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October 12th 2016
Published: May 5th 2017
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Hamburg - Berlin


... seen from the outside.
Two days after we had returned from the island of Rügen my good friend Belinda from the US arrived in Hamburg. I had not seen her since 2012, so way too long, and I was looking forward to having her around for two full weeks! I could not take two weeks off work, so she spent the first few days exploring Hamburg while I was at work. But then, on Saturday morning, we headed off for a four day visit to Berlin. Between 2010 and 2014 I had been travelling to Berlin quite frequently because my PhD supervisor was at Freie Universität Berlin. I went to see him about once in six weeks, and since I usually met him in the morning I often took the afternoon for doing a bit of sightseeing before heading back to Hamburg. So I do know the city a bit, but there is more than enough to see and do. Belinda hat not been to Berlin since the 1980s, so the Berlin she knew was the one from the times before the Wall had come down. I was more than happy to show her the new Berlin – I love the city!

We arrived
Inside ReichstagskuppelInside ReichstagskuppelInside Reichstagskuppel

... the dome on top of the building. This is the construction supporting the dome, with mirrors that reflect daylight into the building.
in Berlin on Saturday morning and checked into our hotel just off Kurfürstendamm. From there we took a stroll down the former heart of West Berlin to Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, the church that was left as a war memorial after having been partly destroyed during the Second World War. After a late lunch we caught the metro to Potsdamer Platz, the square that was completely redesigned after the Wall had come down. Nowadays the square if full of modern architecture, with the most prominent building probably being Sony Center, a building complex with a roofed plaza in its centre.

On Postdamer Platz there are tiles marking the line where the Wall used to run, and there are a few displays where one can read about the history of the Wall. Whenever I remember the fact that there used to be a wall that cut the city into two parts right in its centre I cannot believe that this really happened, and I am grateful that the 1989 revolution went so peacefully, particularly when remembering how many people died while trying to flee from the Eastern into the Western part of the city. At the end of the day we

Inside the dome on top of the walkway.
were cold and tired, so we went back to the hotel for a little rest and had dinner in the restaurant there and an early night.

On Sunday morning we had breakfast on top of the Reichstagskuppel, the glass dome that was built on top of the old Parliament Building close to Brandenburger Tor. One has to register in advance to get in, either for just visiting the dome or for a meal at the restaurant up there. We had done both, so we started off with a very tasty breakfast while enjoying the view of rainy Berlin, and then took two audio guides and gradually walked up the dome along the walkway that spirals up to the top. The audio guide is smart in the sense that it is activated once one passes certain spots on the walkway. So one gets quite a bit of information on the surrounding areas of the city. The view from the dome is fantastic, the only thing was that the weather was very grey and rainy.

After our visit to the dome I walked Belinda to Pergamon Museum along the banks of the river Spree. She visited the famous museum, while I went to attend one out of four workshop modules at a Buddhist centre in the district of Kreuzberg. Belinda and I met again in the hotel and from there we went for dinner to a French restaurant not far from the hotel. I have hardly ever been in a place so packed, I was almost sitting on my neighbour’s lap, and with time it got extremely hot in there. However, we had a nice evening.

On Monday morning we went for a Hop on Hop off bus tour through the city. It had been years since I had been on one, so for me it was a nice refresher of my memories. We boarded the bus at Kurfürstendamm and rode past Kaiser Wilhem Gedächtniskirche, the shopping centre KaDeWe (short for “Kaufhaus des Westens”, “Shopping Centre of the West”), Philharmonie (the concert hall that was built in the Western part of Berlin while the city was separated because the original one was in the Eastern part), Checkpoint Charlie (the checkpoint that US citizens had to use while the city was divided; there is a super interesting museum showcasing the history of the Wall there!), and Gendarmenmarkt (with the old
View from ReichstagskuppelView from ReichstagskuppelView from Reichstagskuppel

... towards Bundeskanzleramt where our chancellor has her office.
concert hall that was in the Eastern part of Berlin during its division, and the two churches Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom). We got off the bus at Alexanderplatz, the square with the huge TV tower, to hop onto another bus line that took us past Hackescher Markt (where one can find Hackesche Höfe, a series of backyards in art nouveau style with designer shops, most charming), and Main Station to the Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße. There we got off the bus to walk around for a bit. There is a small museum (that was closed because it was a Monday), a viewpoint from which one can overlook the area where the Wall had been, and a few parts of the Wall that were left there as a memorial. The crazy thing in this area is that there were a church and a cemetery right in the forbidden zone, so they were inaccessible. This is another proof of how absurd this whole idea was and how it cut right through the centre of many neighbourhoods and thus through people’s lives. What I have not understood so far is based on what reasoning it was decided where exactly the Wall
Reflections in ReichstagskuppelReflections in ReichstagskuppelReflections in Reichstagskuppel

Can you see Belinda and me?
would run.

