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Foreign Correspondence


Berlin comes to life in spring

By John Bordsen
John Bordsen
John Bordsen is the Travel Editor for The Charlotte Observer.

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  • A Germany still not fully reunified?

    Q. Is Berlin still being flooded by people moving there from the former East Germany?

    A. To some extent, with younger people. I don’t have the stats, but when I’m in the east, I see a lot of older people there. That’s a little dismal.

    This past year, about every other Sunday I’d take an excursion somewhere. I saw a string of cities in Saxony and Thuringia that were charming and a little off the beaten path. Goerlitz especially: It somehow was left relatively unscathed during the Allied (World War II) bombing. It’s really quite an impressive showcase; painstaking details have gone into reviving the city.

    Q. Is the line between the former East and West Berlin erased now?

    A. Germans talk about “the wall in the head.” The Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall are gone, but many Germans still distinguish between the two Germanys. The mentality is different. There are Germans from the East who wish the walls hadn’t come down; they claim it wasn’t that bad during the communist years.

    Q. A few East Germans?

    A. Many. There’s a lot of bitterness from older people who lost their pensions or jobs when the wall fell; there’s now the insecurity of the market economy. “Who cares if we didn’t have justice and freedom and lofty ideals? There was security.”

Elizabeth Zach is a 43-year-old native of Sacramento, Calif., who has lived in Berlin for 14 years. She is a writer ( as well as director of communications for a cancer research nonprofit there.

Q. Winter was long and cold in the States. What about in Berlin?

A. This winter was very mild – two snowfalls that melted quickly. The Germans have an expression: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”

But the hardness is darkness: We’re at the same latitude as Winnipeg (Manitoba): It’s dark by 3 p.m. in the winter months. Many complain about that. Spring is gorgeous. When I was coming home today, people were spilling out of the cafes and onto the sidewalk.

Q. Do they have spring break there?

A. No. Easter weekend is long, and the city empties out for four days, all national holidays. Many Germans go to the Baltic Sea or down to the Alps. The Baltic is about three hours by train. Germany is famous for its autobahn (highway), so an equal number of people drive up by car.

Q. Isn’t it pretty cold for going to the beach?

A. It’s frozen in winter. One Christmas there was snow and ice everywhere and we went walking on the all-ice beach ... and people were swimming! A friend told me Germans believe it is healthy and gets the blood circulation going.

Q. What are some cool places to visit in Berlin that Americans haven’t discovered?

A. There are two museums out my way (southwest) that I’ve visited several times. Both are quiet, hidden and easy to do. The Alliertenmuseum ( documents when the Allies were here and how they lived during the “island years” when West Berlin was deep within Eastern Europe. The museum does a wonderful job of telling what life was like.

The second is an art museum called Die Brucke ( – “The Bridge” – which was the name of an Expressionist art movement in the 1920s. Hitler called it degenerate art and outlawed it; the artists went underground.

Q. Where do you go for food variety?

A. Cheese shops. There are many more here than I’ve seen in California. And the butcher shops: Germans love their sausage and schnitzel, and you still have the mom-and-pop butcher shops that are well-frequented.

Q. And for a true Berliner dinner?

A. I hardly go to the center of Berlin, but there’s a restaurant in the east, in Prenzlauer Berg, called Gugelhof ( What’s cool there is eating fondue. They’ll bring out different things for dunking, like bread, vegetables and sausages. It’s kind of communal and you can sit there for hours. I read that Bill Clinton ate there when he was president.

Q. Is Berlin expensive?

A. As European capitals go, Berlin is very cheap compared to Paris, London or Rome. You can get by here very well on very little money.

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