Thursday, June 20, 2013

A day full of iconic Berlin sites

Our first day in Berlin continued with a visit to the Mauer Museum right beside Checkpoint Charlie. The museum opened in the early 1960s and acted as an island to freedom right next to the border. From here, through a small window, escape helpers could observe all movements at the border crossing. Escapees were always welcome and escape plans could be worked out.

I had some friends who escaped from the East, one by swimming a river, so this has always interested me. In the museum we saw hot air balloons, escape cars with special compartments built into them, chairlifts, home-made motor-powered kites equipped with a Trabant engine and even a small submarine that an escapee used to drag himself along in the Baltic Sea to escape the DDR. There was no end to people's ingenuity. The most successful escape enabled 57 people to reach Berlin in two evenings in October 1964. One of these escapees became the first German in space.

The exhibition showed the history of Checkpoint Charlie from the time in 1961 when American and Russian tanks faced each other here. Not all escape attempts were successful, as in August 1962, when Peter Fletcher bled to death before the eyes of the world.

There were many photos of the 1953 revolt almost everywhere in the DDR and the subsequent put down with the aid of Soviet Tanks. Further stages of the exhibition showed the building of the Wall, it's fall and subsequent German reunification.

By now we found ourselves on Museum Island. We decided to visit the Berliner Dom, the former Royal Court church built in the 1700s, which today acts as a house of worship, museum and concert hall. The 7269-pipe Sauer organ is world famous. Our visit took us down to the crypt, where many German royals rest in elaborate sarcophagi.

By now we were dragging a little but decided to climb up the very narrow, winding staircase that took us up to the dome. Needless to say, there were only two other couples up here. No one wanted to do the brutal climb. However, it was worth it once we were there to walk all the way around the dome for a magnificent aerial view of Berlin.

Our continued walking took us to the Reichstag, the home of the Federal government. Four corner towers are the only remains of the original building. Today the historical shell remains as part of the post-reunification makeover, while adding the sparkling glass dome, Berlin's newest symbol.

Next we stopped to admire the Brandenburg Gate. The last time I was in Berlin I saw it from a distance in a car. It was the dividing line between East and West. There was no going close to the Gate or walking through it as you can today. It was in the middle of a no man's land. Today the Gate epitomises German reunification. It is where Barack Obama spoke from only yesterday.

The Brandenburg gate was completed in 1791 as the royal city gate. It stands sentinel over Pariser Platz, a square framed by embassies and bank buildings and the magnificent Adlon Hotel.

On our return to our hotel we stopped at the Holocaust Memorial, which took 17 years to plan and construct. The memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe was finally dedicated in May 2005. In a space equal to ten football fields 2711 sarcophagi-like stelae rise up to various heights from undulating ground. You can make your own journey through it.

Sustained by a quick lunch many espressos and some cake throughout the day, we were happy to have a lovely Italian meal in Potzdamer Platz with lovely arugula salad, bruschetta and sea bream. All this was helped along with an Argentinian Malbec of all things. After a short walk around the neighbourhood discovering theatres and concert halls it was definitely time to call it all day.

No comments: