Remembering the past

Remains of bomb-shelled Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church stands as a reminder of.the past.

Berlin has preserved and constructed many reminders of the country’s not-so-distant past in hopes that these memorials and museums continue to remind people of the horrors resulting from prejudice, hate, fear-mongering and war. There are at least 20 memorials to Holocaust victims in Berlin, including individual memorials for Roma (Gypsy), disabled and homosexual victims. The largest, on a site covering almost five acres, is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Two thousand-seven hundred-eleven concrete slabs of different heights are arranged on a wave-like concrete floor. The sheer size, openness and abstraction encourage visitors to individually and personally interpret the space. Do you feel anger? Sadness? Hope?

Even more moving to me, are memorials that are a million times smaller. As you walk around Berlin, you’ll come across small brass squares built into the sidewalks. The 10 square cm “stolpersteine,” or stumbling stones, have a simple inscription, “Here lived (name), date of birth, and fate (internment, suicide, exile or deportation/murder).” Each commemorates a victim outside their last-known freely chosen residence. Talk about making history personal! (Over 70,000 stones have been laid in more than 1,200 cities across Europe and Russia. Look for them when you travel.)

A City Divided

For some reason, I did not recall that Berlin was a “hole in the donut” rather than merely one city along a vast east-west Cold War border. I can’t imagine waking up one day to find myself literally walled off from family and friends, a job, my school. At least 171 people were killed trying to get over, under or around the Berlin Wall. From 1961 until the wall came down in 1989, more than 5,000 East Germans (including some 600 border guards) managed to cross the border by jumping out of windows adjacent to the wall, climbing over the barbed wire, flying in hot air balloons, crawling through the sewers and driving through unfortified parts of the wall at high speeds.

Most traces of the city’s division have been bulldozed over — streets, bridges and mass transit have been reconnected; districts have been realigned and merged.

The Oberbaumbrücke or Oberbaum Bridge connects the unified districts of Kreuzenberg and Friedrichshain. Do you remember it from one of the Jason Bourne movies?

(Answer: The Bourne Supremacy)

Brandenburg Gate

Mitte was once the heart of East Berlin. Now it is basically the city center due to its location, the fact that it remains the most urban-looking district and because Mitte is home to many of Berlin’s most popular sights

Celebrating the present

Berlin now prides itself on its inclusiveness and acceptance. Nowhere is this more evident than at the annual Carnival of Culture. The weekend celebration includes a parade celebrating the city’s diversity. We were among the million people that attended!

Hanging in Prenzlauer Berg

When the Berlin Wall came down, prosperity moved through East Berlin creating some of the city’s most popular areas. We are staying in one of them — Prenzlauer Berg. Once a Jewish ghetto, next a haven for squatters and artists, PB is now an affluent district brimming with young families (honestly, I have never seen so many buggies!). Elegant buildings which survived WWII, tree-lined cobblestone streets, playgrounds, countless small restaurants and cafes — all add to the area’s desirability. 

I mentioned the concept of ‘kiez’ in the previous  post. Berlin became a city by uniting small villages within a city environment. Prenzlauer Berg perfectly illustrates this village/neighborhood concept. Within a couple blocks of our apartment and tastefully integrated into the neighborhood ambience are a grocery store, a library and some day care centers. You don’t need to leave your neighborhood for anything but if you do, mass transit is conveniently located on a main street just a few blocks away.

The colorful East

Many of the districts in East Berlin seem to be more edgy and artsy. We see a lot of young people and there seems to be more nightlife. Street art is everywhere but Friedrichshain is probably the most famous for it. Here, the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall is the world’s longest open air gallery (as well as a protected memorial).

East Side Gallery (Berlin Wall)

More street art in Friedrichshain

East Berlin —- always something happening

Bravo Berlin

We spent our last night with our friend Thomas and his Shakespeare Company Berlin for their opening night performance of “Love’s Labour Lost” at Schöneberger Südgelände. Bravo on a wonderful show and Bravo to the wonderful city of Berlin!

