Monday I went on an Insider walking tour. I really like walking tours in unfamiliar cities. If you get a good guide it’s a great way to see some of the major attractions, in a short span of time, and to get some deeper insights into the city and its history in the the process. This was great, the guide Brian was really fantastic – funny and knowledgeable.
We got some of the history of Berlin right back from where it started up until the present day. It was interesting to learn some basics of of Berlin and German pre-history – such that Berlin wasn’t the capital of Germany until relatively recently (and in fact Germany as a country didn’t exist for a long time – it was the kingdom of Prussia for centuries.) Hopefully I haven’t mangled the region’s history too much there.
The post WWII era holds the most historical intrigue for me, literally East meeting West and colliding in a barrier between the two. The demarkation of the path of the Berlin Wall is fascinating and boggling. It’s one of the starkest physical representations of humanity’s split into competing politcal ideologies, at least in Europe. It’s hard to imagine a city carved into two like that, in this case with a graphically-titled ‘death strip’ in between. It’s like for me if suddenly overnight a wall went up through London, and friends north of the river are suddenly in a different state and a different regime and I need to cross a border to see them.
There’s so much stuff we covered in the four hours of the walk that it would take a while to document it all. But in terms of places visited we went past Museum Island, around to the square with the Berliner Dom, over to Unter Der Linden and the war museum, Humboldt university and the memorial of the burning of the books, through to the square with french churches, past Checkpoint Charlie, seeing a piece of the Berlin Wall, seeing the imposing office complex that is Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus (HQ to Nazis, Soviets, finance ministers over the years), the location where Hitler’s bunker was, the memorial to the murdered jews of WWII, and the Brandenburg Gate.
Some parts that stuck in my mind:
– the memorial outside Humboldt University to the books burned in 1933
– the changing faces of the war memorial on Unter der Linden
– the discovery that only East Berlin has trams – the west had motorcars
– learning about the architectural mess that is the Berliner Dom
– the post war carving of Germany and Berlin between the Allies
– the historical lessons of populist opinion and the downfall of the Weimar Republic
Later on Monday I walked down Friedrichstrasse (dull and full of shops) back to the Topology of Terror museum. It gives a quite factual and unemotional account of the atrocities of the Nazis. In this I found most solace in the documents of the rebels and the non-cooperators.
Monday evening I checked out Potzdamer Platz, and squeezed in a viewing of Bladerunner 2049 in 3D at a cinema there. Bonus!
Tuesday I was heading out, but packed some museums into the morning. The Neues Museum was full of remarkable ancient artifacts, the most breathtaking being the bust of Nefertiti. Quite mindblowing to think it is a product of a culture from around three millenia ago. Then in the Pergammon Museum, which had the mind blowing Ishtar Gate (one of the entrances to the ancient city of Babylon) and a great big chunk of a lavish entrance to a 2nd century Roman marketplace. Seeing the works of ancient cultures, you get to thinking about where we are in the present day. Having seen also in Berlin some of the lows of the previous century, it certainly gives you pause to reflect to what end our progress has been. We seem to still have all the same human pros and cons, and are just better at execution of both the good and the bad.
Speaking of ambiguous humanity, Tuesday being November 7th, I got lucky and happened to walk past the Deutsches Historisches Museum who for the 100 year anniversary of the October Revolution in Russia had free entry to their exhibition on the topic. A hulking statue of Lenin on display through the window meant you couldn’t miss it. It was interesting, combining history of the revolution with artifacts from the time. I feel that the recent exhibition on the same topic in the British Library went into more detail on some of the atrocities of the Red Army post-revolution. This felt like perhaps more of a sympathetic view of the Bolsheviks. Very interesting to me was some of the propaganda put out in the UK around the time, with the Conversatives decrying the threat of bearded and brutish looking Commie sympathisers, and espousing the virtues of Tory party as the only one offering to protect and expand the great British Empire. Yup, lots of cultures, lots of ideologies, lots of bullshit from all sides.
After that it was time up for me in Berlin this time. Back to Schoenefeld and to the UK. I’m sure I’ll visit Berlin again though, and I look forward to it – I get something new from it every time.