Saturday, December 9, 2017

Berlin!


Amazing art on the walls of buildings all over Berlin. This mural was across the street from our B&B.

As a person who grew up during the years of the cold war, I was fascinated with the story of the division of Germany into East and West Germany. Berlin, located behind the border of East Germany also was divided into three western controlled sectors and one Soviet controlled sector, East Berlin, with West Berlin accessible via road and rail corridors and by air. Berlin was also the place where Hitler and Eva Braun spent their last days in the Fuhrerbunker, and of course it is one of the great cities of the world. Although I have travelled to Europe several times, I had never made it to Berlin.

So when Erica and I discussed where to travel after the film festival in Hanover, it was obvious to both of us that we must go to Berlin. She has exhibited her work there before, and knows some people in the online art world and film industry in Berlin. Whereas I was especially interested in the history, the art galleries, and also the chance to connect with my niece, who is currently living in Poland.

My first morning in Berlin, I went on a Cold War Berlin walking tour. Our guide, Pip, a historian, was wonderful. The Berlin Wall (das Mauer) stood from 1961-1989, dividing East and West Berlin. During those 28 years, people were not allowed to pass from East to West, and access for West Berliners to the eastern part of the city was limited. The Berlin Wall began to be spontaneously dismantled by residents of East and West Berlin on November 9, 1989, following an announcement (possibly erroneous) by an East German official that people were now permitted to to cross from East to West freely. Reunification of Germany took place in 1990, after the Wall fell.

A small section of the Berlin Wall remains standing at Bernauer Strasse

Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) was in the neutral zone along the Wall.

A memorial to 57 of the people who died trying to cross into West Berlin, including children and a baby.

We visited the Tranenpalast (Palace of Tears) at Friedrichstrasse. This border crossing at a rail station was where West Berliners who had applied for a visitor's visa passed through for 24 hour visits to East Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie on Friedrichstrasse was the only border crossing that foreigners were allowed to use to enter East Berlin.

This famous photo of an East Berlin border guard escaping by leaping over the barbed wire Wall (before the concrete wall had been erected) appears on the side of a building near the Berlin Wall Memorial.

Reconciliation Sculpture: "The sculpture created by the sculptor Josefina de Vasconcellos is a call for reconciliation following the devastation of the Second World War. Copies exist at sites that were deeply affected by the war: in the Coventry Cathedral, in the Hiroshima peace museum -- and in the former border strip at the Berlin Wall."*
We spent most of our time in the part of Berlin that used to be East Berlin. One morning I went for a walk to see Karl-Marx-Allee. It is a wide boulevard flanked with apartment buildings that the socialist government in East Berlin built as a "workers' paradise."

Karl-Marx-Allee
Hackescher Markt S-Bahn (train station)
Of course, during our visit we did more than visit historical sites. We went for a Thai massage. We went to a Christmas market. There are more than 60 of them in the city of Berlin alone! We had a wonderful visit with my niece and her boyfriend, who travelled all the way from Warsaw to meet up with us. We went out for dinner to many great, not too pricey restaurants.

Out to dinner for Wurst und Bier with Laura, Marcin, Erica, and a Berlin friend.
A Christmas Market
We also went to several galleries/art shows. We attended a fabulous art show by Carla Gannis at the DAM Gallery. She uses augmented reality and self images. Her body of work provides a fascinating commentary on the human/technology interface in contemporary culture. We attended an art opening featuring work by five photographers, which I found distasteful -- definitely not a style of photography that I appreciate. However, it was an interesting opportunity to people watch, as the "cool" people of Berlin milled about in their finery, trying to be noticed.

I spent a happy half a day in the Alte Nationalgalerie, one of five art museums on Museum Island, a UNESCO Heritage site. I spent most of my time looking at the collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, as well as the Rodin special exhibition. (I love the Impressionists.) My photos are not adequate to capture what I saw.

A beautiful blue dome
The Thinker, by Rodin

Renoir

Looking out the main entry door of the Alte Nationalgalerie
We were only in Berlin for five nights and we did a lot. Erica's schedule was even busier that mine; I have a greater need for sleep. But why sleep in Berlin, when you can catch up on sleeping during the flight home?

Catching ZZZ's in the airport
It was a fantastic trip, and I am so glad that I went.

*Caption in English posted beside the Reconciliation Sculpture

16 comments:

  1. I would have jumped at the chance to go to Berlin as well. This is such a fascinating history. Thank you for sharing your experience (and your photos) with us.

