Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Berlin: Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Reichstag, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe . . .

The Brandenburg Gate is probably Berlin's most recognizable sight.  It was originally called the "Friedenstor" (Gate of Peace).  It is the only surviving Berlin City gate and was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans in 1791.  It was intended to resemble the Acropolis in Athens.  Today, it symbolizes reunification, after dividing East and West Berlin for decades. I remember watching coverage of this structure during the reunification celebrations and it was surreal to see it up close.  I am taking this photograph from the very large Pariser Platz.

To the left of the Gate (in the next street block) you will find the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe  (Wikipedia), which was designed by American architect Peter Eisenman. 

You can walk through the memorial where it starts with small pieces then as you walk towards the middle the stones rise higher and higher and the cobblestoned path changes height as well.  There are 2,700 pillars honoring Jews killed by the Nazis.  Walking through this maze like structure was an experience to remember.

Next, I walked over on the opposite side of the Brandenburg Gate to the Reichstag which is the seat of the German Parliament.  It was constructed in 1884 and 1894 and has had a turbulant history.  Fire broke out in the building in 1933 destroying most of it.  A lot of it was also destroyed when bombing took place and it was not used from 1933 to 1999.  After the runification of Germany took place the Reichstag was once again the seat of the German parliament.  The famous Glass Dome  was the design of British architect Sir Norman Foster.  Fellow blogging friend, Sandra, visited the Reichstag on a business trip to Berlin and highly recommended it. 

Unfortunately for me the Dome and the building was closed and access near to the building was closed off with barriers and a police presence.  When I went to ask the information people about it they said that the building is currently closed with no date of when it will be re-opened due to a Terror alert.  That's really such a shame that we still live in a time where we have to worry about such senseless acts of violence and only a block away from a memorial that reminds us of the hate and senseless violence of our past. Will we ever learn?  I sure do continue to hope so.

I asked if I can still take photos of the exterior and he said that was fine and so here is the wonderful exterior photos of the Reichstag.  You can sort of see the police presence.

Here's a wider view of this amazing building.

I then visited very briefly the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) (Sacred Destinations), which dates back to the early 1900's.  It was heavily bombed in WWII and remained in ruins until it was renovated in the 1970's.  Unfortunately, I just saw the outside of the Church but plan to return to see the interior hopefully tomorrow. Why, because I made the mistake of thinking it was closed but in reality I was entering from the wrong side. oops!

Next I visited the famous "Checkpoint Charlie" and Checkpoint Charlie Museum.  Checkpoint Charlie at 43-45 Friedrichstrasse was the only checkpoint through which foreigners could pass between East and West Berlin.  The checkpoint gets its name from checkpoint number three (as in the military code of Alpha for one, Bravo for two and Charlie for three). 

Here is the famous sign telling you that you are leaving the American sector in different languages.

I also visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (12.50 euros) which had an extensive collection of news articles and saved memorabilia of the history of the wall and the many stories of successful and some unsuccessful escapes. It was interesting to see how creative some of the escapees were. There were secret compartments built into a VW for example. There was a lady that hid in these two connecting suitcases and there were tunnels dug and one man planes built to escape into West Germany.  

The past two days have been overwhelming at times but so interesting to see  everything first hand and to experience such deep emotions while seeing them.
Today was snowing lightly which wasn't bad at all. What was bad was the bitter cold wind. It was so windy that this life perserver was flapping in the wind.  It is so cold that the little pond in the park near my apartment is solid ice.  I need to warm up so I'm back out in the cold to Alexanderplatz to try some hot mulled wine (tip from Shannon). I wonder if that is similar to those hot wine drinks I liked in the Czech Republic.  I like the idea that it is a hot drink because I could sure use one.

To stay warm, I've been ducking into stores (like Maya said she did when she visited Berlin during the middle of December) just to warm up.  For me, however, I always start browsing and end up buying something.

I'm really getting the hang of the public transport in Berlin. It sort of reminds me of Paris and London's Undergound.  Here are some photos of the Alexanderplatz underground station.


Well, here I go again...


