A Travellerspoint blog

September 2014

Once Divided Now United - Berlin

So we have just checked into our beautiful and amazing hotel in Dresden (more on the next blog)
Our time in Berlin has been awesome...yet another city that we have fallen for and thought "Hey, we could live there". I think the thing that we loved most about Berlin is the vibe/feel of it. It has a real sense of freedom and after learning more about the history of Berlin and especially the wall it makes sense why this feeling exists, especially considering the wall only came down around 25 years ago.
We stayed right in the centre city, near everything really with our lovely AirBnB host Daniel. The apartment was massive and we had more than enough space to feel at home. The building was over 100 years old...it definitely didn't look it. Daniel explained that the building gets constantly done up. Our four days seemed to have gone extremely fast! We started our time walking along the river/canal. We went past the parliament buildings which are an amazing mix of old and new architecture. That night we played an exit strategy game. It's an intense hour where you are put in a scenario and have to find clues to solve a puzzle in 60mins. Our Scenario: We were an anti-hacking team who had just found a notorious hackers room. Our task was to find and unlock the safe in an hour to stop a virus taking over the computer world. Needless to say it was really hard and we got lost a lot in the puzzles....They weren't easy! But we finished in just under 60mins :D it was so much fun and we were definitely into it by the end. I think that was the most we have pushed our brains our whole trip. It is a definite to do and we are planning to do a few more in Prague and maybe Budapest.

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The next day we took a walking tour on a very cold and gloomy day (weather report said 50% chance of rain... Thankfully this didn't eventuate as we didn't own an umbrella at this point). The tour was excellent and our guide Jonathan explained the history of Berlin extremely well. We learnt about the Kings (all called Frederick, William or Frederick William) why the river/canal was made (trade route) and how/why things started going astray after the World War 1. We started our tour at Museum Island. Berlin has over 200 museums (and no they are not all on Museum Island)! Guess how many we went to our whole stay....We went to one! Haha. Museum Island was beautiful. The king of the time wanted to show the best of everything.. (mainly art and science) so commissioned the buildings to be built to house museums of these things and the royal collections. Jonathan showed us what the buildings looked like at the end of WW2. They have since been restored but there are still bullet holes in the pillars from the battles... They serve as a reminder of the conflict that has happened.

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We went to three memorials for those that died during WW2. The first piece was a mother and child in a large building with a light hole at the top. The place was bare and barren and with one entrance/exit. Any other entrances were gated. This building has been originally an area to commemorate those who died in WW1 but was changed to those that died in WW2 since. So now it is a place we commemorate those who died in the war in general. I personally didn't find this memorial that moving. The light above glowing on the statue to me meant hope more than anything. I don't really put hope with what happened in Germany at that time. This was the memorial that meant the most to the majority of people on the tour. All the memorials don't have plaques letting you know that they are memorials and what the artist wanted them to mean and incite in people. This left you to find your own meaning for each one.

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Our next stop was at the next memorial. It was a piece of glass in the ground in a square. Looking through the glass you saw empty book shelves. What's the significance you may ask? Well this was the square where over 20,000 books were burnt that didn't follow the Nazi beliefs. The square is located outside a prestigious university where many German greats attended or taught. The first two memorials we wouldn't have found if we weren't on the tour. They are not sign posted at all.

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We walked through the Brandenburg Gate and learnt that it is now a symbol of peace and unity. The French (Napoleon) stole the chariot on the top of the gate after winning a battle. It was retrieved when Germany won a battle in Paris in the 1800's. There was a silent protest happening there while we were.

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We saw where the wall use to be. A cobblestone trail still follows where the wall was all over the city. There are really only two pieces of the wall intact, the rest has been torn down and only the cobble stone line remains. The reason so much of it has been pulled down as it is not needed as a constant reminder of the separation that was in Berlin previously. The cobble stones lead us to our final memorial. This memorial was the largest and most famous and is entitled. "Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe." It is made up of over 2000 concrete slabs of varying height but all the same width and length. The slabs are lined up in lines over wavy, variable inclined terrain. The blocks tend to curve towards each other in places and you definitely have a stuck, eerie feeling as you walk through and become surrounded by these tall blocks... especially so in the middle of the site. There was some controversy with the monument while it was being made as the anti-graffiti paint used on the blocks was made by a sister company of the one that made poison gas for the Nazi's in the war. Needless to say a lot of people were against using that company considering they were involved and helped cause the deaths of those that the memorial has been made for. It was eventually decided that it was nearly impossible to find company that was German and not involved in the war in some way. The blocks are beginning to crack (not intentional) and this seems to add to the rawness of the area.

