On our third day in Berlin we decided that we would take in a free walking tour, as we had gone on one in Kraków and found them to be very worthwhile. We met our guide George, an American who had been living in Berlin for the past eight years, in Pariserplatz near the Brandenburg Gate. He quickly outlined a brief history of the surrounding buildings including the American Embassy and joked how that was the building they used to spy on everyone from. Next he drew our attention towards one of the most expensive hotels in Berlin which most politicians and celebrities stay in when they visit the city. The most famous recent guest was probably the late king of pop Michael Jackson who dangled his new born baby Blanket from a third story balcony to fans below who wanted to see the new child, although he held a blanket over his face, so what was the point?
At the Brandenburg Gate, George managed to give us a concise overview of 800 years of German History in just under eight minutes. He told us how during the Napoleonic Wars, the French had stolen the statue that stood above the gate and brought it to Paris. The French later returned the statue and it now fittingly overlooks the French Embassy in Pariserplatz. George also covered the unification of Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm, as well as the Weimar Republic, the financial crash in the 1920s and subsequent Depression in the 1930s, Hitler’s rise to power, the Nazi period and the aftermath of World War Two and the splitting of Berlin into two separate entities by the Allies with the Berlin Wall.
Next up was the Reichstag, home of the German Parliament. George discussed how it was always seen as a bit of a circus, as well as mentioning the fire orchestrated by the Nazis and blamed on a Dutch Jewish communist to help further distrust of the left wing in Germany. A recent addition to the building is the dome on top which is accessible to the public and is meant to represent transparency and democracy, the idea being that everything going on in the political sphere is something that all the German people can see for themselves.
Two historical sights that are separated by only a road is the Holocaust Memorial and Hitler’s Bunker. The Memorial is actually quite moving, even though we spent less than ten minutes walking through the varying sizes of stone blocks that commemorate all of the Jewish people who lost their lives during the nazis reign of terror. Odd or perhaps fitting then that they chose to locate this memorial just metres from the last known whereabouts of Adolf Hitler, the man responsible for their deaths. The guide told us how the site had not been marked or keep on working condition for the fear of having a location for Neo-Nazis to meet and idolise Hitler.
Just before lunch we visited the Luftwaffe Headquarters which is one of only three Nazi designed buildings still in existence on Berlin (the other two being the Olympic Stadium and one of the airports). After the Nazis had been defeated, the Soviets quickly occupied the building and it was the site of an early protest by Germans who saw the new socialist heaven as not living up to what they had been promised. Soviet tanks were in place for the protest on the following day and shots were fired at protesters to deter any future unrest. The mural on the gable wall depicts the ideals of socialism (see above) and a mirror image of this on the ground outside reflects the reality: a photo from the protests. In the mural above there are a few celebrities. We spotted Steve Buscemi (guy on far left with briefcase), two up from him is Glenn Close holding a blue flag and of course Larry David is dressed in black jumper, wear a cap and glasses.
After lunch George told us a little bit more about the Berlin Wall. What I found most shocking was that it was put in place very quickly, pretty much overnight. It separated whole families, some of whom never saw each other again. I also found it interesting that the Wall’s border went over various different terrain including bodies of water. The Wall also saw the escalating tensions between the Soviet East and the Allied West. This is most notably the case with Checkpoint Charlie which acted as a buffer zone between East and West Berlin. The Cold War almost reached a point of full blown war when Soviet soldiers refused to let an American soldier cross the border without identification and two tanks stood face to face and one wrong move could have provoked war.
We will continue our German adventures with our next post which will see us take in the Eastside Gallery and a backpackers’ pub crawl. Stay tuned to find out more.