the East Side Gallery. The track rises above residential streets where I enjoy surveying urban life, until the train travels down to the left, and draws into a green painted station. A short walk along a sloping street, inhabited by convenience stores, hair salons and cafes leads me to a friendly riverside bar, where a glass of Berlin beer is called for, before a slow walk back along the wall to the city centre.
Street art adorns both sides of the concrete gallery, and I slip from North to South, (or is it East to West?) unable to decide which aspect is best. Almost one and a half kilometres of art is going to take a while. At first I just want to look, feel and imagine the passions that inspired these works of art, but soon I find myself snapping away with my smartphone.
‘Look at that. What the … ? Weird! Brilliant! Where’s the famous image of politicians kissing?’ I almost speak out loud as I search, storing memories to share.
Then I find them; Brezhnev and Honecker, in full technicolour glory after restoration in 2009, with Russian words above and below – “God! Help me stay alive among this deadly love”. This image I’d seen in newspapers and travel guides, deserves to be experienced in real life. Of course it has to be photographed too, and I take time to avoid capturing a passing tourist in the shot. The art gallery isn’t busy – I linger, browse and explore at leisure the visual messages. The day is hot but for some reason the colours that stand out are cool blues and purples, not the political reds and yellows I might have expected on a sunny day. Had I found another bar I’d have bought a beer, but instead I sip lukewarm water from a plastic bottle.
I am sorry when it ends and the path leads me away from the river and the wall. I walk through streets lined with small industrial units and dark doorways. Ignoring the map I follow my nose and keep in sight a perfect reference point, the Fernsehtum television tower – a tall and pointed edifice spearing an onion, that can hardly be mistaken. Modern lamp posts, curved as bananas, lean over the pavements as I drift through unknown streets. I enter an area of squalid looking squats. Tents and makeshift wooden homes crowd on top of each other inside a tatty fenced-off patch of alternative housing. Here I find more street art to digest – raw, random graffiti which almost slaps me in the face.
I walk on until I recognise the road leading to my ‘Art Hotel’ – once more I am back in tourist Berlin. Art of a very different sort hangs here; modern prints adorning smooth, white walls in the hotel’s reception, where designer chairs invite me to sit. I resist being tempted by enticing smells drifting in from the restaurant next door and I go to my room. I take off my shoes and examine the blisters. The pavements of Berlin can be hard.