Jul 18, 2015

Travelogue - Berlin

Berlin lives & breathes history. No other city in the world would have gone through these many transitions in the last 100 years. From the rule of Kaiser William II, Weimar Republic, Nazi rule , war destruction, cold-war divide, re-unification, I wonder what all a 100 year old Berliner would have gone through. A 5 KM radius from Brandenburg Gate bears a number of sights relating to these times and much earlier as well.

The most remarkable thing about Germany that I've felt is the openness to admit mistakes. That is in-built into their culture. And Berlin has beautifully combined this openness & its apology to humanity with symbolism so that it is ingrained in every child who grows up in this city. Every historical memorial has an interesting twist or the other.

Holocaust Memorial - Berlin
Perhaps the most poignant one is the holocaust memorial next to Brandenburg gate.  Built at a staggering cost of about 25 Million Euros by Peter Eisenman , anyone's first reaction would be  - "Is this a staggering waster of money" ? .. But as you explore this and listen to the stories ( Narrated by our wonderful guide Jess  ), you tend to realize the rationale.. You cannot build an eye-candy to 'celebrate' this dark chapter in history of mankind. The idea is that one should feel a hollowness, should spare a thought for the millions murdered, it should leave an uneasiness in your mind -  all for a reason - so that anything like this should never be allowed to repeat.  As you sit back and think about it, I think this monument makes great sense.  Locate quite near to Hitler's bunker ( which is all covered now  - Only a car park is there at the site ),
Site of  Hitler's Bunker
this is a sad reflection of the generation whose life & aspirations were taken away from them

 The Neue Wache ( New Guardhouse ) is an interesting memorial along the same lines. Originally built during the time of Kaiser William III, dedicated & rededicated
     Neue Wache , Central Memorial for the
victims of  war & dictatorship
many times, this houses a statue of a mother crying over her dead son in a war. The building has an opening in the ceiling exposing the statue to the changing weather of snow & rain.

Almost opposite to this, is this area called BebelPlatz where Nazis did the infamous book-burnings . An empty shelf underground which can be seen though glass stands as the memorial. Engraved on a plaque next to it - "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen"  ( "That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people" ) 
East German Mural painting giving a propaganda about how
good life is under Communist Rule

A photograph of an East German uprising crushed by Soviets.
The photo is of the same dimensions as the painting

This symbolism is not just limited to the war era. There is this Mural painting by East Germans depicting " how good" is the life in East Germany during the cold war time. Next to it, there is a photo of the same length which frames a picture of an uprising in East Germany which was crushed by the communist rulers with Soviet backing. 

The area from the holocaust memorial to Check-Point Charlie & beyond is referred as 'Topography of Terror' which has several of the infamous Third Reich buildings of SS, Gestapo & much more. 

Numerous graffiti adorn most of the sections of Berlin wall as well as check-point Charlie.

To sum it up, Berlin beautifully combines history, its apology to the world and sensitizes the current generation of the past . Happened to
At Check-Point Charlie, The military check point separating
Berlin into different zones during the cold war
hear a teacher explaining the Nazi rule, war & its aftermath to a set of school kids. The way they are explaining is by telling the history objectively - telling the kids that our nation made terrible mistakes once upon a time - takes a lot of candidness

There are a large number of museums / exhibitions in the city. We could see Reichstag only from outside as well. To cover this city fully, one would need a full week I think.

Perhaps the city with the most integrated public transport system that I've seen so far. Buses,trams, U-bahn, S-bahn.  If you are physically fit, there is no reason for you to hire a cab to see this city. The 3 day Berliner pass was well worth it with discounts in museum entries as well.

Highly Recommended if you are in Berlin - Original Berlin Walks  . Perhaps the best way to experience this city 

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