East Side Gallery • Berlin Wall

This is post #17 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Saturday, September 22, 2018 (part 2).

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Cool tourist.

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Another cool tourist, in front of a toxic waste wall panel.

The panels of the wall were painted shortly after the wall came down, and as The East Side Gallery website notes, they:

“are for the joy of came down of the wall, for the overcoming of the Iron Curtain in Europe, the euphoria over the peace -won freedom of the persecution, spying and lack of freedom, the hope for a better, more human society. For personal stories, hopes and dreams.”

After sitting through two videos at the other Berlin Wall site, I can attest to the feeling of joy and elation at seeing the wall come down.  More information can be found at their website as well as Wikipedia.

What follows are some of the more interesting panels.  Interestingly, the border was the river, and this was merely the wall that guarded that border, creating a dead zone (as shown at the other site).  I found people’s reaction to the panels almost as interesting as the wall itself, so I include a lot of tourists in these photos. Click on any to enlarge.

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Graffiti has been a problem, and they are now attempting to restore some of the original paintings, not without controversy.

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According to Wikipedia, the Russian words at the top read “God! help me stay alive”; and continue at the bottom “Among this deadly love.”

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Tired, we head over to the train station nearby and see this:

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We wait, and the next train comes.

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Another nutcracker shop for Dave to check out.

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A look up the street from the Nutcracker shop.  We are near Hackesche Hofe, so we stop in to see all the courtyards.

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No buying, but instead, we head home, arriving just in time to see the treats go out for the Chocolate Happy Hour.  We snag a couple.

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After a break, we head out for dinner, past this cool fire escape stairway (above) and colorfully painted trash dumpster area (below).

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We got into the Indonesian restaurant and when confronted with this, asked the other couple at our table (who were leaving), what they had.  I think we tried to understand the menu, and the owner was most helpful in trying to help us.  We ended up with this:

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Those half-spherical discs are rice crackers.

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More texture, than flavor, was my assessment, but Dave liked his food.  It’s an early night for both of us, and we crash.

Frau Tulip, Hackescher Hof, and walking around in the Berlin Mitte

This is post #9 of our Dublin-Berlin trip in September 2018.

Berlin neighborhood map

When sitting in my house in California, planning this trip, I read lots of guidebooks, and they all emphasized the idea of “kiez” or neighborhoods, as apparently Berlin is less known for a tight list of “must-see” sights and more of, as Rick Steves’ notes, a “choose your own adventure.”  And I wanted all the adventures, all the sights, figuring since I would be here almost two weeks, why not?

Movenpick Hotel SiteOur hotel, the Movenpick, was about a 15 minute walk south of the Brandenburg Gate, on the edge of “Mitte,” mostly in Kreuzberg, just south of the former East/West Berlin wall.  I found that quite a lot of what I wanted to do was in the former East Germany, whether by plan or by accident.

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This is what Dave did every day, and many times, into the late evening.Berlin3_1aBerlin3_2

But that first Tuesday in Berlin, September 18th, I headed out.  Since I’d done some reading, most specifically Forty Autumns (Nina Wilner) and Here in Berlin (Cristina Garcia), I felt like the ghost of East Berlin was lurking in my head, and I wanted to see the  Wall again, this time by myself.  I was quite emotional on Sunday, yet felt constrained by the exhaustion of a new city, the franticness of touristing (See.All.The.Sights) and wanted to just experience it, in a quieter way.

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This line’s trains are connected all the way through, with no doors. The corregated lines show the passageway between cars.

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Back up to the Wall, I guided a few tourists to places they wanted to go, and this time I knew the way out of the train station.  Not only did I walk the length of the extant wall (and these bars), I took my guidebook’s suggestion and put my hand up on the wall, to touch history.

Dave and I had just been married about three months when the wall came down, and even for a newlywed with all the adjustments we were making (with four children, a move, and a new job) it was a Big Deal.  We watched the news reports of people hacking at the wall with sledge hammers, trying to remove that obstacle.  But the reality of the wall hit home a couple of years later, when we took a trip to Germany in June 1992, and decided to visit Seiffen, home of nutcrackers in the former East Germany.  The idea was to drive to the Erzgebirge Mountains area, and proceed to a tiny town where nutcrackers hailed from, if there was such a place.

But what struck us was when we were finished with our time in that little village. We needed lunch, we needed gas, we needed a place to stay.  We stopped by a grocery store, and most of the shelves were (still) empty.  I found a box of crackers, and bought a wedge of cheese.  The man at the counter folded it up into a piece of waxed butcher paper, put a piece of paper on it listing the cost, then took out a stapler, opened it up to full length and stapled the paper on it, the points of the staple going into the cheese.  I felt like I was stealing it.

We sat eating in our car in an abandoned gas station, and an old woman came up, and started talking to us.  We didn’t speak German (obviously).  But at some point we said “Americans.”  She stepped back, and said loudly, “Amerikaners! Amerikaners!” looking around who to tell.  She walked off, still saying “Amerikaners!” and we were sufficiently freaked out that we quietly drove off, windows up.  We didn’t know if she was reporting us to some authority or excited to see us.  In hindsight, I’m pretty sure it was the latter.

