09 December 2023

Germany - Part 2 - Berlin again

As I mentioned in the last post, Berlin is a city with baggage. The sights reflect this with so much to see about the Nazi era and the Cold war. I am old enough to have lived there and personally experienced Berlin (and Germany) when it was divided by a wall, so many of the "history" was well known to me. For the younger generation, like Kay and her fiance,  though, it was interesting to learn about how it was. 

The Jewish Holocaust memorial is amazing. The competition to design it was won by the New York architect Peter Eisenman. The memorial was ceremonially opened in 2005. On a site covering 19,000 square metres, Eisenman placed 2711 concrete blocks of different heights - small as you enter, but getting taller and taller in the centre, giving you the impression of being hemmed in and oppressed. The ground beneath your feet undulates, making you feel uncertain on your feet and unsafe.  You can just about see the buildings around the perimeter, but you are not part of it, giving you the impression of what it is like to be in a ghetto where you cannot leave.  The stones are roughly coffin-shaped and the paths between them narrow. You can occasionally bump into people as you meander through the site, but then never see them again, much as it might have been in the Nazi era when people were disappearing overnight, so it is very clever and well-thought-through monument.

Another must-see is Checkpoint Charlie - the border between the American sector and the Russian sector, where there was tension and a stand-off in 1961. If you want to read more about that see here.  I visited Checkpoint Charlie in 1977 when it was still an active border crossing, 
held by the Americans,  but today it is a tourist sight complete with museum about the Cold War history and stories of attempted escapes across from East to West.

A favourite form of escape was to hide inside the engine of a car

Most of the wall which divided Berlin has been removed, but there are still sites where bits of it have been left intact. One such place is East Side Gallery. At 1.3 kilometres long, the open-air artwork is the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence. Immediately after reunification in 1990,  118 artists from 21 countries began painting the East Side Gallery, and it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. Here is just some of the artwork to see.

Another interesting bit of the tour for me was to visit Bernauerstrasse. It was in the West of Berlin and right on the border with the wall which was at that part in an L-shape forming a corner. 
At that spot in 1977, I had climbed onto a platform up about 20 steps to peer into the East. 

1977 Climbing the scaffold to view into the East beyond the wall.

Now the spot is marked by metal poles to show where the wall went.
2023 the spot of the scaffold

The same view in 1977 from the scaffold. The white wall is visible and the minefield in front of that

Apologies for the quality of the photos taken of 1977 - they are taken off a cine film made by my husband. East German guards sat in a watchtower across the way and it was patrolled with East German guards on motorbikes watching me, no doubt to see if I would pass messages to any passing East German citizens.
1977 East German guards watching me

The other view from the scaffold in 1977 was of a building directly ahead. It was drab and grey and bore the signage Klub der Volkssolidaritat (club of the people's solidarity)

This is what it looks like now. Freshly painted in yellow and minus the signage.

The view I could see beyond the wall in 1977 but much changed today

Another reminder of the past is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church located in the West of the city. Built in the 1890s it was badly bombed in 1943. Instead of rebuilding it or demolishing it, Berliners decided to keep the shell as a constant reminder of the pointlessness of war and built a modern version next door. I had never been inside the old church before, as back in 1977 it was still very much a ruin.  Now, you can go inside and I was amazed how beautiful it was even as a ruin.

The old and new church side by side

Inside the old church


The magnificent ceiling

Better view of the new church

Inside the new church

The Stalingrad Madonna inside the new church drawn by the German soldier Kurt Reuber in 1942 at the Battle of Stalingrad
Many of the underground stations situated in former East Berlin have been modernised and some have shops in them, but this one at Klosterstrasse in the picture below seems very drab and bears the scars of Soviet occupation.

Another quite emotional part of the visit for me was to find my great-grandparents' graves in a Berlin cemetery, which I had been unable to do before, because (you've guessed it) it was cut off in the Eastern sector. I had heard their names mentioned dozens of times  in family folklore, but to stand before their graves was surreal. Despite a few freezing cold and hithertoo rainy days beforehand, the sun came out at that point, as if they were saying hello back to me.

On our last evening in Berlin, before moving on to Hamburg, the Christmas markets - of which there are many dotted all over Berlin  - officially opened. Of course that was an excuse for Bratwurst and Gl├╝hwein. Here are a couple of pictures of the main one in Berlin.

More of the trip to follow in the next few days.....


Mrswoo01 said...

Wow! How special your visit looked and the pictures are fantastic. Thank you for sharing.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

I would have liked to see pictures of your great-grandparents' graves.

As for Klub der Volkssolidaritat, I assume it was a night club frequented by the Stasi where they could drink and boogie all night long.

Did you see the site of Hitler's bunker?

Addy said...

Hi YP, I thought putting the graves on the post would be a bit morbid. Yes i did see the site of Hitler's bunker but they've built flats over it to stop it becoming a site of worship!