Brussels/Berlin 2023

Saturday 15th July 2023 – Checkpoint Charlie and ‘Mon the Gays

After a breakfast consisting of eggs and salami on toast, tea, and a nectarine, I ventured again along the path of the former Berlin Wall. This time, in the opposite direction along Bernaur Straße from before, heading west. It is important to remember that the division of the Germany led to West Berlin existing as essentially an enclave, surrounded on all sides by East Germany. Therefore the wall existed as a miss-shapen circle.

I continued to enjoy the open-air-museum feel to the story being told along the route. This section told stories of the houses that were split in two by the border, with residents entering one side from East Berlin and exiting on the other to West Berlin. Suffice to say, this loophole was closed fairly swiftly by the East German government with the residents initially evicted and the houses bricked up, before their demolition in 1962. This led to a much easier job being carried out by the East German border guards, who now had a clear view and firing line on anyone trying to escape.

There was also a church within the boundary zone which was demolished but replaced with a new, modern chapel when the land was handed back following reunification. I could have visited the wall memorial museum but I was starting to feel that I had a good picture of this period of history and maybe it was time to start investigating modern day Berlin as opposed to dwelling too much in the past.

Unknown to me when I booked my holiday, was the fact that my dates intersected directly with the Pride Festival in Berlin. This was to begin with a “Lesbian and Gay Festival” in Schöneberg, the “Gay Village” of Berlin. I headed off on foot in the direction of this area.

En-route, it made geographical sense to take the opportunity to visit “Checkpoint Charlie”, the most famous crossing point that existed in the days of The Wall. Up to this point in the city I had only been peripherally aware of the tourist scene (which I have to be honest in being part of). At this location it was very “in your face” with multiple tours, busses, and crowds of people ticking this “off the list”. I had a cursory glance at the exhibits and information before moving on, again considering that I had already learnt a lot in my previous wanderings.

More footfall later, I passed by an abandoned railway station where Jews had been deported from during the holocaust. Most of the building had been demolished but the information board stated that the façade had been left as a memorial. It was quite beautiful and haunting.

Before long I heard the distant “thump” of music indicating revellers having a very good time indeed. Following the sound led me to the festival and within moments I was part of a very large crowd. This was a “street fair” of stalls representing charities, businesses, etc. with a number of stages with DJs, musicians, and karaoke performers. It reminded me a lot of the “Fife Pride” stalls and Festival I am part of organising but without the parade – this being scheduled for the following weekend. The scale was much grander though and with much of a “no holes barred” attitude to the festivity. There were people in various states of undress, some dressed as dogs, and many chains and leather gear in evidence. I was in need of refreshment so I took an iced coffee and a slice of rainbow cake at “Romeo und Romeo”, before enjoying the stalls, and the atmosphere.

It was quite the party but extremely good natured with police and security mostly standing around with little to do. I considered the extent to which this “scene” while very modern also had significant roots in “old” pre-War Berlin. This is detailed in the writings of Christopher Isherwood which in turn led to the musical and movie “Cabaret”. I enjoyed the connection between this world and my own, back in Fife where I remain very proud to be one who brings a similar shindig to the streets of Kirkcaldy. It could be said that our event is on a much less grand scale. While this is undoubtedly true, the “community” aspect of Fife Pride is something all the organisers are very keen on and something which perhaps sets it apart from grander events.

I stayed in this location for some time, enjoying drinks and a “bratwurst” before it came time for me to depart. To get back to my accommodation would require my first trip on the Berlin U-Bahn and given that some drink had been taken, this was potentially a risky enterprise. Nevertheless, some research indicated that I should purchase a ticket and then validated at a machine in the platform before travelling. This I did remembering a similar activity when catching busses in Marburg while visiting on “exchange” in 1996. The U2, U1, and U8 lines carried me back feeling very glad I did not have to carry out the extensive return journey on foot. I managed to negotiate the ordering of vegetarian Vietnamese noodles and enjoyed them on my balcony.

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