Palenque's Berlin Journal

Old Aug 11th, 2005, 08:20 AM
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Palenque's Berlin Journal

Berlin to me is one of the most fascinating cities in Europe right now; i try to go there every few years just to check up on the amazingly changing scene. And I'd love to hear what others thing and feel when going to Berlin. I know the city leaves some cold - in no way can it be compared to Paris, London, Rome, etc., other major world capitals - what was lost in WWII can never be recovered - not only in its physical desecrated from bombs but its spiritual decimation - pre-WWII Berlin was an extremely lively place where it seems anything goes. There were many foreigners who gravitated here, turning Berlin into a rival to Paris for its cultural and social scene. But what it is what's going on now - the whole place seems to be one massive construction site - that intrigues me - the chance to see a major world capital being re-created practically in one fell swoop. Whereas for decades during the Cold War Berlin was divided by The Wall and thus the development of the divided city center was stiffled, after the Wall fell, Berlin finally began to rebuild from war destruction, much like cities like Munich, Hamburg and Frankfurt had done years before. Until recently the area around the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and Potsdammer Platz still resembled a war zone -bare fields in what was one the heart of Berlin, for the Wall ran right thru this area. Now the building cranes are ubiquitous as not only has the Reichstag been rehabbed and topped with a marvelous glass domed top, a stunningly spiffy nearly all glass central train station nearby is nearing completion, the Holocaust Memorial has opened and Potsdammer Platz has risen from its ashes to once again become a focal point of Berlin.
But it's not only the new Berlin that grabs my attention, it's also its dark Nazi past that adds to its unique atmosphere - though many were decimated in WWII there are still plenty of grim Nazi-era edifices extant - the notorious Plotzensee (sp?) prison with its garrets and hooks where the Nazis gruesomely executed many, the Topography of Terrors, an exhibit on Nazi excesses in a former Gestapo headquarters, the former Luftwaffe headquarters and the Olympic Stadium, still used and modernized but where also the lingering images of Hitler presiding over the 1936 Olympics while Jessie Owens was helping to smash the myth of Arryan supremacy. And there's Hitler's bunker - at a sight never pointed out by tourist maps but somewhere in a field near the new Holocaust Memorial by the Brandenburg Gate. Though intact, the underground bunker where Hitler commited suicide in the final days of the war, there is a debate now on whether to preserve it or completely destroy it to prevent it becoming a rallying point for Neo-Nazis.
And then there's The Wall - tracking down its remains fascinates me. I had been in Berlin several times when the Wall starkly divided Berlin - to glimpse it provoked a weird feeling about people being walled in, speaking volumes about the bankruptcy of the 'peoples movement' of the Communists who ran the old DDR.
TO BE CONTINUED - again i'd love to have others enter what kind of feelings Berlin leaves with you!
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 08:51 AM
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PalQ, Great post. I will be traveling to Hamburg and Berlin next month so I am very interested in your insights as well as others. I will be going to areas of Berlin that were once cut off by the wall. Looking forward to see the differences.

My father was a bombadier in WWII who was shot down over Hamburg and remained in a POW camp until liberated. As I travel through the area I will have a different outlook, trying to feel his experience in as much as I can.

Keep your thoughts and experiences coming!!!

