My third week in Berlin last Friday, and what a week it’s been!

Old friends visited from the UK and we had a wonderful time catching up.

Over dinner my friend who’s a nurse observed I was looking over the top of my glasses. Could I read a huge sign across the road without my glasses? I couldn’t. When I covered my right eye, I could only see blurred images and when I looked down virtually nothing at all.

Monday came and with it the start of my intensive German class. I was the oldest in the class by about 10 years. Most of my fellow students were in their 20’s and 30’s and want to live and work in Berlin. Well, it was advertised as intensive and it was. I struggled to keep up, but on Tuesday I felt the lesson past me by. I found it hard to look at the white board and then down to a text book. Maybe I was too old for this.

In the afternoon, I went to an optician and had an eye test. I had only 20% vision in my right eye. The optician gave me the name of an eye specialist and I made an appointment for Thursday. In two days time, I couldn’t believe it. It would take weeks in NZ.

The clinic was situated in the upmarket Potsdammer Platz. The waiting room had glass walls, and comfortable chairs. You could help yourself to unlimited beverages while you waited. Luckily for me the specialist spoke excellent English, and I underwent tests on two state of the art machines. She agreed with the optician’s diagnosis.

Did it come as a shock? Not completely. I remember when I was in the retreat in Goa, I couldn’t see to walk up the steps to the morning meditation. I think my vision has deteriorated since arriving in Berlin, as I have tripped over numerous times, particularly when it’s dusk and on wet cobbles.

So, what did she suggest? An operation. I have a cataract covering my right eye, which would make my vision blurred, and underneath I have a ridge over my eye which explains when I look down I can’t see, and that’s probably the reason why I couldn’t keep up in the classroom.

On Monday, I’m booked in for two hours of tests because I need a lens fitted. The operation will take place in 3 weeks’ time and last 15 minutes. Hopefully, my sight will be restored. The cost which I’ll have to pay is 3,300 euros. I can’t imagine it will be covered by travel insurance, but that’s ok.

My birthday was last Sunday. It was a strange kind of day, as I spent it alone, but it’s only another day. In the morning, I had a long Skype call with my best friend in NZ.

In the afternoon, I went to the Soviet cemetery in Treptower Park. The German guidebook describe it as uber large, but it’s massive. It was built in 1949 to commemorate the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin. The stone and the granite used in the construction came from the demolished Nazi headquarters.

I walked down a tree lined avenue, and up the steps. I passed two huge blocks of red granite which depict the Soviet flag with the hammer and sickle engraved on them. On either side, there are two statues of Soviet soldiers kneeling with their heads bowed.

 In front of me, but about four football pitches away, stood a 12 metre bronze statue of a Soviet soldier, holding a small child in one of his arms. The other holds a smashed swastika.

Before you reach the statue, there are 16 stone sarcophagi on either side which represent the 16 Soviet republics. They depict heroic Soviet soldiers in battle, the Motherland, the carvings and quotes of Lenin.   

It took me a long time to walk around it, and look at all the engravings. There were also many young Russian speakers visiting the monument. I guess the sacrifice of their soldiers is taught in schools today.

Before I left NZ I read Anthony Beevor’s Berlin – The Downfall. German soldiers who survived the battle, recount the bravery of the Russians, who continued with the advance knowing they would be mown down by German machine guns.

The monument should be a sightseeing highlight. It’s a bit of a trek from the centre, but anyone interested in WWII or the Cold War would find it interesting.

I expect the Soviet Union made the East German government pay for the construction. The GDR was forced by their Soviet masters to repay huge amounts of money in war reparations. It could never have survived without Soviet assistance, as the GDR was in debt from its creation as a country. It became a buffer for the Soviets from the capitalist West and another satellite state.

Next time in the blog …. “Did I continue with my German course?”.


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