Robin's Adventures

Central and Eastern Europe
An Adventure Steeped in History

Heading to Berlin

The first leg of our journey began in Los Angeles and took us to Berlin with a brief three hour stopover in London. Total time in the air was twelve and a half hours.

We stayed at the Hotel de Rome located right on the Bebelplatz. We were well located and were able to walk to many of the locations we wanted to see while visiting the city.

Gateway to Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate, built between 1788 and 1791 as a symbol of peace, served as the main entry along the boulevard of the linden trees to the Royal Palace of the Prussian monarchs. During the cold war the gate was closed off by the government in East Berlin and not reopened until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. When John Kennedy visited the gate in 1963, the Soviets hung red banners across it so Kennedy could not see into East Berlin.

The German parliament building, the Reichstag, is one block north of the Brandenburg gate. The building was damaged by fire in 1933 and was not restored until after the reunification of Germany in 1989. The large dome on top of the building provides beautiful views of the city and provides natural light to the parliament chamber below the dome.

Interesting Buildings

The iconic domes of the Berlin Cathedral, first built in 1750 and later restored in 1905, are easily spotted from various locations throughout the city. The cathedral is located on museum island right off the Spree River.

The Gendarmenmarkt square, which served as a marketplace when it was first built in 1688, is now home to some beautiful buildings. The French Church was built by a community of French Protestants in 1705. The German Church, built in 1708, was used by the Lutheran community. Both churches have large domed towers and beautiful pediments atop a portico of columns.

The nearby Bebelplatz square is the home to Humboldt University, an impressive building that was once used as a palace by a Prussian prince. The university is the alma mater to Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Werner Heisenberg, and Angela Davis.

The New Synagogue

The New Synagogue, which was the main temple of the Berlin Jewish community, was built between 1859 and 1866. The temple, which had seating for up to 3,000 people, was the venue a violin concert given by Albert Einstein in 1930.

The temple building survived the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 because a local police officer ordered the Nazis, who had smashed the furnishings and set them on fire, to leave because the building was a protected historical landmark. He then called the fire department to put out the blaze before the actual building caught fire.

During WWII, the Nazis used the building for the storage of uniforms and although the building was badly damaged by allied bombing of the city during the war, the front section was rebuilt following the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

Currently there are a handful of synagogues in Berlin. They tend to look very plain on the outside so as not to draw attention to themselves. Shown here is the Pestalozzi Street Synagogue.

Musical Pursuits

The Gendarmenmarkt square, home of the Berlin Concert House, is a popular hangout for street musicians to perform. The square is surrounded by many sidewalk cafes and the music provides a delightful backdrop to an al fresco evening meal.

The Concert House was first built as a theater in 1821, but the venue changed to a concert hall following the second World War. It has wonderful acoustics and is considered to be one of the top five concert halls in the world.

The State Opera House was first built by Frederick II of Prussia in 1742 and it is currently home to the Berlin State Opera and The Berlin State Ballet.

Statuesque

There were many interesting statues in and around Berlin. Steve posed with one of the many Berlin bears that appeared around town. The bear is the symbol of the city and each one we saw was uniquely decorated.

The Broken Chain sculpture was designed to symbolize the broken connections between east and West Berlin as a result of the Berlin wall.

Three Girls and a Boy sit peacefully on a wall overlooking the Spree River. Molecule Man, which is just over 90 feet tall and sits in the Spree River, was designed to symbolize all humans coming together.

Getting Around

Berlin was a bustling city with lots of bicyclists and pedestrians along the quaint cobblestone streets. We were amused by the seven seated bike that some of the small tour groups used.

The traffic lights also had much more animated walk and don't walk signals than ours do at home.

Things to Remember

The Nazis burned about 20,000 books in the Bebelplatz square in May of 1933. Today, as a memorial, there is an empty bookshelf (large enough to hold 20,000 books) underground on this site with a plexiglass window on the surface. There is an engraved plaque with a line from an 1821 play by Heinrich Heine which is unsettling in its prediction: \"That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.\"

Stumbling stones were also placed in the cobblestone sidewalks about town. These are brass \"cobblestones\" that commemorate victims who were killed by the Nazis. They are placed near the last known work place or dwelling of each holocaust victim.

The Neue Wache, or New Guardhouse, is designed as a memorial for victims of \"war and dictatorship.\" Inside the building is a moving statue of a mother clutching her deceased son.

Holocaust Memorial

Our first attempt to visit the memorial was rained out in a torrential downpour. The rain just made the site appear more somber. Even the flood of water that came with the heavy rain was unable to wash away the sins of the Nazis.

It was interesting to note that the Holocaust Memorial did not mince words and spelled out that it was a memorial to \"murdered\" Jews. The memorial covers almost 5 acres and consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid on sloping ground.

The differing heights of the slabs and the placement on uneven ground is designed to symbolize a confusing unsettling environment where an ordered system has lost its grasp on reason.

There are exhibits and a timeline in a museum underground that shows the horrors of Nazi actions as they attempted to exterminate the Jews.

Topography of Terror

This museum is located at the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters, both of which were heavily bombed by the allies during the war. The Berlin wall went up right next to the site and some remains of the wall are still standing.

Part of the exhibit, which shows Nazi repression and propaganda, is located in a trench that runs parallel to the preserved portion of the Berlin wall. These exhibits are protected from the elements by a plexiglass canopy.

Inside the museum are many exhibits and photos relating to the role of the Gestapo and the SS. One disturbing exhibit shows evidence (on different colored index cards) relating to the activities of 300 to 400 top ranking special mobile unit employees involved in deportation and mass executions of Jews. As shown, charges were only brought against 16 people and only three were convicted. None of the three served the full term of their sentence.