Live like a local.
Part 1 -Here we come! Berlin, Germany Aug 23 – Aug 28th, 2020
I’m conscience-stricken by my lack of historic knowledge when it comes to the chronicle of events surrounding the Berlin wall. Yes, I can safely say I knew the wall separated the communists from the western world and that the wall came down in 1989, but that would conclude what I thought about. I conveniently packaged anything to do with “the wall” going up with WWII and Nazi Germany, when in fact, that is not the complete story. The wall has to do with the DDR, not the Nazi regime. Then to think I was starting my family and completely unaware of the impact and narrative of the re-unification of East and West Germany, makes me a wee-embarrassed. The resolve of human beings is amazing, and it gives me great hope in times of current political turbulence.
Germany has handled Covid so well, that we could travel, and the best bonus was that we were able to visit our nephew and his wife, Keith and Erica, In Berlin. From there our niece and her husband, Sarah and Michele, in Hannover, before they all move back to the US. There is nothing better than sharing a city with people who love it intimately. As with any great tour, it is a whirlwind because there is ample to see and limited time to absorb it all.
Berlin, with Keith and Erica, was our first stop. It came complete with beautiful ancient buildings that survived the destruction of WWII and/or were rebuilt, but mostly, we spent time learning about recent history. It’s crazy to think I went into East Berlin when I was 20 and didn’t recognize the impact of what was around me. History can only monopolize your interest if you’re captivated by the events unfolding, and I can honestly say, I was too self-absorbed and naïve to comprehend what was happening around me.
I found it confusing thinking of Berlin as two cities when one was encapsulated by another. I was constantly asking, “Is this the West? Is this the East?” Berlin has done a remarkable job weaving the past seamlessly into one another, and it’s now a lively, thriving, successful city. Another thing to point out is that many of these museums and points of interest are all accessible without a fee. The importance of allowing everyone to have access to learn, so history doesn’t repeat itself, hasn’t gone unnoticed, if only the US could adopt similar views regarding history.
The Parliamentary Reichstag Building (meeting place of the Federal Arm of the Gov’t) was spectacular, but you must register in advance. (Bonus: go 1.5 hours before sunset so you get to see the sunset over the city!!) Fascinating history along with a remarkable view! I can’t say enough about this, but I’m realizing I can’t say enough about Berlin, so I will stop … and show you pictures of Berlin…
The Berlin Wall Memorial, commemorates the division of Berlin by the Berlin Wall and the deaths that occurred there. Going through the museum you can feel the years of tensions growing, and one can only imagine what if must have felt like when Schabowski mistakenly improvised the immediate opening of the wall. I never realized that Chancellor Merkel came from, what was once East Berlin! She is a remarkable woman and a quick response to COVID! It helped having her background, as a Chemist, and then married to a quantum Chemist, she understood what could happen and shut it down as fast as she could.
The East Side Gallery is an open-air gallery in Berlin. It consists of a series of murals painted directly on a 1,316 m long remnant of the Berlin Wall. It has status as a heritage protected landmark. Many of the paintings you recognize but after seeing how East and West Berliners lived for years during the cold war, you come to appreciate these expressions more.
Mauer Park, The name translates to "Wall Park", referring to its status as a former part of the Berlin Wall and its Death Strip. It now seems to be a lively park with part of the wall dedicated to allowing graffiti artists express themselves. Here is a photo of a budding young artist. I took his photo and his father was quite upset, but of course, as he is rattling off in aggressive German I couldn’t understand, I didn’t realize he was worried about the content of the photo I had taken. He thought I took a picture of his son’s face. After playing charades and I showed him my photo, he was immediately calm and almost happy to see I’d be sharing the nature of their art.
The Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe...These slabs are organized in rows, 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles but set slightly askew, very disorienting. The ground was rolling and not flat, adding another feeling that takes your breath away. As recently as July 2001, “the slogan The Holocaust never happened appeared in newspaper advertisements and on billboards, under the slogan and a picture of a serene mountain lake and snow-capped mountain, a smaller type said: "There are still many people who make this claim. In 20 years there could be even more. “ It is impossible to not think about the false narratives we are currently hearing in the USA because we have stopped demanding factual statements from people in powerful positions. It’s dangerous and scary and I hope there is an end to this free-fall.
Topography of terror is on the site of buildings, which during the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945, was the SS Reich Main Security Office, the headquarters of the Security Police, Secret Service, Death Squads and Secret Police aka the Gestapo. The museum is both indoor and outdoor and is free to all. I didn’t take photos, but as with all of these installations, there was a ton to learn.
