Forget All Your Troubles, Forget All Your Cares

Part of Berlin Wall with graffiti and chewing gumsPeople called Potsdamer Platz the Times Square of Berlin. To me it was a glorified mall, but exciting and buzzing with a big city vibe. A large crowd watched soccer on a multi-story TV screen.

“The new Harry Potter movie is playing here! Can we see it?”

“Sure, why not?”

The movie complex was the size of an airport. We took the escalator to the ticketing area. Uniformed girls stood behind a counter. One showed us a seating chart. With the tip of her felt pen, she pointed to five available seats. As we navigated down the carpeted corridor, the kids spotted the concession stand. It was hard to miss, considering the gigantic poster plastered on the wall behind the popcorn machines – a blonde in a tiny bikini lying on the beach holding an ice cream bar. It was so distracting that I nearly overlooked the row of beer taps. A uniformed young tender poured golden brew into a pilsner glass. He smiled when he handed it to me, clearly noticing the look of total bliss on my face.

The lights dimmed and the previews started. I felt the need to hide my beer between sips. Suddenly the blonde returned. In this corny commercial a young man wildly chases a truck on which the same poster was plastered. The actor eventually throws himself onto the side of the truck, falls down unconscious, and then emerges victorious – eating an ice cream bar. Then the commercial ended, the lights came up and standing down by the screen was one of the girls from the concession stand, holding a case of ice cream. People shook their heads and somebody behind us sneered. No takers.

After the movie – which was thankfully presented in English – Donna and the kids made a bee-line for a Dunkin Donuts Internet Café. I wasn’t hungry for donuts or the idea of sitting at a terminal, so opted for some people watching. Outside, I found a seat on the bench next to an elderly man. Within a few moments he started talking. I noticed he was pointing to some buildings and realized he was talking to me. I couldn’t understand him. His face lit up when a middle-aged woman approached us. The two of them exchanged a few words. She looked at me. “My father wants you to know something about this place.” She interpreted his words. “It used to be Berlin’s busiest intersection – many buildings – very active” The man pointed at this now thriving complex. “When they built the wall, they leveled this entire area.” He flattened his hands and moved them about. “It sat vacant for years.” He continued with more details about this section of the city. I wondered why he was so hell bent on educating me – some random stranger – about local history. After a few moments of silence, the woman offered her two cents. “Germany is not what it used to be” she said, “There are not as many families anymore. Women don’t get married and don’t have children. “People walk around like this.” She stooped over and hung her head. After straightening up again, she continued. “When I was young, we had pride in our country. In the United States, you see your flag everywhere. Here, if you fly the German flag, they call you a Nazi.”

The man nodded his head in agreement as she spoke.

“He was in the German army,” she said.  “Communications – he served during the war – in North Africa under General Rommel .”

Before she could finish, her father held up his finger and uttered some words loudly, she interpreted. “Hitler – he never spoke with Hitler – never even met him.”

His head moved back and forth as she continued.

“He was not a Nazi…”

Like any American, I’d heard all about the allies kicked the crap out of the Germans. Now, I was on their soil, hearing their story. How different this man’s life must have been compared to that of my uncle – or any veteran of the Second World War – those who spoke proudly of the war.

We talked for a little longer. The woman was recommending some other local places to visit. During that time, her father got up and had taken a few steps away from us. When I looked over, I noticed he held a camera to his face. He took my picture and smiled.

NEXT: Moving On

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