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Pretty Potsdam

The city of Potsdam is thirty minutes southwest of Berlin. During the Cold War, the Gliencke Bridge separated the city from West Berlin as it crossed the Havel River border. This bridge was often used for the exchange of captured spies and it became known as the Bridge of Spies.

Gliencke Bridge (Bridge of Spies)

Nowadays, mass transit takes people back and forth. Potsdam’s many parks, ritzy neighborhoods, charming downtown and many cultural activities make it a popular getaway for Berlin residents and visitors.

Potsdam
Potsdam
Potsdam

Sanssouci

Sanssouci

A retreat fit — and created — for royalty and now open to the public is beautiful Sanssouci. Friedrich the Great built it as his summer getaway and the name literally means “living without a care.” The buildings are impressive and the massive grounds are stunning. You can understand why he loved this place and why so many do now. 

Hanging out in West Berlin

Willkomen to Charlottenburg, our pretty kiez (neighborhood) in West Berlin. Our apartment seems like the Taj Mahal after our small space in St. Petersburg — and we’re really liking the elevator up to this fourth floor! The lively area is a mix of ages with many young families. It seems everyone has a bike! And be careful — bikers don’t slow down in those dedicated bike lanes!

We’ve been impressed at the vast amount of green space throughout the city. There are many small squares (Platz), as well as larger parks. Several community gardens have popped up around rail tracks, greatly improving the look of that area. Plots are fenced off and many have cute little sheds and sitting areas. We visited one garden complex that even had a large public Biergarten!

The largest garden in the area can be found at Berlin’s largest palace, Charlottenburg Palace. Named after King Fredrick I’s wife, Sophie Charlotte, the gardens are beautiful!

Aside from our own exploring, our friend Thomas has been showing us around and giving us a feel for what it’s like to live in Berlin. We met him when we traveled to Vietnam in 2018. Thomas had told us all about his girlfriend Mara and we were so happy to meet her. Together, we’ve hit up some great restaurants and have spent a fair amount of time in the Biergartens at the Tiergarten (Berlin’s Central Park).

You really don’t need a car in Berlin. The city has an impressive transportation system; it’s convenient, efficient and comprehensive. More importantly, it’s easy to use! We start most of our adventures at the S-Bahn stop just around the corner. From there, the city is ours! We’ve explored some cool neighborhoods, visited great museums and done some window shopping. KaDeWe is one of the largest department stores in Europe with an amazing food court and restaurant on the top floors. Bikini Berlin is a bit more hip. Check out what Frank found in a sporting goods store!

KaDeWe Department Store (upper left and right); Bikini Berlin (lower left); Karstadt Sports (lower right)

With more than 150 museums, Berlin is a cultural treasure trove. What to see?!!! After all the palaces and galleries in St. Petersburg, we chose more personal interests. Frank and I spent a fascinating day at the Museum of Technology. He loved (what else?) — the planes, trains and automobiles! Totally blown away by the real-life double roundhouse with refurbished locomotives and cars, “There can’t be anything like this anywhere else in the world!” I was drawn to the amazing printing, film and photography areas. Truly an amazing museum!

Always intrigued by the “radical” Bauhaus School of artists (Kandinsky was a teacher), I was disappointed that the Bauhaus Museum was not open due to renovations. There is, however, a temporary space which has renderings of the finished museum and an awesome gift shop. The space also features an amazing photo exhibit of the school’s trailblazing women artists.

Temporary Bauhaus Archive/Museum

We continued our photography excursion with a visit to Berlin’s Museum für Fotografie. The Helmut Newton Foundation occupies the first two floors of the building. We viewed Newton’s famous nudes and I enjoyed poring over his Vogue and Vanity Fair work. The galleries also feature some of his contemporaries. George Holz credits Helmut Newton in guiding his career. Holz is best known for his celebrity photography and many of his shots are iconic. The top floor of the museum explores emerging trends in photography.