Ed and I would never have visited Berlin if we hadn’t arranged a rendezvous with Sean, our youngest son. He had come to participate in a Salsa Gathering and he invited us to share the occasion with him. A trip to Berlin was certainly an exciting event, but one of the biggest problems for the elderly parents was negotiating travel directions and we had continually to be put on the right train to take us back to our hotel. The subway mishaps started on the very first day in Berlin.
After arrival at Schoenefeld Airport it was fairly simple to board a bus for the subway link to make our way to the hotel. We had bought tickets for the train so happily caught the first one from the station. Confused by the German names on our set of directions we happily sailed past our underground departure point which was only a 10 minute ride away. Wide eyed and fascinated by the subterranean Berlin life we proceeded to travel the length of the city until well over an hour later we realised something was wrong.
With much gesticulating and broken English/Afrikaans/jabber we evoked upon any fellow traveller to help us retrace our steps. German people are smiling and helpful and many speak English, so that we were soon placated and directed to the correct station. After several more errors we finally negotiated the designated terminal and arrived safely at our hotel. We hadn’t eaten since we left home at 6 a.m. and were fairly scratchy as we booked in at reception.
In retrospect the hotel was not all that bad. In fact for the excellent tariff of £40 a night, we had got ourselves a real bargain. I was very bossy with the smiling receptionist and complained about no coffee facilities in the room, access to private Wi-Fi costing £4, TV reception being far too quiet for elderly ears and the nuisance of having to hire a hairdryer. All of these items seem to be part of the usual tourist facilities but, in spite of the inconveniences, we were really quite comfortable.
The beds were large enough but each of us only had a miniature duvet – which didn’t seem to worry Ed but I struggled without my soft feather, double-bed cover.
We had a good breakfast in the morning – fruit, cereal, yoghurt, rolls, eggs, cheese, cold meats and a variety of teas and coffee. That kept us going for most of the day, and then we would make our way with any humble cuisine Berlin had to offer – which would probably be sausages in a roll.
We set out on our first day to explore and meet up with our son, Sean. It’s hard to establish the location of a city centre because both east and west flourish in their own rights, but with the guidance of a tourist book we made our way to the Potsdam Plaza. This ultra-modern building is enthralling. It is buzzing with shoppers, commuters and a hungry public and life moves at an incredible pace.
After battling with the frustration of mobile connections, we were eventually able to make contact with Sean who was staying in another area of the sprawling city. Ed’s nomination of a meeting place with Sean was s good location! Who could not know of the famous Brandenburg Gate?
I took a photo of Ed and Sean standing at the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Without realising it our visit to Berlin coincided with the German 25 Year Celebration of the fall of the infamous wall and the year-long commemorations would culminate on the weekend of the 9th November.
The HISTORY web site describes how on November 9 1989 a spokesman for East Berlin’s communist party opened the check points and allowed free movement between East and West. Then the ‘greatest street party in the history of the world’ took place as thousands began to chip away and break down the wall. Berlin was united for the first time since 1945. One Berliner spray painted, ‘Only today is the war really over.’
We spent some time visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial
This monument has been criticised by many groups. There are those who feel that it is a ‘ceaseless presentation of our shame’.
Of course several instances of shameless vandalism have occurred with swastikas being drawn on the columns, but thankfully these are protected by a graffiti resistant coating.
Checkpoint Charlie is one of the most popular Berlin tourist sites with thousands of visitors frequenting the centre every year. The area is a hive of activity and a multitude of food vendors have sprung up to feed the hungry public. What is the most popular fast food dish? Why curried sausages of course! Everywhere we went we had quick meals of sausages!!!
While Sean and Ed ordered food, I had a good look at Lisa Grubb’s pop art poster painted on a section of the Berlin Wall. Although she lives in New York her world-wide appeal takes her into many different countries where she is commissioned to do work or contribute to murals, which she has obviously done in Berlin.
She is a painter and commercial artist who uses bright colours with a unique style of art that fascinates art lovers and children and her work is frequently displayed in galleries and is available for sale on line. She has also created a series of children’s books about Happy Dog!
Near the centre of Berlin is the outdoor East Side Gallery which is an international memorial to freedom. Many artists flocked to Berlin in 1990 to paint their own tribute to freedom on the East side walls, but sadly a great number of posters have been destroyed through erosion, graffiti or vandalism, where people have chipped away at the wall for souvenirs.
When I first saw these pictures I was in two minds about photographing them, as my first impression was that they were so mutilated, it would be a waste of time to keep a record. It just shows how you can look unthinkingly past the boundaries of real history, much of which will soon disappear, without monitoring the evidence through photographs.
Just a little note of interest – Ed and I got lost on our way home and it took an hour of walking the streets to find our hotel.
On the following day, after some more confused contact arrangements, we met up again with Sean and proceeded to the incredible Berlin Plaza which houses the most extensive arrangement of gourmet restaurants I have yet encountered.
There was then a quick dash to link up with the city Schiffsharten boat tour on the River Spree.
We were lucky enough to have boarded a fairly empty boat and proceeded to have a lovely lunch of beer and – you guessed it – sausages. The river tour was a delightful glimpse into some of Berlin’s wonderful history.
We passed the imposing, double-tiered Oberbaum Bridge which had its origins in 1732 and boasted a drawbridge which served as a gate into the city. The Wehrmacht blew up the modernised middle section in 1945 in an attempt to stop the Red Army from crossing into Berlin. It has since been restored to its former glory and now stands proudly as a prominent Berlin icon.
