Monday, May 17, 2010

Tschuss, Berlin

It's our final day in Berlin- I'm worn out, but I will terribly miss hanging out with Haden and exploring this city.

Yesterday we gave Haden a reprieve and ventured out by ourselves. We are feeling very smug because we have learned how to take the 200 bus right near Haden's house in to the downtown area. Loren always has his trusty map along, and I am the faithful Sancho Panza along for the ride.

Loren wanted to go and see the restored section of the city. On our way, we passed a construction site which had a platform with a ladder leading up to it for people to observe what was going on behind. We aren't altogether sure what this is, but it is in Alexanderplatz, which was the central headquarters for the Nazi operations. Obviously there were bunkers or something underground. Haden says they are planning a major development in this section that will unite Berlin in a good way.

The restored section called Nicklausplatz (or something like that) was a bit of a disappointment. We had expected to see old buildings and cobblestone streets. Instead, it has really been built as a tourist mecca with souvenir shops (which, by the way, were open on Sunday!! They must get a special dispensation.) There were a lot of cafes; it all looked very clean, but we didn't really get a sense of the old city.

Our next stop was to go check out the Museum of German History. Our walk took us by some wonderful sites. In the middle of a large park, we saw this imposing statue. We think it might be Marx and Engels, but there were no plaques or words of any sort indicating who they were or why they might be there.

This church can be seen from many areas around the city. It is huge. It was built in the late 1800's and was in the news just this past Saturday. It was the site of the first gay marriage in Berlin!

We reached the German history museum, and ended up in a new wing which we thought was the entrance to the whole museum. We found not one person who spoke English, so we wandered around and felt that we had walked in to a museum with no exhibitions! It was very odd- a beautiful space, but just stairways that led to nothing. We were about to leave when we saw some people going in to a room. We followed and found a huge photo-journalist exhibition. We bought the audio tour and wandered around seeing some very interesting photos of the war, refugees, Albert Einstein, and much more. After this, I was fading, so we asked if there was a cafe around. With motions and gestures, we figured it was outside and around the corner. Lo and behold! There was a huge German History museum with a lovely cafe. So we had a bite to eat, and Loren said he would like to return tomorrow.

Today, our last day, we split up. Haden and I wanted to go and see the Topography of Terror- where the Nazi's had their headquarters. Loren wanted to go back and see the German History Museum. We walked all the way from Haden's house to downtown, getting in to parts of East Berlin we hadn't seen. Haden told us this building is typical of what a lot of East Berlin looked liked before the gentrification took place.

Before going our separate ways, we stopped off at the White Trash Restaurant where Barack Obama had eaten. It is said they serve the best hamburgers in all of Berlin. It was a very weird place with a kind of Chinese dragon decor, palm trees, a picture of Elvis Presley, and a TV set that was showing Abbot and Costello movies! The entire menu was in English- and the burgers were great! Soon after, Loren went his way, and I followed Haden- who it turned out didn't know where he was going. We got on the wrong bus, then decided to walk.

Our walk took us past some interesting sites. This statute of a Bear wearing a Statue of Liberty crown is in the front lobby of the U.S. Embassy. It's kind of odd looking but very cute. (The Bear is the mascot of Berlin.)

This is a huge sculpture in an open plaza that honors the gypsies. It is supposed to symbolize all their possessions.

We came across a sign that told us we were looking at Hitler's bunker that he had built to withstand the strongest possible air attack, and where he supposedly used as his command post. We were looking at a parking lot! I guess this is progress!

He was sure it was in the vicinity of Check Point Charlie, but when we got there, we kept walking, but not before looking at some of the historic pictures showing Check Point Charlie during the division, and watching as tourists got their pictures taken with an American solder!

Another very interesting sight was the cardboard cars that the East Germans developed. They are for rent for tourists and they even give tours in them! Haden assured me they were made of cardboard even though they appeared more substantial than that.

By this time, we had been walking for quite a while. We passed a park and I adamantly said, "Haden, I'm stopping in that park for a rest!" It was then that he got out his iPhone and asked where the Topography of Terror was. Feeling confident that we now had a map to show us the way, we trudged on... back tracking...following... until finally we found it - not at all near Check Point Charlie, but right near the Reichtstag where we had been three hours ago!

The Topography of Terror is housed where the Nazi headquarters were. It was originally the School of Industrial Arts and Crafts, but in 1933 the Nazi SS Police took it over and moved in. Inside there is a huge photo documentation of the Rise and Fall of Hitler's Regime. There were some amazing pictures, and you got a real sense of the domination of the SS and the power of the Police State. I took this picture because it shows the round up of Jews in Lorrach, Julia's hometown.

A fascinating display was of these index cards with the names of the Nazi police that the Berlin Police had in their files. It was not until 1966 that Berlin began looking in to the war crimes of their citizens. Of the myriad of names they had information about, only 16 were tried and only 3 convicted.

We came home for a lovely dinner, after which we had planned to watch the Finale to Survivor. Haden gets Survivor always the day after it airs. But for some reason, it never came to his system! It would have been fun to watch it with Haden in Berlin, but it's not meant to be. Our plane leaves tomorrow. We fly Berlin to Paris and then non-stop to SF. Keep your fingers crossed that the volcanic ash doesn't interrupt our trip once again...although five more days in Berlin would be delightful!

1 comment:

Glorita Jucá said...

You sure did have a comprehensive history lesson on your visit to Germany. Isn't this great? To try to understand what this people is about? How come they behaved as they did? The power of the police state? And the willingness to expose the ugly facts of the past? The perseverance on rebuilding all around?
Nothing is simple in life, and the Germans had to face some very complicated issues, but they are pulling through.
I know this would be a trip worth remembering always. Lucky you!