Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A few notes on our trip to Berlin

Karl Scheffler, author of Berlin: Ein Stadtschicksal, in 1910 wrote “Berlin ist eine Stadt, verdammt dazu, ewig zu werden, niemals zu sein” ("Berlin is a city condemned forever to becoming and never being.")

He would be pleased in 2008 that it has now most certainly arrived!

I wont write too much in here because I have plans to include the range of photos and some writings on my travel-blog one day in the fullness of time. (Dont hold your breath though, I have put the pictures of Ireland up but still no words, perhaps this summer I will find the time for both)

But I must say that Lisa and I had a wonderful trip to celebrate our 30 years of friendship last weekend.

We flew direct to Berlin from John Lennon Airport.

We stayed at the Pension Classic in Wittenbergplatz in a large clean room with a view of the square, and it was about £35 per night each B&B which for a capital city centre is amazingly cheap.

We split our trip into four parts really, 18th, 19th and early 20th century Berlin, Second World War Berlin, Cold War Berlin and the Reunified city.

For the first part we visited the Brandenberg Gate commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II as a sign of peace and built from 1788 to 1791;

the Reichstag building constructed to house the first parliament of the German Empire, opened in 1894; the Siegessäule in the Tiergarten, the Victory Column commemorating German defeat of Denmark, Austria and France in the 1860s and 70s; the Volksbuhne theatre in Rosa Luxemburg Platz, established in 1914 as a result of a grassroots people’s movement.

All were magnificent and nothing I can say about them will be any more interesting than anything you could find by Googling. They certainly knew how to "do" buildings in Berlin in centuries gone by.

We also went to the Bauhaus Archive while we were in the Tiergarten.

We met a lot of very courteous people who were dedicated to customer service while we were in Berlin, but not alas in the Bauhaus. Not my thing really, I love art and architecture but it was far too stark and plain for me. I think the chrome tube furniture was a real innovation at the time, but as a child who sat on our one special "Habitat" chair in front of the TV, it was all a bit old hat to me.

We went to the Field of memory: the relatively new memorial to European Jews who perished under the Nazis and passed the site of Hitler's bunker as we approached it. The guidebook didnt make the obvious link between the two but I wonder whether the creator did nonetheless draw some inspiration from this. A whole series of grey concrete blocks, set on a grid system, each of a different height, some only a few feet high and some 15 feet high, with cobbled paving in between that rose and fell gently across the site, made walking through feel at times like being underground or in a dark place. A lonely memorial, bleak and very moving.

Generally though I think Berlin is thought of most as the home of the Berlin wall during the Cold war. There is little left of the wall now, naturally the city wanted to demolish it and open up the city for reunification. But it has not all gone, a few hundred yards are left standing for visitors to contemplate.

It was built in 1961 in an attempt to halt the flow of East Germans leaving for a better life in the West. It was also designed to prevent the worst excesses of the West polluting the Communist ideal they wanted to establish - they called it "the anti-fascist protection barrier".

It lasted about 30 years before it was torn down on 9th November 1989 (Mum's birthday), a wonderful day we all remember so well - especially her I expect.

I have not read up on how the line was drawn between East and West Berlin but at times it passed within 6 feet of people's front doors. Imagine one day you live in a wide street with beautiful buildings on both sides and the next day when you open the front door there is a plain concrete wall about 20 feet high in front of your nose.

It was thrown up in about a fortnight, starting one night with barbed wire and within two weeks becoming a 4 metre high wall with 50 gun towers.

Behind this wall, on the west side, was a strip of no-mans land and then a second wall between this and the east side.

I understand from reading Stasiland before we travelled that there were rabbits playing in this no-mans land in certain places and in one particular spot someone had built an allotment, but generally it was somewhere you could expect to be shot - there was a shoot-to-kill policy if discovered.

We did the "Check Point Charlie" walking tour, walking along the line the wall had taken, through the check point where the East and West checked out those arriving and leaving.

We stopped for a while to read the display boards about those who had tried to leave, some successfully and many not. I was most fascinated with some aerial shots that the Stasi had managed to have taken during the 1980s I think, where you could see into West Berlin which looked prosperous with lots of new and modern cars parked outside new buildings, and into East Berlin which remained a wasteland where the bombs had fallen during WWII but no money was available to rebuild.

We also went to the New National Gallery built in 1968 which houses some great art, including Edward Munch, Picasso and Klee.

Potsdamer Platz is the new part of former East Berlin in the new capital city of the Germany. Here you can see the full benefits of membership of the EU with a huge rebuilding programme, and because it was all a waste ground, the new buildings have been built in lots of space with wide tree lined streets and plenty of room. A marvellous example of new architecture.

Evenings were spent eating and drinking and making merry - and watching the early games of the European cup.

We also had a great night out at Kleine Nacht Revue, a real Berlin Cabaret (...when in Rome etc)

We couldn't understand a spoken word and were the only people in the audience of about 20 (it was a tiny club) who were not German, but it was fairly straightforward. Marlene Dietrich, sings, gets very popular, meets man, falls in love with man, war comes along, couple struggle, couple fall out of love, man dies later with some pathos, with lots of singing.

We loved it!

I am sure we did other things which I have forgotten, but you get the general idea.

I will save the Berlin bears for my post about the sudden influx of mini superlambananas and I will draw a veil over us missing our flight home on Sunday because we had underestimated the slowness of the Sunday rail service.

We are now looking forward to our 40th celebrations, suggestions anyone?

(Thanks to Les for his helpful email of tips for our visit and Kevin for his loan of the guidebook! You were great.)

You can click on any photograph and if I have uploaded them properly you should be able to see a much larger version in all its glory.


Old "Lsevener " Dick said...

Berlin= Kensington

I have been trying to get kensington newd eal for communitites to erect a simialr wall as the oen you saw in Berlion, to divide L6 and L7, as it is the only way to stop the migration of people from the Old Deal area to the bright shiney New Deal area.

I dont see the fairness in letting all those slackers and ne'er do wells with the wrong postcode leeching on all our new faciltities, sending their kid's to the academy and all that, for example the New Iceland will be choc a block with Lsixers (as I have christened 'em) snapping up all our frozen bargains, or even setting their homes alight so they can avail themsleves of the fire engines provided by New Deal.

These damn Lsixers will also be buyign up all of the supplises of paint on chocolate suace from the new Anne Summers which will be part of the new centre.

Put a large wall up north of Prescot road/kensington I say, a small visa charge would in some way compensate us for the moeny they will be drawing away from us Lseveners.

Incientally is it true the new centre is to be called the Stephen Boyle Memorial Centre after the first CE of KennyDeal, (we all msut remember his sad demise, when a group of "Peasants" (as he called them) tarred and featehred him adn carried him to the end of the M62 on a rail)

I told Marek the rumour he had heard in chess club must be a mistake and he misheard it and the new centre will inn fact be called after Lin Spender the current Chef de partie.

scouseboy said...

How did you go wrong on Sunday on the S-Bahn system? They have an integrated transport system that Merseytravel could only dream about. I am glad it did not put a damper on your trip.
Did Easyjet give you any problems(i.e. extra cost) over rescheduling your flight?