Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

‘Friendship of the People’ fountain, Alexanderplatz

On my last afternoon I went on a walking tour of East Berlin – or at least, around some remnants thereof. I organised this through AirBnB – it was one of their ‘experiences’ for Berlin and was advertised as “East Berlin with a travel book writer”. The walk lasted for just over three hours and to be honest was quite tough going – I was pretty tired by the end, as we were on our feet through most of what was a hot afternoon. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It gave a fascinating glimpse into some aspects – probably some of the better aspects, to be honest – of a vanished state.

The first half of the tour was a walk along Karl-Marx-Allee. This runs eastwards from the Alexanderplatz area in what was East Berlin. In fact we began with a quick look around Alexanderplatz itself and had the various buildings explained to us. Some were definitely GDR (German Democratic Republic, i.e. East Germany) era, and some, to our surprise, dated from earlier, the 20s and 30s. That said, most of what was there before WWII was barely there by the end – I read that in 1945 the Red Army fought it way through Berlin via Alexanderplatz and I gather that as a result pretty much everything there was destroyed. After the war the station was repaired and brought back into use, some of the existing buildings were restored and the rubble of other buildings was removed, thus leaving space for GDR-era new buildings.


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The Reichstag Dome

On the morning of my first full day in Berlin I visited the dome of the Reichstag. Sounds fascinating…. Actually, it was interesting and certainly dramatic looking.

The Reichstag building is where Germany’s parliament meets. However, that’s always been the case. The building was completed in 1894 and was used thereafter just over 20 years by the parliament of the German Empire. In 1918 following the defeat of imperial Germany and abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II the Weimar Republic was proclaimed from a balcony of the building, and it was used as the parliament building for the republic. Then in early 1933 the National Socialists came to power, and shortly afterwards a fire gutted the main meeting chamber. This was used as the pretext for emergency rule – i.e. rule without the need for parliamentary approval – and for the rest of the Nazi era the Reichstag building was unused. Then it was damaged both in the bombing of Berlin and during the final battle for Berlin at the end of WWII. There’s a famous image of the Hammer & Sickle flag being raised on the roof by red army soldiers during their capture of Berlin.

After the war the building was essentially a ruin. To add to the problem the boundary between the Soviet and US zones of Berlin ran within just metres of it – the Reichstag was in West Berlin, but the Brandenburg Gate, just a couple of hundred yards away, lay in East Berlin. So the building lay largely derelict for a number of years. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) had its capital in Bonn, including the location of its parliament, the Bundestag, so there was no pressing use for the Reichstag building in Berlin. However the building was repaired and restored, at least externally – essentially the shell was restored, and internal meeting rooms were created, but no formal chamber was built. Also, as part of these restorations the previous cupola on the roof was removed. (The German Democratic Republic – East Germany – declared East Berlin to be its capital and built its own parliament building in the east. However, this was a Soviet-style show parliament, not an expression of democratic will.)

Then came the events late 1989 when the wall came down, and in October 1990 Germany was formally reunited. (more…)

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A visit to Berlin


The Brandenburg Gate

I recently spent a few days in Berlin. This was my first real visit to Germany – I’m not going to count changing planes at Frankfurt, nor even a day visit on a cruise to Warnemunde – and definitely my first first to Berlin.

The summary is: I had a great time. It helped that the weather was great – blue skies and temperatures around 25º – but I also found the city endlessly fascinating. Of course, it played straight into one of my great interests, history. Berlin has so much of that, both good and bad, and most  of it very dramatic.

I won’t go into a long detailed account of the whole visit. This post will contain a summary and then there will be two more posts about specific activities that I did and really enjoyed.

I few from Manchester to Berlin Schonefeld airport with Ryanair, arriving mid-afternoon. I’d researched transport options from the airport into the city, and bought myself a 3-zone day ticket at Schonefeld Airport station. That would be valid on the S-bahn, U-bahn and regional trains of Deutsche Bahn, and I chose to get regional train RB14 from Schonefeld (the terminus for that service) to Alexanderplatz, the nearest station to my hotel. The journey took about 25 minutes, with just a few stops. (I could also have used the S-bahn but that would have taken longer, perhaps twice as long, with many more stops.) That RB14 train seems to run at 30-minute intervals throughout the day, and calls at the major stations on the StadtBahn, the string of stations through the city-centre: Ostkreuz, Ostbahnhof, Alexanderplatz, Friedrichstrasse, and Hauptbahnhof.

My hotel was just off Alexanderplatz – I’d chosen it because the location was ‘central enough’, and it was just 5 minutes’ walk from the S-bahn and U-bahn stations at Alexanderplatz. It also turned out to have a number of restaurants nearby, plus handy shops around the station itself for lunchtime snacks and other practical things – there was a pharmacy there, for example. Finally, there are some touristy things on Alexanderplatz itself – the famous World Clock, for example. (And of course I remember the Alexanderplatz scenes in the film “The Bourne Supremacy”, for my money the best in that franchise.)

I spent three nights in Berlin, so I had the late afternoon and evening of the first day plus two complete days after that. Then on the final day I just went straight to the airport after breakfast as my flight was at about 12 noon. As for what I did, well mainly I just walked around, getting a feel for the city. I made a couple of visits to each of Potsdammerplatz and the Brandenburg Gate; I walked past the Reichstag several times, as well as visiting it (to be covered in a later post); from the Bandenburg Gate I walked all the way up Unter den Linden back to Alexanderplatz; I walked all along the Ku’dam; I walked along the river from Hauptbahnhof back to Alexanderplatz; I did a long walk down Karl-Marx-Allee looking at some remains of the DDR (again, to be covered in its own post); and on the last evening I explored the Nikolai Viertel quarter for a while. There’s lots I didn’t do – for example, I didn’t visit any museums or galleries. Partly this was because I just wanted to get a feel for the city, and partly because the weather was so good it seemed a shame not to be outside enjoying it. (See here for a blog about another visit to Berlin in less good weather!) So I do feel another visit coming on. Perhaps in the late autumn or early winter – less good weather and darker days would lead me naturally towards doing things indoors.

Finally, here’s a selection of images that I took during my wanders.

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