My final, long drawn out series on Berlin. It’s my new favourite city, I can’t help but want to write about it 🙂
New Year’s Eve and our historical running tour of east Berlin was a tough day to beat, but Pat and I managed to squeeze in a few last-minute activities before heading back to Scotland, real life and work.
We wanted to see as much as we could in our last two days, so decided that a walking tour of the city would be our best option. Being active and taking in the sites, what could be better? We booked a free tour with Sandemans, and headed to our meeting point and the start of the tour, Pariser Platz (Paris Square) and the Brandenburg Gate, (also home of the Berlin Marathon finish).
From there we passed the Hotel Adlon, where a certain now deceased King of Pop dangled his child ‘Blanket’ from the balcony? And then we cut through the Academy of Art.
It was then on to the purposely vague Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Ironically, the site of Hitler’s former bunker, where he ultimately committed suicide with Eva Braun, is pretty much across the street from the monument. It hasn’t been memorialised at all, for obvious reasons, and sits in the middle of a parking lot of a 1980’s apartment building.
The tour took us past Luftwaffe HQ, the former Nazi Ministry of Aviation building, built big and intimidating on purpose. This was one of few Nazi buildings to survive the war because it was used by American and British pilots as a landmark. It is now the home of the German Finance Ministry.
Of course, we passed more relics of the Berlin Wall, now behind its own wall because tourists want a piece for themselves. The building in between the section of wall houses the Topography of Terror, a free indoor and outdoor museum on the former site of the SS and Gestapo buildings in which the horrendous acts carried out against humans during the Holocaust were conceived. The biggest Nazi names had their offices on this spot. The museum details theses horrible acts against humans, and is free because, as our German tour guide said, everyone should know what happened. We didn’t get a chance to go, but for these reasons, we will definitely go next time.
We passed several other sites, including Gendarmenmarkt, the site of twin French and German cathedrals and a concluded Christmas market (just missed it!); Humboldt University and the site of the Nazi book burning (20, 000 books!), and culminated the tour at Museum Island, an island in the city with several museums, some housing impressive antiquities. Our tour had come to an end, and we loved it. It was clearly informative, and gave us a much more in-depth look at Berlin through the Holocaust into the Cold War, much better than what we learned in school.
The next day, our last day, we went to the Jewish Museum, detailing the history of Jewish people in the region of Germany throughout the centuries, complete with void spaces to represent the absence of Jews in society as a result of years of persecution and the war.
From other parts of the museum, you heard what sounded like a bustling café with clinking dishes, but once you turned the corner, you saw this:
The clinking dishes were in fact people walking over the 10,000 metal faces, all dedicated to the innocent victims of war and violence.
While I realise our last two days in Berlin seem quite sobering and very emotionally heavy, I found them to be incredibly interesting and humbling. We learned much more than a book or history lesson would’ve taught us, and it is so positive to see Berlin today as such a vibrant, alternative, multicultural city, where it seems that anyone can be anything, and it’s okay.
This brings me to my final thoughts on Berlin.
If you’ve read and/or seen Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, then you’ll remember the part where Liz is in Italy and the conversation about how “every single city has a word that defines it, that identifies most people who live there.” They go on to say that Rome’s word is SEX, while Stockholm’s is CONFORM. The Vatican is POWER, while Naples is FIGHT. I truly believe after our visit, if we were to put Berlin into this context, that its word would be IRONIC. It is ironic in so many senses, both historically and as a society.
– At the top of the Brandenburg Gate sits the goddess of Victory, who looks down onto Pariser Platz (Paris Square) and the American, French and British embassies. These three countries occupied the free west Berlin, and West Germany, during the Cold War, and were the countries Germans could defect to. It could be interpreted that these three countries were more victorious instead.
– Hitler killed himself using the same poison as the concentration camps, and to add to the irony, the company that made this poisonous gas for use during the Holocaust, now, generations later, made the protective coating for use on the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This coating is to prevent spray paint – and thus graffiti – from adhering to the memorial.
– While Berlin, especially the east, was an intensely oppressed and controlled city during the war and Cold War, it’s now incredibly diverse. We’ve been to Hamburg and Bremen, both lovely cities, but there is something so much more alternative in Berlin. The culture is so thick here you can touch it. The arts are alive and well, and the city has an abundance of very artistic graffiti to enhance this. Berlin is also very multicultural as well, and now seems very tolerant and accepting. I’ve been to many liberal cities in the world, but it is the only one where I’ve seen gay and lesbian couples openly showing affection, all over the city, rather than just the ‘gay quarters,’ (like I’ve seen in Paris). Expression of every kind seems to flourish here. And it is so reassuring to see.
For an in-depth look at East Berlin during the Cold War, I’d definitely recommend The Lives of Others, a film about a playwright living in the East, being monitored by the secret police. It is said in the film that freedom itself is ironic.
And for a more comical, ironic look at Berlin just after the fall of the wall, and how a family desperately tries to hold on to the east for the sake of their mother, check out Goodbye Lenin, with Rush’s Daniel Brühl, and soundtrack done by Yann Tiersen (the same guy that did Amelie).
And thus concludes the Berlin posts. I’ve been running, cooking and baking lately, and I will post about it all soon.
What’s your favourite city in the world?
What word would you give your city?
What’s your favourite foreign film?
Mine is Untouchable 😉