So, being back in Berlin there were a few things I wanted to see and do… the first being to get my camera fixed! There’s no way I can undertake a trip like this without a camera. So I hit a store called Saturn, which is the German equivalent of Circuit City and asked if they could fix mine. Not exactly. It could probably be fixed, but not there. They’d have to send it off to the factory. They did, however, have the exact same model in stock so I picked up another one (I really like this camera). The advantage here was that I now have a European charger and an extra battery. Disadvantage, of course, is I have an extra box with the old camera which I’m gonna need to send back to Olympus when I get home and then sell one of these camera’s on E-bay. Oh well.
From Saturn, Bec, the Australian tourist, and I went to the TV Tower. It’s one of the tallest structures in Europe with an observation deck and a rotating restaurant. It really dominates the skyline. Built in the 60s or 70s it was a huge piece of propaganda for the East Germans. They wanted to show off their technology. To do this, though, they had the Swedes help them. The Swedes did something rather ironic in the construction, however – See, when the communists came to power in the divided city, they had all the crosses cut down off all the churches. What they didn’t count on is what’s become known as “The Pope’s Revenge” on the ball of the tower. When the sunlight hits it, the prismatic facing splits the bean into a perfect cross, shining down over Berlin!
While I was up there, I mapped out a little tour for myself. Bec and I went to Alxenderplatz, a square where parts of The Bourne Identity were shot, said good-bye, and then we each headed our separate ways. I made my way down to the New Synagogue, a rebuilt temple from the 1860s which was destroyed in the bombings (it was saved during krystralnacht by the local police chief who defied the Nazi thugs and has since been memorialized within the Berlin Jewish community). Now, the temple houses a permanent exhibit on the history of Jews in Berlin and a rotating exhibit hall with other events. Security to get in was the tightest I had yet encountered. There are two armed guards outside the front door (I later found out they are there 24 hours a day) and an airlock style entry system. Someone inside buzzes you in, then once the outside door is closed, an inside one can open. After this, you have an airport style screening of bags and metal objects.
The permanent display wasn’t bad, but I was mostly interested in the reconstruction of the building and the Jewish population before 1933. I wanted to know where these people came from before they were sent away. The father of music in the Jewish service was from this synagogue and there was a whole display case devoted to him and his work, including a sheet of German stamps from when he was honored in that way. Finishing up on the ground floor, I headed upstairs to the cupola, a huge, gold filigreed dome. Again, spectacular views but not a lot to see on the inside. It could probably have been another exhibition space (or maybe it will be on the future).
From there I took a LONG walk down past Brandenburg Tor to the Reichstag. On the way, I revisited some of the sights I had seen on my Famous Walk tour so I could further appreciate them when I didn’t have any time pressure on. The Reichstag also had security, very similar to the Synagogue, but that’s understandable considering this IS the main government offices. As far as visiting it goes, there’s really on ly one place to go once you’re inside, and that’s up. On the roof of the building is a massive glass dome which houses a double spiral walkway for climbing up and down. From within, you can see most of the center of town. Now, just to put things into an historical context, the Reichstag caught fire in 1933 and led directly to Hitler’s consolidation of power. The fire itself was blamed on the communists, but popular theory holds the Nazis did it.
It had been a long day by that point so I headed back to the hostel, figured out my new room situation (there had been a screw up in regards to my reservation because of the delay in Paris – and ultimately I never did get charged for my last two night’s stay), did some laundry and went to bed early.
Friday morning, bright and early, it was gray and drizzly outside. This is what Berlin was supposed to look like! I headed out to see if my buddy Kenny was leading the Third Reich tour. He wasn’t, but I decided to take it anyway. This time my guide was Mike, who had studied twentieth century European History at university (he was a Kiwi by birth) and so he knew his stuff. Our tour ended up running an hour and a half over because there was always more information for him to impart. There were a few places of overlap but for the most part it was all new. We started by going inside this bombed out church I’d been staring at for days. The inside was gorgeous. If I’d realized I would have gone inside sooner. These pictures just don’t do it justice. The church itself was bombed during the attack on Berlin at the end of the war (when the Russians dropped more bombs in 16 days than Berlin had gotten in all the previous bombings the rest of the war – which was no small amount to begin with). The decision was made to keep it as it was as a shrine to the 60,000 Berliners who died as well as a reminder to the children of Berlin to not start anymore wars.
From there we saw the memorial to the Russian dead in the Battle of Berlin (built from the recycled stone taken from Hitler’s Chancellery) and a brand new memorial to the mentally ill and physically handicapped who had been shipped off and executed. There is a push on now to remember ALL those who died in the Holocaust so memorials are being built for the Gypsies, homosexuals, Catholics, etc… A lot of this tour was looking at bombed out buildings or photographs of buildings and listening to stories. We did go to the office where the resistance movement within the government itself started. This is the story being portrayed in the upcoming movie “Valkyrie” starring Tom Cruise. No one in Germany is particularly happy about since scientology is considered a cult over here. Last Sunday, at Potsdam Palace, there was a memorial tombstone for the gentleman whom Cruise will be portraying. The office, by the way, is now the resistance museum and is quite interesting. I actually picked up a book on it while I was there.
After the tour, I went to the memorial for the Jewish dead. It’s in two parts, the first being the above ground city block covered in over 2700 specially made concrete blocks meant to symbolize the pebbles placed on the gravestone. The second part is underneath (again, a rather stringent security check – I found out that even after all this, just under 3% of the population still votes for the extreme right. Raising your hand in a “heil Hitler” salute or displaying a swastika are grounds for up to 10 months in jail). It is a look at the families the Nazis destroyed and how the camps were set up as well as a historical time-line of Nazi Germany. There was one room with nothing but excerpts of letters from people about their situations. It was so very quite in there.
After that I needed a bit of a break, so I tracked down the bus terminal and bought my ticket for Dresden then went in search of the famed Aquadome I’d heard so much about. I found it, a 75 foot high aquarium, suspended in the middle of a Radisson hotel atrium with an elevator running through the middle of it. Unfortunately, it was closed. So I had dinner at a nearby restaurant and watched the Italy/Romania game on TV.
Saturday morning I woke up early, packed my bags, checked out of the hostel and went to find Kenny. He was leading another Famous Walking Tour so we made plans to meet up later in the afternoon and I decided enough of history – no more dead things today… today,I’m all about the living. So I went to the zoo! Instead of writing about it, I’m just gonna show you my day at the zoo…
(I’m gonna make a movie tomorrow that’s gonna go here)
Okay, that’s not exactly true. After the zoo, which is the world famous Bahnof zoo and where Knut, the baby polar bear lives, I went back to the Aquadome and went through the Sealife aquarium. As an aquarium, it wasn’t bad, but there was an octopus exhibit and a hall of mirrors with aquariums around every other turn. I got lost a few times and had to double back. The zoo itself was nice, and seemed bigger than it actually was. I wandered it withouta map (I know, very unusual for me, but hey, isn’t that what this trip is all about?) and found most everything I think. It’s not as big as San Diego (but then, what is?) but it is set up along similar lines (but thankfully not similar hills).
Upon leaving the animals, I met up with Kenny for a drink before catching my bus to Dresden, which is where I’m writing this entry. So now I’m caught up. Maybe I can start actually working on my own stuff now, huh?
And at some point, I’m probably gonna do a post of pictures of things which don’t really have a place but were cool and I snapped them.