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The Silk Route - World Travel: Reichstag, Berlin, Germany
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Germany: Berlin
December 1990, September 2013

Berlin History Brandenburg Gate & West Reichstag The Berlin Wall Potsdamer Platz Holocaust Memorial Xmas Market
Berlin

The Berlin Wall came down at the end of 1989. A year later we took the night train to Berlin to see what was happening in the city. More than twenty years after that we went back to see how the city was doing. It had changed immensely and was looking great.

Berlin History

Brandenburg Gate
1990

There has been a town on the right bank of the River Spee since the thirteenth century. It grew into a city of merchants and eventually became the capital of Germany. During the Second World War much of the city was destroyed. At the end of the war Germany was divided into four sectors governed by the British, USA, France and the USSR. Berlin was similarly divided.1 In 1948 the Soviets imposed a blockade, blocking access by the Western powers to the three sectors of Berlin which they governed - no freight was able to move by road, rail or water. No such restrictions could be placed on aircraft, however, and the blockade was overcome by the Berlin Airlift, flying goods to the beleagured inhabitants. The success of the airlift was an embarassment to the Soviets, who eventually removed the blockade in May 1949.

neue Zeit
1990

Cold War tensions had escalated since the end of the war and in 1949 the western allies merged their zones to form the Federal Republic of Germany, including their western zones of Berlin. The Soviet zone, including east Berlin, became the German Democratic Republic. A border thus came into being, not only between east and west Germany but between east and west Berlin. As the situation worsened the border between East and West Germany was closed, but that between East and West Berlin remained open until in August 1961 this border too was closed and construction of the Berlin Wall.2 Berlin, completely surrounded by the GDR, was encircled by a physical barrier. Despite Soviet claims to the contrary, the wall was essentially a means of stopping East Germans escaping to the West.

Checkpoint Charlie
Berlin Postcards 1990

By 1989 Communism was no longer viable in East Germany. On the 9th of November the Wall was breached. The scenes were jubilant as East Berliners were freely able to cross into West Berlin and sections of the wall were torn down.3 East Germany and its politics were demolished along with the Wall and on the 3rd of October 1990 the two Germanies united to form, once more, a single country.

On the 7th December, 1990, just two months after the reunification of Germany, we took the night train from Basel to see what was happening in the city. We had no idea what to expect but found a city with lots of budding entrepreneurs - selling off bits of the Wall and lots of Military items, mostly uniforms. We'd heard there was strong anti-Russian feeling but didn't actually see any of this - we met some very jovial Russians who persuaded me to buy a Russian ice hockey shirt (it's languished in a drawer ever since!).

Berlin
Tour by Trabi, 2013.

On arrival in 1990 we had breakfast in a cafe near the station, later in our visit we had lunch at Ka De We, the iconic department store, and in both places the waiting staff were extremely rude and yelled at customers (not us thankfully). One evening we tried to get tickets to go to a concert and went to the wrong place - the receptionist here was also extremely unpleasant. Yet one evening we had a meal in Kempinski's and arrived in a downpour - the waitress couldn't have been nicer providing lots of serviettes to dry my hair. Excellent meal too!

In 1990 we stayed at the Hotel Metropol, a supposedly 5 star hotel at 150-153 Friedrichstrasse - a block of a building but OK for a few nights. At breakfast we could see across the street some kind of factory belching black fumes! It was a few blocks north of Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse, so technically we were staying in "East Berlin".

Brandenburg Gate & West

Brandenburg Gate
1990: sellers in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate - the Quadriga, which should be on the top, is missing.


Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate 2013
For sale
1990
Brandenburg Gate
The Quadriga on top of the Brandenburg Gate, 2013.

The Brandenburg Gate at the west end of Unter den Linden - a beautiful wide boulevard named for the lime trees which line it - was commissioned as a peace symbol by Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II and completed in 1791.4 It was damaged but not destroyed in the Second World War.

Brandenburg Gate

At the time of our visit in 1990 the famous four horse chariot or Quadriga was missing from the top of the gate. In 2013 it was back in place.

