Monday, January 17, 2011

Berlin

Spent last weekend in Berlin. We've been to Berlin a few times before but we hadn't been there since 11 November 1989. That was a Saturday and just two days after the Berlin wall was finally opened on Thursday, 9 November 1989. For that trip, that same Thursday in 1989, Jeff had to quickly get Flag Orders that allowed us to travel across East Germany. That day he also bought a new hammer and chisel because we were going to Berlin to pound on the wall and get us some souvenirs.

Even though the wall was opened, we still had to travel north to Check Point Alpha where we were briefed by US military police on procedures for crossing East Germany. We still had to pass through three Russian checkpoints on the drive through East Germany. And, upon arrival in West Berlin, we had to check-in at Check Point Bravo to let our security forces know that we had arrived safely. The next day, Saturday, 11 November 1989, Veterans Day, Jeff, Megan and I spent two hours chiseling away on the Berlin wall. The cement was tremendously hard. Huge holes were already in the wall. Stepping through to the east side, which would have gotten you shot just weeks before, resulted in East German guards laughingly telling you to step back to the west.

So even though we had already made a number of trips to Berlin, when we had passed through Check Point Charlie and seen the no-man's land on the east side, we wanted to go back and see the city without the wall. We wanted to see the new building that has gone on over the last twenty years and places in the old east Berlin that we didn't have an opportunity to see back then. An additional reason to make the trip to Berlin was an exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches (German History) Museum entitled Hitler und die Deutschen (Hitler and the Germans).

The drive to Berlin was six hours. We arrived Thursday evening and checked in to our hotel just a short walk north of the Kurfurstendamm, the high-end shopping street in Berlin. Jeff had already done a good bit of research on where we wanted to eat and places where we wanted to sample the local beer and that venture began Thursday night. Friday we did the Deutsches Historishches Museum first thing then did the old East Berlin sightseeing we wanted to accomplish. Saturday we jumped on one of those all-city bus tours which wound through the entire city, both old west and east Berlin. Saturday afternoon we finished up our sightseeing loose ends. In amongst all the looking around activities we were also able to visit some very fine eating and beer drinking establishments. Sunday morning we started home with an interesting development on the way.

So here's our Berlin experience in pictures. Just one observation before we get started. The main shopping areas in the old west Berlin seemed pretty quiet. There was so much more activity in the new shopping areas of old east Berlin along Friedrichstraße and Alexander Platz. Of course, it's all one city now so it really doesn't matter.

Our first night, Thursday, we walked ten minutes from our hotel to Zillemarkt. Really cool place, really mediocre food. Since Jeff had read that currywurst was invented in Berlin in 1949 he had to finally try it. OK, that squares filled. I had rouladen, stuffed cabage with ground beef. Disappointly bland. The Berliner beers was great.

The Deutsches Historisches Museaum was a great experience. The exhibit showed how the Nazi party totally infiltrated itself into German society; intellectually, financially, poltically and commercially. Through a myriad of amazing artifacts, pictures, movies, personal testimony and more, it showed how it came that the German people followed Hitler and the Nazis to their destruction.

After the museum we set out to see some of the sights. This is the Berlin Dom (Cathedral). It's the largest protestant church in Germany and was situated in old East Berlin. It was reopened in 1994 after reunification. It's also the church where Herman Goring was married. His best man? Adolf Hitler.

Brandenburg Gate looking towards the west. The new US embassy is just to the left of the gate, the French embassy to the right.

A double line of bricks runs through the city where the wall once stood. These bricks are just down the street from the Brandenburg Gate.

Here's a picture of the Brandenburg Gate taken when the wall was still in place. The circle on the wall is about where Jeff, Megan and I pounded on the wall over 21 years ago. Today, just beyond the gate is the US embassy and further into that no-man's land, across the street from the embassy is a large Holocost Memorial.

I'm standing out in the street on the double line of bricks within a few feet of where we chipped concrete from the wall 21 years ago.

Checkpoint Charlie is still there, mostly to support the souvenir vendors and museum that surround the area. Of course, this is facing toward East Berlin and that's why there's the large photo of a Russian soldier. On the opposite side, facing west, is a picture of an American GI.

