There is a saying that goes something like “those who do not learn from their history are failed to repeat it.” Well, Berlin is a city design to ensure that no one ever forgets what happened here all those years ago. After a good nights sleep on Rays part (and a disconnected sleep on mine, for those of you who saw my 3am facebook post) we started off for the day around 9:00am, enjoying a leisurely stroll, though the lightly falling snow and cool winter breeze (and a nippy -4 degrees C) along the river Spree towards the Reichstag, the German Parliamentary Building. The Dome of the Reichstag, to which we were about to tour, is clear, symbolizing the transparency of the German Democratic Process. After making our way through security, we were escorted to the top of the building where Ray enjoyed the free audio tour, and I enjoyed taking pictures while he told me about all the things he was learning from the free audio tour. The center of the dome is filled with mirrors, which reflect sunlight down into the parliamentary chambers. Going through the history of German Politics over the last 80 years it is amazing how much they have been through. The visit here was fantastic and a definite must experience for Berlin. Ray was busy getting his history on, and loving every minute of it. From the top we could see the large line across the street of people trying to get tickets, as a trip to the top is by reservation only. I was grateful that we had booked in advance. (See…planning can pay off!)
When we left the Reichstag we went across the street to enjoy an early lunch/late breakfast. Neither of us were overly hungry, so I stuck to orange juice and a bun with jam, and Ray had a piece of cake (plumplatz) and orange pop, and we shared a pain du chocolat (Ray’s first). We then walked along the edge of the Tiergarten past the memorial to the Sinta and Roma who died in the War (though it was just a pond – I think there is suppose to be a fountain running, but given the below 0 temperatures, it wasn’t running today). At the end of this short walk (less than 2 minutes) we arrived at the Brandenburg Gate. It was smaller than I had imagined, but no less spectacular. We walked through the gates down the Unter den Linden (the main road/walk way lined with Linden trees, also the way that the Prussian Royalty would travel back in the day) and then down Friedrichstrasse towards the Topography of Terror. This building is on the site of the former SS/Gestapo/SA. When going in you walk through a series of photos and articles (like a giant 3-D book) explaining how the SS/SA rose to power, what they did, who did it, and the different people groups affected. There were computers with speeches in German (but translated to English) from key members of the SS, including the head of the German Police Force, Himmler. I listened to him give a speech early on comparing the German people to strive to be the strongest and the toughest, in comparison to Darwin’s theory of Evolution. It was actually quite fascinating because the scientific parallels were incredibly accurate. On an objective level, what he said made complete sense. On a human level, he was totally delusional. It’s interesting to walk through the steps that changed Germany back in the 1930’s. There is an exhibit there dedicated to 1933, and the rise of Hitler to power. Going through a day by day analysis that led to the beginning of an extreme dictatorship is very eye opening. To the people, at the time, there was a huge amount of support. It is amazing how something or someone can make total sense in each individual moment, and not until you’re in too deep do you realize what has really begun. Walking in the footsteps of the THEN, trying not to think of what I know now really changed my understanding of what was happening in Germany in the early days before the war.
Post Topography of Terror we wandered towards Checkpoint Charlie. We didn’t go into the museum there (unlike the Topography of terror, which was free, the Museum at Checkpoint Charlie was, in my opinion, way overpriced), but did see the booth sitting in them middle of the street. There is a guy manning the booth that allows people to pay to get the passport stamps from the 4 quadrants of Berlin from post-war occupation. Not sure if he was official, or just a local making some money. Either way, we didn’t partake. We did wander the line that use to be the Berlin Wall through and investigate the random pieces spread throughout the area. Most of the segments of the wall that remain have been turned into canvases are various street art – which is really cool. I love the turn of something that was divisive into something that unites. A few of the pieces we found though had a political message attached – I’m sure we will come across many more tomorrow.
We tried to hunt for Bebelplatz – home of the book burning memorial, but got turned in circles due to construction. It was still freezing and snowing, and by this time we were exhausted (i mean, by 3:30pm). So we stopped for one more pain du chocolat before heading back to the hotel. I caught up with words with friends (even jetlagged, I can still hold my own!), checked my email and by 4 o’clock we gave in to a well needed afternoon nap. Best decision ever. When we woke at 6:00pm we were ready to wander once again. We headed down to the Brandenburg gate once more for some night shots – but looking back on them now, I don’t find myself happy enough, so I think I will try for some more tomorrow a little earlier (perhaps twilight, and not pitch black night). We found a sweet and quite cafe (Cafe Media) on Friedrichstrasse and I had Hawaiian Toast (ham and pineapple on toast with cheese) and Ray has a German Cabbage Roll (more meat, less rice he tells me). And on the way back we ducked into a Dunkin Donuts. I know it isn’t a german pastery, but the bakeries were closed, and I wanted something sweet – and the strawberry donut hit the spot!
Throughout the day, and with every corner we turned, we found one more reminder of Germany’s history during the war. The Topography of Terror and Reichstag were full of German children completing school assignments on their history, and pieces of wall, signs, monuments and plaques, most in German and English are there to educate and remind people of what has happened here. They seem committed to remembering their past, and changing their future.
It’s nice to start to dethaw in our hotel room while I write this. Ray is curled up playing games on his iPad and I was successful in using snapseed and diptic to process my RAW photos enough that I can feel comfortable posting them to this blog. Also, the purchase of a keyboard for the iPad was the BEST decision – I can’t imagine typing this whole post on the iPad screen – I get so frustrated with the keyboard (and given how fast I can type, I just saved a world of time using real keys!). It’s great to enjoy quite downtime as well as sight seeing. We’ve had a busy year, and this going to be a fun, adventurous and somewhat relaxing way to recharge!