The following morning my toe is feeling much better, thanks to the ice cubes which my AirBnB* host left in the freezer, and I’m ready for a day of walking. Berlin feels vast – it’s roughly half the size of London, but the wide boulevards (designed, I am told, to echo the boulevards of Paris) give the impression it’s bigger.
Unfortunately, this is the day when I start to notice my balance is off, and I can’t walk in a straight line – which I put down to an inner ear problem, caused by the airplane cabin pressure. (A couple of weeks later I discover it’s breast cancer metastases in the cerebellum region of the brain, which controls balance.)
My friend and I meet up at the Hauptbahnhof, cross the River Spree via the bridge at Willy-Brandt-Straße (where we have a conversation about the rules around the use of “ß” rather than “ss” in some German words) and walk in the direction of the Bundeskanzleramt (German Chancellery), a building with a large hole in the side – which some friends tell me is to let out all of the hot air.
Continuing along the river path, we arrive at the Schloß Bellevue (Bellevue Palace), the official residence of the German President. I’m surprised to see there are no high railings outside, like the ones in front of Buckingham Palace.
We turn along Spreeweg towards the Siegessäule (Victory Column), where we spot a Trabant and strike up a conversation with the owner. Suddenly, the relative quiet is interrupted by the roar of motorbikes, and then by a Trabant cavalcade.
Continuing along the Straße des 17. Juni (named in honour of the victims of a quashed workers’ uprising in East Berlin in 1953), past the Denkmal für die Sowjetischen Soldaten (Soviet War Memorial), we arrive at the Brandenburger Tor, where the border between East and West Berlin stood from 1961 to 1989.
We discover that three separate political protest rallies have taken place in Berlin that day, and protesters are still marching past, so we sit for a while to catch our breath and discuss the current state of the world.
My friend has to leave for a dinner party, but before we part, he photographs me taking a photo of the “Ampelmann” – the standing and walking man symbols on the former East Berlin pedestrian lights, which have become an iconic brand.
I stop off at Café Einstein, Unter den Linden for tea and cake. Friends on Instagram recommended it, and it’s close by. Apparently it’s where politicians and members of the media hang out. Today is very quiet though – I guess it must be their day off.
I reflect on the day, as I plan my next move. We’ve done a lot of walking, and ideally I should go back to the apartment and rest. But the night is young, and this will be my only opportunity to visit the Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) – the largest department store in Europe – on the famous Kurfürstendamm or “Kudamm”.
I catch the public bus 100 and alight at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church), then start walking the wrong way down the Kudamm. By the time I decide to ask someone for directions, and re-trace my steps, it’s closing time, and I arrive at KaDeWe as people are being ushered out.
Tired and hungry, I catch the U-Bahn from Wittenbergplatz, crossing the River Spree via the Oberbaumbrücke and arriving at Warschauer Straße (which I’m told is not a good area to be wandering around at night), from where I take a tram back to the apartment, stealing a glimpse of the Fernsehturm in the sunset.
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