Sunday, July 25, 2010

On the traces of history in Berlin

While with my grandparents, I also took a day off to visit a friend in Berlin. Well, and to visit Berlin itself too. My home town - city - changes so much over the years that I wanna stay in touch with it, even if you can only manage to walk around Berlin Mitte in one day. I started off coming into Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the central station - a must-see if you ever come here, and chances are, it will be the first thing you will see from Berlin. The construction process was pretty exasperating, but the result is highly modern, welcoming to travellers and a huuuge hub to get almost anywhere in Germany. Plan your trip to have enough time to catch a connection though, since trains leave from three different floors and finding the right one is slightly tricky. Then, I wandered past the Chancellor's office (hi Angela!) to the Reichstag building, where the German legislative body, the Bundestag, works. It has a sightseeing platform and a cool dome on top of it, and is definitely worth a first visit just to get an idea of the size and layout of Berlin, but lines can be extremely long. I was lucky, though, and got up to the top in about 20 minutes. Coming from the Reichstag, the next logical goal is the Brandenburger Tor (Gate), though I went to search - and find - the Soviet war memorial as well and then approached the Brandenburger Tor from the West. If you pay attention crossing the street there, you can see a line of bricks that symbolize the Berlin Wall - since the Brandenburger Tor was one of the last buildings in Eastern Berlin. And of course, on the Paris Place on the Eastern side of the Gate, there were actors all dressed up as Eastern German soldiers and bureaucrats. I kinda prefer the people dressed up as Tsars and princesses in St. Petersburg, somehow. Going down the street Unter den Linden, you can see plenty of foreign embassies, five star hotels and - a huge Aeroflot building, the Russian airline that I flew to Petersburg with. ??? Maybe they really want to expand into the German market?? Unter den Linden leads you straight to the Museum island with Berlin's three or four main art museums, divided up into time periods, though in remembrance of extensive Petersburgian art visits I decided to skip these ones and rather wander along the river to cross at the Monbijou bridge. This leads you to a sort of mini-Globe theatre on the edge of the river where in summertime, Shakespeare plays are regularly given. I wanna stay and see!! Also, very close is the New Synagogue, the largest synagogue in East Berlin and memorial for the plight of the Jews. It was burned in the Reichskristallnacht, though a heroic policeman managed to get fire fighters there before too much damage was done (the fire fighters didn't work at all otherwise during this night of terror), was then bombed so much that it was deemed unsafe by the (small) East Berlin Jewish community after the end of the war and destroyed completely in, I believe, 1957. Only in the late 80s and 90s was idea raised to reconstruct it, not as a working synagogue, but as a museum and memorial site for the Jewish community of Berlin. The exhibition is very interesting and shows many aspects of Jewish life before and during the fiercest antisemitic times. It was very powerful to see how the Jewish community adapted and tried to help one another through the more and more restrictive laws; there were pictures of language classes in preparation of emigration and an economic help centre for Jews who lost the right to work. This changed my impression of the helpless victim a lot, though many of these operations were shut down one by one. A Jewish old-people's home ironically was transformed into a collection station for Jews waiting to be transported into KZs. After that, I also found the Jewish cementery and a building that was used to (mainly) keep male Jews with 'Arian wives' in there. A poster outside tells the story of one of the greatest feats of mass protest during that time. When the German women realized where their husbands were held, they started waiting in front of the building, screaming for their men and didn't back down, even when threatened with violence and guns. In the end, those men had to be let free because it would have been too much of a scandal to shoot into a crowd of 'Arian' women. This impressed me a lot; I just wondered what would've been with more of those kinds of action...
Wandering further, through the cute old Nikolai quarter, you get back to the river and to a sight where originally stood the German castle. It was bombed as well and torn down later by the East German government to make place for a parade square as well as the Palace of the Republic, a building with ballrooms, restaurants and loads of entertainment for the people of the Republic (and of course their elites). Once it was found to have been built with asbest, it was decided to tear that building down and rebuild the German castle outside with a modern inside, to restore German history as it was. There was a large controversy about the Palace of the Republic, with many East Germans feeling that it was also part of their history, but finally, the plans for the German castle (originally from the 18th or 19th century I believe) overweighed. It is interesting who and how is decided what history contains and what doesn't, isn't it? Finally, I also went into the German Museum of History, where I was only able to touch the first half of the main exhibition - it is huuuge! - and met up with my friend Sara, who worked there, to talk a little more about - history. Amongst many other things. An interesting day for sure. I just had to pull myself into the present with some difficulty.

No comments:

Post a Comment