Berlin 2009 – Day 5 – Mon 9th Nov

15 11 2009

Another lazy morning with a decent lie-in.  Alice and I took a wander along to the local shops in search of a few bits and pieces to take home for others.  I just wanted a little something for my daughter which I found in a lovely little fair trade/world goods shop.  Also picked up some interesting drawer handles (both different) for an old chest of drawers I want to revamp (with mis-matching handles).  I was glad we weren’t going far as I wasn’t feeling too well – a bit dizzy and nauseous.  Not impressed at all.

Potsdamer Platz

Luckily that passed and at 4pm we and the other students set off for Potsdamer Platz.  We managed to lose the other students almost immediately!  It was already drizzling quite heavily and we were at least two hours early for the start of the celebrations so we thought we’d better keep moving as it was already quite cold.  Alice and I walked along the line of the dominoes on the west side of Ebertstraße towards the Brandenburg Gate.  When we neared that area there were security checks and glass was not permitted beyond that point, so we doubled back while we decided what to do with the schnapps Alice had brought along.  After dumping a glass soda bottle she decided that as they weren’t searching more than people’s bags, her back pocket would be a good place for the drink.

Crowds gathering for the celebrations

We took in the atmosphere as we walked along and stopped for some chips and a visit to the portaloos (much the same as the ones I’ve experienced at festivals though the first set had the pan in the corner which made the interior more roomy).  We also picked up a copy each of the souvenir book detailing most of the dominoes – only €5.  There were lots of stalls lining the way back to the Brandenburg Gate.

After passing through the security barriers we carried on through the thickening crowds until we reached an impasse.  Here the media was in full force with a high-rise stand festooned with wires and cables.  We could see the silhouettes of camera operators and their journalist subjects with their backs to the brightly lit Brandenburg Gate.  At this point we had to make a detour along Straße des 17 Juni to get to the other side of the line of dominoes and beyond.  The rain was quite heavy at this point but the view of the gate and the searchlights from a distance was worth the walk.

View of Brandenburg Gate from Straße des 17 Juni

We carried on, stopping under the cover of the magnificent Reichstag building for a little while, to get some respite from the rain which was now very heavy.  My boots had been soaked through for some time but my thick wool and fleece jacket was holding up well – my domino book tucked underneath it and my scarf covering my handbag and my camera.

Having walked to the other end of the line of dominoes, across the river, we moved over to the East side of the line of dominoes.  It was ironic that during this festival you could not cross the line of the Berlin Wall (apart from at the two ends of the dominoes).  Another detour brought us back to the dominoes via Dorotheenstraße.  This area was less crowded.  We had a good view of the dominoes and a screen.  We were standing directly opposite the Reichstag.  The crowds on the West side were much deeper than where we were.  I suppose the only disadvantage we had was that we weren’t surrounded by people to keep us warm.  My toes were frozen and we had to jiggle about quite a bit to keep warm.

The rain, highlighted by a floodlamp. Dominoes seen across the river.

Once the festivities began the rain eased a little, but never really stopped.  We watched a lot of talking on the screens, not understanding much of it at all.  The golden-locked presenter was great – like something out of the 1980s with a big cheesy grin.  Gordon Brown and Hillary Clinton spoke but we couldn’t catch all they said because of the voiceover by the translator.  There were rumblings of dissent from French people near us when their president spoke.  The highlight for me, even though I didn’t understand a word he or the translator said during the interview, was seeing Lech Walesa on the screen.  He pushed over the first domino which symbolised his early influence on the changes in Europe that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  That first fall of dominoes went past where we stood and ended just before the Brandenburg Gate – at a big white piano.  There was more talking on screen (including an interview with Mikhail Gorbachev) before the dominoes were pushed from the other end – Potsdamer Platz – and then again the final stretch in front of the Brandenburg Gate.  If you didn’t see the coverage on TV, check out this YouTube video.

And then it was done.  The firework display started up in the light drizzle – we couldn’t see it too well from where we were – and the crowds cheered.  There was a wonderful atmosphere there and by this time I’d almost forgotten about my frozen toes.  There was no mad crush of the crowd as we left, though it was busy, and we decided to walk east to a station rather than try to get back to Potsdamer Platz where we knew it would be ridiculously congested.  We walked, toes warming all the time, to Oranienburger Tor u-bahn station and got on the train that took us straight ‘home’.

Back at the hotel it was time for a quick change of clothes and a couple of coffees laced with rum (just to warm me up you understand) while everyone appeared a few at a time to discuss the evening’s events.  Thoroughly enjoyed the evening and would not have missed it for the world.  Having watched the wall breached and removed (on TV) back in 1989 it was a thrilling experience for me to have been there for this anniversary.

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