The German term, ghost stations, was coined to describe certain stations on Berlin's U-Bahn and S-Bahn metro networks that were closed during the period of Berlin's division during the Cold War because they were part of the transit line located on the other side of the Berlin Wall. You can see an old photo of armed guards in these stations that the train slowed down through but didn’t stop.
Keith works at the embassy and as one can imagine, no number of shenanigans convinced the Marines to allow me to bring in a camera. Basically, many places were off limits, but we did see how amazing the placement of the embassy’s building truly was given the view from the outside the roof garden. An interesting story that escaped my attention, in late 2019, Berlin gets an unwanted Reagan Statue. Reagan has already been recognized in the city and Berlin didn’t want, yet another Reagan statue, but still the US ambassador, Richard Grenell insisted on leaving his mark, and again, the city of Berlin refused to allow the placement IN their city. The only place left for the statue was in the US Embassy own rooftop garden. Not quite the audience Grenell imagined. Trump selected Richard Grenell as acting director of National Intelligence, but not surprisingly, he didn’t last long. I wanted to show you the remarkable round conference room opening out to this rooftop garden, but as I stated before, I was without a camera, or mostly permission to share a photo. I was given permission to share a photo Keith had taken from the rooftop (notice how close it is to the Brandenburg Gate!!) Impressive. Another interesting fact regarding this embassy is that the consulate isn’t part of this building. Most US embassies, in other cities, have both their state offices and the consulate work in the same building, this one does not.
Who’s up for a bike ride? We always are! And off we go. We ride through the city out through green spaces and even tried our luck at off roading. Let’s just say we weren’t up to the challenge. Who knew there was a hill in Berlin? In the Grunewald forest is the Teufelsberg (Devils Mountain) which is a hill made out of debris from WWII (400,000 bombed houses) on top an old Nazi military training school that they couldn’t seem to destroy. During the Cold War they made an intelligence-gathering secure listening post which was used by NSA that pretty much looks like 2 ginormous soccer balls perched on top of this man-made hill. In pre-covid times, you can go tour it. We had much more fun riding next to the tall security fences that were clearly designed to keep people out!
And we continued to ride towards the palaces of Potsdam. Here comes the prisoner exchange on the Glienicke Bridge! Well sort of. Our “prisoners" are pretty magnificent, so we ended up keeping both of them. Clearly, we wouldn’t have made good negotiators. Regardless, I know our exchange was not as dramatic as during the cold war exchanging an American Pilot with a convicted Soviet spy, but imagining it going down, was something to think about!
Finally we reached Potsdam. It’s easy to sum it up and say if you were wealthy, in the day, your life was set! The Royal Gardens and Palaces were crazy beautiful. It’s remarkable to realize that basically one family had all that wealth. You’ll need to see for yourself these beauties but do notice the Shell Grotto in The New Palace. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was pretty grand to have the Palace all to ourselves! The only silver lining with Covid.
We rode back through a small rain shower and grabbed a great bite to eat before taking the train back with our bikes! Overall, I think it was about 25 miles and a great way to see Potsdam! Then I’ve posted a few photos of us drinking beer, duh it’s Germany!! and using this really fun app called Uptapped. Download it, and play with us, It works in the USA too!
As we wrap up our time in Berlin, the boys pretend to work while Erica and I visit the National Gallery. I’d say I’m usually not a museum girl, but what fun we had slowly taking in all the stories about the paintings! My favorite was Adolph Menzel’s “Frederick the Great’s address to his generals before the battle of Leuthen”. It is the painting with unfinished people, and this was the fascinating reason that was given for it being incomplete. “…Menzel did not finish the work, The reason is that in this work Menzel gives an intense physical sense of Frederick's generals--bear-like men, stocky, strong--standing against the cold, pulling coats and pelisses over their shoulders, listening intently to Frederick (whom Menzel did not finish; he is a blank figure). Fried argues that Menzel had sought to show the hardiness of these generals, who stand about Frederick in a semi-circle, as he wanted to highlight their physical battle against the cold and the enemy. But his efforts went in a direction he did not anticipate. He likely chose not to finish the work because the contrast between these fleshy men and the slender Frederick would not have given the impression of Frederick's centrality in this historical event…”.
And we can’t forget the statue of the girl representing most of the people in the USA and U.K. wearing a mask to protect their chin. We used an audio guide and spent most of the day in the museum. I was taken away, only hunger could bring me back. Grabbed a train that night, and onto Hanover for Part II Germany!
Don't take life so seriously.
I'm Jody. I love to travel. I love to take pictures. I love to meet people and find interesting places. I also love to write about and post pix of what I've found. But, I've been told that I write like I talk - in streams of consciousness. So, if proper grammar and well composed sentences are a must for you - my posts will make you crazy. If you want to follow my journey as I learn about really cool places and offer some great tips about living abroad, read on!