Thanks. Gail

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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 09:58 AM
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THE WALL
Remnants of the grim wall that once girdled West Berlin to keep the Ossies from escaping to the more prosperous west are hard to find but well worth ferreting out. I had the misfortune to actually pass thru the wall several times in communist days - passing into the DDR (Deutsche Demokratic Republic) which was anything but democratic, was always a memorable experience, and on one occasion a nightmare. We had gotten off the S-Bahn at Friederichstrasse station, one of the few entry points to East Berlin and when reached passport control were each, two of us, individually whisked into separate small rooms with the proverbial bright lights intensely shining down - every little thing in my daypack was strewn over a table and inspected - looking for anything subversive - though i had nothing to hide it was an unnerving experience - welcome to the Deutsche Demokratic Republic! Friederichstrasse station was dubbed the Palace of Tears because so many tearful goodbyes were said here from Ossies (Easterners) as their western friends or family returned to the west. Today when passing thru the refurbished station i inevitably reflect back on what a terrible place it once was.
Anyway to see the wall today...
The best place is the EAST SIDE GALLERY, an about one-mile stretch of intact wall along the Spree River near the Ost Bahnhof train station. All the about ten-foot high cement panels of the wall here have been decorated by artists - the bright murals often have a political bent - reminescent of the murals westerns used to paint on their side of the wall poking fun at the DDR. At places you can go thru the wall and in the strip between it and the river there are a variety of unique enterprises popping up - a sandy beach, cafes, wall-themed souvenir stands, etc., all with a Bohemian flare.
BERNAUER STRASSE is another place to feel the wall, which once ran along the street. This was where many escapes were attempted - some successful and others fatal attempts to flee the DDR. There were tunnels and people who jumped out of buildings facing the wall into nets westerners had put up. finally the DDR officials tore down all the buildings facing the wall and this no-man's land still exists in part though it's being filled up fast. An interesting church here, can't recall its name, was demolished and its few surviving stones have been fashioned into a modelof what it once looked like. There is a Wall Museum here that documents the wall.
Other fragments of the wall are at Checkpoint Charlie - really just a few panels that are subject to being removed in a flap with the museum owner. If you want to see the wall in its most forbidding original state, head to the East Side Gallery (always open, free).
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 10:55 AM
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For me, Berlin means Berliners! The history, the sights, the vastness of the city are all important. But any visit to Berlin that doesn't also include lots of interaction with the residents feels incomplete.

I love their humor, their sophistication, their energy, their quick wit. Berlin survived all the tragedy and horror of the 20th century only because of the energy and creativity of its citizens. They even had the good sense to dislike Hitler, even at the height of his power -- something of which he was well aware, and a prime reason he stayed far away from the place during most of his insane reign.

And we can't forget it was Berliners who ripped the wall down, and started the 'wende' that continues to transform the place.

Fritzrl
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 11:06 AM
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Ich ein bein Berliner! A probably misspelled and mangled JFK quote saying, at the time when the wall was fairly news, that we are all Berliners -when it actuality he was saying we are all Berliners - the jelly-filled donut! I agree Berliners have my respect and, the older ones, my condolenses for what they went through.
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 11:16 AM
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Too much praise for the Berliners IMO. In (East) Germany Leipzig is considered to be the city where the peaceful change started in 1989. The (East) Berliners contributed the least part.
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 12:17 PM
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Ingo, my friend.

If I praise Berliners the most, it's because I know them the best.

But I look forward to many future trips to Dresden -- where, on my first and only visit earlier this year, I met many energetic, hard-working and kind Germans, as well. In fact, with a single exception (a train conductor who was far too stern, I thought), my experience with all Germans (eastern and western) has been completely positive and memorable.

And thanks, too, for the reminder that it was not *only* Berliners who kicked off the events that have changed Germany and Europe dramatically. There were, I'm sure, huge risks taken by many eastern Germans in the months before the wall cracked that made that final moment possible.

Fritzrl
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 12:22 PM
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THE SOVIET WAR MEMORIAL
I had read about the Soviet War Memorial but had never got out to see it. Finally in 2003, during the sweltering heat wave that summer, i set out to track it down - a task that proved exceedingly frustrating. I knew it was in or near Treptower Park, on the Spree (i think) or some major river. So i took the S-Bahn to Treptower Park station and walked what seemed like miles thru the park, but no Svoiet Denkmal, or whatever the word in German for memorial is. I stopped at one park pub for a beer and there was a crude map with the 'Denkmal' on it so i headed that way but saw nothing but a weedy field with some kind of ruined relics of buildings in it - but after trekking thru the weeds found nothing and returned to the park proper. Finally, heading back to the S-Bahn station on the verge of giving up- i had a night train to catch - i saw a sign saying something about a Sowietsche something so headed that way and finally this immense stone monument appeared - there was no one else there - it's not on many tourists' itineraries i guess and the Berliners don't seem to flock here to pay homage either. Parts of the monument were weed-covered, but the whole thing apparently was undergoing restoration - stones being relaid, lawns redone, to put it back in order. My theory was that under the DDR this monument was probably on every tour bus itinerary and was famous, but since the fall of the wall was probably neglected. Anyway the memorial is monument and a well deserved tribute to the Soviet Army who liberated Berlin, and not only that, was responsible for feeding Berliners in the days after liberation (this from a Berliner who lived thru the period, she credited the Soviets with preventing mass starvation here in the months following the war's end. In any case Soviet Army suffered huge casualties and even those the entry of the Red Army into Berlin was no cause for celebration in terms of its long aftermath effects, was crucial in defeating the Nazis.
so i wouldn't put this sight at the top of my list if it were my first time or two in Berlin but i found it fascinating. the memorial supposedly is built out of rubble taken from Hitler's Chancellory.
(This is not a research project - i may have a few facts or spellings wrong - it's more of a journal of impressions.)
NEXT-CHECKPOINT CHARLIE!
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 12:49 PM
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how interesting. i will be on my first visit to berlin soon .

keep it coming PalQ!
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 12:50 PM
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Hello Fritzrl, my friend!

