The Reirees in Berlin – Potsdamerplatz, the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburg Gate and Ballhaus

After visiting Berlin’s Victory column we jumped a bus and found we were riding the 200 bus which meant we reached Potsdamerplatz and its shops. There we found the Sony building  which had three extraordinary features – its domed roof a lego giraffe and the Corroboree Restaurant. We all felt a cringe to find an Australian Restaurant calling itself “Coorboree” so we moved on. The menu did not appeal as a genuine Australian restaurant. We found an underground shopping centre which exhibited a series of photos showing Potsdamerplatz during the cold war with the Wall intact and the celebrations after the Wall came down. In the background you can see the Esplande Hotel which had been the mecca for high society prior to WWII. My last photo shows the same site today.

Our plan was to hop off the bus at Potsdamnerplatz and make  our way to the Monument for the Murdered Jews of Europe. Although we had visited the monument during our Segway tour we had not visited the information centre below the monument. It does not take too much to realise this is not a place of joy. Tragic tales of individuals and families as well as the history of the development of the Final Question does not make for enjoyable reading – just the opposite – it horrifies just how wide spread the camps for the detention of Jews were across Europe. I put down my camera as this was not the place to be taking happy snaps.

We needed a lift after that. So, we walked passed the US Embassy back door to the Brandenburg Gate to pick up a bus and found the Gate was cordoned off – some big wig was due to arrive and the whisper among the assembled crowd was that it was Charles and Camilla. This made sense – tucked in beside the Gate is the US Embassy beside which is the French and around the corner the UK Embassy. We determined how to circumnavigate the obstruction but as we did so the Royalists amongst us decided they needed to get a peek of the Royals.

Not so much me. I found a seat in the sun and waited. The others did get to glimpse the Royal couple (not quite sure what joy that brought) and then joined me. But this Regal interruption had also caused a disruption to the bus service. More shoe leather. Eventually we found a tram which we thought would take us to Ballhaus – the only remaining Berlin dance hall. Now the tram was not a problem but finding this relic was proving difficult. I spotted the Titanic Hotel and across the road Hostel Ballhaus Berlin – it is now backpacker accommodation with the dance hall not open tonight. However, there is a small dinghy bar claiming to be Berlin’s oldest surviving pub – it looked the real deal. So, to drown our sorrow we ordered some drinks and sat at a table in the beer garden when I spotted standing forlornly in the yard two sections of the Berlin Wall. I started looking closer and further into the yard were four more sections of the Wall. The bar keep told us that the owner of the pub had bought them following the destruction of the wall on the basis that they may be worth something one day. Well from what I have seen these bits of Wall are as rare as hen’s teeth and are probably worth more to buy than the entire pub. What a great find but no one was putting it in their handbag to take home.

The Retirees in Berlin – The Wall and Berlin’s Victory Column

Kerry H had a desire to see the remnant of the Berlin Wall that had been turned into a story board by local artists. Once again using our Berlin pass and shoe leather we found the monument. I was completely disgusted by the rubbish that had been splashed onto this landmark. It appeared that none of the artists (and I query that term) had respected the opportunity afforded them to enrich the history of the city. I have provided photos of the rubbish and what I consider the only serious attempt I could find to say something of the Wall and its impact on the city.
With some more shoe leather and another train ride we returned to our apartment via our favourite pub Bistro Kneipe. This time I grabbed a photo of the schnitzels that we enjoyed so much.

 

Each day we had travelled on the buses we passed the Berlin Victory column. The featured image at the top of this blog is the Angel of Victory atop the column. This time we stopped for a closer look. The column is in the centre of a large roundabout with tunnels accessing the monument from the edges of the roundabout. The Victory Column is a monument to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, but by the time it was inaugurated on 2 September 1873, Prussia had also defeated Austria and its German allies in the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and France in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71), giving the statue a new purpose. Inside the tower is a history of the tower and other monuments around Germany and the development of Germany through these wars. Remember until unification Germany was made up of various principalities called Electorates (Hanover, Prussia, Saxony by way of example). So it should not surprise that looking on from the Teirgarten are Bismarck, Roon and Moltreg the architects of unification. One of the other monuments picutured is Kaiser Wilhelm (I think) at the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers at Koblenz which we visited whilst living in the UK.

