Thursday, 4 December 2014

berlin in winter - layers of history

Berlin is history on show. Despite the physical divides falling 25 years ago the city bares the scars of war and division, some of it on purpose so that we can remember and try and understand what has gone before.

At the East Side Gallery

It is hard to imagine now as I walk freely back and forth across where the walls used to be, and journey across town underground, that such oppression existed within my lifetime and people lost their lives just trying to move across their own city, when I can up and move to another country at will (mostly). 

We spent 4 and a half days in Berlin and there is so much to see I'm going to have a hard time making this post not too long!

We stayed in another airbnb apartment, in Nuekolln. Our hosts were wonderful, inviting us in for a coffee in the morning and taking our bags so we could explore before accessing the apartment in the afternoon. It was a great location near two Ubhan lines and we were able to explore the area that day. 

The next day saw us properly exploring Berlin, first stop Bernauer Strasse, the street which become a symbol of the divine of the wall. So much of Berlin is walkable once you get to your destination, and so much is free! However, so much of it is also outside and freezing. It was cold for us early December so I can't even imagine if it snows!

When Berlin was divided after the wars the people living in the row of houses on Bernauer Strasse street had easy access to both sectors, one through the front door and one through the back. The building of the physical wall changed this and many families made their escape from the houses into the West. It was also the site of the first casualty of the wall, after a woman jumping from a window of one of the houses died. Later there were several escapes at this site, including one where people went through a tunnel.

This line can be found all over Berlin

Pictures on the current buildings showing escapes

Tunnel named after how many escaped
The Berlin Wall Memorial is free and gives you a view over an area they have preserved to show what the no mans land between East and West Berlin eventually looked like.

A preserved part of the final division showing the wall, watchtower, alarm posts and further wall

First part of the wall seen

Areas where the wall has been chipped away at

Part of the memorial to those who lost their lives attempting escape

At the heart of the old East Berlin is Alexanderplatz, so we made our way there and I had my first try of the local delicacy, currywurst. It sounds dubious but the combination of bratwurst with a spiced warm tomato sauce And sprinkled curry powder is actually delicious. 

There is a huge Christmas Market located at Alexanderplatz so of course we spent the rest of the night there! 

First try of currywurst, delicious!

Giant piece of meat

Mulled wine and eggnog to keep us warm!

Tower in Alexanderplatz

The next day we embarked on an epic walking tour that took in a lot of Berlin's famous sites. It looks on the map like they are far but I highly recommend following a route like this to take them all in. 

We made an early journey to Checkpoint Charlie, where I had my old passport stamped with all the old stamps from each sector, British, French, American, Russian and East German. A tourist trap if I ever saw one but sometimes I don't care!

At Checkpoint Charlie

The little checkpoint and where you can get your passport stamped

With a Trabi, the car that became a symbol of East Germany

From here we walked down past the old Stasi Headquarters, before arriving at the site where the Gestapo and SS had their Headquarters, now known as the Topography of Terror. The previous buildings were bombed by the Allies and then torn down after the war. Inside the current building, which looks small on the huge gravel site, you can learn about the history of the SS and Gestapo and the Nazi repression. 

The site of the Gesatpo Headquarters. On the left is the remaining basement wall

Afterwards we continued our walk along to Potsdamer Platz, which was the biggest construction site in the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Looking at it now it is hard to imagine it as a huge area of no mans land. 

Tubing at the Christmas market!

Outside Potsdamer Platz station

Between Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenberg Gate we ventured down a side street to see the parking lot which is the site of Hitlers Bunker. It is not really advertised anywhere but you can find directions on the Internet, and there is a sign there explaining what the bunker was like and Hitlers last days. 

The parking lot where Hitler's Bunker was located

The only sign that anything was here before

Also just before the Brandenburg Gate is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is a huge number of concrete blocks you can walk through, and when you are in the middle amongst the highest it can feel like you are shut in and unsure of the exit, plus every corner is blind so sometimes you run into other people, or other times you are completely alone. It gives the impression of both isolation and being surrounded by people all at once. It is strange seeing people pass far on the path ahead of you, and then the next minute seeing running into them, or never seeing them again at all. 

Looking across the memorial

Me in the memorial
Inside a tall part of the memorial

Our final main stop on this epic walk was the Brandenburg Gate, shut in no mans land during the separation of East and West Berlin and now a symbol of unity once again. 

Through the Brandenburg Gate

Mum and I

Sitting in a Trabi in a shop

Another place to visit to give you an idea of what life was like in the Berlin Wall era is the Palace of Tears (Tranenplast) located at the Friedrichstrasse Station. This is where people came when they had permission to visit or move to the other side, and it gives you an idea of people lives and the repression they suffered due to the Berlin Wall. It is called the Palace of Tears because it is where families and friends often said goodbye, not knowing when they would see one another again. 

No visit to Berlin would be complete without going to the East Side Gallery. We were leaving from the Ofbahnhof so left out bags there and walked along the longest remaining part of the wall, now covered in murals by artists from all over. 

Murals of the East Side Gallery

Many of the murals have now become famous in their own right

This mural is now all over tourist things in Berlin

This artist painted these before the fall of the wall and was closely followed by the Stasi

Me at the Eastside Gallery

One of the most famous murals

During our time in Berlin we also visited the trendy Prenzlaur Berg area and meant to go over to KaDeWe, the second largest department store in Europe (after Harrods) and a symbol of West Berlin, but we ran out of time and staying near the East meant that connections were not great. 

Berlin is a fascinating city full of history but also with awesome cafes and bars that make it a great place to visit for both current and past experiences. I feel like it's a place where you would be forever discovering new things and places. 


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