Originally published 29 December 2015
Historic Communist Berlin Mural. While no longer popular, it is history.
Today we toured mostly historic sites....with a short side trip for shopping. Berlin is quite historic. It is, however, one of the leading places on the planet for "dark history".
There are several dark history websites. Liberation of France and the D-Day invasion were not dark history. They were liberating and people were happy that particular historic event happened. Life on the planet was better for it. Dark history is a collection of bad things, like murders, genocide, accidents and death. Berlin in the center of the dark history universe......and today was a dark history day.
We started out at Checkpoint Charlie. This was one of the main points where people crossed from East to West Berlin and it was probably the most famous. A replica of the guard shack had been built there and actors dressed as soldiers from both sides pose for pictures for tips. There are many souvenir vendors and such, along with a museum. It is basically a big tourist trap now.
The museum had a lot of cool things in it, but it wasn't really organized at all. There was no rhyme or reason to the collection or it's placement. To be honest, it was somewhat confusing. The items inside were quite interesting though.
There were reminders of how many people escaped or tried to escape oppression. They even had a room honoring Ronald Reagan. Like him or hate him, it is impossible to deny his part in this changing of world history. His legacy is firmly intact and he contributed immensely. The Germans have a very high opinion of him, and his policies.
We headed south from there. Laurie wanted to see the Jewish museum and I wanted to see the Technical museum. We stopped along the way and had a lunch of pizza and soup. Yeah....they have odd combinations here...but they work. The pizzas were good and I had a soup that was basically cream of garlic soup. It sounds odd but it was VERY good. We have found the recipe and are planning on making it at home.
I left Laurie at the Jewish museum and walked to the technical museum. The museum had an excellent railroad collection, and it was housed in an old railroad roundhouse. One of the things I did look at was a box car that was used during World War 2.
The boxcar's purpose was to haul Jews to the concentration camps for extermination. It felt a bit unnerving to be standing in a car that could have possibly carried one of my wife's relatives to their death. I stood in it a while, taking it all in. Sometimes when I'm in a place that has such a huge historical significance, I will stand and ponder where I am......and especially, who came before me. I take in the sights, smells, and feel of the wood. Eventually I move on.
Freight car used to transport Jews to the camps
The entire museum was very well done and very well put together. There were quite a few things there that I found interesting and worth my time. It was a "technical" museum however, and had several areas that I had no interest in...such as the rather large area devoted to suitcase manufacturing. But that's okay.
I don't believe a museum is good or bad because it has exhibits that don't interest me personally. I'm sure someone else found it fascinating. The museum was exceptionally well put together, and at 8 euros to get in, a bargain. If you're in Berlin, and machines are your thing....definitely go.
Laurie found the Jewish museum quite moving. I won't comment on her experiences, because they were HER experiences. She has written below about her visit. We both exited our respective museums at nearly the same time.
We met and rode the subway uptown to a store I wanted to do some shopping at. There is a brand of outdoor clothing that I have only seen in Europe. It may exist in the states, but it's pretty rare. They have some great designs and I really love their stuff. We went to the Jack Wolfskin store and I found a great coat on sale and bought it. After our shopping trip, we dropped it back by the apartment and headed to Alexanderplatz.
Alexanderplatz at night
Alexanderplatz was the East German "showplace". They had a huge television tower that was built there and the plaza was lined on all sides with apartment buildings with hundreds if not thousands of apartments. As we all know, things in East Germany were not happy and fun. And if Alexanderplatz was their showplace, the East German founders must be turning over in their graves.
The square is the height of capitalism. There are a lot of tourist places, a Radisson hotel that is probably 30 stories tall, bars, restaurants, the place is abuzz. Neon and bright lights are the order of the day. From space, it probably looks like a Christmas tree.
We head out from the Square and have dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. As with most of the places we've eaten here, it was excellent. Then back "home" and calling it an evening. It was an interesting and educational day. While it was all "dark history", it WAS history.
While paraphrased from the original, the intent is still the same. "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." Learn. It's the only way to save us all.
A word from Laurie is below. Goodnight everyone.
Cafe at the Jewish Museum
I went to the Jewish museum today. Bill decided on going to a different museum for technical things which didn't interest me.
The Jewish museum in Berlin is supposed to be one of the best in the world, and it is amazing. The building was designed by American architect Daniel Libeskind (who was the master planned for redevelopment of the World Trade Center). It is a zigzag shaped building but you really can't appreciate except the whole shape of it when you're inside. Aerial shots of it show the whole thing.
The space is very stark with 3 axes and then the zigzag part. One Is the Axis of Exile which slants upwards and ends in the garden of exile. This is similar to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. Concrete blocks filled with earth on an uneven surface with olive trees planted to grow a shaded roof. Obviously the trees were not leafed out. The exhibit is supposed to evoke the feeling of exile and disorientation.
Another axis was the Axis of Holocaust which has displays lining it of people's belongings and letters who perished. At the end is the Holocaust Tower. Pushing open a heavy steel door you enter a completely empty space that rises above into a tower. It took my breath away. I'm not sure at all what makes it so powerful but it is peaceful, eerie, provocative and unforgettable.
The tower rises to a dark ceiling that mirrors the shape of the floor, with only a small slit of light allowed to enter. The walls come to a sharp point and standing there one can hear the street noises. Standing there and looking up gave the sense of being able to hear the 'normal' world but not having access to it, while looking up to that small slit of sky and having no access to that.
Along the way to the third axis, which is the Axis of Continuity and leads to the rest of the museum, is the Memory Void. It is another stark space with an installation of Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Menashe Kadishman. The leaves are thousands of metal faces on the ground you walk over.
The room of the metal faces
Because they are metal, the make tremendous sound when walked on. When I got there, there were a lot of people walking around on them so the noise was intense. When the all left, the silence was complete. Again, it was very powerful and evoked the feeling for me of the cacophony of the chaos of deportation and murder, and the absolute silence that would follow such events.
The main exhibit started with the history of Jewish life in Germany from the Romans to present day. It explained how Mainz, Speyer and Worm were 3 cities that were the center of Jewish scholarship, trade and life. They spell out the Hebrew word for garlic and thus the 3 lobed garlic became and important symbol.
From there it goes into the rise of antisemitism throughout the middle ages and ending in the Holocaust. The Jewish people have been regularly thrown out of everywhere, including Germany, for centuries. Apparently the Jewish population in Berlin is growing again.
After visiting Checkpoint Charlie in the morning, it's amazing to me how much blood has been shed here by one tyrant or another. After surviving the war, Jews who were left in Germany and eastern Europe were faced with more persecution and displacement. And the population of eastern Europe, including east Germany, we're once again, forced into labor, denied basic rights and hunted down by their own government.
It seems that the Nazi's trained the people well in how to behave inhumanely and with little moral code other than survival. The contrast between the devastating aftermath of the war and then soviet control and present day Berlin is at time, very disorienting. I would love to talk to some people who experienced these transitions. It is unimaginable to me.
Berlin Slide Show/Day 3
I'm Bill. My wife Laurie and I love to travel and share our stories. We especially love it when we have been able to motivate our readers to start traveling on their own, and making their own stories.
Click on any post below to go directly to that day. All posts are in chronological order.