7 Days in Berlin (pt. 1)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Today’s post is about our visit to the Allied Museum as part of our high school’s reunion. I mentioned the overall schedule for the reunion weekend in my first post: The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall (part 1) . It  went like this: Saturday evening, we gathered at the hotel for cocktails and appetizers. Then on Sunday everyone was free to explore the city and participate in the various 25th Anniversary events going on throughout the day and evening. I blogged about our 25th Anniversary fun here: The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall (part 2). Finally, on Monday we spent the day visiting our alma mater (Berlin American High School). After our visit to the school (which I also blogged about at the first link above), we boarded several buses to ride over to the Alliierten Museum Berlin.


My son and I with a piece of the Berlin Wall, Allied Museum

The Allied Museum is comprised of items from three of the four Allied powers: the United States, Great Britain and France. The museum’s collection consists of permanent and temporary exhibits pertaining to the Cold War era. There are quite a few impressive items on display, most notably the open air exhibits: a British Hastings TG 503 airplane used in the Berlin Airlift, the dining car of a French military train, the last guardhouse from Checkpoint Charlie  (US military) and a segment of the Berlin Wall.

We walked about the complex taking pictures and letting my son and Trisha take in the exhibits for the first time. Anastasia and  Ivan had already been to the museum before, and this was my fourth time. Anastasia also used this time to get some more footage for the documentary she is making to accompany our book.

After the buses dropped us back off at the reunion hotel, the five of us decided to get some street food, something that tends to be a part of the culinary tradition of most walking cities. In Berlin, Döner Kebab is king. When we lived there in the 80s, Currywurst was king, but now it may arguably be a close second. Döner is really kind of a fusion food– before the fad of labeling food ‘fusion.’ Honestly, there are many foods brought by immigrants to a new land that become fusion. The largest ethnic minority in Germany is Turkish (at least until the recent influx of Syrian refugees). The Turks came to Germany during the 60s and 70s to fill a labor void in Germany, and according to an agreement with the Turkish government, were meant to be there only temporarily. Many ended up remaining and raising their families there. The Turks brought with them the wonderful kebab which is a popular part of Mediterranean cuisine– it is similar to the Greek gyro and Arab Shawarma.

The Döner was developed to suit German tastes. It is meat roasted on a vertical spit, shaved off and served in a very large square pita with salad fixings stuffed in and drizzled with your choice of sauces: yogurt, hot, garlic or herb. I wanted Trisha and Christian to experience the deliciousness that is Döner, so we went to a place across the street from he reunion hotel. As expected, it was Delish! After that, we went to the new mall across from the hotel on the corner of (Schlosstrasse) and Albrecthstrasse, called das Schloss (the castle). Das Schloss is a modern mall that has been integrated into the existing architecture of the old Rathaus Steglitz (town hall)– a red neo-Gothic structure built in 1898. The mall had some great shops, but my favorite was an Italian gelato shop. I’m lactose intolerant here in the US, but not in Germany (they must be adding something to our dairy here in the US). So I gorge myself on ice cream and anything dairy when I’m there. I miss dairy so much!

After shopping, we went home and chilled for the rest of the evening, since some  of us were still feeling a bit jet lagged.


Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

The next day, the reunion weekend was over, and we set out to see more of the city . We took the S-Bahn, which was now actually back in operation. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, there was a country-wide transportation (train) strike when we arrived, which didn’t include the U-Bahn. The flat we’d rented was right across from the Südende S-Bahn station, but up until this day, we’d been forced to take the buses to connect to the U-Bahn, which was a 30 min walk from our flat.

Our first stop was the new(ish) Berlin Hauptbahnhof (built 2006), at this writing, DB is actually celebrating the station’s 10th anniversary. From there, we crossed over the Spree River (pictured above), as we headed to the Reichstag [I wrote more about this historic building in a previous post: here ].  The German Chancellery  building is directly across the street from the Reichstag, and on this day, there was a visiting dignitary–Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoğluLike the small crowd of other passersby that morning, we stopped to have a look. At the time, we could not make out who was leaving, but we saw the German Honor Guard, with their green berets, standing in formation. After the unknown dignitary left, they marched away towards the south side of the building and down the avenue.We ran over to catch up with them and take a pictures. Alas, none of our pictures were blog-worthy, so I’m posting a professional image below. 


Embed from Getty Images



After that bit of excitement, we  continued on to the famous Stasse des 17. Juni [which I wrote about here] to see the Russian War Memorial in the Tiergarten. There are two other Russian war memorials in Berlin, but we didn’t make it to either of them. We were trying to walk over to the Brandenburg Gate, but there were barriers that didn’t allow anyone to approach the Gate straight on from Strasse des 17. Juni. Due to the past weekend’s huge 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall celebration, car and foot traffic was rerouted around the famous landmark.

So we took a path through a slightly wooded area behind the Russian War Memorial towards Simsonweg and noticed a new memorial had been built there. It is the Memorial to the Senti and Roma Victims of National Socialism. It was finished in 2012, so it was not open during my last visit in 2011. It was an unexpectedly quiet and tranquil spot, given its proximity to the very busy intersection of Eberstrasse and 17th of June Street a few yards away. After our visit to the memorial, we continued eastward on Simsonweg until we reached Eberstrasse, which runs north and south–behind the Reichstag and behind the Brandenburg Gate. The Berlin Wall used to run most of the length of Eberstrasse, placing the Reichstag in West Berlin, and the Gate on the East Berlin side. There are now special engraved cobblestones in the road here marking the route of the former Wall (pictured below).  [Hover over or click on each picture below to see the captions].



