Saturday, September 19, 2009

Terry's World.

It’s just after 9pm on a chilly Thursday evening and I find myself sitting at a square table in a small Bavarian bar down a back street in the heart of Berlin. I feel slightly out of place, due to the unnerving gaze of some of the locals. To the left of me sits Ziggy, a non-English speaking German who enjoys double denim and a cigarette poised constantly in his right hand. To my right is a man who I know slightly more about. His name is Terry Brewer. He dislikes bad grammar and frowns upon people with green hair and rings in their noses. He has taught me more about Germany in two days than any history teacher could achieve in two years.

As we sit chatting over a plate of German sausage and pickles with a side of beer Terry tells me that the last 20 years of his life have all but rolled into one. ‘Where has the time gone?’ he says.

Terry is an interesting character to say the least. He is nearly 74, served in the British Naval Intelligence and has been taking people on his famous Brewer tours of Berlin for over two decades. This means that not only did he see the fall of the Berlin wall, but he’s also seen the gradual rebuilding of neglected infrastructure that has begun to take place over the last 15 odd years. How many tour guides can proudly offer that kind of insight? Probably none, and yet Terry is as humble as anything.

‘It’s weird.’ He says. Barely 3 years ago this was empty land – just piles of rubble or crumbling buildings’ he motions at a large block of offices and housing estates. I struggle to comprehend what this place must have looked like until Terry shows me some photos of the vacant blocks at an information point nearby.

As we walk further around he city it suddenly dawns on me what the people of Berlin have done to this city. They have given new life to an area devastated by war and civil unrest; the Berlin Wall is now an art space, derelict buildings have become studios or live music venues and properties once destroyed by bomb raids are being restored to their original condition. Admittedly this does mean that the whole of Berlin oozes a cold, industrial façade – but this is part of its history. Look beyond these walls though and you find a very complex metropolis. What surprises me the most are the great expanse of glorious parks and gardens. They form islands of green amongst a sea of grey.

In fact it’s incredibly hard to imagine that just over 20 years ago this city was so divided. It seems so peaceful now. Germans mix with Jews (even in Jewish schools), and members of allied countries are living and working here on their own free will. Remnants of past years are all but left to the pages of history and the glass cases of museums. It’s not that Germans are trying to forget the past, they are just moving on. For nearly a century now there has been no palpable way of life. Now they have a chance to show some pride in their country and their once war-torn capital.

I must admit, the locals still aren’t overly friendly, but I think this is a result of being more reserved rather than being a display of arrogance. One thing is clear - they’re certainly not French. As a slight consolation, when you do find a chance to talk with one of them you realise that most of the time their English is impeccable. The only German I know is ‘danke,’ ‘nein!’ and a collection of derogatory swear words. I could still have fluid conversations with all the locals, just so long as I slowed my abnormally fast-paced Australian accent to a coherent and understandable speed.

A waitress comes to remove our plates. Terry says something to her in German and she lets out a laugh. ‘I told her the service was lousy’ he chuckles as she walks away. I shake my head and smile. He is a constant source of amusement.

Terry really is an excellent guide, and I recommend anyone coming to Berlin to partake in one of his many daily tours. He is a wealth of knowledge and explains everything in such detail and with such an enthusiastic demeanour that you can’t help but become fascinated by what he is saying. Occasionally he will repeat himself, but this only adds to the learning process. I am soon infatuated with Berlin and its complicated history. I yearn to know more.

‘I know an awful lot about a lot of things, but I don’t pretend to know everything about everything,’ is Terry’s famous mantra. He repeats it constantly and he means it. He does know an extraordinary amount about Berlin, and the rest of the world for that matter. Just be intelligent and don’t ask an ignorant question is my suggestion. You’ll be praised as a result.

I take two tours with Terry in the seven days I am here. The second one is the most fulfilling. Our contingent consists of a Jewish-American boy that seemed two loaves short of a basket, Terry and myself. We’re being led on ‘The Third Reich’ tour which takes us through understanding the most evil of Hitler’s plans to praising the resilience of the people who opposed him. Terry seems intent on giving the Jewish-American and myself a hard time. We are constantly tested on our general knowledge. He means no harm though. These tours are a great form of entertainment and at the same time a great way to learn Berlin's history.

This expedition is meant to last 4 hours and instead lasts 8. The man can certainly talk. As is customary at the end of the day, Terry invites me to join him for a beer at his favourite bar that he fittingly likes to call ‘his bar.’ I graciously accept. This is where we sit right now.

An evening with Terry could easily turn into a free history lesson. But I soon find out this is no time to talk about Berlin. This is Terry’s down time. We watch non-specific European soccer and I listen to him talk fluent German to his many friends that either regularly frequent the bar or work there. He is well know and well liked. He can communicate in 10 languages. He is a legend in this city and it is an honour to know him really.

After a little while I turn around and find Terry fast asleep in his chair, a half empty glass of beer slowly bubbling away in front of him. I smile. He has had a long day and a longer week. I pay the bill and make a stealthy exit making sure not to wake him.

Please, if you ever find yourself in Berlin, make sure you find Terry. I assure you it will not be a disappointing encounter.


No comments:

Post a Comment