So, time to get back to Berlin. WARNING – long post ahead!
We arrived fairly late in the afternoon on Thursday (4 April), so we couldn’t really do much then. Our apartment was about 15 minutes walk from the train station and turned out to be literally opposite the Naturkundemuseum (Natural History Museum):
That’s the view from our window. As you can see, there was also a construction site right outside, which we thought might be a bit annoying, but it turned out we couldn’t hear a thing – the windows were obviously excellent!
Our first act after dropping off our stuff was to go in search of a supermarket. There turned out to be a REWE just around the corner – perfect! After taking the shopping home, it was time to head out for a look at Berlin before it got dark. Here are some photos:
The River Spree
As you can see, the weather wasn’t brilliant (although it wasn’t raining or snowing), and after all that walking around we were freezing, so we headed to Hopfinger Bräu for some food. The one we went to was Am Palais and it was quite expensive (although the beer was good). There’s another one in the train station that I think might be a little better.
By the time we had eaten, it was dark, so Jan suggested heading back to the Brandenburg Gate to get some night shots.
And that was the end of Thursday. It had been a long journey up to Berlin and we were tired, so after taking the above photo I suggested we head back to the apartment and get some sleep.
On Friday, we woke up bright and early to eat a breakfast consisting of things we had bought from the supermarket the day before. Then we went in search of a tram that would take us to Hohenschönhausen.
Hohenschönhausen is a former Stasi prison in East Berlin that has now been opened up to the public after some extensive work to make it comply with health and safety (as the website points out, there tended not to be too many fire escapes in prisons!).
On the sign above you can see how the street looked back in the days when the prison was in use. The area that the prison is situated was claimed to be a military exclusion zone. Some people suspected that there might be a prison there but nobody knew for sure.
Most of the people who were held in the prison were people who had tried to leave East Berlin after the building of the wall, although there were political prisoners as well. Many of the prison were placed in there merely because of a suspicion that they might be against the regime, not necessarily because there was any evidence that they had done anything. As well as prison cells, the prison had interrogation rooms where prisoners could be taken for the purpose of forcing a confession out of them.
The hospital wing
Up until Stalin died, prisoners could be tortured. After that, they started to use more subtle methods.
Hohenschönhausen Prison is not the most cheerful place to visit, but it is most definitely worth it. Members of the public are only allowed in as part of a tour, and most of the guides are people who were actually imprisoned there. We took a tour in German, but on the way round I heard one of the other guides speaking English so tours in other languages are available. The times of tours are listed on their website, and if you are at all interested in history I would certainly recommend a visit.
After Hohenschönhausen, it was time to go back in to town and get something to find something to eat. On the way to the tram stop, I took some photos of blocks of flats that Jan told me were typical for East Germany.
If the buildings look like this you’re probably in the former GDR
After we’d eaten it was still fairly early so we decided to go to the Naturkunde Museum since it was close to the apartment (where we still needed to go back to pick up our tickets for that night).. It mostly contains a lot of dinosaur bones and some stuffed animals. There was also an exhibition on how the dead animals are prepared and stuffed, ready to go on display. A little gory but strangely fascinating. Unfortunately, they closed before we had a chance to head to the second floor, so I’ve no idea what would have been up there. But I didn’t mind because by it was time for us to go and see Eddie Izzard! I’ve already talked about how amazing he was, so I won’t go into detail here. Those who missed that post can go back and read it now.
For Saturday morning, we had an appointment to go inside the dome of the Reichstag building. It’s free to go up there, but you have to prebook so not too many people go up at once. Once up in the dome, you get great views of Berlin and the free audio guide does an excellent job of telling you exactly what you’re looking at, as well as giving some information about the Reichstag building itself. Here are a few photos of Berlin from above:
We had actually got out of the apartment earlier than we needed to, so before the Reichstag we went to look at the holocaust memorial (officially named the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe):
The concrete blocks gradually get bigger and bigger, with the highest being 15 feet 9 inches tall.
The grey sky and traces of snow on the ground gave the whole thing a bleak and gloomy atmosphere perfectly matched the seriousness of the topic it represents.
Underneath the memorial, there is an information centre/museum, which contains the names of all know Jewish Holocaust victims. Entrance to the information centre is free and it is well worth taking a look at.
Between the Reichstag building and the Brandenburg Gate is a memorial to the Roma Sinti who lost their lives during the Holocaust. We had passed it on the way to the Reichstag, so after our visit to the dome, we went back to look at the memorial. It consists of a pool in a small garden with the poem Auschwitz by Italian poet Santino Spinelli engraved around the rim of the pool, in German and in English.
Some of the writing round the edge of the pool
Our next stop was the Currywurst Museum – I needed a bit of light relief after all the politics and memorials!
I discovered where hotdogs got their name, so it was educational as well as fun
The Currywurst Museum is just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie, so after the silliness of sausages, it was back to the serious stuff. A quick photo of the checkpoint then in to the associated museum.
The museum gives some information about the division of Germany and the building of the wall then goes on to tell the stories of all the people who attempted to escape from East Berlin while it was part of the GDR. There is some excellent content and fascinating stories, but soooo much to read. They do have a few cool exhibits, including cars that were converted to allow people to hide in them and is is definitely worth a visit – especially if you’re interested in Cold War history – but be warned that the organisation is not the greatest and the museum can be a bit confusing. It was also incredibly full when we were there, which didn’t help, but there is certainly enough information to make it worth the visit (although at €12 per person it’s not the cheapest!).
