We didn’t talk about why I was here; I wanted to know much more about her life. I kept her talking and I was quite happy to just lie in the warmth of her chords. The sounds of the streets moved fast and the volume of her hair went low, low towards my chest, brushing at my soul. It was exciting. I don’t really know how I ended up in a bath with her back in her apartment. The feeling just led us. I washed her, she washed me. Our bodies touched and suddenly no words were ever said. Just a soothing twisting feeling resonating from the tarnished tiles by my head. Her warmth, my warmth, entwined before she led me to the bed.
Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the dystopian beauty, consumes the ground miles outside of the city. A staggered walk along roads and bridges, past the Reichstag and the river, took us into the warming German sun once more. Kreuzberg awaited. A sweltering urban landscape, scattered with trees, parks, rivers. A cool breeze reminded me that ultimately, everything is natural. This is Germany.
The U-Bahn runs this city. Gorgeous yellow tin-trains meander and sway throughout the shops and sights, oblivious to the events that have taken place here. Like the capillaries of my veins, the trains keep this city going, giving substance and essentially, life. The heartbeat is the sum of the parts. Kreuzberg, the leafy metropolis, beats especially loud in my heart.
The morning saw a trek along the river Havel, during which I conceived all the red-brick architecture that characterises this place. We discovered Straße des 17. Juni and it rose up before us on the sunrise, boasting the glorious golden sculpture on that famous plinth. Beside the road, we browsed a flea market, the faces, and the language. And then we read the map from across where the Tiergarten lies.
That night, we mistakenly headed out to a very packed posh wine bar in the centre, where two beers were ordered. We certainly weren’t dressed for the occasion, in our jackets, surrounded by suits and dresses, so we swiftly left! The outside is wild in the night-time. People passing by, jostling and joking, an ambience nostalgic. Several working girls keenly approached us on our way with friendly “Hallo”s. Weissebeer mit Cola was the drink of choice at the Indian, and a cigarette, lit by the small candlelight while it shimmered a red glow.
Daylight took us to the East Side Gallery, where I was sure I’d find love. To combat mass emigration from Soviet-controlled East Germany, the wall was erected in 1961. It cut the city in two. Families, friends, lovers, human beings were separated. Relationships cut in two. The chance to move to a safer place, to create a better life, was taken away. The largest remaining part of the wall is now covered in art to create an iconic mural for freedom. Some beautiful, some poignant and engaging art graced us on our stroll along the pavement. I was moved by messages and tantalising images, symbolising hope in a world so devoid of it.
We crossed the old border again into a large open field on the west side. There, we lay for what felt like many hours of quiet thought in the sun. As the light of day faded and dusk became apparent, we took the U-Bahn back to the hostel. The excitement of the overground journey overwhelmed me. A smart-looking man with an accordion boarded the train and lit the carriage up with bursting, vibrant tunes. Some joined in the celebration and appreciated the sound, the joy.
I couldn’t help but think that this was a celebration of something momentous. Every time someone makes a spontaneous sound, or claps, or sings, aren’t we celebrating the fact that we are free? Aren’t we celebrating the fact that we are at such beautiful liberty to make these choices in our lives? With the knowledge that it hasn’t always been like this, surely that gives us even more reason to be thankful for what we have. We should grab every opportunity that arises before us; love, life, relationships. People have endured hardship on our behalf, so that we can do such seemingly simple things like lie down in a field and enjoy the setting sun. I take this for granted. But when I think back to those moments, I remember to celebrate. Berlin showed me the beauty of freedom.
Hugged by mountains, the Olympic City of 1984 was a surrounded city in 1992. The siege of Sarajevo lasted five tumultuous years. The Serb forces of the Republika Srpska and the Yugoslav People’s Army beat this city to the ground during the Bosnian War. It must have felt like living in a concentration camp; The fear, the uncertainty, the death. Today, constant reminders of that time decorate the place in the form of bullet holes on every wall as you pass by buildings… and the looks in people’s eyes. The night we arrived, I felt scared. The somewhat sinister views of forest fires round hills whispered violence through the window of our train carriage.
We walked up the high street, mindful of the treacherous, chaotic crossroads and tramlines that cut lines through the city. At the end of the line of ordinary shops and cafes, we were met with a mirage of something magical. Incredible was the feeling to suddenly step into a new world and see something so diverse to everything we had seen before; The Turkish Quarter of Sarajevo. This transcendent feeling came once more, in Mostar. I gave a homeless girl my Coke because she was just a young girl. Cobbled pavements and stony pathways lead you literally back in time. Three distinct cultures living in such close proximity is certainly a sight to behold. Stray dogs mix with stray children to create an ambiance unique to Bosnia.
Our hostel owner, now a tour guide at the war tunnel, was a student in Sarajevo during the siege. The war tunnel was secretly built beneath the airport runways during the siege for the purpose of getting aid to the victims. Her testimonies were horrendous but her stories of strangers giving her food and drink in the darkest days were heart-warming. Sitting there at the entrance to the rescue tunnel, listening to her talk, I realised that I do not know hardship. Standing at the entrance to the university, watching a young boy sing his heart out for spare change, for an hour, singing beautifully in pure need, brought this message home. We are not poor.
The Olympic Stadium of Sarajevo is breathtaking in a way that breaks your heart. The ground stands desolate and lonely, a far cry from the year the world came to celebrate the biggest sporting event in history. The mood around the place is eery and tragic as it looks as if it was just abandoned, like the city. The view of the mountain tops should be beautiful here, but it isn’t. The moors are full of graves with the same four years on them; 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995.
After our visit to the war tunnel, our hostel owner’s husband, a taxi driver, drove us back to the centre of the city. Sitting behind him in the car, I almost caught an addiction. I felt intoxicated from the breaths of this chain smoker, but that didn’t matter. I perceived the beauty in the destruction around me. I felt like I was on my way into Budapest again, eager to breathe it all in. He took us on a truly panoramic view of the city. It was magnificent and eye-opening. What I learned from the people I met in Sarajevo is invaluable. The spirit of the people, the willingness to get back up and carry on, to make new lives, shows that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel.