Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Berlin part 1

In the beginning I felt I could do our expat assignment with out visiting Germany. There are other glamourous countries and cities to see right. I also knew they were not to dog friendly unlike the French and Italians. Then I got an email about the Berlin Film Festival. Hmmmm, I could see famous people and get another photo of me on the red carpet (like the Cannes Film Fest) let’s go! So the end of January we booked the trip and arranged for Jim & Kate to watch Foxy. I checked out when the ticket were going on sale for the films on-line and we were off. (More on the film fest on the next blog entry)

So I was wrong again like when I wasn’t too excited to go to Paris and now I love Paris…How I really wanted to go to London and I got there and was disappointed and could car less if I go back. I really liked Berlin…I don’t know what to tell you about first the historical sites, the people or the city.

The city is like one big construction site, there is so much construction and remodeling going on it is crazy. The city landscape is either very very modern 85% of the buildings or the old cold war building that are square cement and being torn down. It is also very westernized…Starbucks, McDonalds, Dunken Donuts and more. In Brussels we only have McDonalds and the closest Starbucks is in Paris with the Gap or Achen Germany. I think I just needed a little taste of home with at European twist for right now.

They also have some unique stop lights - Ampelmännchen - (German: little traffic light man) is the symbolic person shown on pedestrian traffic lights at pedestrian crossings in the former GDR. The red Ampelmännchen extends his arms to signal "stop," and the green Ampelmännchen confidently strides ahead to signal "go."

Now I just found out that they are replacing the burnt out light with the standard cross walk lights. How boring!

The people are extremely nice, maybe the nicest people we have meet on our European travels. I can not express how nice and helpful they were. I felt really safe and for once o.k. to let people know we were Americans.

The sites and history…

Berliner Mauer “The Berlin Wall” - The 100-mile "Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart," as it was called by the East German government, was erected almost overnight in 1961 to stop the outward flow of people (3 million poured out between 1949 and 1961). The Wall, which was 13-feet high, had a 16-foot tank ditch, a no-man's-land that was 30 to 160 feet wide, and 300 sentry towers. During its 28 years there were 1,693 cases when border guards fired, 3,221 arrests, and 5,043 documented successful escapes (565 of these were East German guards).

There is a cobble stone outline on the ground all around the city were the wall once was.

The Wall came down on November 9, 1989. I don’t really remember it coming down due to the fact I was in college. I however remember buying my dad a piece of the wall at Dayton’s in Grand Forks, North Dakota for Christmas.

Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie
The Cold War years, especially the history and horror of the Berlin Wall, are engrossingly if haphazardly chronicled in this private museum. The best bits are about ingenious escapes to the West in hot-air balloons, tunnels, concealed compartments in cars and even a one-man submarine.

This was an interesting museum full of photos and stories of escapes. They even had the Disney movie showing called “night crossing” from 1982 about the Strelzyk and Wetzel families, who on September 16, 1979 escaped from East Germany to West Germany in a homemade hot air balloon. They even had there hot air balloon in the museum. I don’t remember the story on the news, however I due remember going to see the movie.

Brandenburg Gate -This colossal neo-classical arch, built in 1791, is the last survivor of 14 gates in Berlin's old city wall (this one led to the city of Brandenburg). The gate was the symbol of Prussian Berlin...and later the symbol of a divided Berlin. It's crowned by a majestic four-horse chariot with the Goddess of Peace at the reins. Napoleon took this statue to the Louvre in Paris in 1806. When the Prussians got it back, she was renamed the Goddess of Victory.

Humboldt University- which we just stumbled upon because they were having a outdoor book market. We purchased Das Grobe Buch der Heinzelmannchen or The rough book to the Heinzelmannchen (gnome) it describes the whole history of the gnomes in German but the pictures are priceless. So if you ever want to know anything about the size, weight or food they eat let me know and I will look it up in the book.

Famous people that studied at the University -Marx and Lenin, as did Grimm (both brothers), and more than two dozen Nobel Prize winners. Albert Einstein taught here until taking a spot at Princeton in 1932.

Kennedy Museum, which we just saw by accident by the Brandenburg Gate was a nice stop. When I was looking gat the photos while Joe was putting stuff in the lockers a man asked if he could take my picture while I was looking at the photos. He had one of those really nice camera (Karen you know the kind that doesn’t make sound when the picture is taken) with a huge lens How crazy is that?

Kennedy Museum-US president John F Kennedy of ' Ich bin ein Berliner ' fame is the focus of this intimate, nonpolitical exhibit set up like a walk-through family photo album. Besides pictures there are scribbled notes, JKF's crocodile-leather briefcase, Jackie's Persian lamb pillbox hat and a hilarious Superman comic book edition starring the president.

The new Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, consisting of more than 2,700 gravestone-like pillars, was completed in 2005 and stands behind the new embassy. An underground exhibition center studies the Nazi system of extermination, while humanizing the victims with vivid personal accounts. What you can't tell is there are people walking all around it is on a slant and the pillars get to be 12' tall in the middle.

Topographie des Terrors -Between 1933 and 1945, the central institutions responsible for the repressive and criminal policies of National Socialism were located on the terrain of the Topography of Terror. Here, in close proximity to the traditional government district, the Secret State Police, the SS leadership and the Reich Security Main Office set up their offices.

There is still a lot more to see that we didn’t get to.

To rap it up…I would recommend Berlin (not the best food, but I don’t like German food (Joe did) so I had Italian and French which is best left to them not the Germans) Disclamer – it does has history but it is very modern and artsy if your looking for old world Europe not the best city for architecture you need to go to Paris or Rome.

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