I am so glad you liked Dresden and hope you'll be back one day. Your trip report was so great!

Train conductors can be a pain, indeed. They have a difficult job to do.

I also made the experience that you like the people most who you know best.

I.
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 01:04 PM
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I've been to Dresden three times - most recently last Sep and the whole city seems to be under reconstruction, at least the train station/shopping preceints. And what a lovely city it must have been beware that 'Mad' bomber Bob or whatever the UK military wank in charge of leveling the city, even though it supposedly had little military importance and was packed with refugees - the accusation being it was in retaliation for carpet bombing of Coventry. Anyway the 'Florence on the Elbe' will once again shine, in fact is shining on its riverfront. I also took the train from Dresden to Bad Schandau, going thru 'Saxon Switzerland,' a beautiful stretch of the Elbe that is sorely underpublicized in guide books and on forums like this. Dresdeners - no one suffered more from bombs than they. Like a Phoenix the city is rising from its ashes!
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 01:17 PM
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I also find Berlin one of the most interesting cities in Europe. I'm sure I've said before on this forum what an underrated city I think it is.
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 02:20 PM
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Hi
Thanks for your excellent postings on berlin and Dresden. We will be visiting there in late September and you've givien me some insight on out of the way sights. I'm sorry though, I can't get up any forgiveness or condolences for the older Germans. My Father also fought in WW2, during the Battle of the Bulge. He remained after the War questioning german pows to find SS troopers. They killed 6 million of my co religionists and many millions more. The Russians gave them back only some of what was deserved. I only wish that when I go, I could spit on hitlers gravesite.
But thanks for the insight.
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Old Aug 11th, 2005, 07:22 PM
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aeiger: you raise ponderable points. The old question are the older Germans collectively responsible for the Holocaust - did they actually know what was going on? (In contemporary terms one might say are Americans or Brits collectively accountable for the war in Iraq, if it were an unjustifiable illegal war that resulted in hundreds of thousand innocent Iraqui deaths?) I tend to agree with you - that all older Germans should bear a collective guilt for the truly heinous crimes committed in the name of the German people. That folks didn't know what was going on i don't buy - they saw Jewish Germans rounded up and disappear - knew that co-workers suddenly vanished - they had to. And Hitler after all was elected democratically as Prime Minister. The new Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth Corps - apparently it was something that was forced on teens - to not go would be a traitor and probably also sent off on a train to the east. Should he bear the guilt - most certainly so. Can we also pity the poor Berliner who it seems may well have been all too quietly opposed to the Hitler regime and still suffered tremendously from the hells of war? Most certainly so. Anyway Berlin because of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust and the ensuing division of Germany, literally by the Wall, makes Berlin today an even more itriguing place - with relics of this awful past standing as sobering testimony to the barbarism perpetrated by an 'advanced educated civilization' just some 60-70 years ago. One has to ponder, if the conditions were ripe, could it not happen again?
Oh well enough blabering, back to the sights!
NEXT CHECKPOINT CHARLIE!
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Old Aug 12th, 2005, 12:18 AM
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PalQ: I wholeheartedly agree that Berlin is vibrant, exciting, and very different from Paris, London, and Rome and I, for one, am very glad that it IS different from the others mentioned.

My feeling when we first visited several years ago was that Berlin is a city that is trying to get as far away from the past as fast as it possibly can. I am most disappointed that many folks who go there think they have to stay in Mitte and that is the only section of the city worth seeing.

Glad you have enjoyed your visit there.
Assume you explored the U-Bahn/S-Bahn network to the max.
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Old Aug 12th, 2005, 03:47 AM
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Thanks for starting a great thread Pal Q. I am also a fan of Berlin and making my fifth visit next September. I'm not sure why but I tend not to focus on the city through its Nazi's past or Cold War perspective except for my visit to Checkpoint Charlie. I am actually clamoring for the new and the renovated/reincarnated old Berlin which I enjoy tremendously.

