Be Berlin

24 09 2010

So I’m here, wow! Berlin in the autumn. Always a very cool place to be, no matter what the weather or occasion. The city’s marketing slogan – Be Berlin – helps make it almost feel like home again: I will spend the weekend getting reacquainted with the metropole I left six years ago, and getting nostalgic.

It’s been nearly 21 years since the Berlin Wall fell, and we are just a week shy of a united Germany’s 20th birthday. I still get the shivers when I walk through the Brandenburg Gate, more than a decade and a half after my first crossing from west to east – as a young and open-mouthed Cold War capitalist kid in awe of what all this really meant. For so many years the gate had stood beyond a threatening concrete wall and a bunch of mean looking communist soldiers with their fingers on the trigger. The wall and the soldiers are long gone, communism has been replaced by a free market, and I skate through the gate at least once a year. Who would have thought? And that feeling – like this is history in the making – it’s still there every time.

The Brandenburg Gate at sunset on marathon day.

The marathon route is a great sightseeing tour of what is currently probably the most hip and exciting city in the world. It is flat and it is fast. We start with Victory column in our sights, fly past all of the new and old architecture that houses the German seat of government, head down to the colorful culture of Kreuzberg, sweep through Schöneberg past the place where John F. Kennedy proclaimed himself a Berliner, hook around through the rich part of town and back past the consumer temples at SonyCenter into East Berlin again to speed to a finish along the beautifully restored museums of Unter den Linden.

The crowning moment comes last, as it should, when our legs are about to give way and our brains are producing endorphins like it’s the end of the world. The Brandenburg Gate comes into view at the end of a long tunnel – black having crept into our peripheral vision – and that last kilometer is the longest kilometer since the beginning of time. Once through the arch and with the fuel tank on empty, we sprint to the finish line on fumes and adrenaline alone. The cheering crowd gives us just enough energy to smile for the cameras.

Weep now. There will be no time for that tomorrow.

A year ago I was nursing a physical injury, and just watching the 50,000 athletes take to the streets inflicted an emotional one, too. I couldn’t bring myself go to the finish area to see the triumphant gladiators sail to a personal best or celebrate the wonder of just being alive. It was just too painful not to be one of them.

This year (barring a freak accident or food poisoning in the next 36 hours) I am back among the living, breathing mob of ascetics and health nuts, sadomasochists and fitness freaks, all seemingly immune to pain and fear of failure, every single one of them outfitted with a God-given will of iron.

Aside from the iron will, none of the rest of those words apply here. I am just another amateur, one of thousands, millions even, who’s found a way to feel free and stay healthy as I move into the prime of my life (40 is the new 30, remember?). I don’t do running, I skate. And that is what I will do tomorrow, rain or shine, through the streets of Berlin.

And I will own those streets. I will be Berlin.

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