Matthew's News and Gossip: Yurp! Berlin

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Yurp! Berlin

Leaving Prague on a night train, I used my cheap English cellphone to call a random place from the guide book in Berlin. My German and the English of the woman answering the phone matched, and we managed to ascertain "Zimmer Yes!" in about 5 minutes of conversation. However, due to its odd history Berlin has three main stations and the train we were on was splitting, a guard who spoke some English told us. We had to move to the other end of the train and then it went into and out of and then back into the old Eastern station and then slowly over to the West (the Zoo station). By the time we got out on the street and wondered around having been misdirected by a tall, African American guy who stopped "to help" it was close to 2am when we got to our "Zimmer".

Berlin is about done being rebuilt, or at least has taken a pause in that process. Being Germany you can of course buy good sausages on the street (bad news for veggies like Amanda), the beer is good, and surprisingly almost no one speaks English (far more people in France spoke English--kind of annoying when I'd speak to them in French first!). We went on a fun bike tour of Berlin, which is dominated by the hidden history of both WWII and the cold war/Wall period, even though you'd almost miss both of them if you didn't know they'd happened.

First stop on our bike tour was with my old lackeys, Marx and Engels. When I was reading their stuff in college, people over here actually not only believed it, but claimed they were living it.

Marx and Engels with 2 other commies

But pretty soon you get to Checkpoint Charlie and into the cold war action. There is a potentially very cool museum here which goes from the end of the war, the protests put down by tanks in Berlin in 1953, the building of the Wall in 1961 all the way through all the escapes from East Germany (one by balloon, one by microlight, one by submarine, lots and lots by tunnel), and all the way up to the East European revolutions of 1989 and even the Russian coup in 1991 (remember that?) that led to the break-up of the Soviet Union. But the museum is totally disorganized and very hard to navigate. Pity.

The new faked CheckPoint Charlie

You can of course buy all kinds of "real mementos" across the street.

Fake wall, fake museum, fake gasmask, but real stubble

Given how it dominated the city for nearly 40 years, there's not much of the Wall left.

What's left of the Wall (Not Much!)

The big open expanse around the Brandenburg gate has been totally taken away, and the there's only a few original strips with one watchtower left. Otherwise there's just the odd cobble stones in the middle of the road to tell it by.

The only Watchtower left

Then if you really want to get into it and go looking for Hitler's bunker. Well suffice it to say that unlike the Cabinet War Rooms that's a memorial to Churchill,the Germans aren't quite so proud. Here's a picture below, underneath the best looking block of flats that the communists could manage.

Hitler died under here

What they have put up is a photo-based exhibit about the terror of the Nazi years. It's pretty interesting, mostly photos of people who were killed, plus lots of information about the terror mechanism, the death camps, and the SS. Not exactly pleasant stuff, but certainly something that needs to be seen.

Interestingly enough, in addition to the assassination attempt by some of the Army that failed in 1944, there was a lone attempt by an unaffiliated left-winger called Elser who hid in a Munich beer hall for several nights building a bomb that was designed to blow up when Hitler was making an annual speech there in 1938. Unfortunately, Hitler left 15 minutes earlier than usual, and the place was more or less empty (8 people died when it went off) and Elser was captured by the Gestapo. Funnily enough they kept him alive right until the very end of the war. Interesting to think how history might have changed if Hitler had stayed on schedule that day.

Map of the 3rd Reich and its terror camps at the "Topography of Terror" Museum

A weird oddity of the cold war is that the big Russian war memorial was actually in the British sector, and guarded by Russians. One or two escapes were made by Germans pretending to be Russians going to the Memorial driving through the checkpoint with a wreath on the top (sometimes those cars weren't searched).

Russian War Memorial (in the British Sector but guarded by Russians!)

One of the more impressive things that the East Germans put up was this huge radio tower. But apparently they didn't really know how and snuck a bunch of Swedes in to do it right, and the Swedes played a joke on the allegedly non-Christian commies, by sticking a cross on the tower. You can see it in the picture below.

The cross on the Communist radio tower

There is though a lot of new stuff in Berlin. There is this weird and somewhat controversial memorial to the Jews (controversial because it doesnt seem very connected to anything, and makes no mention of anyone else the Nazis killed, and because it takes up a huge amount of real estate, including part that the Americans wanted to protect their new embassy).

Memorial to the Jews (new and controversial)

Finally they have done a nice job of putting a glass dome up ontop of the Reichstag, burned down by Hitler in 1933 and unused since then, with the Wall running right past it. Now it's Germans' parliament again. We went up when it wasn't in session but you can kind of see into it from the top. And the view is great.

The new and improved Reichstag

And talking of new renovations, the Brandenburg gate -- the symbol of the Divided Berlin that lived in a no mans land for nearly 40 years -- is now surrounded by investment banks. Well, I guess that shows who won the cold war!

Brandenburg Gate: Open for business

All the rest of the many pictures from Berlin are here.
posted by matthew  # 9:07 AM
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