Brandenburg Gate

 

For sale

Around the Brandenburg Gate in 1990 people were selling all kinds of stuff from makeshift stalls: Russian Matryoshka dolls - those which open to reveal another doll - gas masks, tools and stacks of military uniforms.

There were also supposedly bits of the Wall for sale, with supporting photographs, but whether these were real or not we couldn't tell.

For sale

For sale
1990
For sale
1990
Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate 2013
Caller
1990: "Der Rufer", Gerhard Marcks
Brandenburg Gate
2013: further down Strasse des 17 Juni is the Victory Monument.

Strasse des 17 Juni stretches west of the Brandenburg Gate and there is a wonderful statue here of a girl facing the Gate - she looks as though she is calling into the East. This lovely statue is "Der Rufer" ("The Caller or "The Crier") by Gerhard Marcks; inscription on the pedestal: "Ich gehe durch die Welt und rufe 'Friede, Friede, Friede" ("I walk through the world and cry peace, peace, peace").5

The Victory Monument
1990: The Victory Monument
through the trees of the Tiergarten.

Bordering the road is the Tiergarten, a vast park with, at its centre, the Victory Monument, the Siegessäule, which survived the war virtually unscathed. It commemorates Prussian victories at the end of the nineteenth century and at 67m high it can be seen from quite a distance.

On Simonsweg in the Tiergarten there is a memorial to the Romany people - upto half a million were killed by the Nazis. The memorial takes the form of a still, dark pool of water with a triangular stone at its centre representing the badge that concentration camp prisoners wore.

Romany Memorial
Memorial to the Romany people murdered by the Nazis.
Russian Memorial
1990

On the north side of the road stands the impressive Soviet Memorial which hadn't changed at all in 23 years except there were no guards in 2013. It has a fine statue of a Russian Soldier and nearby the first two Soviet tanks to enter the city. In 1990 the memorial was guarded by two Soviet soldiers.

Russian Memorial
1990: The Soviet Memorial
Berlin Soviet Memorial
2013
Russian Orthodox Church
1990: Russian Orthodox Cemetery chapel of the
Russian Memorial
1990

In 1990 the temperature was of the nostril-freezing variety - unbelievably cold. At times I couldn't feel my feet and had to stamp up and down the pavements to make sure they didn't die on me.

I was almost too cold to take photographs.

Berlin
1990: "Berlin"
by Brigitte and Martin
Matschinsky-Denninghof

South west of the Tiergarten is another fine modern sculpture, this one on Tauentzien Strasse is "Berlin" by Brigitte and Martin Matschinsky-Denninghof, 1987, so it was created before the Wall came down. It marked the city's 750th anniversary.

Aside from being a very striking sculpture, it beautifully frames the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche or Memorial Church which was badly damaged in the Second World War and left as a memorial.

Charlottenberg Palace
Charlottenberg Palace 1990
Charlottenberg Palace
1990: Charlottenberg Palace.
The equestrian statue is of Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm I.

In 1990 we travelled north west by U-Bahn which we used a lot  - then it was very scruffy, the machines didn't always work, everyone looked miserable and there were lots of tramps. In 2013 it was vastly improved, clean and efficient.

We visited a Russian Orthodox Cemetery (U-Bahn to Holzhauser Strasse) which had been established in 1892 and has a lovely cemetery chapel of brick with beautiful blue cupolas.

West of the city Charlottenberg Palace was a welcoming respite in 1990 from the relentless reminders of war, built in 1699 and the favourite of Queen Sophie-Charlotte, wife of Friedrich Wilhelm I. Much enlarged during the following century, the building exterior is beautiful but the interior is very much in the baroque style which is not to my taste at all. However, a highlight was discovering the famous painting (one of five versions) of "Napoleon crossing the Alps" by Jacques Louis David.

scrap book
From the scrapbook, 1990, including a postcard of the Jacques Louis David.
Charlottenberg Palace

Reichstag

Reichstag
2013 Reichstag

In 1990 we did not go into the Reichstag - I'm not sure it was even possible.At that time it was not yet the seat of government. In 2013 it was one of our must-sees as the new dome looks fabulous.