 

The Retirees go Abroad – Berlin – West and East by Segway

We had booked a Segway tour to show us the East and the West and it commenced from Alexanderplatz, so we bussed it back to Alexanderplatz just in time to commence the tour. There were 7 of us, 4 Aussies (us), two Norweigans and two Japanese women with no ability to speak or understand English. You need a drivers licence in Berlin for a Segway as the vehicles are registered for use on the road. Unfortunately, Kerry forgot her licence and had to run back to the apartment in a window of about 10 minutes. I offered but there was no way I was going to be able to complete the task in that time so off she went. Kerry returned just in time to undertake the obligatory training. During the training Kerry H clipped the wheels of a bike and took a tumble off her Segway. An easy thing to do even for experienced drivers. They say things happen in 3s so our tour guide was on edge particularly as regards the Japanese girls who were first timers on Segways.

We set off following her like ducks in a row. As our vehicles are registered, we travel on the road in the bus lanes but we can cross a road at pedestrian crossings apparently. That is where it happened – the Japanese girls being inexperienced and not understanding instructions fell behind and commenced driving on the footpath. Kerry H had been obstructed by them and was blocked from keeping up so at our first check point our guide had to back track to find them. Kerry H made her way and caught up with the group. Meanwhile the Japanese girls drove down the footpath against instruction and the law and greeted us with dumb grins of relief followed by a distressed tour guide. Kyla (our guide) rang her boss and told him that she could not continue the tour with these Japanese because they could not follow instruction – mean while we waited with bus drivers annoyed that our vehicles were parked against the gutter in the bus lane. Kayla then had to try and explain that they could not continue the tour and that the boss was coming to collect them and refund their money. The boss turned up and took the Japanese back to the office and we will never know if they understood what had happened.

We recommenced our tour driving in the bus lane down to Lustgarten Park, Museum Island and the Dom (Berlin Cathedral). Berlin Cathedral is the common name for the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church and is located on Museum Island in the Mitte borough. The Dom is a parish church of the organisation Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia. Berlin Cathedral has never been a cathedral in the actual sense of that term since it has never been the seat of a bishop. Museum Island is the name given to the northern half of an island in the Spree River in the central Mitte district of Berlin, the site of the old city of Cölln. It is so-called for the complex of internationally significant museums, all part of the Berlin State Museums, that occupy the island’s northern part:

The Altes Museum (Old Museum), The Neues Museum (New Museum), The Alte National Galerie (Old National Gallery), The Bode Museum on the island’s northern tip, and The Pergamon Museum(the Pergamon contains multiple reconstructed immense and historically significant buildings such as the Altar and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon). I will talk more about the Dom and the Pergamon after our visit later in this trip. The Humboldt Forum will open in 2019 in the Berlin Palace opposite the Lustgarten Park.

We drove around to the entrance to the Pergammon the Old and the Neuse Museums to view the bullet marks in the gallery fronting the museums and then moved onto view an old French church from Napoleonic times and then to Checkpoint Charlie – not the original checkpoint between East and West but a replica in the same location surrounded by tourist souvenir shops. Checkpoint Charlie (or “Checkpoint C”) was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War (1947–1991).

East German leader Walter Ulbricht agitated and manoeuvred to get the Soviet Union’s permission to construct the Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop Eastern Bloc emigration and defection westward through the Soviet border system, preventing escape across the city sector border from communist East Berlin into West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. It is now located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighbourhood of Berlin. There are displays of events of the days when it was a genuine hotspot and the trigger of the Cold War. You will see in my photos a line of bricks in the road – this line replicates the position of the Wall.

