They landed almost thirty years ago, during a long Montana winter--a couple dozen high school students from Berlin, Germany. Dropped from the skies like the infamous Berlin Airlift,
they brought instead of food and supplies, a first glimpse of anything European to most of my fellow students in Columbia Falls. The Berliners were hosted by many of us in Herr Brod's German class and I begged my parents, with the fervor that Dylan begged to get a puppy, that we too "get a German." They relented, and for a month, Ute Spielman was my German sister. We borrowed each other's clothes, went out on double dates and had an epic food fight that resulted in mustard being thrown on the ceiling. After she left, there was nothing I wanted more than to visit her in Berlin and see what kind of country would produce such a sophisticated, worldly 14 year-old.
It wasn't until 1990, due to a number of circumstances--mainly having no money--that I touched down at Tegel Airport
in Berlin, the first stop on my first ever trip to Europe. I had saved $800 and had less sense than money, but was determined to "See" Europe. Ute's parents hosted me in her tiny bedroom for almost a month. By that time, she was living on her own and working with her boyfriend, a concert promoter who took me to work one night. Work being backstage at a Grateful Dead concert
. My only memory of that evening is hanging out with the Rock Doc, (the band's doctor) and seeing the band walk by.
For a kid whose hometown considered a new stoplight on Nucleus a top-fold headline
, Berlin rocked my world. Trains, trams, department stores
, an entire island of museums
and a bombed out church
were all beyond my ken, but what was even more exciting was the sense of possibility and promise that permeated the air, since it was less than a year earlier that the Berlin Wall came
down. I remember standing with Ute as we stared at a chunk of the wall, and she shook her head in amazement saying she never thought her hometown would be without the wall. Mind you, she was no crotchety 40-something old lady, but 20 year-old, who had only known a divided city.
Berlin continues to hold that sense of promise and excitement. Though Frankfurt, Munich, and Dusseldorf are all very nice and pleasant places to visit, for me they don't hold up to Berlin for arts, entertainment and nostalgia. I like to think of Berlin as the Paris of Germany and when I'm not humming the tune 99 Luft Balloons
or songs from Cabare
t, I'm saying Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedachtniskirche
fast because it's a fun mouthful.
Today we head to Berlin, my first trip back since 1990, and Andy and Dylan first visit ever. I'm not sure if I will remember much from before, but that's okay. It will be like wandering through the setting of a past life--seeing some things will evoke nostalgia and memories and others will only confuse and possibly disappoint. And while my Deutsch is pretty rudimentary, at least I can say as much as John F. Kennedy, who famously stated, "Ich bin ein Berliner"
--which urban legend claims he said he was a jelly donut--but really means, "I am one with the people of Berlin," which I can embrace.