The bus tour continued past Prenzlauer Berg (used to be and partly still is a problem area in the city, but is increasingly turning into a hipster district like many other ones), Karl-Marx-Allee (with picture book socialist buildings and layout in general), Friedrichshain, East Side Gallery (where parts of the Wall were graffitied by various artists, extremely cool), Ostbahnhof, the really nice district of Kreuzberg, and the Jewish Museum back to Alexanderplatz. On Alexanderplatz there was “Oktoberfest”. As most of my readers will most likely know this is a fun fair that takes place in Munich in late September and early October where there are beer tents and funfair rides. The concept is exported to various cities in Germany (and the world), there is one in Hamburg and apparently there is one in Berlin now as well. We went for a little stroll, ate something while listening to Blasmusik (the music that is typically played at this type of fun fair), and then went back onto the bus line we had been on first.

The tour continued past Museumsinsel (the island in the river Spree that hosts various museums, including Pergamonmuseum, Bodemuseum, and Altes Museum), down
Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße IWall Memorial at Bernauer Straße IWall Memorial at Bernauer Straße I

View towards the church that was in the inaccessible area between wall and fence.
Friedrichstraße (where there is the famous Friedrichsbau Varieté), then onto Unter den Linden (the tree-lined boulevard that leads towards Brandenburger Tor), past Reichstag, Main Station, around Siegessäule (a column with a statue on top in the middle of a roundabout), past Charlottenburg Palace, and back to Kurfürstendamm. It was really nice to get such a comprehensive view of the city again! In the evening we had dinner at restaurant Dicke Wirtin, a restaurant where one can eat local specialties, decorated in very rustic style. Super nice and highly recommended!

On Tuesday we went to Holocaust Mahnmal, located between Brandenburger Tor and Potsdamer Platz. It is a memorial for the Jews that were killed during the Nazi regime and consists of two parts: the museum and a monument. The museum gives an overview of what happened during Holocaust, with timelines etc. However, what I find most instructive and shocking is the area where the history of some selected Jewish families from around Europe is displayed. For each family there is a short description of who they were, with pictures of all family members. Then it is explained who was deported to where, and who survived and who got killed. It is
Wall Memorial at Bernauer Straße IIWall Memorial at Bernauer Straße IIWall Memorial at Bernauer Straße II

View from one of the viewpoints towards the "death zone", the area between wall and fence, with a watchtower.
beyond words to describe the cruelty and the immense suffering. This experience is complemented by the monument, consisting of about 2,700 columns of various heights. Whenever I step in between these columns I get a feeling of tenseness and hopelessness; there is a heavy atmosphere that seems to obstruct my breathing. When the monument was under construction I did not like its idea too much, but I have been there a few times now and I have to say that it is extremely well-done since, at least for me, it leaves a lasting memory.

After the visit to Holocaust Mahnmal Belinda and I caught the train back to Hamburg to spend the night at my place. We were going to head off to the island of Föhr the next day, but that’s a new post!


6th May 2017

I had the priveledge of visiting Berlin...
in 1980, driving through East Germany on flag orders, to get there and seeing the Wall and the differences between east and west. I worked at NATO headquarters from 1984 to 1995 so lived through historic changes. My German colleague on our NATO committee gave me a paperweight with a chip of the Wall in it. I visited Berlin again in 1991, right after the Wall fell, and was able to visit what had been East Berlin and then drove south to Dresden. Not much had changed as the reunification and rebuilding had barely begun. It's time I visited Berlin again to see the many changes. Thanks for giving me a preview.
6th May 2017

Re: I had the priveledge of visiting Berlin...
It must have been a great experience being in Berlin while the historic changes were going on. I only experienced it from afar, living in the Southwest of Germany, and I was still a child. We visited Berlin via airplane in early 1990 and drove to Berlin through former GDR about a year later. Then one could still see what it had been like, not only the city, but also the country. Now so much has changed, the city is vibrant and diverse and there is so much to see and do. If you go I am sure you will enjoy it!
6th May 2017

Welcome to Berlin. I also studied at FU Berlin.
6th May 2017

Re: Berlin
Thanks! It was great to have an excuse for going to Berlin at regular intervals. Still trying to go there as often as possible.
10th May 2017
Looking down from Reichstagskuppel

Photo artistry
Nice shot.
11th May 2017
Looking down from Reichstagskuppel

Re: Photo artistry
Thanks! The dome in the Reichstag is really amazing, the architect did a great job integrating modern and old architecture and I like this idea of having as much daylight as possible inside the building.

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