  1. I am loving reading about your trip.

    There is so much to do in Berlin that I could not do it all in 2 weeks much less one! And when it is cold, it is not so easy... someday you will go back when it is warmer, so find some warm cafes to hole up in if you get too cold. I hope you got some good mulled wine tonight!

  2. That memorial is wonderful. Pretty cool that you got to see some snow...hope the hot wine toddy warms you up!

  3. I'm thinking I might like to visit Germany after seeing and reading about your experiences. Funny, I kept hearing in my mind the theme from Hogan's Heroes and Col. Klink's voice while reading about Checkpoint Charlie, etc. (You may be too young to remember this TV show.)

  4. Hi Everyone and thanks so much for your comments ...

    Shannon, you are right there are so many things I don't think even 2 weeks will be enough time. What a fabulous city. I really like the vibe here and can easily spend more time here. Hopefully one day I will be able to return during warmer months. I anticipated it would be cold but really didn't realize how cold until now. :) The locals here are so used to it but of course they live here. There is this pre-school near my apartment building and each morning I enjoy watching the moms and dads either walking or biking their little ones to the school before they go off to work. I totally love my apartment location and the bed is so comfy (more so than in Amsterdam). I love watching the locals walk their dogs even in the snow. You know writing this comment is inspiring another post. Daily life in Berlin . . . :) the mulled wine was yummy and just what this cold Californian needed. I slept like a baby.

    Annie, thanks for liking my post about visiting the memorial. It was a very contemplative moment walking through it. And I kept thinking of all the lives lost. Entire families maybe. It was sad. But the memorial will hopefully give remembrance to all who died during that awful war. The warm toddy (i love that term) did wonders for me and I slept so well.

    M, thanks for your comments. I think you would enjoy visiting Germany. The people are soooo friendly and there are so many interesting things to see and do here. So much history too. And I kind of remember that show. I can't remember the theme but I do remember it. Wasn't based on a war movie? And it was a comedy. There is this movie I remember that starred the head doctor from ER (I forgot his name) The title was "Gotcha" or something like that. The actor went on a trip to Europe and met this spy laddy. She convinced him to go to East Berlin so she could hide this spy film on him to smuggle into West Germany. Anyway, when they entered East Germany it was completely different from West Germany. Kind of cold and unfriendly. So he gets a call from the girl and was told to leave East Germany now. Get to the border. So he follows her instructions. He is searched by the soldiers and given a hard time. And then as soon as he crosses into the American Sector he asks the American Soldier if he is officially in West Germany and he says yes then turns around and gives the bird to East Germany. I actually thought of that movie when I saw that sign. :)

  5. Kathy, I am so enjoying your entries on Berlin. I can picture you and what you are seeing. We were there while the wall was still there and remember crossing through Checkpoint Charlie--a daunting and memorable experience involving thorough inspections. I can vividly see the deserted buildings on the East Berlin side fronting the wall and the tall towers with guns through the windows. I remember the deserted no-man land between the two areas as I climbed stairs on the west side and looked over. Then we were back after the wall was taken down and stayed on the East side just because we could. So..I understand some of the awe and discoveries you are making. Keep writing!

  6. Hi Jane thank you so much for your comments and for sharing your experiences. It must have been something to have experienced Berlin before and after the war. It is amazing to me how much of the original city was destroyed and now built up again to be this thriving city. I have really enjoyed my stay in the Former East Berlin, Mitte. I. So glad that I came and that I was able to visit so many historical landmarks...this will be a trip I shall never forget.

    Thanks so much...

  7. I visited Berlin in the summer of 1989 -- before the wall's fall. Because my country (Malaysia) forbade entry into East Germany, I couldn't visit the Brandenburg Gate -- but only saw it from West Berlin. OTOH, because Berlin was not a capital city at the time, the Reichstag was accessible to the public and I got to walk inside of it. (Funny but true -- my memory of it is that it felt like a huge but largely disused railway terminal building!)


It's me Trekcapri (aka Kathy). Thanks so much for visiting and leaving a comment.