Walls and terror

One of the best ways to get to grips with the rich and layered history of Berlin, and Germany as a whole, is to take part in one of the many free walking tours on offer.

There are so many to chose from but we opted for the Original Free Berlin Tour here.

This tour covers many of the darkest days of Berlin’s history from the horror of Nazi Germany to the division of the country post war and the history of the infamous Berlin Wall.

One of the most saddening, and poignant stops on the tour is the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe.

Also known as the Holocaust Memorial is was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It is a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”.

Eisenman’s project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.

However individual interpretations of the meaning behind the memorial are very varied. Regardless of the original idea behind the project, the whole place evoked in me a sense of growing claustrophobia and panic as you began to feel lost amongst the every bigger, formidable, grey stones. The feeling of being trapped in an inhuman, alien landscape.

Moving on from the memorial we get our first glimpse of one of the most complete lengths of the Berlin wall. Now many removed, there are still a few places where complete pieces remain.

This stretch runs alongside the former site of the SS. Now appropriately housing a museum called the Topography of Terror.

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The wall divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989 and was constructed by the German Democratic Republic in an attempt to stop the intellectual ‘brain drain’ of people fleeing the repressive East German sector into the more liberal and well off West.

The Eastern bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany.

Regardless of the difficulties, people continued to find ever more daring ways of trying to escape over the wall including hot air balloons, driving cars at full speed through the border, swimming canals and even jumping out of buildings close to the wall and into the other side.

As time went on the fortifications of the wall, and its policing, became ever more draconian. This did not stop people from trying however and official figures claim 140 deaths throughout the wall’s history, mainly a result of the shoot to kill policy put in place by the East German government.

 

Having seen our first glimpse of the wall we are heading to one of the most well known sections now – Check Point Charlie. On-route we pass by a tethered balloon that offers amazing views of the city.

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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.

Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point for foreigners and members of the Allied forces who could not use any of the other crossings.

What is left now is basically a reconstruction and a bit of a tourist trap but it does give you a sense of how restrictive life would have been.

After a good four hours of walking we are more than ready for one of our favourite German traditions – Cafe und Kuchen!

Lots more to come from this fascinating city!

Berlin by day

We’re up and out early to cram in lots and lots of walking and history. Before heading out I pause to enjoy this incredible example of extreme flyposting!

We swing by the Berliner Dom again to enjoy it in the light before heading to The sunken library.

This poignant memorial shows what is missing. Underground, almost out of sight, no books, empty white shelves, directly under the Bebelplatz.

Symbolically, the underground bookshelves have space for around 20,000 books, as a reminder of the 20,000 books that went up in flames here on 10 May 1933

A plaque also commerates the site of the Nazi book burnings. “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine.

More recent history can be seen close to the Brandenburg Gate as a line of bricks in the road denotes where the Berlin Wall once stood.

Then we feel the need to indulge in some stereotypical German food – pretzels, Gluhwein and currywurst! Plus an additional bonus East German stereotype – The Trabant.

 

Historic Berlin

After checking out the bang up to date street art of the Mitte district we head out to see a whistle stop tour of some of the older sights of Berlin.


First up is Berlin Cathedral AKA Berliner Dom AKA the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church which is located on Museum Island in the Mitte borough.

The current building was finished in 1905 but suffered heavy damage during the Second World War.

Another iconic sight on the Berlin skyline is the TV Tower, the Berliner Fernsehturm.

The tower was built by the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It was intended to be both a symbol of Communist power and of Berlin and sat close to the wall.

It is 368 metres high and is the tallest structure in Germany, and the second-tallest structure in the European Union. More of this later as naturally we will be heading up!

Next up our Berlin by night tour takes us by the iconic Brandenburg Gate. This impressive 18th-century neoclassical monument was built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II.

 

Vehicles and pedestrians could travel freely through the gate, located in East Berlin, until the Berlin Wall was built and the border crossing was closed on 14 August 1961.

More heavyweight history can be found at the imposing Reichstag building just around the corner from the gate.

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The Reichstag was opened in 1894 and housed the Imperial Diet (the highest representative assembly in an empire) until 1933.

It was then severely damaged after being set on fire – an act that was used by the Nazi party as an excuse to crack down on communism. This event is seen as being pivotal in the establishment of Nazi Germany.

After this brief foray into the wealth of Berlin’s history we head onwards to do a bit more street art spotting. We’ll dig deeper into the chequered past of the city during a walking tour later on.

We finish off the evening with a HUGE burger from the tasty Krauts Burger joint in Mitte.

We’ve got a packed itinerary to get through so stick with us! We’ll head back to see the sights in the daylight tomorrow!

Battered yet beautiful

Finally I’m getting around to documenting our first ever trip to Germany for the man’s birthday last November.

We plumped for the hip capital city of Berlin for our first ever trip to Deutschland and a fab choice it was too.

We stayed in the Ibis Mitte hotel, perfectly placed to explore the city with a tram stop just around the corner.

There’s a bewildering choice of cafes, bars and restaurants all within a stones throw of the hotel, not surprising for a city that has 100s of choices from filling quick burgers to Vietnamese, sushi and Italian to traditional German sausage and beer halls !

Once we’d settled in, the stomach on legs was keen to sample his first ever currywurst and naturally there was a little shop and cafe just around the corner for him to get his fix!

We then take one of those fortuitous turns down a little dark alleyway that leads us to the quirky Cafe Cinema.

This electic cafe / bar has an intriguing open air courtyard splashed in colourful street art.

Whether it’s cute kittens or political satire, the walls are a vivid and mind boggling mas of murals and mayhem!

I force the man to spend a good half an hour here as I meticulously detail every little scrap of paint.

 

There is no escape once I spot painted walls!! I have a particular fetish for spraypaint..

It is also home to the Anne Frank Zentrum which houses a permanent exhibition about the young girl and the world she inhabited. The Zentrum is the German partner organisation of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The exhibition focuses on the diary and the story of the life of Anne Frank. But also looks at contemporary life via the young people of Berlin.

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Next up we’re heading to see Berlin by night including the Berliner Dom and the Brandenburg gate.