europe, Germany

Berlin Day 2: You are Leaving the American Sector

Guten Morgen Berlin! Our first and only full day in Berlin arrived and we were ready to take in the city. We started off with having a nice breakfast at our hotel that consisted of different types of pastries, meats (including smoked salmon), nuts, fruit and cereal. It was quite satisfying. After that, we jumped on the s-bahn, since we now understood how to work it, and went to our meeting spot.

Our plan was a six-hour walking tour and although it was going to be a very hot day, I was super excited that it was not raining. Below I have listed some of the the sights I saw and facts I learned while on the tour.

  • We stopped at a synagogue that had been destroyed during the Nazi regime and then later rebuilt. One can see the patchwork on the structure. The darker areas are original, while the new and lighter areas are new.
  • We saw an example of what an original apartment building would have looked like during WWII, since this particular building had luckily not been destroyed or renovated on the outside.
  • We observed that most buildings or parts of buildings that survived fro WWII had many bullet holes covering them and chunks missing from the wall.
  • We visited an original 1920’s dance hall, called Clarchen’s Ballhaus.
  • We saw where a building once stood that was destroyed during the war, but had left the room outlines and even some wallpaper on its once conjoined building.
  • We found place marks that explained where Jewish people lived, where they were imprisoned and when they died.
  • We stopped for food at a train station and had traditional German currywurst and braunschweiger.
  • We saw the Trains to Life, Trains to Death statue, which depicts the conflicting realities of Jewish children during the Nazi regime. Some looked happy, as they were being adopted into new families through special programs, while others were facing the opposite way, looking helpless as they left for concentration camps.
  • We went to the square at which Hitler would hold rallies.
  • We visited Gendarmenmakrt, which is the square that is home to Konzerthaus, a concert hall, and French and German churches that face one another.
  • We visited a market, which was set up with individual stands with red and white striped awnings, which was adorable.
  • We walked through the Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe. The architect gave this memorial a very abstract look, with cement blocks rising from the curvy ground at different heights. Some people describe it as a ghetto with tiny streets and small, dark buildings. Others say it brings a sense of isolation. The meaning behind it we may never actually fully understand.
  • We went to the Neue Wach Memorial, which serves as the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship.” The inside sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with her Dead Son, is a very broad remembrance of all victims of war. This woman created the tribute after her son was killed in war. Her art was actually banned from East Berlin because it showed the sorrows of war. Under it are buried the ashes of an unknown soldier and a Jewish victim.
  • We passed the opera house, which is pink and under construction.
  • We stopped at Humbolt Universsitaet, which is the very famous college in the city.
  • We visited a square at which thousands of books that did not fit the narrow guidelines of Nazi ideals were burned. There is now a memorial in the ground, which is an empty room of shelves for 20,000 books. A memorial that is very easily overlooked, one can view it by looking through the glass window in the ground. Many commemorations in Berlin are quite subtle, such as the markings where Jews were killed or taken. Many purposely slip the eye, but appear at random, giving a surprising, but strong remembrance of what once happened.
  • We went outside a famous chocolate restaurant, Fassbender & Rausch, which has chocolate sculptures and even a full menu that features chocolate as an ingredient.
  • We took a long stop at Checkpoint Charlie, a famous check spot between East and West Berlin, which surprisingly is not one bit original and extremely touristy. There is a remake of a sign that indicated when people were leaving U.S. territory, which I thought was a cool sign to see. There are even fake American soldiers dressed up with rented costumes that are not at all historically correct, and are also rented by many male strippers. So, if you ever take a photo opportunity with one of these pretend soldiers, you might also be helping out a male stripper. Woohoo!
  • We learned about the Trabi car, which was the only car allowed in East Berlin. A waitlist for one was about ten years, and they only went up to 50 miles per hour when stomping on the gas, going downhill. They were quite flimsy and unreliable cars.
  • We saw a mural the Soviet Union put up to show happiness, which is now juxtaposed by a picture of a rebellion in East Berlin on the ground in front of it.
  • We observed a statue, which is the outline of a man’s face. Apparently this was a policeman who used his power to oppose the war, and who was kept alive in prison to show people what happens when you are a traitor. However, once Germany knew they were going to lose, he was executed.
  • We saw the Brandenburg Gate, which was originally designed by Prussia. It is a famous neo-classical structure that marked the border of Berlin and Brandenburg an der Havel.
  • We ended the tour at Hotel Adlon, which is about 100 years old and has had guests including the Queen of England. It is a remake, of course, because it burned down. This is the site at which Michael Jackson dangled baby Blanket from a balcony.

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The tour was wonderful, but I couldn’t believe all the museums and other points of interest there are to see in Berlin. I loved learning about the history of Germany, how it started out as a country and how it became the way it is now.

Of course, a six-hour walking tour of the city was not enough. Pop Pop wanted to find something to do that night, so we decided to check out a place we passed at the beginning of the tour, which I will describe in a later post.