UK / Europe

No one leaves Berlin

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“NOBODY ever really leaves Berlin‘’, says Cate Blanchett to George Clooney in The Good German.

She carries the line off well, and it’s one of a number of great quotes that runs through my head after a few days in the town in April.

It’s up the with JFK’s “Ich bin ein Berliner,’’ and Tom Cruise playing von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie saying, “I’ll kill Hitler, you take Berlin’’.

I ponder this in the Kafee Burger on Torstrasse, near Rosa Luxemburg Platz after a few days sightseeing.

It’s late, after midnight and the bar is just beginning to fill up.

Don’t even bother leaving for a night out in Berlin before midnight. By 3.30am the joint is absolutely jumping and is chock full of a young crowd, including an improbable number of staggeringly beautiful artsy Berlin girls.

A singer is channelling Nick Cave and Michael Stipe: Think Lou Reed without the rhythm or Leonard Cohen without the optimism.

My trip has included a tour of the Fuhrerbunker, which is quite close to where I am staying at the Hilton on Mohrenstrasse, in the centre of town.

I stood on the spot where Hitler’s henchmen burned his body after he and his mistress killed themselves lest they fall into the hands of the invading Russians 66 years ago and change before my visit.

After that it’s just a short walk to the Holocaust memorial right near the Brandenburg Gate, where I stock up on T-shirts and other souvenirs, including a genuine piece of the Berlin wall for only E5.

Nearby in the Tiergarten one of the world’s great aviators Hanna Reitsch landed a light plane as Russian shells arced overhead. She then made her way to the bunker to beg her leader to allow her to fly him to safety.

Hitler refused, but Hanna managed to survive World War II.

There is still a lot of war damage, especially in the city’s east, and there are plenty of walls peppered with machinegun bullet holes and lots of places where larger chunks of masonry have been blasted away by panzerfaust (bazooka) rounds.

Go north of the city and have a look at the old Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where Jewish forgers acting under the orders of Nazi criminal masterminds once made truly excellent forgeries of greenbacks.

The Nazi plan was to undermine the global economy by flooding the world with bogus dollars.

This is a task George W. Bush and Barack Obama gleefully took over from Hitler, as the US prints money a lot faster than Jeff Davis did in Richmond in the dying days of the War of Northern Aggression.

After World War II Sachsenhausen was in the Russian zone and Stalin used the camp to murder enemies of the state, so the killings began again, with barely a respite, under the orders of the next criminal lunatic, such a piece of work is man.

The thing I love about Berlin is it has a public transport system that actually works. The city covers an area the size of the Hunter Valley, but you can get from one site to the other in about 20 minutes.

The U-bahn,  or ooh-barn as I call it, covers the inner city and the S-Bahn the outer. Change at the Zoo for the Kurfurstendamm (just say Koo-damm) and take in the boutiques for some retail therapy. Make sure you stop and have a hot dog and grab a beer in a café while the missus cuts loose with the plastic.

Next on the agenda has to be a visit to the Humbolthain flak tower, the best preserved of the city’s three flak towers, each of which sheltered up to 15,000 Berliners from allied bombers. Take in a great view of downtown as you contemplate the stupidity of the wonton allied bombing campaign that killed so many civilians, but did not shorten the war by as much as 30 seconds, at a cost of way too many allied aircrew.

It also gave England’s Bomber Command a higher casualty rate among junior officers and NCOs than that of infantry units charging machineguns in World War I.

Next: kill two birds with one stone by walking down Friedrichstrasse for some more shopping and to see Checkpoint Charlie, Set you digital camera to black and white and you’re back with Richard Burton in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

It’s getting late at the Kaffee Burger. I step out into exactly the kind of weather the Berliners had to endure as thousands of undisciplined Russian troops were set loose on the city’s women in April 1945.

The early morning air and light rain on Torstrasse takes the edge off the Beck’s and clears out the cobwebs from the loud music and burbon.

I fold up my Moleskine notebook and slip it into the pocket of my black leather jacket and say to myself: “Nobody ever really leaves Berlin.’’

Barry Walker

Berlin Hilton: Mohrenstrasse. www.hilton.com/berlin

Swiss International Air Lines www.swiss.com

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