I have to admit that I can't find any enjoyment in visiting the Holocaust monuments in Germany so I have avoided them so far, but on our next trip we are planning to visit the 2700 tombstone warning monument(Mahnmal} which opened last May in downtown Berlin.

I'd like to find out any other great places/neighborhoods to visit even beyond the Mitte & Charlottenburg if "Intrepid 1" or anyone else cares to share info (beyond the obvious monuments). I prefer to see fun places where the locals hang out, interesting/ethnic neighborhoods (eg.russian, turkish), watch thought provoking plays.

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Old Aug 12th, 2005, 09:55 AM
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THE S- AND U-BAHN: Intrepid talks of the S-Bahn and U-Bahn network - we have the same train of thought on how marvelous this system is, and how useful it is to get around Berlin. The S-Bahn (Stadt-Bahn i believe) runs mainly above ground and is run by the German railways, or was, these things are being sold off by DB, and thus railpasses are valid on it - and were last Sept when i used it extensively with my Eurailpass. (No ticket machines to go thru, just get on - you may inquire before to make sure passes are still valid - of course on a flexipass you must be using a day of travel.) U-Bahns, or the Underground, is run by the city.
Got to trot - will continue this 'train of thought' later.


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Old Aug 12th, 2005, 01:02 PM
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thus railpasses not valid on U-Bahns.
SIGHTSEEING BY S-BAHN
A main S-Bahn line runs right through the heart of Berlin - and being on elevated tracks yields a great view of many major landmarks - the best part goes from the Zoo station, heading east, passing by the Zoo, sprawling Tiergarten park, then thru Berlin's gleaming new main train station, under construction but the S-Bahn platforms are open, and the Reichstag with its new glass crown, and by the Brandenburg Gate and over the Spree River, where the wall once ran, thru Friederichstrasse station (the 'Palace of Tears' in DDR days) and on thru East Berlin to Alexanderplatz - a sprawling square that is the heart of DDR's East Berlin - once nearly all concrete, it now has been greened up with plants and grass - here is the 368-metre-hig high TV tower, once the showpiece of East Berlin and on thru grimier areas of East Berlin, near the OstBahnhof skirting the East Side Gallery and then along main railyards full of the ugly detritus of DDR - blighted shuttered industries. Some of the stations here are especially dingy - little changed from DDR days - Ostkreuz, a major interchange station, is especially depressing.
The S-Bahn at night at the Zoo station anyway can be a bit unnerving - police with dogs patrolling the sometimes suspect crowd of skinheads, punks and rough looking types that flock to the platforms later in the evening. I've never seen any violence but the threat must be real to have such a police presence.
When Berlin was divided East Berlin ran the S-Bahn, even the lines that went thru West Berlin and the West ran the U-Bahn (not totally sure about the latter) and West Berliners largely boycotted the S-Bahn in the West because of DDR control - the East nevertheless ran the system as a way of asserting their rights in the west i guess. Under the DDR the S-Bahn had antique cars with harsh wooden seats - though a few of these may still be running they are quickly being replaced by modern rolling stock. The whole S-Bahn line between Zoo and Ostbahnhof was totally redone a few years ago - it was closed for about a year i think - so the system is spiffy.
TRANSIT PASSES - Day or longer transit passes can be a great bargain if riding just a few times - especially so on weekends. Recently in the Zoo station hotel-booking office i saw the clerk trying to explain to a group of five Japanese girls that instead of buying individual tickets to ride to their hotel they could instead by a pass good for all five for the whole weekend on S-Bahns, U-Bahns and buses for less than it would cost to buy five single tickets. Unfortunately the Japanese girls could barely understand the clerk, who was speaking good English and never got the point. So investigate passes, especially on weekends. Tickets and passes can easily by bought from quai-side ticket machines.
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Old Aug 12th, 2005, 02:02 PM
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Though S-Bahn is great for seeing the lay of Berlin, Bus #100 circulates from the Zoo station and passes by many major sights in former East Berlin, including Museum Island.
COMING UP:
Peacock Island
Potsdam
Tachilles
Jewish Memorial
Holocaust Museum
Reichstag
Wannssee
Lubenow and area weird boat rides
and more
and i'd love to keep hearing about what others find great about Berlin (or not so great!)
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Old Aug 12th, 2005, 02:29 PM
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Hi
Very good posting. I just wanted to add that I just read that Dresden is going to be the 2006 Cultural city of the year. That's a gooid enough reason to go this year before the rates and prices are raised.
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