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After lunch we headed off to see Hitler's bunker site and learn about his suicide and how he was burnt supposedly so his body couldn't be mutilated by the public. We saw Nazi headquarters and its overpowering and daunting architecture (the windows were made to slant down so they felt like they were falling on you as you walked along). We saw an area where a part of the wall remains...even this is crumbling in places. Along our walk we had learnt why East Germany had put the wall up... The amount of people leaving for West Germany and it's Freedom. We learnt how the East German government didn't mean to agree to unconditional visa's to West Germany. Once this was said by the GDR and the people were told that it was effective as of now there was no point to the wall being up any further as the people had free access to walk between the two areas. The wall coming down meant that family and friends that hadn't seen each other in 28years were able to be reunited. The images and footage of this time are amazing.

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We saw Checkpoint Charlie and all its American commercialism..including McDonalds right behind the checkpoint. Then our final stop of an concerthall which is under renovations. The images are spectacular!

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On our walk we saw and discovered a few interesting things...nothing is ever finished on time in Berlin (yes a Berliner said this we didn't make the assumption) and due to Berlin being built on a swamp they have piping to remove the water on all construction sites. These pipes are everywhere. We also learnt about the Amplemann (the walking man is different in Germany as he wears a hat...apparently some guy spent his life as a traffic psychologist studying this. The Berlin Amplemann was the originally used in traffic lights in East Berlin but was adopted over the whole of Berlin to keep some of the East Berlin culture).

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Another interesting thing is that the German American Embassy is one of the few American embassies that you can just walk right up too...it is not fenced in. The only one with extra security is the Russian and the British embassies. Apparently America wanted to build a gate around it but was refused by the German Government as it was around the same time as the Wall was removed and didn't seem right.

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We also learnt how East Germany built a TV tower (for communication purposes of course) but really this massive tower can be seen anywhere in the city and is thought to be a symbol of how East Germany was trying to confirm that they had a presence and a control of the city of Berlin

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That night we headed to Berlin Burger International. The burgers were massive and delicious! (Look it up to see what I mean). The burgers had plenty of salad so I was a happy chappy. :)

It was off to watch a film and light show on parliament history on the parliament buildings. Berlin is inspiring as they aren't afraid to explain there troubled political past as they know this is why they have the freedom they have today. They don't brush over these areas.

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We stumbled across a climate change concert while we were there. It was awesome to see so many people dancing around on the street at 9pm on a Sunday, again outside the gate.

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We headed to the East Side Gallery the next day to look at some of the amazing street art that was created when the wall came down. In 2009 the wall was repainted to the original of 1989 due to the amount of graffiti and pollution damage. The sad thing is there is still a lot of graffiti on top of the amazing art. It still looks pretty epic though!

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We headed to Fassbender and Rausch...Chocolatiers in Berlin. The sculptures were amazing..Most weighed over 300kgs and took over 100hours to make.

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We went up and had the most delicious hot chocolates. I also brought tiny little bars of numerous different chocolates with different percentages and different cocoas with different countries as their main origin. I can't wait to see if I can taste a difference between the different milk and dark varieties. I also got the chance to watch them make some delicious chocolate creations the next day. It was pretty awesome!

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On our final day in Berlin we headed to the Information Centre/Holocaust Museum to learn more about the Jewish people and World War 2. The centre is under the Jewish Memorial Monument. We headed in read about the history of the war and how things started and progressed. The tragedy of it was indescribable. We saw letters, diary articles and notes found from various Jewish people and learnt about the fate of some of the Jewish Families. It was a personalised and moving tribute. The pictures, videos and information about various families and what happened to them was moving and touching. We learnt about the concentration camps. We are still yet to visit one and I have the feeling that it won't be until we end up in Poland at some stage that we actually make it to one.

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While we were in Berlin we found Flamingo Fresh Food Bar. This place ended up being our daily lunch stop. We had gnocchi with mushroom casserole/sauce, vegetarian soup and on our final day we got pasta salad and sandwich to go. The meals like everywhere were massive but the food delicious and we could easily share our meal between us.
We also discovered Nepalese Dumplings at Momo's. They were delicious and nothing like the dumplings we got back in New Zealand at the Night Markets. They had a more pasta like texture and the fillings of ricotta and spinach and tofu, shiitake and broccoli were delicious!

Berlin made me think a lot about history and it has highlighted how new New Zealand is in the scheme of a countries again. The learning experience has been great and we have definitely google'd a few things to understand further.

Posted by chellebelle 03:00 Archived in Germany Tagged people chocolate berlin politics jewish wall memorials Comments (1)

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