After hunting for a souvenir (not a chip of the Wall) we moved on to the last remaining section of original wall in an as is condition following the breaching of the wall and the end of east and west. The wall has been hacked at with all sorts of instruments and remains in that condition. This is also the point of one of the most dramatic escapes across the wall. A guard with his family used a flying fox to escape over the wall which heightened the tension on both sides. Moving on from there we went down a back street to the last remaining guard tower hiding behind an office building and roadside landscape. Remember everything happens in 3s – the Japanese did not eventuate into a disaster and we relaxed. I was following one of the Norwegians and was stunned by uncovering a true guard tower taking my sight off the Norwegian in front of me who stopped, I swerved but clipped his vehicle and this sent my vehicle out of control into a spin throwing me to the ground. I hurt my pride, my left knee, my right knee and left palm in that order. I got some pictures of the guard tower (not the injuries) boarded my Segway and we moved on to the Bunker.

The Bunker – well its actually the site of Hitler’s bunker. The bunker has been destroyed but a sign has been erected describing what was found when they dug it up. The Führerbunker was an air raid shelter located near the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. It was part of a subterranean bunker complex constructed in two phases in 1936 and 1944. It was the last of the Führer Headquarters used by Adolf Hitler during World War II. Hitler took up residence in the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945, and it became the centre of the Nazi regime until the last week of World War II in Europe. Hitler married Eva Braun there on 29 April 1945, less than 40 hours before they committed suicide. After the war, both the old and new Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets. The underground complex remained largely undisturbed until 1988–89, despite some attempts at demolition. The excavated sections of the old bunker complex were mostly destroyed during reconstruction of that area of Berlin. The site remained unmarked until 2006, when a small plaque was installed with a schematic diagram. Some corridors of the bunker still exist but are sealed off from the public.

The site is presently a carpark and attracts people believing in the principles of the National Socialist regime much to the disappointment of the residents of the area. Only steps away is Peter Eisenman’s famous Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe – our next port of call.

This monument is also known as the Holocaust Memorial and is a memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust and surprisingly just 150m from the site of Hitler’s bunker. It consists of a 19,000-square-metre (200,000 sq ft) site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The stelae are 2.38 metres (7 ft 10 in) long, 0.95 metres (3 ft 1 in) wide and vary in height from 0.2 to 4.7 metres. They are organized in rows, 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew. An attached underground “Place of Information” holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. Building began on April 1, 2003 and was finished on December 15, 2004. It was inaugurated on May 10, 2005, sixty years after the end of World War II in Europe and opened to the public two days later. It is located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, in the Mitte neighbourhood. The cost of construction was approximately €25 million.

From the memorial it is a short walk and even shorter Segway drive to the Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the (temporarily) successful restoration of order during the early Batavian Revolution. One of the best-known landmarks of Germany, it was built on the site of a former city gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel, which used to be capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg. It is located in the western part of the city centre of Berlin within Mitte, at the junction of Unter den Linden and Ebertstraße, immediately west of the Pariser Platz. One block to the north stands the Reichstag building, which houses the German parliament (Bundestag). The gate is the monumental entry to Unter den Linden, the renowned boulevard of linden trees, which led directly to the royal City Palace of the Prussian monarchs. Throughout its existence, the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered not only as a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.

On the occasion of our return visit 3 days after our Segway tour it was also the site for a public walk by Charles and Camilla much to the delight of the “Royalists” amongst us – I sat outside a souvenir shop as that seemed fitting and appropriate.

Our Segway tour continued to the Reichstag Building. We were at the furthest end of the park in which the building is located peering through chain wire however a few days from now we would visit the building to see the new dome (designed by an Englishman).

Almost at our journey’s end and with 3 events of misfortune behind us we set sail for Aleanderplatz and the Segway base. However, one more surprise awaited us – my Segway battery failed but within walking distance of the base so after breaking some laws by taking our vehicles across a public open space we returned thoroughly satisfied that we had done it all on the segways.

The weather has been good, cool in the morning warming up by 1.00pm until about 4.00pm when it chills but sunset is after 8.00pm so we find ourselves doing things and walking places until it is dark and then looking for a place to eat. I haven’t got much further with my book at this stage but between travel and exploring Berlin I am pretty tired and footsore. We plot tomorrow’s adventure of a river cruise around the island in the Spree and then to bed to sleep.