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Berlin - The Difference a Wall Makes!

Berlin, Germany

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My first trip to West Berlin was in 1988, the year before the Wall came down. My vague memories (it was 35 years ago!) are of a very different city, very edgy, "out there" and an eye opener for a 24-year-old from Edmonton, Alberta. West Berlin was an island within East Germany (DDR) at that point, with tight border security, so I recall even getting there from Munich was interesting. Strict border control to board the train and no stops all the way to West Berlin. West Berlin was a very different than other European cities I had seen at that time - the wall of course, but it had a very different vibe - very ahead of its time and a noticeable "anything goes" kind of feel. I remember seeing punk rockers in the craziest outfits, hair, make up and piercings that I had ever seen (or still have ever seen), bombed out buildings from WWII, an obvious alternative "club" scene and of course, a 12-foot cement wall with guards and guns ever present just around the corner. The Wall was not built in a straight line, it wove around through the city, through some streets, beside the river, and even cut across train tracks and major intersections. Immediately on the other side of the wall were guard houses, patrols and "no man's land" and another wall on the other side. East Berlin was just beyond that. You could stand on platforms on the West side to see over to the East side - it was bizarre to say the least and unsettling. The famous Brandenburg Gate was caught in "no man's land", I remember seeing it from a platform at the Reichstag. I had gotten a day pass to go into East Berlin for one day, so went through Checkpoint Charlie to enter East Berlin. East Germany was communist at that point, so there was no advertising or store signs, it appeared very gray. The reconstruction from WWII was very utilitarian, square cement buildings everywhere you looked. I recall going to some large museums that ended up on the east side, full of amazing treasures from Turkey and Greece, places I had just been to. The whole experience was a bit surreal.

I have wanted to come back to see a "united Berlin", for years, so this was it! The city has been completely rebuilt now, no bombed-out buildings (other than the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, intentionally left as a reminder of the war), and the large spaces where the wall was have been developed with new buildings, squares and green spaces. A very modern vibrant city with a ton of history, what a place to live for the last 100 years!


Brandenburg Gate:


A section of the wall, preserved at the Berlin Wall Memorial (Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer). Note there are actually two walls, a guard tower and a serious “no man’s land” in between. Quite a large area.


The Reichstag:


Checkpoint Charlie (now a big tourist attraction):


Potsdamer Platz (reminds us of NYC Times Square, built on land that was the "no man's land" behind the wall):


A photo from the day the wall came down at Potsdamer Platz:


We stayed the Adina Apartment Hotel Hackescher Markt. You can’t get much closer to the center of things in Berlin, great place to stay, would definitely recommend it. It is very close to the TV Tower, so we always knew which way to head home.


Berlin was Hitlers WWII headquarters, so there is a lot of "sobering" history and memorials here regarding the Holocaust. The Jewish Museum (Judisches Museum) is extremely well done, a moving memorial as well as a factual account with all kinds of artifacts of what took place. The museum is housed in a new building by Daniel Libeskind, said to be a 3D metaphor for the tortured history of the Jewish people. Its zigzag shape symbolizes a broken Star of David:


The "Fallen Leaves" displays more than 10,000 open-mouthed faces cut from rusty iron plates lie scattered on the floor (portraying an ocean of silent screams):


Our first German meal, weinerschnitzel of course, at Schwarzwaldstuben Restaurant. Delicious!


We spent one very full day touring Museumsinsel (literally an island of five museums), declared an UNESCO World Heritage site for all the precious treasures housed there looted from all over the world. Each collection was huge, so we have just picked a few that were highlights to us.

The Altes Museum was our first stop, a huge collection of Greek and Roman antiquities:


Sculptures of the Wounded Amazon and the Enthroned Deity from Tarentum (both about 400-500 BC) were highlights:


The Neues Museum features Egyptian and Turkish antiquities. Our highlights included the Torso of Nile god:


Hor, Priest of the God Amum:


Berlin Green Head:


Dean's favorite was "Sarcophagus Alley":


The Naked Youth (Dean wouldn't strip!):


Egyptian Queen Nefertiti (1340 BC):


The Pergamon Museum was the most unique of the collections we saw on Museumsinsel. It is filled with loot from the Middle East, Babylon, Greece and Rome. Starting with the magnificent “Processional Way” from Babylon, originally 800 m/2600 ft long, very impressive!


The Ishtar Gate of Babylon was super cool:


The Market Gate of Miletus is one of the largest gates ever reconstructed in a museum:


The Aleppo Room from Syria:


A prayer niche from a mosque in Turkey:


A ceiling dome from the Alhambra in Granada Spain. (We think they have prettier ones still at the Alhambra!)


The Pergamon Altar is closed for years as they are building it a new home, but I do remember seeing it in 1988 in East Berlin. Here is a picture from the web (2nd century BC):


We stopped for lunch at Cu29, a restaurant on Museuminsel with a robot serving drinks! A live waiter takes your order and brings the food, but in between the robot brings your drinks, very cool:


Last stop was the Bode Museum, palace now art gallery, standing like a ship's bow at the tip of Museumsinsel:


There was a ton to see but the Apse Mosaic and the "Dancer" were stand outs:


We felt seriously cultured out, so enjoyed a cocktail out that night at "The Cowen", yummy! Dean had a Manhattan and I had a Coven Julep (with mezcal):


We spent a good part of one day exploring where the Wall ran through the city and visiting the Gedenkstatte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial). The memorial explains the history of the wall and has many stories of escape at one of the most renowned segments of wall.


Pictures of the those that lost their lives attempting to escape from East Berlin (136 people, although the exact count varies):


People were not allowed to take pictures of the wall from East Berlin, so this photo was very special in many ways:


The East Side Gallery is a section of the wall dedicated to Berlin wall art. There are 160 paintings, here are a few of our favorites:


And one from Denver!


