Originally from August 28, 2011
Here we are. The Contiki tour officially begins! And it started out with a bang. Every day the tour manager hangs up a “Day Sheet” so you know what’s going on.
After breakfast, we jumped on the coach bus and began with a driving tour of Berlin.
I instantly fell in love with the city. Everything from the architecture to the history to the locals was impressive. We knew right away this would be a city we’d have to come back to some day.
First stop was the Reichstag building, now an official government building. It was used by the Nazis for military propaganda and was slated to become a part of Hitler’s kingdom. After the war, it fell into disarray and later, when they rebuilt the roof, they made the dome open to visitors who can look below and see congress in session. The idea was that any decision the government now makes, the public will be watching from above. It was meant to be a powerful statement.
The bus tour continued, and we noticed that there are these pink pipes all over the city. They’re literally everywhere and they pump out ground water so the buildings don’t get swamped out. Our tour manager compared them to “The pipes from the Windows 95 screen saver”. LOL
Then we came up to the famous TV Tower. It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. It was built during the cold war by East Berlin to prove to the west that they were “more technologically advanced” than the west.
The west responded by building a giant shopping mall visible to the East to show off their flourishing free economy.
Then we jumped off the bus and met our local guide who would take us on a historical walking tour. He was a PhD student studying the effects on the youth after WWII and the Cold War. He was fantastic and full of great stories and information.
One of the funny stories he told us was about when John F. Kennedy came to Germany during the Cold War to make a speech in 1963 to show his support for West Berlin. In his speech, he said these words in German: “Ich bin ein Berliner”. It was intended to mean “Let them come to Berlin”, but because of his Boston accent, he ended up saying “I am a Berliner”…. A Berliner is actually a Jelly Donut, so the people thought it was very funny at the time.
This church is called the Berliner Dome… it was originally supposed to have just one dome, but it ended up having quite a few.
This is one of the museums next to the Berliner Dome. I wish we had more time to explore, there is a lot of art to see in Berlin.
The architect was good, but not great because he built the outside columns before he could move this giant bowl inside to the atrium. So it has remained outside ever since.
This is a pieta of an anonymous mother holding her son, a solder who was killed in battle. It was a tribute to mothers everywhere who lost their children to the wars.
Near the university is Babelplaz. This was the site of a massive book burning of any literature that wasn’t directly supportive of the Nazi regime. Now there is a monument there below the street at the spot that it happened. If you look down, you see empty book shelves where 20,000 volumes would fit.
It’s a powerful statement because you can see the reflection of the people looking down at it.
Our tour then led us in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate.
But first, a quick story about life in Berlin during the Cold War. Each side obviously had a quite different and distinctive way of life. But during those 28 years of the Berlin Wall, an entire generation was born and grew up to become adults.
In West Berlin, things changed with the advancement of technology, industry and freedom of speech. Even the street lights were modernized over time. But in the East, their pedestrian lights still looked like this:
When the wall came down in 1989, they went through and updated lots of things in the East. Including the street lights. That little green man was called “Ampelmann” and when he disappeared, people were kind of sad. They were, of course, happy the wall was down, but nostalgic about a life they didn’t have anymore. So they put Ample Man back and he’s now an icon in Berlin. They have souvenirs everywhere where you can get things with his image on them.
We collect Christmas ornaments when we travel, so we were excited to find some that represent an important time in history that has a somewhat nice story with it.
When the Berlin wall was up, it divided the city in half. Even the subway was stopped at the wall and the stations in between were cemented up and became “ghost stations”. The train still went through, but the doors didn’t open and an armed guard was watching the platforms as a show of force. We walked through it and it definitely had an eerie feel to it.
On a lighter note, right across from the Brandenburg gate was the Hotel Adlon.
This was made famous when Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony window (as demonstrated here by my travel gnome).
And finally, we arrived at the Brandenburg gate.
When the wall was up, the gate actually became a part of the wall. And there weren’t any other buildings around it. Now, there are a few embassies (including the United States).
Around the back, they even had a statue of the Berlin Bear dressed up as the Statue of Liberty! Cute!
Then we walked over to the Holocaust Memorial. This dark part of history now weighs heavy on the German people so they really wanted to create a memorial that would be large in size, significance and emotion.
I don’t think anyone has ever explained the exact description and explanation of it, they left it open to the interpretation of each person who sees it.
There is no right or wrong way to view it, but here is my understanding of it. Each one of these 2,000+ stones is exactly the same depth and width….
But when you view them at different angles, you realize that each one is a little different and has a unique height and angle.
I think it represents that even though groups of people look the same (or are classified a certain way), when you really look at it, they are each unique individuals with something different to offer. A statement that characteristics or groups such as Jews, Gays, Gypsies, etc do not solely define a person.
Directly below the monument is a Holocaust Museum dedicated to the victims. You can read about individual families, see their photos, read their stories and learn about their lives.
The ceiling represents all the stones above, as if to show that each of these individuals is unique and has story, a family, a home and a history. Above the ground you can see just the tip of who a person really was (the superficial appearance), but as you go deeper, you really can understand that who they were. It was very powerful.
The exhibits were simple in design, but incredibly complex in concept. It was one of the most powerful memorials we have ever seen.