By this time, I was all museumed out, so we set off for a walk, following the course of where the Berlin Wall used to be. In some places, there is a line of bricks set in to the pavement to show where the wall once stood.
The wall used to run right across this road
Our walk took us to Potsdamer Platz. Not all that long ago, this square was basically a big empty space. The Berlin Wall went right through the middle of it so for many years it was pretty much desolate. Once construction started, Potsdamer Platz became the biggest building site in Europe! Now, it looks like this:.
And that was basically the end of Saturday. We had decided to eat in on Sunday night, so as we were passing the train station we stopped at the supermarket there and bought the required ingredients. Then, after dropping the groceries off at home, we headed to Kreuzberg to attempt to play minigolf – we had tried to book early in the day but only got an answering machine. On arrival (after initially walking down Görlitzer Straße in the wrong direction then ending up wandering around the creepy park for a while!) we discovered that they had no room for us, so we made a reservation for Monday instead. Heading towards the Görlitzer Bahnhof, we walked past a restaurant with a man playing guitar inside so we decide to check it out. The restaurant, called Camba La Che, turned out to be Argentinian while the musician was Brazilian. One table was filled with a large group of what seemed to be the owner’s family, and the owner himself (at least I guess that’s who he was) looked old enough to already be retired! The service was a little slow, but the food was ridiculously cheap AND turned out to be delicious so we didn’t mind. It’s not like we had anywhere to be.
Sunday lived up to its name and presented us with beautiful blue skies. We had queue jumper tickets for the Neues Museum (New Museum) because I wanted to see the Egyptian exhibition, so the Museumsinsel (Museum Island) is where we headed first.
One of the museums on the island… and blue sky!
It was interesting, but I was pleased the third floor was closed for renovation. There’s only so much museum I can take!
The next place we wanted to go was near Häckescher Markt, so we decided to eat in that area too. From the book my dad had given Jan, we chose Lemke’s, where I finally had Currywurst. But you can read all about our food and drink experiences here.
The Brauhaus Lemke on Häckescher Markt (there’s another one somewhere as well) is located under some old railway arches, as you can just about tell from the above picture.
We ended up having to finish our beers in a bit of a rush because the public tour at the place we wanted to go next was starting soon. Next stop was the Otto Weidt Blindenwerkstatt (Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind), now a museum. In the 1930s and 40s Otto Weidt’s workshop for blind people produced brushes and brooms. He employed mostly Jewish people (many were sent there to do forced work) and when they started being rounded up and sent to concentration camps, he did his best to help them, even hiding one family in a room at the back of the workshop. The museum is in the original premises of the factory and you can actually go into the room that served as a hiding place. Entry is free of charge and the stories the museum tells are incredibly moving.
Leaving the workshop, we bumped into a guy from Chile who asked us what was in there then proceeded to strike up a conversation with us about whether or not Germans talk about politics. He was chatting to us for so long that Jan eventually suggest he walk with us to our next destination, which he duly did. The conversation ended up ranging from what we think should be done if it was discovered that the Holocaust 100% did not happen (reveal the truth or let people carry on believing in it) to why communism is a nice idea in theory but could never work in practice and even whether or not the upper classes believe they are superior to everyone else. Interesting but exhausting!
We finally made it to where we wanted to go… Bernauer Straße.
When Berlin was a divided city, the Wall ran right down this street. Many people fled to the West be jumping out of the windows of their apartments, until the authorities had them sealed up. Part of the wall here has been left as it was, and from a viewing platform you can see what it looked like.
As you can see on the photo, the Berlin Wall was actually two walls, divided by a strip of dirt. Inside that strip, dogs and armed guards patrolled the path, and in the areas surrounding the path there were mines. Anyone trying to cross to the West had to scale one wall, avoid guards, mines and dogs then somehow get over the second wall. It’s amazing that anybody ever managed it!
We finally managed to get rid of the Chilean when we headed back to our apartment for food (as interesting as the conversation was, 3 hours of it was enough!). After dinner, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the apartment had a bath tub. I’m not usually the type to soak in the bath for ages, but this time I did… and even took my glass of wine in with me. Bliss!
On Monday, we went to look at the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km long section of the Berlin Wall covered with works by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the East side of the wall following the opening of the border. I’m going to put the photos from that in a separate post, I think. We then headed to Kurfürstendamm, known locally as the Ku‘damm, which is one of Germany’s most famous avenues. It’s basically a huge shopping street in West Berlin, and we only went there so we could say we’d been properly into the West. Ku’damm is the epitome of everything I hate about big cities – large, ugly buildings, crowds and lots of cars. Brrr.
That evening, we finally managed to play blacklight minigolf, which you can read about here.
We had to be out of our apartment by 10 am on Tuesday so, as the train home wasn’t until around 1, we went to the Museum of Communication. No photos unfortunately because you weren’t allowed to take any, but there were some interactive things and LOADS of old communication equipment and information about different means of communication, such as Morse code. There was far too much for us to look at everything before we had to leave!
And that concludes our trip to Berlin. To end this post, here’s a photo of a Buddy Bear. There are lots of them standing all around Berlin, but unfortunately I barely managed to get any photos because almost every time I saw one either it was already dark or we were rushing to get somewhere. Boooo!