We discovered a couple of art installations commemorating the reunion of Berlin. The "Molecule Man", a floating 2D monument and a tubular design representing the four quadrants of Berlin:


Supper at Markthalle Neun was super fun! They have a street food special on Thursday nights, and it was packed. A huge selection of food is offered, everything from Vietnamese to Moroccan to Ukrainian, with lots of beer and wine in between. It reminded us of eating at the San Miguel market in Madrid but bigger and not as fancy. We had mac & cheese spatzel, perogys, Moroccan couscous with chicken, empanadas, and great local beer to wash it down. Also, Sicilian cannoli's for dessert - YUM!

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Just outside of Berlin is Schloss Charlottenburg, a palace dating back to the early 1700s, another Versailles-like pad. It has a beautiful setting and garden.


The newer section is filled with paintings, crystal chandeliers and great party rooms!


Can you imagine having a wedding or staff Christmas party here?


The older wing was even more opulent, no shortage of funds here:


The ceilings were impressive:


The garden was huge and lush. Lots of spring flowers blooming:


On the way back to central Berlin we stopped at KaDeWe for a late lunch/early dinner. This "Harrods-like" department store has a top floor food court providing a wide array of choices. We settled for sushi & champagne!


We stopped at the Monkey Bar for drinks after, with great 360-degree views over the zoo (hence the name) and city:


We were curious about life in East Berlin while the wall was up, so visited the DDR Museum. It is a very interactive museum showing life in communist East Germany. Lots of artifacts of what people had access too, but more importantly what they didn't. Dean's favorite was driving a Trabi car, the only vehicles available to most people and hard to get at that. It was a tight squeeze…


The impression you get from the museum is that people were caught in a time warp - they didn't have access to products, appliances or books that the rest of the western world did in the post WWII era. Life was difficult and most people went without. There was heavy indoctrination and entrepreneurship appeared squelched, conformity was the name of the game. Farmers were forced to give up their land to the collectives and work on state owned farms. Contrary to this, we met a nice East German lady at dinner last night who was born and raised in East Berlin in 1952. She said it was fine, there was lots of food and everything was cheap, she never knew any different. She was able to travel to Moscow, Hungary and other Soviet Union countries, so it sounded like her family had some freedoms that they enjoyed. She was well educated and worked at the university but was let go the day the wall came down! She did get another job that turned out to be better for her, but that is her recollection of that momentous day!

We also visited the Tranenpalast, a train station connecting East and West Berlin that became known as the "Palace of Tears" due to the many tearful goodbyes that happened at that station. Families, couples and friends that were separated by the wall could apply for a weekend pass but had to return every Sunday. The personal stories of living separated by the wall were heart wrenching, and the border crossing process was strict and inflexible. A very difficult time to live in Berlin.


We happened across a Trabi convoy while walking around Berlin - the cars from East Germany! Looked like fun!


The Marie Elisabeth Luders Haus shows sections of the wall by year (1961-1989), with the number of people that died attempting to cross marked on each year - so sad. (Tote means dead):


This is also where the horses of Brandenburg Gate were restored:


We enjoyed Kebap with Attitude (KWA) for dinner, an awesome Turkish restaurant with great kebobs, and where we met Junior and his parents from Turkey. Junior is happy to be in Berlin with his peps but is missing the warm Turkish weather. He needs a coat here and was not happy with that!


The Holocaust Memorial is Germany’s central memorial to the Nazi-planned genocide of European Jews during the Third Reich. There are 2711 sarcophagus-like concrete slabs of varying heights set on uneven ground. It is huge and poignant. It was installed in 2005:


Underneath the memorial is an Information Center including countless stories about the devastating loss of life, upfront and personal with many individual families’ stories. Sad and humbling.


It seemed appropriate that day to also visit the Topography of Terror, a museum explaining the history of the Third Reich, the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Built on the site of the former headquarters of the Gestapo and SS, the displays show the individuals and organization that masterminded the atrocities of the holocaust with pictures, videos, and stories. “A lot of reading” said Dean, and a little overwhelming, but very impactful, especially after just visiting the holocaust memorial. Coincidentally, the Wall went all along one side of this long block, so it has been incorporated into their display outside.


It was a beautiful day, so we stretched our legs in the beautiful Tiergarten, Berlin's Central Park:


Several significant memorials and statues are there too. The gold topped Viktoria Column commemorates the Prussian military triumphs in the 1800s and sits in the center of the park.


The Soviet War Memorial commemorates the over 2 million soldiers that died in WWII, 80,000 of which died in the Battle for Berlin:


Our "Last Supper" in Berlin at the Hackescher Hof Restaurant - Wienerschnitzel of course! (Salad first!)


The dogs of Berlin, not too many in the museums unfortunately!


Bears are a long time mascot for Berlin, we saw many!


Next Stop: Prague, Czech Republic

Posted by margofiala 07:45 Archived in Germany

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Definitely the most interestingly detailed of your blog entries and longest yet. Lots of heavy thinking. I haven’t been in Berlin since 1975 and this makes me want to go back soon.

by Donna-Lynne

Wow! Very informative detail orientated you should write for Lonely Planet! That drink reminded me of the one we had at the Bar in Los B with the Mezcal . Onto more adventures

by Mary Moffatt

Lovely; can’t wait to visit.

by Janet Polsinelli

Oh NO! Not another Monkey Bar!! LOL
I had a group in Berlin pre-covid and their excursion activity was touring/driving the Trabi cars. There would be a lead car touring them around and radios between cars with the commentary on what all they saw. That could well be the convoy you encountered. ;)

by dsiemens

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