As you cross over Eberstrasse you are right at the side of the iconic Brandenburg Gate. Since we were on the West side, we walked through the Gate to the East side. This is where we took the obligatory touristy family picture above. On this side of the Gate, we were on Unter den Linden, the ‘most famous boulevard in Berlin'[visitBerlin.de]. Unter den Linden is the Eastern continuance of Strasse des 17. Juni on the West side. The wide plaza in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where we were standing is  called Pariser Platz.

Usually, the walk straight down Unter den Linden is one of my favorite walks in Berlin, but because of the 25th Anniversary of the Wall celebration the previous weekend, much of it was still blocked off, with traffic being rerouted around this very popular scenic grand avenue. Plus, there was a lot of construction with many of the very old buildings being renovated, and new ones being constructed. Berlin is the most frequently changing city in Germany! Therefore, the pictures of this area were not as beautiful as I would have liked.


Walking from the Pariser Platz towards the famous Alexanderplatz, we passed the U.S. Embassy [first picture], which is attached to the famous Adlon Hotel [second picture top row]; next is the British Embassy (which, oddly enough is attached to the other side of the Adlon Hotel). We didn’t get a picture, but on the next block is the Russian Embassy. In the distance is the Fernsehturm or Radio Tower (aka the Pope’s Revenge). When we walked past the statue of Frederick II, we turned right, onto Bebelplatz–Berlin has a lot of platzes!. Bebelplatz is the site of the infamous Nazi book burning in 1933. Bebelplatz is bounded on one side by the Humboldt University Library and the other by the Staatsoper (State Opera house). It was  books from this library that were pulled out and burned by the Nazis, and so there is a memorial to that night. The memorial is simple: a glass window in the ground that allows you to see empty shelves in the library’s basement. We went into the library building to find a restroom, and since there was a coffee shop as well, we decided to sit down and have a snack.

After our break, we walked behind the library building towards the famous Gendarmenmarkt–considered one of Berlin’s most beautiful city squares. It hosts one of the best Christkindelmarkts in Berlin. Unfortunately, on this day, they were setting it up, so we could not enjoy its usual elegance, nor could we enjoy the traditional festivity of a Christmas market– something Germany is famous for.

So, we had to change plans and take the S-bahn to Alexanderplatz. I had never been to this particular S-Bahn station, as with the majority of S-Bahns, they were verboten to us during the Cold War. The station here is called Hausvogteiplatz station. I looked up the history and discovered it was named after this historic district of Berlin, with a long and fairly tumultuous history. Hausvogteiplatz was the birthplace of Berliner Konfecktion (ready-to-wear industry). Thus, Hausvogteiplatz  was the fashion district, modeled after Parisian haute couture, except the seamstresses were not in a factory, all the work was done by subcontractors and home-seamstresses (a total of 100,ooo women!). This allowed for cost-efficient mass production.

Before the war, of the 600 textile-manufacturing firms in Germany, 500 were in Berlin! The Berlin textile industry was mostly Jewish, because until the 19th century, Jews were banned from working in any other professions besides trade and textile. Unfortuantely, from 1933 onward, the Konfectionsindustrie (pre-manufactured industry) came under attack due to anti-Semitic laws. Many Jews who didn’t leave the country, were deported to concentration camps, and the word “Konfektion” was outlawed. The beautiful tile work in the Hausvogteiplatz S-Bahn station pictured below depict the square during its heyday.

When we came up out of the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station, we took in that huge expanse and I got to enjoy Trisha’s reaction to seeing this busy square for the first time since the Wall fell. It used to be very different, because during the Cold War, the people were oppressed and it was obvious. The store fronts were meant to look like a showcase of modernity, but often looked like something out of a 1950s black and white TV show and felt like a Twilight Zone episode. The largest store in East Berlin (and East Germany) was Centrum Warenhaus, now called Galeria Kaufhof. On this day, the Galeria Kaufhof was a sight to behold. Its windows were filled with beautiful Christmas themed items and a menagerie of animated stuffed animals in playful Christmas scenes. During our stroll around this huge city square, Trisha bought some Cold War souvenirs from some Russians who were selling various Soviet era hats and pins. I wasn’t interested, because I had already bought several relics from some Russians at Checkpoint Charlie on my first trip back to Berlin in 2002. Christian was excited to be in the actual square featured in one of our family’s favorite movies: The Bourne Supremacy.

We contemplated riding on one of the famous yellow trams, but were all hungy, so decide to eath first– we never did end up riding one either. Christian wanted another Döner Kebab, and we couldn’t all make up our minds, so we decided we’d eat at one of the various eateries in the Alexanderplatz S-Bahn station. In Berlin, most of the major U-Bahn stations have food places in them, usually local fare as well as the occasional McDonald’s. I’m adverse to eating American food when we’re in another country, but we did eat at McDonald’s on one occasion, when the lines were too long at several other places.

After eating, we wandered around Alexanderplatz taking pictures and were hoping to go up in the Fernsehturm (the Radio Tower, aka Pope’s Revenge), but the wait was hours long. I’ve read that you can skip the line by making reservations to eat in the restaurant– a tactic we exploited back in 2011 to get to the front of the line at the Reichstag. However,  I had not made any plans to eat at the radio tower, because it is pricey, just like the restaurant atop the Reichstag. I wanted to walk down further southeast towards Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) and show everyone the Neptunbrunnen (Neptune’s fountain), but they were setting up yet another Christkindlmarkt in the open square that lays between the Radio Tower and the Kirche (church).


By now everyone was tired of walking and we decide to catch a bus from Alexanderplatz towards Checkpoint Charlie. We ended up having to walk part of the way, because yet again, part of our route was blocked due to the 25th celebration. Along the way we took a few interesting pictures of the avenues leading to and from the Checkpoint, as well as the Checkpoint itself [pictured above]. After an exhausting day of sightseeing, we headed back to our flat to recuperate.

Next Post: 7 Days in Berlin (pt. 2 of 4)