Timeline: August 16th – 24th
The next day we were back in town to do one of the Steve’s self-guided walks, essentially retracing on foot what we’d done the previous days on bus and bike. We started in front of the Reichstag, and then passed by the Memorial to Politicians Who Opposed Hitler, the Berlin Wall Victims Memorial, and the Monument to the Murdered Sinti and Roma (Gypsies) on our way to Brandenburg gate and the Pariser Platz that is adjacent to it.
We stopped to glance at the DZ Bank Building, designed by Frank Gehry, famous for Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, among others. With a plain exterior so as not to upstage the Pariser Platz, its undulating interior is like a big, slithery fish. From there we walked around the corner and behind it and other buildings (the US Embassy and the Hotel Aldion) to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
This Holocaust memorial, consisting of 2,711 gravestone-like pillars (called “stelae”) and completed in 2005 was the first formal, German government-sponsored Holocaust memorial. The number of pillars isn’t symbolic of anything; it’s simply how much fit on the provided land. After spending some time moving about amongst the pillars, we entered the indoor information center, a sobering exhibit (well-explained in English) that studies the Nazi system of extermination and humanizes the victims, while also providing space for silent reflection. It’s a powerful experience, one that can’t easily be shaken.
We exited the center and walked a block or so to the site of Hitler’s Bunker. Now just a dirt filled parking lot with a single sign indicating the location, it gives a brief explanation of the site and its former contents. We tagged onto the tail end of an organized tour to hear more information than the sign conveyed, enough to send us on our way.
As we crossed the street n the way to Unter den Linden, I snapped a picture of the Ampelman pedestrian signal (Ampelmännchen), the beloved figures used throughout Berlin. During the reunification there were attempts to standardize all traffic signs to the West German forms. But, after a 10-year court battle, the popular DDR signals were kept after all. In every part of Berlin where tourists gather, you will find an Ampelman Store selling merchandise with this distinctive logo. We even had a beer brewed for them when we took a break that afternoon.
We continued walking down Unter den Linden, first pausing at the Brandenburger Tor S-Bahn station one of Berlin’s former ghost subway stations. During the Cold War, most underground train tunnels were simply blocked at the border. But a few Western lines looped through the East and then back into the West. The East Germans allowed trains to go through at a price (to get hard currency) but they could not stop. Today the stations seem frozen in time, looking much as they did when built in 1931, with dreary old green tiles and original signage on ticket kiosks.
As we walked east we passed the Microsoft Digital Eatery from the day before and then found ourselves at the Neue Wache, the emperor’s “New Guardhouse” constructed in 1816. Converted by communist authorities in 1960 to a memorial to the victims of fascism, the structure was transformed again, after the Wall fell, into a national memorial. Inside is a replica of the Käthe Kollwitz statue, “Mother with Her Dead Son”: It marks the tombs of Germany’s unknown soldier and an unknown concentration camp victim.
Stopping next at the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom), we just viewed it from the outside. Built in the late 1800’s, the guidebook recommended skipping the expensive ticket to see a not so impressive interior. Moving eastward we passed the DDR Museum (which we would visit later in our stay) that is located on the banks of the Spree River, stopping for a quick ice cream and to take a picture of one of the many wurst vendors (Grillwalker) who have a unique contraption that they carry with them in order to cook and pedal their sausages.
A few blocks down is the Marien Church (from 1270), with its spire mirroring the TV Tower, which can be seen directly behind it. From there we ended our tour at the Alexanderplatz.
This square was the commercial pride and joy of East Berlin and offered the Kaufhof department store as the best shopping experience for East Germans. Now it is just one of many large department stores that you can find throughout Berlin. We took a brief look at the “World Time Clock,” installed in 1969 and it is a reminder of how often we rely on a phone or tablet to tell us the time, not longer needing clocks of this nature.
We finished up the day with a meal at the nearby-recommended Brauhaus Mitte, known for their own locally brewed beer. I can recall a time when German beer was the standard for us, the best you could buy. It still is for its class, strictly controlled by Reinheitsgebot, the German Beer Purity Law of 1487, which requires that only three ingredients, water, malt and hops can be used in the brewing of beer.
Well meaning in intent, its result is a uniform Pilsner product throughout Germany and as an influence, the rest of Europe, rarely lifting above 5% in alcohol. Having grown used to the plethora of beers available to us via the craft brewing industry in America, one begins to long for a good IPA or strong Stout. I’m still drinking quite a bit of beer, but have mostly enjoyed access to very reasonably priced wine wherever we have traveled. I’ll just have to wait until I get to the Flying Saucer on November 2nd for my first Dogfish 90. Then I’ll know I’m home.
Memorial to Politicians Who Opposed Hitler: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005208
Monument to the Murdered Sinti and Roma (Gypsies): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_to_the_Sinti_and_Roma_victims_of_National_Socialism
Pariser Platz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pariser_Platz
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_to_the_Murdered_Jews_of_Europe
Hitler’s Bunker: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F%C3%BChrerbunker
Ampelman Web Shop: http://ampelmannshop.com/en_GB
Käthe Kollwitz Statue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%A4the_Kollwitz
Marien Church: http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/church-of-st-mary
World Time Clock: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_clock
Brauhaus Mitte: http://www.brauhaus-mitte.de/index.php/en/