This warning sign is still there and still a popular photograph with the tourists.

The wall, of course, is no longer there. Just past Checkpoint Charlie is this line of double bricks with this inscription. Mauer=Wall. Wonder if the Twins catcher, Joe Mauer, knows that?

We drove out to the Deutsch-Russisches (Russian) Museum. 21 years ago it was the Russian Museum. Either way, this is the building where Germany's final surrender was signed. The building itself was a former German officers club which the Soviet Union took over as they approached Berlin. (That's the exact thing I'd do if I had an opportunity; make the enemy's officers club my headquarters.) 21 years ago it was all from the perspective of the Russians and their view of the war and the evil Nazis. That included pictures of the main Nuremburg war criminals on slabs after they'd been hung; even Herman Goring after he poisoned himself. Now, it's a joint view of the war, both German and Russian, and the hardships that both countries endured. Sadly, the war criminal corpse pictures are gone.

Jeff standing in the room where the surrender was signed. This was the first time we'd been to the former East Berlin and not been in uniform. 21 years ago and before, whenever we entered East Berlin we had to wear our uniforms, full dress blues. This was apparently because the US did not recognize East Germany and I think they wanted us in uniform so that East Berlin authorities were less likely to approach us. We were also required to remove our name tags so that no commie spies could easily identify us.

After a tough day of sightseeing we went to Prater Gastette & Biergarten. It's the oldest and largest beer garden in Berlin. The beer garden is really large and, of course, not open in January. However, the Gastette (restaurant) is probably the closest thing to a beer hall in Berlin. It's a big, plain room, wooden, creaking floors and heavy wooden tables. But the crowd is happy and boisterous and the food was great!!

We ended the night on the Kurfurstendamm at a very nice bar and a couple of Berliner Kindl's.

Here's a picture of our window/door in our hotel room. Notice two things. No balcony, just step out to a 50 foot drop. Also, see the top of the city train as it passes. With a bit of a jump I'm sure Jeff could catch a ride. Amazingly enough, the soundproofing was outstanding. Close the window and the noise stayed outside. Great hotel overall too; Hampton Inn.

One more picture from our hotel, this time in the shower. Jeff said he wasn't sure what to do with the bottle on the right.

Saturday the weather was much better and, first thing, we got on the Circle City bus tour which is one of those hop off-hop on buses. We hit most of the big sights in the city and heard lots of interesting information. Here, wrapped in scaffolding is the Kaiser Wilhem Memorial Church. Although severely damaged during the war it was left intact to memorialize the survival of the people and the city. Apparently a little renovation going on.

Further along the Kurfurstendamm is this bit of art. Don't remember the name but the four pieces represent the city occupied and partitioned into four sectors; American, French, English and Soviet. The pieces are in this noodle shape, flexing and trying to reunite, yearning to be a single city once again, blah, blah, blah. Art! Don't start a war and you won't get divided up and have to yearn to reunite.

Good grief, more scaffolding! I'd like to have a piece of that business. This is the Victory Column and at least it's covered with material to reflect the actual appearance of the column when not covered. This column actually commemorates three wars that Prussia won; Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866 and France in 1871. Man they were busy, wasn't a great time to be Prussia's neighbor. The last war in 1871 led to the unification of all German states in a single German country for the first time.

An interesting street sign in Berlin; Stauffenberg. It's named after Claus von Stauffenberg, the key member of the 20 July 1944 assasination attempt on Hilter at his Wolf's Lair headquarters in Poland. Nice that Claus has a street and none for Adolf.

1.3 kilometers of the wall still stands along the Spree River at the East Side Gallery. Over a hundred famous and world reknowned artists have contributed their work to decorating the wall. This is a view from the east side of the city.

Here's one panel of the wall at the East Side Gallery. It Leonid Brezhnev, head of the Soviet Union, and Erich Honecker, leader of East Germany in a lip lock. The statement at the bottom says, "My God, help me to survive this deadly love." The artist is Dmitri Vrubel, a Russian. Wonder where he got a picture of these guys going at it to use as his guide?

