Berlin is a city full of trains and buses, traffic queues and pathways. It’s a place to take notes, and make memories. The pathways where we can all walk, moving around Berlin on foot is a healthy experience, a great way to get some exercise for the mind and eyes.
Berlin has always been an artist’s city. It’s a place to find inspiration, meet other like-minded artists and build some type of art career, if you can. If you aren’t an artists , that’s ok. You can still soak up the inspiration.
Walking in Berlin is always an opportunity for new discoveries. I’ve lived in Berlin since 1983, and there’s lots for me to discover, as well as old haunts that have been redesigned. Berlin is a city that is always in turmoil of one kind or another. I mean building projects, revamps of past mistakes, or bold new projects to enhance an area and finally rid it of the remnants of the past.
The past means something to all of us. When we look at a building, a house, or for an individual to stop in the street and look up at the window of a flat where they once lived, sentiments of the past are visited and felt for a while, this reminds us of the narrative of our individual lives.
The places where we live are full of the web of thoughts that we build all around ourselves. There is always a past for us to rediscover, better seen from a long perspective and understood in context of newly built streets.
Sometimes, we encounter a disaster of a memory. Something spoiled by misuse of a building that holds dear memories.
In Spandau there is an old barracks where I was once stationed as a soldier. In fact, it was considered two barracks, Brook – Wavel Barracks for the British Army.
The guard house at the front entrance of Wavel barracks still bears the pillars first built by the Prussian army when they occupied the barracks. Four or five pillars with reliefs of Prussian soldiers marching.
I hope they don’t get destroyed by some over eager project manager. The guard house was a place where a soldier would book out to go down town, or book in, often plastered after a few beers, after a night on the town. It was also the place known as “The Corner Shop”. The place where each morning on muster parade, at 07.00 hrs, the Regimental Sergeant Major would point at one or two men in the ranks and accuse them of being badly turned out, or of moving while standing to attention. He would call on the R.P., the Regimental Police who stood like wooden guards at the side of the square. They would march on, confirm that they were looking at the right man, and take him away to the corner shop, where he would stay and work all day on mindless duties, or as long as the RSM had decided he would stay.
It all depended on the RSM’s mood that morning. Our RSM had a nick-name, “Garfield”. He sported a massive moustache, squinty eyes, and puffy cheeks that made you think of Garfield the Cat each time he appeared. He was no one to mess with, if you passed him during the day time, and failed to give him a smart and sharp walking attention, he’d jail you. He loved to jail people. Not only that, he was army-barmy, a form of madness that afflicts soldiers who believe too much in army regulations. Everything must be perfect and disciplined. No slovenliness, laziness, or meandering anywhere in the barracks, or especially, in his sight. Men were jailed in the Spandau barracks corner shop, many a time.
There was even one man, falsely accused of a serious crime, investigated by the Military Police and dealt with at court Marshall level, he spent 18 months of his life in the jail house at Spandau Wavel barracks.
One day, on muster parade, The Regimental Sergeant Major dropped his pace-stick. The short polished wooden stick that a sergeant major carries under his arm. It fell clattering to the tarmac parade square; he ordered it to stand up, it didn’t, of course. He screamed at it to get up, it didn’t. He then ordered the Regimental Police to march on and jail the pace-stick. The R.P.s were confused, but carried out the order. I believe the RSM had to spend a little time on Rest and Recuperation after that.
Places of the heart, they can hold good memories or bad. I know that I can walk around in Berlin, and see the entrance to a street that I lived in, or I had a girlfriend who lived in that street, long ago. Memories fizzle, just waiting to be ignited as I walk into the street and start to peruse the buildings, the structures, checking my memory and see whether something has changed. And then, there are some streets that I avoid. Too many harsh memories. I out walking for joy and happiness, not sad reminders of broken hearts.
Walking around Berlin is how we make our memories, too. It’s when we realize that our lives are all about taking action, becoming involved with others, experiencing things alone and together, that we develop healthy lives with a strong narrative. That narrative, the stories of the times we live, are the basis of memories worth keeping. To walk without looking at the floor, but to take a strong interest in everything around ourselves, so that we begin to wonder and question the place where we live, is to discover and understand our environment.
Berlin is a walking city, a place to spend a lifetime where you can experience all the things a human would expect.