After six months in Heidelberg, José Rizal, whose 156th birth anniversary the nation marks today, traveled by train to Berlin through Leipzig, Frankfurt, Bonn and Dresden, arriving in the city on the evening of Nov. 1, 1886. He stayed at the Central Hotel. He was 25 years old.
The following day, Rizal wrote a letter to his friend Pastor Karl Ullmer in Wilhelmsfeld, informing him of his arrival the day before:
“I arrived at this large city where I intend to spend five or six months. My new residence is on Jaegerstrasse No. 71, third floor.
“I was two weeks in Leipzig and a few days in Dresden. I liked Leipzig very much, but I liked Berlin better because of its beauty.
“I have nothing more to tell you except that I am very well.
“Affectionate greetings to the good Frau Pastor, to Eta and Friedrich. ”
On May 11, 1887, Rizal left Berlin and embarked on a grand tour with his friend Maximo Viola to various European cities.
Rizal stayed in Berlin, capital of Germany, to gain further knowledge of ophthalmology, to attend some lectures at its local university, to further his studies of sciences and languages, to get familiar with the scenic Germany, to be part of the scientific community and to finish his novel, “Noli Me Tángere.”
Rizal was enchanted by the cosmopolitan city in northeastern Germany because “of its scientific atmosphere and absence of prejudice.”
Following Rizal’s footsteps, this writer traveled from Heidelberg to Berlin by train, during the 100th anniversary of the declaration of Philippine Independence in 1998, to retrace Rizal’s footsteps in Germany’s biggest city.
I arrived at Berlin’s Zoolog Garten train station, where I was met by my cousin and her companion, both nurses in a Berlin hospital, who acted as my tour guides and translators during my brief sojourn in the city.
Berlin is Germany’s cosmopolitan city.
“This city, more than any other,” says the book “Berlin,” “is a poignant reminder of epoch-making episodes in the nation’s past; the Berlin airlift, the building of the Wall, student unrest, reunification—all are indelibly associated with this metropolis on the Spree.”
It is difficult to describe Berlin as it is a “city of contradictions and conflicts.”
But patriotic Berliners would aptly describe it as “incomprehensibly and incomparably wonderful.”
After my memorable tour, I can wholeheartedly agree with their observations.
It was an exhilarating experience retracing Rizal’s footsteps in Berlin where our national hero walked over 100 years ago.
I stood in awe and had fleeting glimpses of the imposing Berlin Cathedral and some of the finest and magnificent churches that had been rebuilt and renovated over the years and are now resplendent in their former glory.
Included in my itinerary was a visit to the iconic Berlin Wall; the imposing Brandenburg Gate; the rebuilt Reichstag (the parliament); Checkpoint Charlie; Schoeneberg Town Hall; Alexanderplatz and the legendary Unter den Linden Avenue.
It was providential that I traveled to Berlin after the reunification of East and West Germany, or I would have missed the opportunity of visiting the eastern side of Berlin, then under the communist government.
But even that early, in 1998, it was already getting hard to find reminders of the communist times. The West lost no time in consuming the East; consequently some were feeling a wave of nostalgia for the old days of East Berlin.
Rizal in Berlin
Retracing Rizal’s footsteps proved to be difficult. A lot had changed since Rizal’s time. And Berlin keeps on changing!
The bombs of World War II had not left much of Berlin. The relentless bombings reduced the German capital into ruins.
The original sites Rizal frequented, and other historical landmarks associated with Rizal’s sojourn in Berlin when he was a young student in 1887, were almost completely obliterated during the latter stages of the war.
Some streets and boulevards have also been renamed or changed after the war.
It would be impossible for Rizal to recognize Berlin today.
Our first top was the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor).
Crowned by a majestic four-horse chariot with the goddess of peace at the reins, it was “the symbol of Prussian Berlin and later the symbol of a divided Berlin.”
The colossal Neoclassical arch “has endured several symbolic reincarnation and has been the scene and symbol of many historic events.”
Brandenburg Gate is the most visited place by tourists and it was possible Rizal and his fellow expats took their leisurely strolls in this historic square. —CONTRIBUTED
Ramon M. Roda is a retired professor of Spanish and Rizal Course at the University of Santo Tomas. He has received grants from the Spanish government for travels and studies in Madrid and Santander.