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    1. Donna, it was hard to pick which photos to include. I took quite a few! I do find the history fascinating, and it is so interesting to be there in person, walking where the events took place.

      Jude

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  2. I am reading Ken Follett's last book in The Century Trilogy - Edge of Eternity. Walli just crossed back to East Berlin through a tunnel at the Bernauer Strasse. I am inspired by your travels.

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    1. Mona, I haven’t read Follett’s trilogy. But when I was at the Bernauer Strasse memorial, I did see a marker that indicated the tunnel, and a map that showed where it went. Our guide said that a tricky part of building a tunnel was finding somewhere to put the dirt that they took out. I will have to read that trilogy now.

      Jude

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  3. Fabulous. I remember the Cold War too and being incredulous when the wall finally came down. It still doesn’t seem that long ago. Both our visits to Berlin were post-reunification. There were about 10 years between them and we could see big changes had taken place in that time. I wish i’d visited Berlin when it was divided so that I could compare it then too.

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    1. It is hard to believe that the wall came down 28 years ago. It really doesn’t seem that long ago. I was travelling in Europe in 1978 and I really wanted to go to Berlin then, but unfortunately I did not. My brother, however, remembers the Wall from his trip there in 1988.

      I remember hearing the news about the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I wished I could hop on a plane and go there to be part of the historic event. However, I had a new baby (Erica) and a toddler, and a job, so it was not possible. It’s funny, though, how certain parts of history take on a personal significance.

      Jude

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  4. Great photos! I've not been to Berlin but would love to go one of these days. There are still a few countries that don't allow their citizens to travel freely. Amazing how their leaders can justify this in their minds.

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    1. Janis, there are so many places in the world that would love to travel to. I have not travelled nearly as much as I would like. Although I have travelled extensively in North America and been to Europe several times, I would like to go to the other continents. Rob travelled a lot in his younger years and is no longer very interested in long distance travel. Plus, now that I have retired, I have time but limited funds. So, I still have to figure out a way to indulge my travel bug.

      Jude

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  5. The posts about your trip are so wonderful! I've bookmarked them because we hope to go to Berlin in the next couple of years. I have first cousins who live there and it's time we visit. It is terrific you got to spend time with your daughter on such an exciting adventure for her! Being retired is a wonderful thing when it comes to these kinds of experiences!

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    1. Hi Vicki! Yes, I really enjoyed the trip to Germany, and spending time with my daughter made it extra special. I hope you make the trip to Berlin - knowing someone at your travel destination always adds to the experience.

      Jude

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  6. I appreciate your focus on art in this post. Or maybe that's just what I chose to focus on because it interests me so much. The Reconciliation sculpture is very powerful. I think it's great that copies are at other war-torn sites.

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    1. Whenever I travel, I try to go to an art gallery in the city where I am, if at all possible. This obsession with art does not always endear me to my travelling companions! For me, my biggest memory of Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Gallery, of Paris, the Louvre, of Madrid the Egyptian travelling exhibition in the gallery, of Montreal the Monet exhibition that happened to be there, of Ottawa, the Group of Seven in the National Gallery, and so forth. There is something really special about seeing the art in person as opposed to in a book or online.

      Jude

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  7. Great travel memories made with your daughter, Jude! My husband is selective about where he likes to visit and I want to explore a lot more places so I just plan my own solo trips, in addition to our family trips. I find the escorted tours even without solo supplement charges are still expensive. I solved this problem by staying at international youth hostels (IYH). There are many great IYH that are open to all ages. I drafted a post about this and will post it live in the new year.

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    1. Natalie, thanks for commenting. In my former career, I did a lot of solo travel to conferences and meetings across North America. Although I met lots of people that way, I really prefer sharing the experience with someone. However, I have never done an escorted tour. One of my siblings has done several and really enjoyed them. Perhaps I shall try that.

      Jude

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  8. Berlin is a fascinating city - because of its history, architecture and changes over the years. Areas that were inhospitable to live in before are now upscale yuppie hangouts, for example. Your photos and visit brought back memories from when Mark and I visited in the summer of 2012. We have a good friend in East Berlin, who hosted us for a few days and then, we stayed at a hotel in the Western part for a couple of nights. If you're interested, here is the link to our Berlin visit: http://www.itsirie.com/2012/08/five-days-berlin_7.html :-)

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    1. Liesbet, it is so interesting to read about your visit to Berlin. Five days really isn’t long enough in such an interesting city! Many of the places that you mentioned visiting, like Charlottenburg Schloss, were on my list too, but we just ran out of time. How nice that you had friends to stay with while you were there.

      Jude

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