Hitting the Wall – Reaching Berlin The End of the Iron Route

By Abi King | Europe

Dec 17

street art berlin

The Berlin Wall: The End of the #IronRoute

Eighteen days ago I set out on a journey of more than a thousand miles. It took me through nine different countries, six different currencies, two continents and it strayed both in and out of the European Union. It criss-crossed along the iron curtain and took me face to face with some of the most important events in recent European history – if history can include my own lifetime.

It showed me chocolate cake and gluwein, war crimes and reconciliation, rail strikes and lost property and it introduced me to the point of iPhone travel apps.

I caught up with old friends, met new ones and had the privilege to interview some of the most fascinating people I’ve met yet.

I’m exhausted, to be honest, as I type this out and I felt the same way when I reached the East Side Gallery in Berlin earlier today.

At 1.3 kilometres long, this former marker of a divided Europe now serves as the largest open air gallery in the world. And open air it is.

I arrived not long before Christmas to a moving wall of hail and sleet. Tears burned the curves of my cheeks, while my torn and drenched map screamed with the wind. I had to walk backwards, to protect my face and, more importantly, my camera lens. With numbness creeping through the soles of my shoes, this is what I saw:

berlin wall east side gallery pic

Berlin street art painting

Berlin street art hands

Berlin street art man

Looking back at #ironroute

I’ve wondered how to word this, but I’m just going to come out and say it.

This trip really has changed my outlook on the world. When I began planning, it seemed a shame to finish in Berlin, rather than to travel east to the edge of Asia. Now, after reading, visiting, interviewing and thinking so much about each of the countries I’ve visited and how they’ve changed over the last 100 years, there couldn’t be any place to finish other than Berlin.

I hope to share more of that with you in a (hopefully) more coherent manner over the next few weeks, but for now, thank you so much for following along, thank you to InterRail for the freedom and funding that made this trip possible, thank you to every single one of the many people who helped me along the way – and I’ll be back in touch again soon.

Berlin Wall

Only one question for today: what, in particular, about this trip would you like to hear about?



About the Author

Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com

Kirsten December 17, 2011

I’m most interested in the history you’ve encountered and how that knowledge has changed or impacted you. You seem to express that is has. That it did even while you were on the trip. Food and people are great. But I love history – that’s what I’d love to read about.

    Abi King December 20, 2011

    Quite relieved to hear it, actually! Had slight concerns at one point that I might be the only person interested in the history and that everyone else only had eyes for the chocolate cake…

Dalene December 17, 2011

Um, everything? Is that too much to ask? :)

LOVE that last picture…

    Abi King December 20, 2011

    Your wish is my command! PS – Thanks ;)

Linda December 18, 2011

I’m with Kirsten. I think that we are possibly woefully uninformed about the countries through which you’ve been travelling. When I was born in 1946 the Iron Curtain had already, as Churchill said, fallen across Europe. I grew up knowing very little about the countries behind it. They were forbidden or dangerous, countries you read about in Ian Fleming or John le CarrĂ©. I knew virtually nothing about what was going on unless there was an uprising, and their history was becoming lost in the chaos of other wars in Korea, Suez and then Indo-China. If I grew up knowing nothing, then there was no knowledge which I could pass on to my kids either.

It would be great to learn more about them, about how they are now, but about how they became that way, and do they still feel a divide between them and western Europe?

    Abi King December 20, 2011

    Very excited to read this, as that’s what I wanted to explore!

Mikeachim December 19, 2011

I’m interested in the inner journey you mention. How did the things you saw and the people you spoke to challenge your outlook on these places? What made you really blink? What made you question things you’d held as self-evident? In what ways did you come away feeling like you actually knew less about the world than when you started (which is a delicious feeling for a traveller)?

And I’m interested how seeing the Wall felt, after such a long and arduous journey, since it’s a symbol of such emotional resonance.

Furthermore (oh, someone shut me up, I’ll be here all night)….

The history is ever-present. But what’s the reality of these places, right now? And was there a disconnect between the history you knew and the places of today that you were experiencing?

OK, I’m done. :)

Abi King December 20, 2011

I’m on the case ;)

Alvina Labsvirs December 22, 2011

I am interested in the people you met and the your views on the history. (I have commented on your last post too, so you will see why). I travelled to Italy via interail in 1979, via Yugoslavia, as it was then, stopping overnight in Skopia, and travelling through Turkey, which at the time I found terrifying. My fist trip back to my Latvian family was in 1988, still under austere communist rule. It has change immeasurably since then, but I am sure some of the places you visited and still steeped in the past.


Abi King December 30, 2011

Yes, the layers from the past are still there. In some places, it’s very obvious, in others hardly at all, until a chance comment makes you stop and think. I keep trying to type up a quick example to show here but I think I need to give it a little more thought…Perhaps it deserves a post of its own.

Amer @TendToTravel January 6, 2012

I’ve yet to make it to Berlin. So I’m glad to see this colorful outdoor gallery. I would like to hear more about your encounters with local people. There’s a number of negative reviews I’ve read about people originating from these countries. Kinda a snapshot of their lives today.

    Abi King January 6, 2012

    Happily, I met quite a few people who live in Berlin – both those who grew up on the east side and those who had grown up on the west.

    Check out Just Travelous (http://www.justtravelous.com/en) from Yvonne for a glimpse into life in Berlin today.

    And, of course, check back here in a while to see what I’ve written about Berlin!

Lane January 8, 2012

Don’t leave out a thing! p.s. Great photography

    Abi King April 2, 2012

    OK – I’ll get to it!

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