Monday, November 8, 2010

A Day in Berlin

We have been following the Rick Steve’s method of touring Berlin and I don’t know how the man packs so much into one day! He must be travelling alone. We are heading into day three of his self-guided city tour. It was supposed to be a one day thing. I wonder if he actually stopped to see the sites?

Our first day we hopped on the double decker city bus #100. It hits all the great sites and he recommended catching it just before the big stop to get the best seat. We did and sat right in the front seats of the top deck! It was very cool. Nobody wanted to get off but I forced them all to because Rick said so. We got off at the Reichstag building. We have now learned that Reich means “empire”. This building is the seat of the German government. It was built in the late 18th century to the disdain of the reigning monarch of the day. He called it the “chatting place”. It saw the political turmoil build throughout the 1920’s and was where Hitler rose to power. During WWII it was bombed to smithereens and about 1500 Nazi’s staged their last stand at this place. It took about 60 years for the German people to decide to restore it and now the Bundestag (lower house) sits here once more.

The lineup to get in was one hour long. Now Rick had told me about this but I thought that since we were in November, how long could it be? Well, wasn’t I put in my place? From now on, we listen to Rick. It took some time to get through security as Tom had a pocket knife on him. Fortunately, they let him in anyway… sans knife, of course. I was really glad he wasn’t wearing his new black knit cap at the time or we might still be there.

We went straight to the glass dome at the top. It has been designed to utilize solar panels to provide light to the rooms below. It is a bit complicated and confusing to the un-engineering sort like me. The cool (and I mean cold) part was the ramp circling up the outside. It had a killer view of the city. The dome looks down into the room where the politicians meet. It is symbolic of the need to have no secrets in government.

As we came out the elevator at the bottom, we looked into the room where the politicians meet and noticed the three doors. One is marked “Ja”, one marked “Nein” and one marked, “Abstain”. (Okay it isn’t really abstain but I can’t remember the German word for abstain.) When a vote is going to be close, all 669 members must get up and leave through the door of their choice to cast their vote. We thought that was interesting.

In front of the building is a memorial to the many politicians who lost their lives during Hitler’s reign. That was one of the first things he did on coming into power. He killed off the competition.

Near the back of the building is a memorial to the many people who lost their lives trying to escape from East Berlin over the wall. Most of them died in the first months after the wall was built.

We continued the walk to the Brandenburg Gate. This is the last remaining gate built during the original city. It divides a huge boulevard. On one side was the West Berlin road through a large park, originally hunting grounds for the monarch. On the other side was the East Berlin road. The gate was on the East Berlin side. You can tell because two cobblestone lines show where the old wall used to be. We crossed into East Berlin under the gate and saw a building designed by Frank Gehry. He designed the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. He designed a bunch of other unique buildings as well. This one isn’t so wondrous from the outside because any building designed here can’t be more spectacular than the gate.

From there we went to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial. It is the first memorial funded by the German government. It is controversial because it is dedicated only to Jews and not other groups persecuted during the war. It is an odd place. There are many rectangular grey stones. They are all different sizes and the ground between them is uneven. It is almost like a labyrinth in places as the stones get so large. Beneath it is a museum and naturally we went in. It was again a very heavy place. There were many quotes from Jews who had died. Some were from diaries or papers found near the bodies. Some were from postcards recovered. All were sad. They did reveal that the Jewish people knew that people were being killed at the death camps. At Auschwitz we were told the people had been misled and kept calm with lies about what was happening. It seemed like what was going on at the camps was kept pretty quiet from the outside world. The letters and writings seemed to indicate otherwise.

By the time we left there we were pretty much done for the day. It was getting dark and the sky matched our moods.


maryanncart said...

I liked reading your comments after I had seen the pictures you sent. Our weather, Tuesday, is rainy and dark and I am cold! Love Mom