Saturday, January 19, 2013

Day 9: Walking in Berlin

By Heather Walzer

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, actually it wasn't stormy or night. Let's try this again.

It was a dark and cold morning.  We met our guide, James, at our hostel, where he gave us a brief introduction to the city of Berlin.  No one knows for certain when it was founded, but it has grown from a grouping of mud huts to a beautiful city full of history.

Leading us out into the wilds of the city, James first brought us to a square where high-ranking men in the Third Reich were killed for attempting to assassinate Hitler.  Immediately after the war, they were viewed as traitors, but now it is understood that they were acting in the interests of the country, just not in Hitler's interest.  There is now a memorial for them in the square.  

Next came Hitler's bunker; the walls and ceiling were 3-4 meters thick.  A complex below ground big enough for a family of 5 was filled in with dirt and rubble by the Soviets soon after the end of the war.  It is the weirdest feeling, standing above the place where one of the most notorious men in the world committed suicide.  

Potzdamer Platz is a major city spot.  Here, our interests were directed towards pieces of The Wall that had been set up in a memorial.  One side was coated with gum, and it was rather pretty, in a gross sort of way.

Continuing on, we wandered the paths of the city until we came upon the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  2,711 'stelae' cover the ground here.  These silent pillars stand solemn, guarding memories and recalling images of tombs, creating a labyrinth that is disorienting and confusing.  

The Brandenburg Gate is amazing to see.  Pieces that were damaged in the wars have been replaced with a lighter colored stone, so it is a mish-mash of colors, which adds to the Gate's beauty.  The horse and chariot (the rider having been in turn the Goddess of Peace or Victory) above the Gate face towards the East (and were not rotated by the Soviets as some rumors claim).  It used to be one of the gates to the city, before the city outgrew its original constraints.  

James also brought us to Euler's apartment.  Speaking of apartments, in East Berlin (and East Germany in general for that matter), during the Soviet era apartments were built using the same basic building blocks.  Like Legos, they made the blocks at the same factory, then pasted them together to build the exact same buildings, in varying degrees of finery, all across the city.  

We had lunch at Humboldt Universitaet (crazy busy even at 2pm), and it was quite good.  

Neue Wache is a statue of a mourning woman holding a, presumably, dead loved one.  Snow had fallen from the opening in the ceiling, making the statue even more sad and forlorn.  

Having held your attention thus long, I beg a few more moments.  The last thing we saw that day was The Berlin Wall.  Most of it was original, having been left standing since those dark days.  Other bits of it had been fixed up a touch so that visitors could see what it had been like.  First came an inner wall, against which was the East.  Then guard towers, automatic shotguns that fired upon touching a wire, tank traps, sharp metal 'grass', smoothed dirt, and then the 8 meter Wall.  During much of the Wall's existence, the guards were under order to shoot to kill, for any and all infringements upon the Wall's defenses.  Men and women were willing to risk their lives to cross this and gain their freedom.  What would you and I be willing to do for what we believe and what we know to be true, to live in freedom?

We ended the day with German fare and drink.

Overall, despite the cold that you will no doubt hear of later on, it was an extremely good walking tour of Berlin.

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