On arrival in Berlin I met up with my friends Sylvie and Andrew – this is the third year we have met up somewhere during my travels.
We took a walking tour of Hidden Berlin with Urban Adventures – a company I have used before and like as their groups are very small and they tend to focus on food and/or being off the beaten track.
We started off our tour learning a little about Martin Borman’s attempt to escape from Berlin at the end of the war. The day after Goebbels and his family had committed suicide, he took the biggest tank the Germans had and early one morning had it driven down the Main Street and across a bridge on the River Spree. At first everyone was shocked to see this but then the multitude of Russians around started firing and disabled the tank quite quickly – given it was rather slow! He then tried to escape on foot but was quickly captured with his aides. They all had secret cyanide tables in their teeth and this was not detected so he was able to commit suicide rather than stand trial.
The building below next to FreidrichStrasse Station is the Palace of Tears and is built around the area where the those crossing the East/West border went past the guards to be checked. This space has been kept as it was and by going through a very narrow passage you switch from East to West Germany. In only three days here so far there is no doubt that the Wall had a tremendous emotional impact on the people of this city especially as it went up overnight so the shock factor was even greater. Having seen the separation wall in Palestine I understand how confronting a wall through the middle of a place that everyone lives in and could cross before can be very confronting.
The sculpture below is called “Train to Life; Train to Death” and is part of a series of 5 with the others being in London, Hamburg, Gdańsk and the Netherlands. These were done by Frank Meisler who himself was lucky to be on a Train to Life (the kinder transport just before the war that enabled about 10,000 Jewish children to escape to the UK and other locations). That’s the two children shown below. The other side of the sculpture reflects the children who ended up on trains taking them to concentration camps and usually certain death. There are more of them to reflect the weighting of how many more children dies in the holocaust (estimated at around 1 million)
We then briefly headed to what was the Jewish Quarter where I had my first Pfannkuchen (traditional non greasy doughnut with jam or very light custard cream) – it was from a bakery that has been specialising in them for 85 years and it was so delicious I ate it without taking a pic – no doubt I will try them again so will add to a future food blog!
The Grand synagogue below is unusual in that it was not wrecked in 1938 on Kristallnacht when the Nazis all over Germany ransacked the synagogues in the country and smashed everything they could find (hence Kristallnacht as there was so much broken glass around afterwards). This synagogue had been built much earlier in the 1840s and a big German nationalist hero of the time – Otto von Bismarck – had stated that it represented true German nationalism and should be respected. Apocryphally, when the Nazis thugs appeared and started to get ready to smash it up along with all the others – two very brave men came foreword and told them that this building had been sanctioned by the greatest German nationalist ever and did they really want to explain why they had broken it all up to their leader – also a strong nationalist. They decided to step back from destroying it on that night.
The Sophia church below is also interesting because it is a place where Martin Luther King came and preached in 1964! Who knew? He had been invited by the West German government to speak on behalf of the recently deceased JFK and he was interested in visiting East Germany. The US said no and took his papers away but he got someone to drive him to the checkpoint and the East Germans decided to let him in as they thought he might be a potential Marxist recruit. As this was an impromptu visit crowds gathered to see and hear him by word of mouth and it as as if he had appeared out of thin air. While he started to preach normally in the first 5 minutes after that he spoke about “if people find themselves in an environment where they are not allowed to live and pray freely there are people in other parts of the world who know about this and want to help them and set them free”. His way of giving support but NOT appreciated by the East Germans who swiftly sent him back across the border!
A fact I never knew is that MLK’s father came to Germany to study in the 30s and was so taken with the Lutheran approach to religion that he changed his son’s middle name to Luther out of respect for Martin Luther the founder of Lutheranism in Germany.
We then visited a portion of the Wall that remains as it was when it was in use. You can see the watch tower of which there were many and peek through the gaps as people did back then to see the No-man’s land or the “Death Strip” as it is known. A lot of people used to live there – their houses were just mowed down and they were moved elsewhere when the wall went up in 1961. BRUTAL
Finally on a busy day i wandered past the red brick Rathaus (the Town Hall) and took a look in inside. I liked the stained glass windows which had representations of different professions.
Headed back to the hotel to change and then onto an evening tour of the Reichstag (or German Parliament Building)
An interesting building as it still has remains of the old design and building including the magnificent frontage and then of course had modern parts added and the famous dome all designed by Norman Foster. Tours are free but you have to pre book and be cleared to attend and bring passports. The tour is about 90 minutes.
Below is the interior of the dome and members of the public can walk up to the top on the yellow walkways which means that when parliament is sitting they can look up and see people walking about their heads. All symbolic to remind them that they represent the people who are above them.
Below is some of the original building with Russian graffiti written by the soldiers placed their at the time of liberation. The Reichstag was a key building they wished to liberate. The boxes on the right are all the same (to reflect equality) and reflect the name of every elected official that has sat in the Reichstag. A few had an additional citation if they were killed as part of the rise of the Nazi party.
The interiors of the massive set of buildings is modern and light and airy. The public are able to wander around the outside, picnic and enjoy the environment.
This is a view from inside looking through the modern windows and then through the old pillars onto the main entrance.
There is an excellent restaurant on the terrace at the top of the Reichstag so we had dinner there and got to enjoy the terrace in the evening after all the other visitors had gone home.
Great day in Berlin.