The Berlin Cathedral is not a cathedral in the true sense of the word as it has never been the seat of a bishop. It evolved from a Catholic Church into a Protestant one. Like so many prestigious buildings it suffered devastation from 2nd WW bombing.
The Nikolai Quarter is the heart of the old Berlin and it was almost laid to ruins during the Battle of Berlin. Renovation and reconstruction have restored the old centre which is now a major tourist site. It takes its name from the church which was built in about 1200.
Our river tour took us past the Bode Museum on the Museum Island. I didn’t manage a visit to this fascinating gallery but I read that it houses an amazing art collection extending from the Middle Ages to the 18th Century.
We passed by an extremely posh German Chancellery and I stared rather rudely at the two figures on the balcony who looked vaguely familiar.
The boat tour was inspirational and I realised how much there was still to see in Berlin, so maybe another visit to this famous city is called for. Three weary travellers made their way from the disembarkation point to a little pub which we had previously visited and found that it fulfilled our needs very comfortably.
So our last evening with Sean was spent at Jedermann’s, in a warm friendly atmosphere with a jovial barman and a room full of happy guests. Several hours passed by in animated chatter as we drank copious glasses of beer and enjoyed a huge platter of shared snacks, which disappeared in a trice.
The final day in Berlin was spent in exploring more museums – not for Ed, of course, as museums are not on his agenda. However he tinkered on his lap-top and drank coffee all day while I set off on little adventures.
The HAUS AM CHECKPOINT CHARLIE museum was absolutely packed with tourists which made it difficult to stand and fathom the historical data that was so much a part of Berlin during the Cold War.
The exhibition was absolutely fascinating. There were so many photographs and recorded documents that I couldn’t absorb all the information and I just clicked a score of resources onto my mobile hoping to make sense of it later.
Berlin, as a divided city, became the focus of the impending cold war. To help Berliners survive, all essential goods were airlifted into the city by the allies.
By the spring of 1949 the airlift was clearly succeeding, and by April it was delivering more cargo than had previously been transported into the city by rail. The success of the Berlin Airlift brought embarrassment to the Soviets who had refused to believe it could make a difference and the blockade was lifted in May 1949 with the resulting two German states.
The Socialist Fraternal Kiss between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, 1979
Wikipedia explains that the SOCIALIST FRATERNAL KISS or EMBRACE is a special form of greeting between the statesmen of Communist countries.
It became famous when Erick Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev were photographed in the ritual. The photograph was featured round the world and at the fall of the Berlin wall it was painted onto the East side of the wall with a caption which read, “My God, Help me to Survive this Deadly Love.”
I must admit, I found the picture somewhat disturbing and I am sure that many others would have felt the same way.
From the Checkpoint Charlie Museum we negotiated our way through a rather cheerless city precinct to the next avenue of exploration – another museum of course, and another coffee experience for Ed as he waited patiently for me to do my rounds
I think the highlight of my tour was wending my way through this Jewish museum, which gives two millennia of German-Jewish history. From the photograph you can see that the museum consists of two distinct areas. The new area is a twisted zig-zag and is very modern.
It is strange that right from early times in Germany Jews were often viewed with suspicion and persecuted.
Jews of Cologne Burned Alive in Germany in the Late Middle Ages
Over a period of almost 1800 years there has been some form of persecution against Jews and tragically they have been expelled from countries such as Germany, England, France, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal, Bohemia, Moravia, South Africa as well as many, many more.
Why do people hate the Jews? Historians have produced many theories such as ‘Deicide’ – being responsible for Christ’s death, the affirmation that they are the Chosen People, their rise to wealth and power, racial prejudice; they provided a convenient scapegoat in the time of troubles.
As I walked along the corridors of photographs and read the accompanying documentation I was moved by the calibre and merit of many ordinary citizens whose only goal in life was to settle into a community, integrate with their neighbours, contribute to the individuality of their new homes and be recognised for their worth. There were periods when this could happen but there were many, many times when they were alienated and rejected.
The worst was yet to come with the genocide of six million European Jews by Hitler and his collaborators in World War2. According to Wikipedia, he succeeded in wiping out two thirds of the Jewish population in Europe. Surely this must be the most heinous crime ever perpetrated against mankind!
From 1938-39 there was a mass exodus of Jews from Germany. These were the lucky ones who either had help or financial backing to escape the horror which they must have suspected awaited them.
The Jews have suffered such enormous tribulation one would understand them harbouring deep animosity towards those who rejected them, but surprisingly this hasn’t been the case. In spite of Anti-Semitism they have also shown a great deal of creativity and expertise … one just needs to look at some of their incredible scientific achievements:
Einstein with his theory of relativity.
Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan project!
Sigmund Freud the founder of psycho- analysis.
Jewish doctors, inventors, scientists, economists, musicians, artists and performers have all left their mark on society. They were pioneers in genetics, microbiology, sociology and they reached fame in the movie industry. I learned that Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin is a Russian Jew. There have been 194 Nobel Prize Winners amongst the Jews which accounts for 22% of all winners. Surely a nation of people who have given so much deserve more of a place in our regard.
I expect you are wondering at my intense regard for the Jewish people – I suppose it is because I had a Jewish grandmother and so in different circumstances I might have been severely challenged.
Our last night of celebration was beer and sausage of course. I had worked up an enormous thirst and appetite so I enjoyed my last German meal.
Berlin has been an incredible experience and now the time has come to explore other wonderful cities in Germany. So I think it’s time for the drawing board, investigation of cash reserves and a new travel plan. I hope you have enjoyed our adventures.