Yesterday we took a tour bus all around the city. It was quite fascinating, so now I am going to try to be your tour guide and show you a pictorial view of Berlin.
This is something that towers above the city and can be seen from all angles. It is a huge radio tower that the Soviets put up to spread their propaganda and to drown out the Allied air waves. It is now used as a radio tower for all of Berlin.
I wanted to show you a typical "panel building" that is very common in the Eastern sector of Berlin. Plain, concrete, high rise.
This is the Reichstag. What I find fascinating is that this building was leveled during the bombing of Berlin. They restored only the facade; everything else is brand new, including the transparent dome that I told you about before.
These are two of several really beautifully restored museums. It is interesting to note that most of the culture and arts were in the Eastern section of the city. The Russians valued art and so they restored these beautiful buildings during the "division time." Later on in the tour, you can see some of the cultural buildings that were built in the West. Because of this, now that the city has been unified, there are three opera houses, two symphony halls, and a plethora of museums - all for a city of only 3 million people!
This is the famous Brandenburg Gate where we walked around. It was built by Frederick William of Prussia in the late 1700's as a sign of peace, but also as an official entryway in to the city and a place to collect taxes of those bringing goods in to the city. Of course, that has all faded in to history, and now the gate is a symbol of the dividing line between the East and the West. What is so fascinating are the bricks embedded in the road signifying where the wall once stood.
There are even small places along the route where some of the wall is still standing, although you can see where people have tried to chip away at it, and there is a lot of graffiti written on it. I couldn't help wondering if any writing had been there during the division. Certainly not on the East side, but perhaps on the West?
This is the Holocaust Memorial- a haunting sculpture right next to the Brandenburg Gate. We have only driven past it thus far. I definitely want to walk in to it and experience it, something we are planning to do in the next few days.
There are memorials with white crosses that you come across unexpectedly. If I lived here, I would like to study the names and dates on these crosses; I think one could glean a lot from them.
This is the seat of the government where the Chancellor works. I guess you might say it is the equivalent of the Oval Office, but it is not where Andrea Merkel lives. It is so fascinating, once again, to think that up until 1989 there was NO government in Berlin. After the war, the seat of the government was moved to Bonn. So when the wall came down, and Germany decided to relocate the capital back to Berlin, everything had to be built. I think these government buildings are quite attractive but it's a weird concept to think that our Supreme Court, Senate, and Congress buildings are much older than those in Berlin.
This is an interesting building, although I find it rather unattractive. It was given to West Berlin by The United States after the division- I think sometime in the '50s and was built by a famous architect. It is the International cultural convention center, and was a place where representatives from many countries could share their cultural ideas and works for the West Berliners.
As I mentioned, most of the art, music and culture of Berlin was in the East,so when the city became divided, the Western Bloc needed to build their symphony, opera house and museums from scratch. This is a picture of the Berlin Philharmonic Symphony Hall built in 1960. It looks like a motel/gas station to me- very odd; yet it is said to have amazing acoustics mostly due to the pentagon shape of the building, and the Berlin Philharmonic remains one of the best in the world.
This was one of my favorite sites on the tour- It's an old bombed out church. They have left what remained of it intact where people can walk in and out of experiencing the destruction of the war. The new church has been built around it - old and new creating a beautiful sight.
All of a sudden the bus turned left and immediately I felt as if I were in Union Square or Fifth Avenue. These are all the upscale shops that were fully functioning for the West Berliners during the "division time." Of course the buildings had all been bombed during the way and needed to be renovated, but the West Berliners were not without their high end shops.
I wanted to include this picture because prior to coming here, I read a fabulous book on the Berlin Air Lift called Daring Young Men by Richard Reeves. The Berlin Air Lift is an amazing chapter from 1948-1949, and something that probably did more to cement good relations between the United States and Germany than any thing else. I highly recommend this book. This monument honors all those who participated in the Berlin Air Lift. It was taken through a rainy bus window, but it's quite dramatic: a long parabola sweeping up in the air. Ironically, there is graffiti which reads, "Free Iran" written at its base.
Next we turn on to "Embassy Row," another fascinating statement. Remember that the capital was moved to Bonn right after the war, so when they moved it back to Berlin in 1990, there were NO embassies...EXCEPT the Swiss embassy which, ironically, was the only embassy not bombed during the war. Do you suppose the Allies were worried about their money in the Swiss banks? At any rate, it was a rare opportunity for countries to make a statement. As one embassy went up, another country tried to out do the one that came before. As a result, you have a row of really beautiful, large structures, all built in the last twenty years!!
I was having trouble getting my head around just what this city went through during and after WWII when suddenly I was thrown something totally out of my ability to grasp. What you are looking at now is Potsdamplatz which from 1945-1989 was "no man's land"- that strip between the east and the west. After the war, all the bombed buildings were simply bulldozed and leveled and this became a vacant strip of land. It is now one of the most vibrant and alive parts of Berlin with great modern buildings and companies like Sony making their German headquarters. It's just amazing to see!
This building is a bit unnerving - it is a site marking Hitler's headquarters- the underground bunkers where he conducted his business. It is also here where he put a bullet to his head and committed suicide, just after telling all Germans to "fight to the end!" It is opening this week- so I think we will have to go and see it, but it gives me the chills just thinking about it.
This kind of nondescript little hut is the famous "Checkpoint Charlie- named because it was the third of three check points - (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie.) There is an American solider out front, that, for some amount of Euros, will allow you to have your picture taken with him!
This memorial is one of my favorite. It is in the center of a plaza where, at this very site, Hitler ordered a massive burning of books. As I walked across the plaza and looked down, I saw rows of empty shelves. There are no words, no plaque, so many might be quite puzzled if they hadn't read about it in some guide book as we did. But I loved the powerful message it sent.
I will leave you with the assurance that Berlin is alive and well. Yes, there is a Starbucks where you can get a delicious Latte Grande!
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