Here's an example of a typical apartment building the Soviets built for the East Germans. It was essentially a block building. You can see the lines of each cube, all stacked on top and next to each other. Sometimes the blocks didn't fit together very well. On our first visits to East Berlin as you drove by, some of these buildings you could actually see through the gaps all the way to the other side of the building. Sometimes, to hold a building together, they placed a thick cable through the entire length of the building and tightened it up to pull the blocks together. It appears that those problems have been fixed though, no visible gaps. One thing that hasn't change though, still no elevators.

The Soviet Union Unknown Soldier Memorial with the Reichstag in the background. Probably appropriate that they placed it here, so near the Reichstag where the Battle of Berlin fighting was most fierce.

The Reichstag. That glass dome is quite an impressive structure and was added to the buidling during a late 1990's renovation.

After the bus tour we were totally parched, so we went to a very modern gasthaus, part of gleaming, glass entertainment center in the Potsdamer Platz called Linderbrau. Had a sandwich and a beer. We liked this glass. Trinkt mehr bier. The universal decree, Drink more beer.

Just a short walk from Linderbrau is the Berlin Holocost Memorial which sits across the street from the American embassy and just down the road from the Brandenburg Gate.

The memorial consists of 2711 slabs of concrete or stelae. They range in height from flush with the ground on the perimeter to over 15 feet at the center. The memorial was completed in 2004 and no symbolism has been attached by the designer in either the number of stelae or overall design. Art.

Here I am at the center of the memorial and you can see just how tall the stelae are at this point.

The Fernsehturm, TV tower, in former East Berlin. Back when the city was divided it this tower was called the Pope's Revenge. That's because the catholic church had donated a considerable sum to East Berlin to help with the upkeep of the cathedrals that had been left to decay under communist rule. Well, instead of using that donation on church repairs the city used it to build the Fernsehturm. Because of the design of the tower, when the sun shines bright it reflects a shiney cross on the large ball shaped structure. The Pope's Revenge.

After the Holocost Memorial we needed something to lift our spirits and conveniently we found this place. Interesting bar, lots of pictures of Berlin in the past, all kinds of memorabilia hanging from the walls and ceilings. However, I think we were the only ones in the place not smoking. Sometimes you have to suck it up for a bit of the amber nectar.

The amazing recuperative powers of the amber nectar. These are Berliner beers, one of the local breweries.

After our recovery we walked over to the Alexancer Platz. This was all in the former East Berlin and the large building in the background was their showplace commie department store. We bought a few things there on our first visit to Berlin in 1985. Megan was only 8 months old so I bought her some bibs, commie bibs as Jeff called them. After washing, they all shrunk to about a quarter of their original size. The buidling has been completely renovated and is now a C&A store. That's me sitting at the fountain.

There was so much going on at the Alexander Platz. Lots of people coming and going. We thought these two guys were ingenious. They were wearing harnesses that had a portable grill on the front and a propane tank on the back. Came with a high speed windsheild and umbrella too. They were grilling the standard stuff, brats.


And now, as far as eating in Berlin, the Pièce de résistance, zur Letzten Instanz, The Last Instant. (Pretty cool there, French, German and English back-to-back-to-back.) It's the oldest pub/gasthaus in Berlin beginning operations in 1621. They claim that Napoleon dined here and they have a table with a large brass sign to shows where he sat. The name comes from a couple who were planning to separate but because they had such a wonderful time here, at the last instant, they decided to stay together.

Schultheiss, another local brewery. A nice way to start the evening.

Outstanding food, outstanding atmosphere, great beer and very nice people.

We sat next to a Russian gentleman. A very nice guy, Ivan. He invited us to use his flat when we go to Moscow. This is a picture of his meal. A gigantic boiled ham hock. Pounds and pounds of ham.

Well, if you're still with us that was our Berlin trip. After a wonderful night we went back to the hotel and left the next morning, Sunday. Because this blog was so long our next one will be about what we encountered on the way home. It was wonderful to be back in Berlin, two decades later. It's a great city!

2 comments:

  1. Looks like you guys had a great trip. I enjoyed reading about all of the history and places you went to visit.

    I liked hearing the story about us pounding on the Berlin wall too.

    ReplyDelete