If you ever get a chance to go on a walking tour, I would suggest that you do it. I certainly enjoyed the walking tour in Berlin. Of course in Berlin, you get all sorts of tours – the beer cycling tour (which you cycle and drink beer), the bicycle tour, the motor scooter tour (or as Hubby calls it the lazy tour). I like walking, since it gives you a sense of distance and you have a bit more time to take in the environment around you.
We were slightly late for our tour, about 10 minutes, but thankfully, they were still only doing introductions, housekeeping and setting up the history of Berlin. Our tour mainly focused on the East Berlin. We crossed into West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie for a couple of steps and were straight back into the East again.
We did a whirlwind tour of Museum Island. It’s really been after the wall came down that much of this area has been restored. There was a lot of damage and you can still see a lot of bullet holes and ricochet marks on walls and pillars. Museum Island is very impressive, and will be even more so once it is fully restored. Behind one scaffolding, you can see a colonade that runs along the length of one side. How impressive this would be when it’s completed.
There is no question about it, the Berliners definitely liked their magnificent and impressive buildings, with large plazas in front of it. In being able to build these large “Roman forums”, they are likening themselves to the great civilisations of old.
The major difference with Berlin, as compared to London, Paris or Rome, is space. Even though you have huge buildings, you also have large squares, boulevards and gardens to admire them from. This is probably due in no small part to the destruction of many buildings during WWII. In other European cities, the scale of a building is sometimes lost because you’ve got other buildings right up next to it.
Below are more pictures of big buildings. The one next to the Berliner Dome is another a catheral built in the late 19th century. Destroyed during the war, it has only been restored within the last 10 years.
Humboldt University used to be an elite university in the early part of the 20th century. Albert Einstein was from Humboldt University. At one time in its history, it had the most Nobel prize winners. Since East German occupation, the university has lost its status, it being difficult to attract academics of high calibre. The square in the picture below is the site of the Nazi book burning. The books came from the Humboldt University library. In the ground, there is a memorial to the book burning. Through a plated glass in the floor, you can peer into a cavity of empty book shelves. it is quite eerie. There is no way in or out, in other words, no way to replace the books that were lost. There is space on the shelves for about 20,000 books, which is the approximate number of books burned by the Nazis on this evening.
See the domed building in the corner? That is a Catholic church. At the time it was built, Berlin was 97% Protestant and 3% Jewish. So where were the Catholics? The church was built to appease to the Austrian nobility and to show that Berliners were welcoming of all faiths.
One thing that is difficult about German history is remembering the names of the monarchs. They were all either named Frederick, Wilhelm, or Frederick Wilhelm. So people get them all confused. Below is one of the Fredericks.
The Jewish Holocaust Memorial is one of my favourite sights. A modern scuplture of solid granite blocks, I thought it was a simple yet effective way of remembering the Jewish victims. The “sculpture” is of large granite blocks of varying heights in a big square. You can enter the memorial from anywhere. When I first entered, it looked to me like a series of blocks around knee height, some thigh height. It reminded me of tombstones. There were no names, so it felt appropriate. There were so many Jewish people that died – how can we know all their names?
We had instructions from our guide to meet her at the other corner of the memorial. “Can’t be too difficult, we’ll just work our way diagonally across,” I thought. As we got deeper into the memorial, the blocks became higher, and it became darker. What I noticed was that I kept losing our party. Even though we all had the same intent, you naturally get split up by the blocks. I also noticed that the blocks were not randomly placed at all. They were placed along grid lines – a system. For me, what I got is that amongst what appeared to be initial chaos, was a systematic structure dedicated to the destruction of a group of people. Hubby got something completely different. He had the sensation of being lost, of being pulled away from your group, even though you tried to stay together. For him, the tall blocks became very isolating and you couldn’t hear the other people. Every so often, you would see a person whiz by and then they would disappear. It would be quite difficult to find them again.
You might get something completely different. What we found out was that the memorial was controversial. Many thought that there should be more, eg names or more elaborate, or something. In the end, it would always be controversial how a memorial would end up. I think it is simple and effective, and thought provoking. The Holocaust also targeted homosexuals and Gypsies, and they will also have their own memorial (currently being built).
Just around the corner from the Jewish Holocaust Memorial and the Reichstag, is Hitler’s Bunker. The location of Hitler’s Bunker had long been forgotten until East Berliners were planning the construction of a condominium complex. Surveys showed a large concrete structure. Where it was intended for a tall building is now a car park. Try as they might, they managed to collapse some of the walls but not destroy it completely. Therefore were not able to lay foundations down. There were actually 2 bunkers. The second bunker got built because Hitler became concerned of the strength of the first bunker. Apparently the 2nd bunker for 4 feet of steel plate for the roof. Anyway, they reckon it would survive a direct hit by a nuclear bomb – that was how strong it is. Not being able to do more, they simply covered it over and turned the area into a carpark.
Below must be the largest building ever for a Department of Civil Aviation. The length on one side of the building must go for at least 250 m. It was built after the Nazis came to power. Given this was the 1930s, there really wasn’t much action for civil aviation. In all likelihood, military planning was what was going on. The Allied Forces tried to bomb this building, but their targetting system was not as accurate as they would like. All other buildings in the area got levelled, but not this one. After the war, apart from a few nicks in the wall, this was the most pristine building left standing in the area.
Today, this building is the Department of Finance, or something like that. I must admit, it looks pretty scary as a tax office.