The building was originally completed in 1894 but was severely damaged in the Second World War. There was already a glass and steel dome which had to be demolished in 1954 after a fire damaged part of the building in 1933 and further destruction caused by WW2 bombing raids.6 Essentially, after the war, the building was in ruins but underwent reconstruction in the 1960s.

After reunification on October 3 1990 it was decided that the Reichstag would become once more the seat of parliament. The building was restored by the British architect Sir Norman Foster and included the magnificent new dome.

Reichstag
Reichstag

 

Reichstag
The central mirrored column reflects light into the chamber below.

 

We ordered tickets online before travelling to Berlin so it was very efficient and no queuing. The reflections from the glass are mesmerising. From the roof of the building there are wide views over Berlin.

Reichstag
The dome has a sun shield which tracks the sun. 7

The interior is a photographers dream with fabulous curves, grids and silhouettes.

Reichstag


Reichstag
Reichstag
A spiral walkway extends around the dome's interior.
Reichstag

 

The Berlin Wall

berlin
1990: looking for Hitler's Bunker south east of the Brandenburg Gate, the bulky mass of the Reichstag behind

Part of the Berlin Wall stretched along Ebertstrasse south from the Brandenberg Gate to PotsdamerPlatz. Nothing remains of it here now except a mound of earth marked by an information board. This area was a complete wasteland in 1990. At that time we tried to find the location of Hitler's Bunker from where he directed operations at the end of the Second World War. It was located in what would become East Berlin, east of Ebertstrasse, south east of the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate.

At the time we weren't sure if we were in the right place, but there was a film crew there who also seemed to think they were at the correct location. It was a huge, desolate patch of ground with a bump in it where we think the bunker was and a wide strip where the Wall used to be. Now (2015) I think we were in the right place - the mound in the photograph is identified as the location of the bunker but since the area was levelled by the Russians after the war, nothing remains to be seen.8 Probably just as well.

Berlin Checkpoint Charlie
2013: recreated Cold War-era Checkpoint Charlie complete with wooden US Army checkpoint hut and sandbags.
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie 1990
Berlin Wall
Around a building site near Checkpoint Charlie were some images of the Cold War including this ionic photograph of a stand-off between American and Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie in October 1961.

Just south of where we were looking for the location of Hitler's bunker, we found large sections of Wall, probably Niederkirchnerstrasse which leads to Checkpoint Charlie.

Berlin Wall
1990

This famous checkpoint between the Soviet and US sectors is now throughly reconstructed, though in 1990 it looked quite different. Checkpoint Charlie was the border crossing between East and West Berlin for foreigners and Allied Forces military personnel.

Berlin Wall
1990
Berlin Wall
1990

We went to the interesting little museum at Checkpoint Charlie, well worth a visit, mainly about escape attempts. We thought we might take another look in 2013 but felt the entry charge was ridiculously high and it looked to have been thoroughly modernised so we gave it a miss.

Berlin Wall
1990

Along this section of the Wall there were many people selling items of military uniforms.

North of the city centre we went to Chaussee Strasse where there used to be a border crossing, it was all very bleak but interesting - in some places it felt like walking back in time 50 years, which, I suppose, isn't surprising! All apartment blocks, no grass or trees except in a cemetery. On to Bernauer Strasse where the official demolition began in June 1990. It was very atmospheric, but also cold and wet so we retreated to KaDeWe for lunch.

Berlin Wall
2013: a mural at Bernauer Strasse of the iconic photograph, ©Peter Leibing, Hamburg, showing border policeman Conrad Schumann escaping to the west at Ruppiner Strasse/Bernauer Strasse, August 16, 1961.9
Berlin Wall
Iron posts mark the route of the Wall at the Memorial park.

Though we did not see remnants of the Wall on Bernauer Strasse in 1990,  when we returned in 2013 a large Berlin Wall Memorial park had been constructed. Metal markers run along the Wall's original location.

Berlin Wall
Watchtower with rooftop spotlight.

The Wall was actually two walls separated by a wide corridor of cleared land which became known as the "Death Strip".

