Sunday, September 27, 2015

Berlin - Day 11

Saturday, September 19, 2015
Back to Berlin. I was last in Berlin in 1970 when it was still split in two. What I remember then is how new and modern West Berlin was. Then I remember crossing Checkpoint Charlie and going into East Berlin. The contrast was stunning. It looked like the war had happened yesterday instead of 25 years earlier. Buildings were still in rubble and the streets were gloomy - no glittering high rises or trendy nightclubs as in the west. The only thing new seemed to be utilitarian apartment buildings and some repairs to sturdy office buildings that had escaped demolition from war injuries.
What a difference 45 years can make -- or rather 25. Since the Berlin Wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989, the reunification has brought miraculous changes and blended the two parts into a seamless melange of towering office buildings, luxury apartments and condos, 5-star hotels, fancy shops, and numerous night clubs to support the night life for which Berlin is known.
Our boat docked in Rostock, previously part of East Germany. We then boarded a bus for the speedy 2-1/2 hour trip to Berlin on the autobahn. Along the way our guide reminded us of German's history. It is a relatively young country, coming into being in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War when the various Prussian kingdoms were merged. Today Germany has about 80 million people and is the 16th largest country.
Our first stop was to the Reichstag.
Built in 1894 to house the Parliament, it mysteriously burned in 1933 when Hitler rose to power. (What did he need with a pesky Parliament anyway?) Badly damaged during WW II, it was partially refurbished in the 1960's. (Remember, it backed up to the wall on the West German side.) After reunification, it was fully rebuilt with the expertise of famed English architect Norman Foster. When he restored the dome, he made it glass with an indoor walkway going to the top.
No time for that today but on the list for a return visit.
Across the street in a modern white building is the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
We learned she is very popular, even after 10 years. The Germans have no term limits and no one seems to want to challenge her for her job.
Although the Brandenburg Gate is nearby, we saved that for later and drove around the city for awhile, looking at other sites and trying to get a sense of what had been East Berlin, now merged. There is a beautiful canal that meanders through the city, some of which is along the path of the wall. Our guide told us that when they rehabilitated the area, the citizens wanted to remember where the wall had been. So, imbedded into the walkway along the canal and elsewhere in the streets, there is a double row of bricks where the wall had been.
In the background of this photo is a modern bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. 
Crossing over other bridges, we could see the Berlin Cathedral (Protestant) in the background
and another distant view of the Reichstag dome.
Then we saw the Concert Hall, built in 1821, and the German Church, both now restored.
We crossed over into the former East Germany so we could approach the Brandenburg Gate from the front on Unter den Linden Street, once again a grand avenue. This way we could see the copper statue of Winged Victory and her 4-horse chariot.
This has been the supreme symbol of the city, unified or divided, since its completion in 1791. Two rows of 6 Doric columns form the gateway proper. This is a replica - the remains of the original are in a museum. The gate was incorporated into the Berlin Wall, and more visible from the East German side during occupation. Thus, I could only see it from a distance in 1970.  I sort of feel like I still saw it from a distance today, since it is the most crowded tourist site we have seen on our trip. Hooray for freedom!
Then we walked through the gate and by the American Embassy. An entire city block next to the embassy (coincidentally) has been set aside for the Memorial to the Memory of Murdered European Jews.
This memorial is comprised of 2,711 rectangular concrete blocks of various sizes. The number is intentionally random.
The artist, an American, challenges us to think about what this sculpture means to us. At first glance, it resembles coffins or tombstones.
But the assemblage lends itself to a second consideration. I am still trying to decide what I think, but from a design standpoint, it is amazing. I'm sure photographers have spent hours trying to capture the shadows created by these precisely placed blocks. 
Then we went to the remaining nearly one mile section of the wall. It has been decorated by 116 artists from around the world who were invited to participate.
Prior to the wall, 2.6 million East Germans fled to West Berlin and the Soviets realized they could not afford to lose this manpower. So on August 13, 1961, they erected a wall, essentially in 24 hours, to keep people in. Some people who had crossed over for the day to visit friends or relatives were trapped, and it took weeks for them to get back. Ultimately the Soviets built a 112-mile long wall, which was actually a double wall with a "death strip" between.
Then we went to see ""Checkpoint Charlie," which is now in the middle of a busy street, surrounded by tall buildings.
Although physically authentic, it is manned with actors dressed as American soldiers who will pose for photos. Nearby was a Museum of the Wall that I had visited in 1970. It showcases the many creative and often successful ways people got across the border. 
From a distance we could see the TV Tower, built in the 60's by the Soviets to pick up airwaves and show their power. Ironically, it was put up after the Communists had closed all the churches.
But the "Pope's Revenge" is a cross that shines on the globe when the sun hits it just right. To the left is the Town Hall.
We visited the main shopping street Kurf├╝rstendamm in downtown Berlin -- also known as the Champs Elysees of Germany.
Along the way we saw the major department store KaDeWe, founded in 1907 and huge. All the street's original art nouveau and neo classical buildings were destroyed in WWII, but one remains as a Peace Memorial -- the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Protestant).
It has been preserved as a ruin so people will not forget the atrocities of war.
We had lunch at Ranke 2 Restaurant nearby where Ed indulged in sausage and I had goulash soup.
Afterwards we boarded the bus and drove through a residential section that had been used by American officers after the war. We toured an Allied Museum that was not very good.
Our final stop was to Charlottenburg Palace for a quick photo.
Built in 1699 for Sophie Charlotte, the first Prussian Queen. It is the largest palace in Berlin and has one of the largest collections of 18th century French paintings outside of France. A tour for another day.
Then we drove back to the boat, arriving around 7:30. We had time for a German buffet dinner in the Veranda and made it to another song and dance show by the Jean Ann Ryan Company featuring songs from the 70's. Another great performance. We passed on the lounge acts, since we have to prepare to leave the boat early tomorrow. Way too soon!!!

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