Rome and Berlin

Sitting at Rome airport. Half an hour before boarding and still no gate assignment. The perks of travelling through Europe. My so called Etihad flight to Sydney begins with Air Berlin and a thirteen hour lay over in Berlin. The perks of changing flights last minute. All in all, I’m not uncomfortable. My hotel in Berlin is booked. I’ll be all rested before my flight the next morning.

It’s all a little surreal. Six and a half weeks in Europe have flown by with alarming alacrity. Could it be more than a month since I touched down in London and was awed by the majesty of the city? Time really does speed up as you get older. The swiftness of the trip only reinforces to me the correctness of my decision to travel.

Rome and London were the greatest. The ‘bookends’ as I’m sure I’ll call them when I get asked hundreds of times, where did I love the most. London I’ve already gone into.

Rome is what I expected really. Very old. Very touristy. Extremely hot. I was awed by the colosseum. Inspired to learn more about Ancient Rome. I’ll be sure to order the Masters of Rome series when I get home.

The food was great. Word of advice, If Trip Advisor says it’s good, it usually is. The metro wasn’t extensive but it gets you to where you need to go. Overall though, get used to walking in Rome. On average between 15-20 kilometres per day. From the Roman Forum to the Vatican museums you will walk.

Speaking of the Vatican. Now that was an experience. Walking from one country, Italy, to another Vatican City. The guide explained that the Vatican City was created in 1929 in a treaty signed between the Pope and Mussolini. ‘Mussolini, what’s that?’ Asked Thien. I buried my head into my hands.

We booked a tour to avoid the lines and gain that insider information. It was worthwhile. The lines to get in were long and arduous. The museums themselves, require days on end for the really critical eye. We got through in three hours. Not enough time, yet enough in the moment. There were tourists everywhere. Most rooms weren’t air conditioned and if they were, the sheer number of people rendered them ineffective.

We saw incredible art. Artists I’ve never heard of and whose names I don’t remember. Then there’s Michelangelo. He dominates so much of the Vatican. Most notably the Sistine Chapel. First we were told that she (the guide) would have to explain the art and history of the chapel outside because inside she wasn’t allowed to speak. She explained how the Sistine Chapel roof is a row of paintings depicting scenes from the Old Testament. The most famous is Adam being given life by God. Michelangelo gives God a perfect physique because he believed that it was sin that aged man. The Chapel itself was very noisy, much to my disappointment. I had expected, probably naively, a solemn experience and found myself unable to move or concentrate. Despite the repeated efforts of the guards, there was no quiet, just continual noise.

When travelling through Europe, one sees his fair share of churches. The main, most well known, will always amaze you. Toledo, Seville, Notre Dame, St Mark’s Venice (with its incredible mosaic ceiling) , St Paul’s London. After six weeks, it does become repetitive. That is until you enter St. Peter’s Basilica. I don’t possess the knowledge to describe the architectural genius that is this place. It is grand beyond all measure. 120 years it took to complete, encompassing three different artistic periods. Here St. Peter, the rock, lay and upon this rock the most grand Church was built. I did wonder at points just what Jesus would have made of all this grandeur. Matthew 21:12 came to mind.

While Rome was very much what I expected, Berlin was very much not. It is sprawling and large. One does not feel that they are in a city, rather a large town. The city streets are not crawling with people like London, Paris, Rome, rather they are sprinkled everywhere. It was sometimes hard to imagine you were in one of the largest cities in Europe. This was not necessarily unwelcome, it was just unexpected.

The past dominates this city in a way very different from any other European city. It is still so recent, still raw and very much follows you around. A paved double line crosses the city, reminding citizens and visitors alike exactly where the Berlin Wall stood not 25 years ago. We met former citizens of East Germany and pestered them for information about what life was like. I had expected them to suggest it wasn’t as bad as we had been told to believe. They didn’t. It was very much the decadent, corrupt state, all the Soviet states were.

Memorials to the victims of Nazism slowly emerge across the city. Right next to the Brandenburg gate is a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. As you walk past, you see a clutter of grey boxes, separated, all the same shape, yet of different height, in an area about 50 metres squared. There are children running across these boxes, so my initial impression was that it was a play area. It wasn’t. It was the memorial. There is no clear sign, or symbol denoting the memorial. What it means, no body really knows. The designer of this memorial has never explained it. Each persons leaves with their own interpretation. It is powerful in its own understated kind of way.

Berlin however is a city in progress. Most of the city was destroyed in the Second World War.
It was then re-built in two very different images.
One an American-Western image, the other a Russian-Soviet image. It hasn’t got a distinctly German, Berliner identiy that other places in Germany do. Parts of the city feel quite depressing, a very Soviet ugliness to them. Cities take time to be built, and Berlin had cranes galore working on it.

Been assigned a gate now. Time to get onto my flight!

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