We drove to the next town (the days of good paper maps) and it was nearly dinnertime, but there was no one in the town square, a place that felt “gray” even if it wasn’t.  We decided we’d better hightail it back to the former Western Germany, as we were getting low on gas, and didn’t see any place to get some, nor a place to stay.  That experience, of want, of scarcity, has stuck with me for over twenty-six years, brought back to the fore with our trip to Berlin.

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There is a memorial on this site of a chapel, commemorating the old Church of Reconciliation lost during that time; after the Wall went up, it “found itself stranded in the death strip,” according to my guidebook.  The only thing remaining from the interior is this fragment of an altar.  “After the Wall came down, this chapel was built to remember the troubled past and try to heal the memory” (Rick Steves Guidebook).

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Fragment from the exterior of the church.

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These “incident markers” were in many places, with the reference code letting you access the website to find out what happened.  In this place “Border guards apprehended the apprentice Michael B. from Freital on June 9, 1981 during an escape attempt on Ackerstraße.”  The main website for the Memorial has more information.

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I thought I should be getting on my way, and turned down a street heading back towards the center.  The St. Elisabeth Churchyard beckoned (I love a good cemetery–frankly, a little more cheerful than what I’d just been looking at).

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Even the engraving on the tombstones has a different look than what I usually see.

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My sister’s last name is Rugh, and so this caught my eye: was it a derivation of her name?

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No, it’s a resting place.  I sent it to her, and she thought their name had been changed from the original German, so maybe?  I left the churchyard/cemetary, and kept walking.

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Looks like Klara has lost a shoe.  I did notice lost items around town occasionally, the shoe or sweater or cap draped over the nearest taller item, in case the person came back looking for it.  As I was photographing the shoe and the colorful painted wall, above, an older woman stopped me to find out if I was lost (I was looking at my phone, trying to decide which direction to go).  She moved between three languages: German, English and Spanish, and when I commented on this, she said that her husband — well, not her husband (she said) but he may as well be as they’ve been together for thirty years — spoke Spanish and English.  She was fluid moving between the three languages, but I could only understand two of them (and only English, the most).  We parted.

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First time I saw this delivery method: a bike with a “kickstand” in the front.

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When she came out, she kicked up the little set of wheels out of the way (you can see the hinged area in the front) and took off.  I didn’t detect any motorized assist, and we were in area with slight hills.

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The freakinmacstore.  Most of this area seemed to be residential.  See the  post on Berlin doors (coming soon) to see some doors from this neighborhood.

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I made it to Frau Tulpe.  Since this was my first shopping expedition in this city, I didn’t know what to expect.  In Geneva, I’d call the salespeople “brisk” and less inclined to put up with foreigners.  But in Frau Tulpe, they were friendly and helpful, and spoke English.  I’d heard that English was not as common in the former East Berlin, because they were schooled in Russian, but I rarely encountered any problem.  Tulpe means “tulip,” and it was the original owner’s nickname.  I left there, and kept walking downhill, detouring into a park (“The Volkspark am Weinberg”) with paved paths, and decorated birdhouses:

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It sloped downward to a small lake — more like a pond, really — and people enjoying the sun.

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I stopped to look at the menu of the Swiss restaurant that was on the top part of the slope, with a large terrace and delicious desserts.  But I pressed on because I’d seen this:

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I found Daluma, and ordered my avocado toast with poached egg (it was too cooked).Berlin3_10d

I sat outside on one of these square benches, and watched the yuppies come with their expensive baby strollers and fancy jewelry to meet and have a coffee.

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The neighborhood has all been refreshed, from whatever existed thirty years ago.

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Leaving the restaurant, I couldn’t figure out how to hop on a tram, so ended up walking downhill towards Hackescher Hof, my next destination, snapping photos along the way.

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I meandered, finding interesting details such as a giant fan/windowshade in this loft window:

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And another building undergoing rehabilitation, the cinderblocks exposed before getting their topcoast of plaster (I suppose).

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I was trying to find Hackescher Hof, a series of joined courtyards, but instead found this one.

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Colorful, but not the right one.

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Panorama photographs distort the wonderful tile work.  The buildings were all upright and vertical.

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I explored the courtyards.

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I found an Ampelmann Shop!

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Nature’s gift of a shiny chestnut on the bench outside.

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I came out the “back” of the eight inter-connected courtyards, and found a nutcracker shop.  (I took Dave back there, but he wasn’t interested in anything.)

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Time for a break, so I headed home to our hotel, just like these two young men, sharing a joke on the train.

(to be continued)

Berlin Marathon, for both the runners and us

This is post #6 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, Sunday, September 16, 2018.

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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

berlin-marathon-map_1190.jpgIt 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Happy to see a drinking fountain!

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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).

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The miniature Currywurst Truck

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.

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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.

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This beautiful building was next door; it is the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition space.  Dave stepped in to catch a picture of the dome:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The front of the Reichstag.  After leaving, we milled around by the Brandenburg Gate until we felt the need to find dinner.

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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.

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This one’s correct.