This is post #6 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, Sunday, September 16, 2018.
Okay. In case I was wondering, I am in Germany.
Bright and not-so-early, we decided to tackle Berlin for our first day. The citrus design is from the carpet in our hotel hallways, and the rest of the sights are near our hotel (and ARE our hotel). The WELT hot air balloon was a landmark for us for the rest of the day.
We knew that the 2018 Berlin Marathon was a big deal, having found the information about the “marathon majors” on the web:
- Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo, Japan
- Boston Marathon in Boston, United States
- London Marathon in London, United Kingdom
- Berlin Marathon in Berlin, Germany
- Chicago Marathon in Chicago, United States
- New York City Marathon in New York City, United States
It had started about 2 hours before we arrived, and as shown, we were at km39 — nearly the end of the 42 kilometer race. As we approached the runners were zipping by, like they were on bicycles. This marathon’s winner ran it in 2:01:39, apparently a world record.
We stood right by the drummers’ stand for a while (click for the video)–if you are in shape, it must be a kick to run things like this.
At the sight of this mural, on Friedrichstrasse, at the “Platz des Volksaufstandes von 1953” we recognized we were now in former East German territory. This mural, which is is a typical Happy Russian mural, shows everyone marching for the Fatherland with big smiles on their faces. Yet, in 1953, this was the site of a worker uprising against the GDR, which (of course) was suppressed. It would be many more years before they would have their freedom.
The mural is inside that alcove, and in front, an enlarged and engraved photo on metal, showing the protesters (thank you Google maps). This was just the first of many times when we would be aware of the two different histories of this city. Another is shown below.
We turned right on and headed toward Checkpoint Charlie (there was also Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo), encountering this sculpture, the exact outlines of an old church that used to be in the plaza, The Bethlehem Church. This wire sculpture commemorating that church is called Memoria Urbana Berlin.
Happy to see a drinking fountain!
And here it is–not like in the movies. The one that was vivid in my mind was the recent Bridge of Spies, with Tom Hanks, which I watched in preparation for this trip. This “US Army Checkpoint” schlock was harmless, even laughable. I did not fall for the “get your passport stamped” business, having been warned away by Rick Steves’ guidebook (my bible for the trip). I especially liked the McDonalds in the background, along with a souvenir shop (they were everywhere, with nothing really good to buy — sorry, kids).
Unbelievably, neither of us ever tasted currywurst while we were there, apparently the National Food of Berlin, which is basically a cooked sausage, cut into slices, and sauced up with a tomato-curry mixture, and served with fries. In perusing recipes, this seems to come close to what I saw people munching down on.
However, it did remind us that we were hungry, so we backtracked up a side street to the Little Green Rabbit (cash free!) and had a beet salad on greens, with egg and (cue the heavenly music) a bretzel! I tried to eat as many as I could while there, for you just can’t get the good ones anywhere else but in Europe (mostly Germany, but Geneva had some good ones, too).
We decided to detour back to our room (to get the Reichstag Dome tickets–yes, we’d forgotten them just like we forgot the Book of Kells tickets), and we passed by TrabiWorld with its balloon, and a distinctive manhole cover. The next week we were treated to a Trabi parade of cars (you can drive them in a tightly controlled path). Pay attention to the sound of these cars. In the book I read, Forty Autumns, the author describes one passage how the American Fords evaded the East German Trabants: the Fords go at top speed, leaving the Trabis in their dust, spewing black exhaust and “collapsing” by the side of the road.
We walked by an extant piece of wall, near the Tower of Terror (not shown) which detailed the events of that year when Hitler took over. It was chilling. (You can click on any photo shown above to be taken to a larger version.) Too many parallels to make me comfortable with our US Politics. Apparently other Germans felt the same way, because the entire time I was there, people wanted to talk to me about Trump, about what was going on. They are very well informed about our country’s politics; I don’t think we are as informed about theirs.
This beautiful building was next door; it is the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition space. Dave stepped in to catch a picture of the dome:
Tickets picked up, we walk back up to Potsdamer Platz (we hadn’t really learned the metro yet, so were walking everywhere, which equals tired tourists), where we saw the second wave of marathoners–many more runners and everyone going more slowly. We had to use the subway tunnels to go down and under the street to get across.
We walked up and nearer the Brandenburg Gate, we found the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a large plaza filled with cement blocks of varying heights and size.
We walked in and amongst them pillars and blocks, going deeper into the Memorial, then looking out. I kept thinking about Chad’s comment when he took his family there: he was worried he would lose his children and so made all due diligence to keep them in sight.
We emerged on the other side to see the “back door” of the U.S. Embassy, which is really how you get in. This was rebuilt in 2008, a little less than twenty years after the wall fell.
I referred to this interactive map a lot while I was there, trying to figure out what was former East Berlin. The red line is the West side of the wall, and the blue line is the East Berlin side. You can see that Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) was trapped in the middle between the two sides.
The runners are still coming through the Brandenburg Gate. There were about 40,000 running in the Marathon. It was like a party up there.
After enjoying that for a while, we took the BVG (the train system nickname) to Nordbahnhof, one of the former Ghost Stations in Berlin, closed to the East Berliners, with transit allowed for the West Berliners. Apparently West Berlin paid a sizable sum to the East German government for this privilege (the GDR was broke and needed the hard cash). There are many stories about these ghost stations in Berlin, and they all involve sadness or risk of death in trying to escape.
We were headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial, a section of the wall that has been preserved to memorialize the horrors of that construction. It’s in several sections. The top photo (with the caption) is actually after the collage of photos beneath it. The standing wall pieces in the lower right of the collage are parts of the wall removed from a churchyard cemetery (the wall had obliterated and bisected it), again left to remind all of us of the horrors of that time. The rusty wall with photos, are all the people that died trying to escape East Berlin. The bars approximate the location and height of the wall.
We went through the Documentation Museum, directly across from the extant wall. They had several moving displays of the experiences of seeing the wall go up, and then the exulting when the wall came down (which made me teary). Then we climbed up to the top of the viewing tower to take the photo above. Dave also took a short video clip to show the entire area. I think that, even though everything is very well documented, we really have no idea of what it was like to live through that terror.
The Ampelmännchen, a small male figure telling you when to walk, was a relic of the East Berlin traffic system, but has become so popular that it is now being installed in the former West Berlin traffic lights. They also have a red Ampelmännchen. I didn’t see any working Trabis, but the abundance of trams in this area (a hallmark of the former East Berlin) reminded me, again, that for forty-plus years, all of what I had just seen had been behind a wall.
We took the U-Bahn back to Brandenburg Gate, making our way to the Reichstag for our appointment to take the tour. That post will come next.
The marathon seemed to be over with, and the trash was piled up. Now this brigade of garbage trucks could take over. The beginning and end of the marathon were near the Reichstag. When I passed by a week later, they were still cleaning up.
The front of the Reichstag. After leaving, we milled around by the Brandenburg Gate until we felt the need to find dinner.
We walked nearly all the way home from there, ended up eating at a Vietnamese/Thai restaurant that hit the spot.
I find myself sometimes writing “Brandenburger Gate” and Brandenburg Gate. The German words are Brandenburger Tor, and the English words are Brandenburg Gate. I found myself conflating the two, and quite often. My apologies if you have found my conflated name.
This one’s correct.