Saturday, October 3, 2015

25 Years of Unity

I hopped on the U-Bahn this afternoon and made my way down to Mitte for the Day of German Unity celebration (Tag der Deutschen Einheit), more easily referred to as #25JahreEinheit, perhaps. It's been 25 years since Germany became one again, and that is definitely something to celebrate. In good Berlin fashion that means - close down Straße des 17. Juni and fill it with people, beer, sausage, beer, live music, and beer.

A little background - on 3 October 1990, East and West Germany completed the process of reunification after decades of division. While the Wall famously fell in November of 1989, it took about a year to actually put the country back together. That sounds impressively fast to me - bringing together two economies under a new government and a new constitution in less than twelve months. Of course, it's not as easy as all that, and it's clear that eastern Germany is still economically less prosperous than the west. But still - unified Germany has become one of the most influential and respected nations in the world, only 25 years later. That's amazing. And Berlin is the nexus of it all.

The S-Bahn station at Brandenburger Tor was shut because of the crowds, so I took the opportunity to walk along the river Spree from Friedrichstraße station. You can see the dome of the Bundestag the whole way, and it was particularly beautiful in the low afternoon sun. The tour boats on the river were packed, and the crowds got thicker as I got closer to the Brandenburg Gate area.

The Bundestag (formerly the Reichstag) is an incredibly beautiful building, and it looked great today in the fall light. It looked like there was something planned there for later - a stage was built at the foot of the steps and there was an area of (empty) VIP seating blocked off from public access. A choir was rehearsing on the stage and there were people just milling about and lounging on the grass, soaking up the warmth of the sun.

Over at Brandenburger Tor was where the real festival began. There was a huge stage set up in front of the gate with a very nice setup - huge speakers, coordinated projection screens, TV crews, etc. - all very well designed and looking great. Between live acts, the young host was counting down (or up?) through each year's Unity celebration, showing videos from every past year and getting anyone in the audience who had been there to participate.

The theme of this year's festival was "25 Years, 25 Moments" (my translation). Commemorating each year since reunification struck me as a smart use of catharsis and nostalgia to mark the passage of time and put the growth of Germany into context. But it was all done in a light, fun way so it didn't seem boring at all to me. But, of course, I can only understand bits of German so it's safe to say most of the jokes kind of swooshed over my head. Mostly everyone up by the stage was just waiting for Felix Jaehn (a DJ), anyway.

Further down Straße des 17. Juni - toward the Victory Column and the heart of the Tiergarten - you
had your usual line up of vendors. So many, many, many beers stands and wurst (sausage) sellers. A million people gotta eat and get a buzz on. Plus some carnival games, candy shops, gift shops, etc. And a big ferris wheel, every car packed with people trying to get a glimpse of the setting sun. Lots of happy faces.

I love wurst of all kinds of course, but I've been avoiding meat lately and I wanted to try something new. Quite a way past the ferris wheel, I found a place selling handbrotzeit, which I've never had before. And it was absolutely delicious. It's a hunk of hearty bread filled generously with cheese and mushrooms (or ham) and then baked right there in ovens behind the counter. The result is a dense, melty, perfectly seasoned joy, with nicely finished bread - soft but crusty - and topped with a lavish dollop of cream and green onions. German bread, cheese, and mushrooms are all really, really good so baking them all together is an aces idea, I'd say.

I'm happy for Germany on this day, and feel lucky to be a Berliner. A great city, a great country. Now where'd I leave my beer? Oh, here it is. Cheers!