In my previous blog Berlin 1.0, I explained my visit to the German capital was to attend the Great Repair international architecture conference at the beautiful Akademie der Künst. Now it’s time to share what I learned while exploring Berlin and compare it to my second home, Kyiv.
Fortunately, I wasn’t alone. Two good Ukrainian friends, Yeva and Alisa, joined me. The three of us have had tons of fun hanging out and discovering all the fascinating nooks and crannies in Kyiv, so now it was time to take our show on the road.
Spätis life in Berlin
First off, we were amazed to find that Berlin is very similar to Kyiv in many ways. Both have a buzzing street life with lots of cafes, restaurants and galleries. Both exude a tangible sense of swagger boasting a vibrant arts scene and internationally acclaimed fashion industry.
Berlin has been a major global influence on contemporary music for centuries. Ukraine has won the Eurovision Song Contest three times: 2004, 2016, and in 2022 with “Stefania” by Kalush Orchestra, thus becoming the first country in the 21st century – and the first Eastern European country to win the contest three times.
Berlin streets are dotted with kebab counters and Spätis bars where you can buy a few essentials and a beer to enjoy on the bench out front while watching the world walk by. Unlike many German cities, Berlin feels very open and alive. The people don’t seem to spend their lives locked in their flats. Rather, they live life to the fullest while ambling the bustling streets and cafes of Berlin’s neighbourhoods. The three of us felt totally at home and at times even forgot we weren’t in Kyiv.
The Gate to the East
A visit to Berlin isn’t complete without seeing the iconic Brandenburg Gate and the American Checkpoint Charlie border crossing that was originally very close to the infamous Berlin Wall. Now however, almost all signs of the former scar on the city are gone. Today the Brandenburg Gate separates a large and beautiful park on the formerly West side from the museum and cultural heart of the city located in what was the East.
East vs West
Of course, Berlin was completely destroyed by the end of World War II and was rebuilt along two vastly different political ideologies. West Berlin was designed according to Western values of democracy and freedom by the Americans through the Marshall Plan. East Berlin however, was rebuilt as an oppressive Soviet-style city by the other victor in WWII, the USSR, now known as Russia.
I believe the contrast between East and West contributes to making today’s Berlin unique. This same East versus West struggle is currently happening in Ukraine as the eastern and western portions of the country experience a different reality during this brutal war with Russia. Eventually Ukrainians will choose how they want to live their lives after this unjustified war, and Berlin is a wonderful example of what had been, and a glorious rise to become one of the world’s greatest cities.
When leaders talk about a negotiated ceasefire along the current front lines in Ukraine, they are really talking about building another wall between East and West again. Berlin’s wall eventually fell but only after two generations of East Germans had to suffer through an oppressive, Stasi regime. Asking Ukrainians to wilfully submit to an East vs West future for their nation is far too much to ask of anyone. Just ask your average Berliner the next time you stop for a beer.
Slava Ukraini! Heroaim Slava!