 

At the southern end of the Memorial park, at Ackerstrasse, original pieces of Wall separated by Death Strip are enclosed by steel walls and can be seen from a nearby elevated viewing platform. It is the most atmospheric site giving a real impression of what the Wall was like.

At this section of the Wall apartment buildings were situated very close and many people tried to escape to the west when the Wall first went up. They jumped from windows into rescue nets held by the West Berlin fire department, or slid down ropes. There were injuries and deaths. The buildings were evacuated shortly afterwards.10

Berlin Wall
Preserved Wall and "Death Strip"

The tall spire is the 368m Fernsehturm - TV tower - in Alexanderplatz. In 1990 we went to Alexanderplatz in the old East Berlin. The nearby streets were depressing with sad, grey buildings, and the vast square itself bleak in the extreme, especially in the rain, just a sea of concrete. In 2013, in the sunshine, it was still just a vast space, though somewhat spruced up.

Potsdamer Platz

Berlin Potsdamer Platz
Potsdamer Platz 2013
Replica of traffic lights erected in 1924 and said to be the first in Europe. Originally they were operated manually by a policeman sitting in the cabin at the top.
Berlin Potsdamer Platz
Potsdamer Platz 2013
Kollhof Tower on the left, Bahn Tower on the right. The pink pipes could be seen all over the city in 2013 where there was a lot of construction going on - they are taking groundwater away from the building sites and dumping it in rivers or canals. Berlin was built on swampy ground!

Berlin Potsdamer Platz
Meistersaal, home of the Hansa sound studios.

Potsdamer Platz has undergone a huge transformation and is now a very busy area with modern high-rise buildings.

Berlin Potsdamer Platz
Linkstrasse 2-4, the work of architect Richard Rogers.
Berlin Potsdamer Platz
Photo in the Meistersaal lobby.

An international team of architects, led by the Italian Renzo Piano, designed the new buildings in the Potsdamer quarter.11

I was on a bit of a mission when we passed through Potsdamer Platz to seek out the nearby Hansa sound studios on Köthener Strasse. This is where David Bowie recorded "Low" in 1976 and "Heroes" in 1977. Bowie's "Berlin Years" were also the inspiration for "Where Are We Now" from his brilliant 2013 album "The Next Day". They are located in the Meistersaal. The door was open so we wandered in but couldn't get to the actual sound studios.

Berlin Potsdamer Platz

 

Holocaust Memorial



Berlin Holocaust Memorial
Berlin Holocaust Memorial



Berlin Holocaust Memorial

On the east side of Ebertstrasse, between Potzdamer Platz and the Brandenberg Gate, is the atmospheric Holocaust Memorial. Up to six million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis, simply for being Jewish, in events leading upto and during the Second World War.12

Berlin Holocaust Memorial
Berlin Holocaust Memorial

 

The memorial is in the form of a Field of Stelae, designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman and completed in 2004. It is composed of over 2,700 concrete blocks, vaying in height, but all 0.95m wide and 2.38m long, set on gently undulating ground.13

 

Christmas Market

Xmas
Xmas

 

 

One cheerful aspect of the city in 1990 was the Christmas Market - I'm sure it's much bigger now!

 

Xmas

 

Christmas lights were strung around the roofs of little hut-style stalls selling colourful Christmas goods.

Xmas
Xmas

Near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church there was a line of stalls selling lots of different types of traditional German Christmas food and drink.

Xmas

References

  1. Berlin.de: Berlin after 1945
  2. Berlin.de: Construction of the Berlin Wall
  3. BBC - On this Day 9 November 1989: Berliners celebrate the fall of the Wall
  4. Berlin.de: Brandenburger Tor
  5. Berlin.de "Der Rufer"
  6. Berlin.de: Reichstag
  7. Foster + Partners: Reichstag, New German Parliament Berlin, Germany 1992 - 1999
  8. Berlin Wall Memorial: Conrad Schumann Leaps to the West
  9. The Fuehrerbunker in 1995
  10. Berlin Wall Memorial: The History of Bernauer Strasse
  11. Potsdamer Platz
  12. Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
  13. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: Field of Stelae