GERMANY, including Berlin, may not top most Filipinos’ bucket list of must-go-to places in Europe. With France, Italy and Spain competing for our wandering attention, limited euros and Latin hearts, Germany probably doesn’t stand a chance.
It may not be as breathtaking as Paris, as cool as London, as pulsating as Rome, or as vibrant as Barcelona, but Berlin, if you look hard enough, has its own unique charms, too.
For a city with a checkered history, including being nearly laid to waste like Manila and Warsaw during World War II, this is quite an achievement.
And to think, Berlin, divided for almost 30 years between East and West, also fell victim to the machinations and ambitions of two superpowers during the Cold War.
In less than two decades since its reunification, Berlin has reemerged and reinvented itself not only as Germany’s political capital, but also its center of arts and sciences.
I was fortunate enough to go on a four-day trip to Germany recently with two colleagues from competing papers. Sponsored by Samsung, the official trip highlighted the Seoul-based global company’s launch of several supposedly game-changing products, including the latest version of the Galaxy (watch out for my coverage of the event in the Philippine Daily Inquirer).
Although it wasn’t my first time to visit Germany, having gone to Frankfurt several times before to cover yearly furniture fairs, the visit was my introduction to Berlin and a different, more personal side of the country.
For all their accomplishments in the fields of technology, business and global finance, Germans, we gathered, are not too keen to highlight their, well, being Germans.
Unlike Filipinos, said a Pinoy we met there, Germans won’t wear anything like, say, Collezione’s popular map shirt that would herald their origins (except, perhaps, during sporting events). The Pinoy should know since, apart from traveling often to Germany, he recently hosted a German exchange student in Manila.
We also heard this seeming reluctance from our driver, who was working in the now-defunct Czechoslovakia when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. He was too ashamed to be a German during those days when his country was divided, he said.
Samsung’s German marketing guy based in Berlin also echoed a familiar refrain. Although he isn’t proud per se to be a German, there are many things Germany did in the field of technology that he’s proud of. When his spiel was cut abruptly by latecomers entering the venue, he resumed his presentation a few seconds later, and again said the entire thing from the top, including his missing pride in being German.
We found this situation a bit strange, and simply dismissed it as the country’s attempt to rid itself of any lingering collective guilt it still has for its role in the Holocaust and its aftermath, which resulted in Germany and its beloved capital’s division.
Jaye tended to believe it wholesale, while Scott was more skeptical. How can they not be proud, he said, when they’re the glue that’s keeping Europe together.
Whether this general sentiment is genuine or yet another false display of modesty, we will never truly know. What’s apparent is how Germany dealt with its dark past and turned the entire situation around to emerge stronger, wiser and, yes, richer.
I’m no historian nor sociologist, so I won’t bore you anymore with my assumptions. Instead, I’m going to share with you snapshots of Berlin, what’s left of it as well as what has been restored and added more than 60 years since the end of the war.