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A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

In fact, it was a pretty normal November day in Berlin.  Cold, grey, slightly damp.  Unpleasant.  I was waiting at a bus stop (which sadly was nothing like the one above).  For a long time.  Feeling more and more cold.  And grumpy. And missing my car.  Keeping busy trying to come up with a really clever Facebook status about the annoying buses in Berlin.

On the way home, I stopped in a flower shop and had the most friendly person ever serving me.  Chatty, joking, even liking the BBC!  That’s all it took to make me forget about being cold and grumpy!  Suddenly Berlin seemed like a much brighter place.  And that Facebook status never did get written.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Just a normal November day in Berlin.

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A Landscape of People

I have been struck these past few days by the way some people seem to provide something like a backdrop to my daily life.  I am not talking about people I know well – friends, family, etc.  I am talking about people whose names I may or may not know, yet somehow they form part of the landscape in which my life is played out.

Like the elderly couple who live a floor above me.  They look nothing like the couple in this picture and yet in some way they are very similar.  They have been married a long time, have probably brought up a family, but still they enjoy each other’s company.  What fun to watch them walk down the street together.  Only recently that has not been happening.  For weeks, I only ever saw the husband.  I didn’t feel I could ask about his wife, since I don’t know them well at all and the news probably wasn’t good.  What joy then to see them together again just a few days ago!  I don’t know whether the wife was ill and has now recovered, or what the story is.  Either way – seeing them walk down the street together brought a smile to my face.

Or my landlord and his wife, who live just across the courtyard from me. I don’t chat to them all that often (though they are very friendly) but you kind of get to know the rhythm of someone else’s life when you live almost on eye level.  A couple of times a year, they go off on a long holiday in the sun (they are retired!) and it feels strange not seeing any signs of life over there.  Yesterday morning I noticed that the blinds were down in their kitchen.  They are back and somehow life feels just that little bit more normal again 🙂

Then there are the people who we only see once but who somehow still leave a mark.  Like this man I saw on the underground last week.  He was blind, using a stick to navigate the platform and train.  Not only that, though, he also had his 2 young children (about 2 and 4 years old) with him.  Two stressful situations going on at the same time yet he was so calm!  Amazing!  Quite an inspiration.

So often I hardly notice the people around me.  I guess that’s what happens when you live in a major city.  Which makes it so much more special when I do notice the people who are so much more than just part of the scenery!

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Walking on History

Last night, I was watching the movie “Valkyrie” about one of the failed attempts to assassinate Hitler.  In the final scene, most of the plotters are executed by firing squad.  This scene was filmed where it actually happened – at Bendlerblock here in Berlin (see picture above).  At the end, you were almost looking down into the courtyard.  Which is when it hit me: I have stood in the exact same spot where these brave men died.  Of course I knew that when I was there at the memorial but the scene in the movie brought it home in a much more powerful way.

Walking on history

In Berlin, you often do that quite literally.

You find these Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks) outside a good number of buildings in Berlin (and elsewhere in Germany and beyond.  Read more here).  These particular ones I often pass on my way to the station.  What a powerful reminder of people who used to walk these same streets.

Admittedly Berlin has had more than its fair share of history but aside from the big stuff, I do often wonder about the lives that were lived in my little apartment in the 100 or so years before I moved in…