By Nancy T. Lu
Berlin as city in focus at the recent Taipei Film Festival brought back fond memories of my days as a participant of an advanced journalism course in the German capital years ago.
The Berlin Wall was still there then. In fact, some of my German friends lived at that time “within spitting distance” of this landmark in the once divided German capital. They wrote a few years later to describe their emotional participation in the historic bringing down of the divider of the city of Berlin. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the historic event.
A tour of drab and gray East Berlin after crossing Checkpoint Charlie was my introduction to life on German soil at that time. “HALT – HIER ENDET DIE FREIHEIT (STOP - HERE ENDS FREEDOM)” (see photo) read one typical wall graffiti at the border.
"They stole this from us!” These words of protest from my Turkish classmate during a visit to the Pergamon Museum in East Berlin ring loud and clear in my ears to this day. He stood on the marble steps and looked angrily at the impressive Pergamon Altar taken from his homeland of Anatolia.
West Berlin bustling with life by day and night was a stark contrast to East Berlin. Kurfuerstendamm with a bombed-out church was walking distance from the International Institute for Journalism. Right there was Ka De We, the biggest department store which called for many shopping visits.
This was a German happening world. On a return visit to Berlin, no longer divided politically many years later, I saw the dazzling act of a high-wire tightrope walker right on Kurfuerstendamm.
For entertainment, I managed to catch the world-class Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in concert at least twice. The German production of “Chorus Line” in Berlin I found comparable to the original Broadway version.
In those days when Punks moved like Zombies on the streets in certain areas in West Berlin, a German theater production which I went out of my way to see despite its staging in a language I had poor command of addressed social problems confronting German adolescents.
Peep show signs all over Berlin aroused my curiosity, One day I convinced a classmate to go into a cubicle with me for my first and last experience as a voyeur.
A tent circus show then featured for its main attraction a half-Chinese and half-German performer hanging by his long hair and taking with him his wife and mother as they enjoyed afternoon tea. Such incredible hair strength or power was indeed item for the Guinness Book of Records. For his wedding, this son of a paralyzed Chinese contortionist.suspended himself from a helicopter and took his bride for a thrilling airborne adventure, he revealed during an interview.
The arrival of a lovable pair of Chinese pandas, gifts of China to Germany, was a big event in Berlin at that time. I monitored history in the making with help from a German friend who was the air traffic controller at the Berlin Tempelhof Airport at that time. In the wintry cold about a month later, I joined the long queue to have a glimpse up close of the cuddly pandas at the Berlin Zoo. What I actually saw was a lonesome male panda, sprawling at the gate. He was the picture of a lover pining for his mate as she played on a swing within sight on the other side.
My first attempt to skate on ice took place in Berlin, too. My Egyptian classmate had to surrender his passport to enable the three of us, including a Maltese classmate, to rent three pairs of ice skates. As soon as I stepped on the ice, I slipped and completely lost my bearing. I was not about to turn into Katarina Witt. Children at home in the skating rink shortly came over to take me by my hands to enable me to enjoy a smooth glide on frozen surface.