Reflections on My Stay in Berlin
(This article was first published on Facebook on the 28th of March, 2020, after my trip to Berlin. I reproduce here for my personal records.)
I had totally underestimated what the weather would be in Berlin, Germany. I think I saw somewhere that at about the time our plane would be landing, the weather was going to be about 16 degrees centigrade. “That’s within range…” I said to myself; having lived in northern Nigeria and had endured temperatures much lower than those. You would then understand my shock when the pilot of our plane announced that we would soon be landing in Berlin and “…the weather being 6 degrees centigrade…” That was when I realize that I was in a lot of trouble.
Thankfully, we did not have to spend too much time outside as we were quickly conveyed to the airport reception by buses and then went straight to the immigration people to verify our documents. One thing I noticed about the Tegel Berlin airport was that it was totally unlike the Turkish airport in Istanbul. It was almost deserted at about 11am when we landed. I did a quick math and I figured that Turkish airlines clearly has cashed into the non-functional Nigerian airways and the myriads of Nigerians flying to and out of Nigeria every day.
The Europeans appear to have relinquished that business line to the middle easterners as they pursue more lucrative business opportunities around the world. The truth is that the amount of money Nigerians are pouring into foreign airlines, to make journeys to and from Nigeria, is mind-boggling. These are resources that can be reinvested in the Nigerian economy if we would have a management that would revive the Nigerian Airways and make it profitable again.
My hosts had sent a taxi to pick me. They already knew when my plane would arrive and must have added a few minutes to my arrival. At the exit, I found a total stranger holding the name-tag of the company inviting me to Berlin. In less than two minutes, I was being conveyed to the hotel where I would lodge for my five day stay in Berlin. Talk about organization. There was no need to call anyone. There was no long stay at the airport, with the fear that hold-up might have held the taxi up in town. Nothing. I arrived my hotel; checked in and went straight to sleep. I was exhausted, the room was warm, and there was no need to take a bath because the whole city is one mass of air-conditioning at -20 degree centigrade (or so it felt to me).
Berlin, is the capital of Germany. It is a historical city. After the second world war, which Germany lost, Berlin was split into two with one half of the city in West Germany and the other half in East Germany. My hotel was only some 300 meters from the demarcating wall that used to separate the two nations. I walked to the site of the wall, which was pulled down exactly 30 years ago, though you could still see the signs of the wall on the road – left for posterity sake. There was a check-point called “Charlie Check-point”.
There American soldiers used to be stationed to ensure that no one moved from East Germany to West Germany. The check point is still there for all to see. At every time of the day, tourists can be seen taking pictures at this place. Unfortunately my visit to the city was a working visit and so I had no time to visit the plethora of museums they have all around to hear more about the great city and its historic past. So much of what I would be writing here would just be my personal observation as I walked the streets. This note is even more for me so that I can have a written account of my visit to Europe stored away here on the internet.
One thing I could never comprehend about the people of Berlin (and perhaps all Germans) was the vast number of women that were smoking. Ha! It was alarming. I asked one of those hosting us why this was so. He explained that the government had tried to curb smoking among its citizens by increasing the prize of a stick of cigarette. The result, unfortunately, was a spiked reduction in the number of men smoking and an increase in the number of women smoking. He said no one has been able to explain the phenomenon. Thankfully there is a law against smoking within confined spaces, so all those smoking did it outside (or within their homes). But I just could not get over the sight. I hope Germans understand the advert saying that “…all smokers are liable to die young…”? While such words have become mere platitudes, they hold a lot of wisdom for those who heed them.
Berlin is super organized. The transportation system might be about the best in the world. My friend Taiwo, who rescued me from the cold later in the week, explained that one could buy bus tickets for 60 euroes which would permit you to take the train and bus anywhere in the city, at any time of the day, for as many times as you wish. Because of a very functional rail and bus system, the people are discouraged from owning their own cars. If you have a car and you have to drive within the city and park on the streets, you would have to pay per hour for this. And this cost increases based on the neighborhood where you are. In spite of these restrictions, there are quite a lot vehicles on the streets. While the light rails and the underground trains are working 24/7.
My reflection on Berlin cannot be complete without talking about the German people themselves. Now, most Germans, like any other people around the world, are most comfortable speaking their language. They are super proud of their heritage, fiercely patriotic and you can sense that tendency to defend anything about themselves and their history. I did not bring up the world wars with any of them but it is common knowledge that Germans are not proud about the world wars they fought but they do not deny them. Germans, I noticed, do not like the idea of being subordinate to the English.
The truth of the matter is that until after the Second World War and the devastating effect it had on their nation, Germany had always been a greater power than England. But with the triumph of the Allies at the war, and the colonization of much of the world by the British, many countries around the world are better at speaking English than German. Thus, the German, who is quite industrious and must sell his wares to all the world, is forced to learn how to speak English to interact with his customers. Of course, their English is not perfect (though I commend their ability to learn a second language and speak it well), they make a good effort at expressing themselves in English. But as soon as they are done doing this, they revert to speaking German. It would take a long time for Germany to be restored to its pre-world war years but at the rate they are moving, they are likely to overtake England soon. The German people are an interesting lot to study and hope I would have the opportunity of visiting that nation again.
At the place where I worked there was a large portrait of two old men kissing. When I saw it, I was aghast. Ha, homosexuality! I kept it to myself but I began to think “…is it that everyone in this place is a practicing homosexual… Oyinbo people sha…” On the last day of the training, I gathered some courage and I approached one of the young men in the company. Pointing at the portrait, I said: “what does this mean… Is this glorifying homosexuality?” He let out a laugh and went on to explain. First he took me to Google on the phone and we typed in “German Communist Kiss”. The story appeared.
The place where we had the training was a part of Berlin that used to be part of East Germany. East Germany, during the cold war, was under Communist Russia. The portrait was a picture that represented happenings in those days. Gorbachev, President of Russia, had visited East Germany, and the kiss was a characteristic hand of fellowship among communist leaders. Gorbachev was kissing the then President of East Germany, Erich Honecker. The kissing ritual has since been abolished among communist leaders with the end of the cold war. The people however still publish that picture around Berlin to mock Russia for claiming to love the German people so much, yet they put them under so much political oppression. WhenWhen I heard that, my mind settled. My friend, explained however, that homosexuality has since been legalized in Germany although the picture before us was not depicting homosexuality.
One other thing I noticed about Berlin was that the people are not religious. Germany is officially a Christian nation but much of its people are secularist in thinking. I did not see one church in the whole of Berlin, except for the sound of a church bell we heard on the outskirt of the city. Maybe that is the reason for the pollster of male strippers I saw while on a night out one evening. A lady’s club was having some men come over as strippers and the pollster was splashed all over that section of the city. It sounded like an abomination to me but for Germans it was nothing, really. German people work very hard, and they also party very hard too.
© Deji Yesufu
Berlin and me
Thank you for sharing your encounter in Germany with us. I love what I read and I am thinking, how can a place like Berlin be evangelised and won to Christ?
A very good question. My simple answer is that by establishing a Christian church in that city and helping it to grow it’s missionary efforts – preferably by Germans themselves.
I understand that many churches in the USA have mission outposts in Germany. The German people also must take missions seriously and work at overcoming the secularism in that nation. Just as false religion thrive in Africa, secularism thrive in Europe. We are not any better than them.