Green light for Ryaniar flight grants me full access to Berlin
MY fortieth birthday celebration weekend in Berlin went off with a bang in a city which more than lives up to its reputation for nightlife, cutting edge culture and incredible history.
Ryanair didn't manage to screw it up so by Friday afternoon we were taking in the sights in the mighty German capital.
The itinerary was sketchy and ever changing. As one in a group of six Kerrymen, the potential for comedy, rows, chaos and buffoonery was always in the air, and so it came to pass over 60 hours in a city where people pay into nightclubs at 4.30 a.m.
Our hotel was located near the S and U bahn subway lines. With very little knowledge as to how to negotiate subways, or maps for that matter, and armed with only three German words, I ended up walking over 50km over the weekend and dancing another 10km at least on Saturday night, or so my trusty Fitbit watch informs me.
The portents had been good with sunny weather forecast and we enjoyed great weather and even took to a city beach. There were plans to see several museums, but only one was visited, the Topography of Terror, which certainly lived up to its name. The outdoor and indoor German history museum charted the rise of the Nazi party, the establishment of the the Secret State Police, the SS and the Reich Security Main Office, which were located at the city's 'Ground Zero' where the museum is framed by remains of the Berlin Wall, which was famously knocked in 1989.
The outdoor museum charts the social and political changes in the country between 1933 and 1945, at a time when a political party offered a nationalistic vision to a wounded country's people.
The indoor museum featured the rise of Nazism through photographs and videos from the period, along with documents, newspaper cuttings and audio recordings.
The manipulation of the people by the Nazi party was frightening to behold, how they bent the will of the nation to the will of a maniacal leader. This involved creating citizens who should not feel empathy, who should kill and procreate all for one cause, the establishment of the 'perfect race'.
As a student of history I was alarmed at how little I really knew about this seminal 12-year period, about the scale of the killings and the hatred displayed for the Sinti and Roma gypsies, homosexuals and asocial 'useless eaters' as Hitler and his henchmen called people with mental illness.
The horror visited by the Nazis everywhere they went was reflected in black and white photographs of hanging corpses from trees and almost as sinister images of extermination centres where untold torture and terror was inflicted. The strongest impact the Topography of Terror had on me was seeing the same coldness, the same evil in the faces, in the eyes of the perpertrators of this genocide. Throughout the city there are reminders of its terrifying past, but as if to counterbalance or write a new history, thousands of buildings are covered in colourful street art and graffiti.
The people are independent minded and friendly and were helpful to me and my friends on several occasions, even reuniting one hungover friend with his lost passport.
Berlin and its history made for an unforgettable backdrop to my 40th birthday, while also reminding me of what can happen when governments are intolerant, irresponsible and corrupt.
I returned to the horror of the Madalay Bay shooting, the worst in America's history and the Spanish Government's response to an election. Both gave me shivers.