My second morning in Berlin, I returned to the Holocaust Memorial to see the Information Center (museum) located underneath. It’s very well done, definitely not appropriate for young children, and had me sobbing by the room where they exhibited diary entries and letters from people who died in the Holocaust, including children. I had to go through the rest of the museum fairly quickly after that.
I returned to my new friend’s apartment to pack up and meet my friend from graduate school. Transit went smoothly, I got to meet her baby, and we ate delicious doner in a park for lunch. We then had a lovely relaxed afternoon walk in the park, and I headed out to a play. It was a play written and performed by Greek-Germans/German-Greeks called Telemachus: Should I Stay or Should I Go? and discussed the thoughts of one young Greek German who had moved back to Greece but couldn’t find a job and was debating a return to Germany. Several different actors told their stories about coming to Germany, and there were clips of people on the street giving their opinions on what the protagonist should do. Overall quite good, though it dragged a little bit in parts and the supratitles in English sometimes left out entire chunks of dialog. And just the experience of attending an experimental theater in Berlin was worthwhile!
The next day was all about seeing the remains of the Wall. First came the museum at Checkpoint Charlie. (The checkpoint is so called because it was the third checkpoint – Charlie is for C – beyond which you left the American zone for East Berlin.) The museum is great, detailing the history leading up to the Wall and then giving information about the various escape attempts (including one family who made a homemade hot air balloon to successfully escape and a man who made a mini submarine that he used as a motor to propel himself and that got him a job offer once he escaped!)
Then in the afternoon, we went to Bernauerstrasse to walk the Berlin Wall History Mile. While the Wall is no longer there except for a small section at the start (or, for us, end) of the mile, there are colored bricks showing where it was, plaques detailing escape attempts, successes, and deaths, and a lot of interesting info posts. Most interesting to me was seeing the small section of Wall that was set up to include the inner and outer wall along with a guard tower in the death strip. I found it helpful to visualize what it was like.
History continued the next day. In the morning, I took a Berlin Underworld tour to see the one remaining bunker from WWII. It was fascinating, and the guide was passionate and knowledgeable about her work. There was one room painted with phosphorescent paint which in the war apparently stayed bright enough to read a newspaper by for several hours when the power went out. We also heard about how the air would slowly run out in a shelter crowded with three times the number of people who were slated to be there. The moms would use candles at three different levels to see when the flame would go out, at which point they would move the kids from the floor to their laps, then to their shoulders.
A single person sized bunker (not the one we went in):
We decided to take advantage of the great weather and spend the afternoon outside at the East Side Gallery, a stretch of Wall covered in paintings. First, though, we had some great schnitzel (a difficult feat requiring the ability to make the breading crisp and the meat tender, and not the other way around).
Walking along the Gallery:
We then headed to an Ampelmann store, a store selling things like magnets in the shape of the Berlin stop and go pedestrian cross sign men. Trust me, these little walk signals are special! I definitely needed magnets for my collection.
A few more Berlin sights on my last night (second picture is the Dom, apologies German friends if this is misspelled).
OK, I’m not a donut. But props to those of you who recognize the quote.
So I’m about a week behind in posting – I left off right around when I flew to Berlin last Monday. For my first night I stayed with a friend of a friend who lives just outside the Ringbahn (the circle line around the city). She was such a gracious host that I’m seriously considering trying Couchsurfing if other hosts are like her…(or I’ll keep depending on the friends of friends network since it worked so well for me both in Seoul and Berlin).
We had a leisurely lunch and chat, allowing me to recuperate from my early flight. I then hopped on the S bahn (one of Berlin’s two train/subway networks, and no, I have no idea what the difference is between it and the U bahn) and in under half an hour I was at the Brandenburg Tor (Gate), a symbol once of the division of Germany and now a symbol of reunification. Who can forget the pictures of the mobs of people celebrating the fall of the Wall there? And with all this historical build up, I must admit I thought it would be…bigger. Oh well, it was impressive all the same, though the guys trying to earn a few euros by dressing up as an American and a French soldier for photo ops were kind of weird. (Not that they hold a candle to the Darth Vader I saw a few days later. I almost posed with him. I mean, he had an extra light saber!)
I took a look at the outside of the Reichstag, one of the houses of the German parliament, and then headed south towards what I will call the Holocaust Memorial. (I think the official name is something like the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). It’s an impressive piece of public sculpture, which purposefully does not specifically reference the Holocaust (though you could consider it as representing tombstones – decide for yourselves).
I continued my walk south, more or less following the line that separated East and West Berlin, to arrive at Potsdamer Platz. I saw a lot of informational signs about both the Nazis and the Berlin Wall on my route. The city of Berlin has done an excellent job of providing information to build awareness.
Potsdamer Platz is symbolic of the new unified Germany – no longer a wasteland divided by the Wall (or a bombed out shell), it is full of new buildings for a new beginning. There are some pieces of the Wall there, covered in graffiti and pieces of gum in defiance of the DDR (East German communist government).
I wanted to wrap up my walk at Checkpoint Charlie, which meant that I passed a strip called the Topography of Terror. This is a block that housed both the Gestapo and the SS buildings along with other Nazi instruments of terror and control, and today houses a great (and free!) exhibit. I ended up spending quite a bit more time than planned there, so walked to Checkpoint Charlie afterwards with the idea of returning later to see the museum.
I headed back for an amazing dinner (my new friend being a good cook, too) and then off to bed!