More Berlin History.....

Trip Start Aug 22, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2011

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

11 Sept. 13 – Tuesday

I slept in somewhat this morning and didn't start getting organized until after 07:00. The breakfast room was busy as usual and I ended up sitting at a table with a University Professor for Valparaiso, Indiana (he was travelling with his German History class). The owner of the Hotel was there this morning (the one shown in the Rick Steves video) and I had a nice visit with him.

I headed for Zoo station at about 11:00.  It was a beautiful sunny fall day and I was treated to the smell of freshly baked bread as I neared the station.  I couldn't see any Bakeries, so not sure where it was originating from?  I’m now starting to understand the transportation system here somewhat better, so it wasn’t too much of a problem to work out the route to the Topography of Terror Museum.  It involved a short trip on the S-Bahn and then a transfer to the U-Bahn.

The nearest Metro station to the Museum is near Checkpoint Charlie and once again it was a total "zoo" when I walked past there.  The tour Buses were non-stop and numerous people were having their photos taken with the actors in MP uniforms.  I wasn't too interested in lingering in the area and watching this spectacle.   I'd remembered the location of the Museum from my walking tour, so found it easily.

I started my tour by walking through the covered area outside, where the foundations of the former Gestapo building once stood.  There were plaques along the entire length of the display, describing the rise of the Nazi party and the other events which transpired.  I didn’t spend much time in that area, as there were a lot of people and it was difficult to get close to the plaques to read the inscriptions.

The Museum was free, which is always nice.  It’s very new and modern and even opening and closing the windows is computer controlled.  I asked about photos and was told these weren’t allowed due to "copyright issues".  I started the tour by watching a short movie, which the girl at the front desk had to set up on the computer to play in English.  Following the movie, I walked through the various exhibits, which consisted of photos and descriptions of the various groups that were persecuted by the Nazi’s and the sequence of events from the 1930’s.  The atmosphere was somewhat subdued, with people speaking quietly.  There appeared to be some school  and tour groups there, with Teachers and Guides providing a quiet narration.  While I was touring the Museum I noticed a number of people taking photos with small Cameras but nobody seemed to be enforcing the rules.

I had to rest my back prior to leaving the Museum so decided this would be a good time to stop for lunch.  I wanted to take a closer look at the Wall and get some photos, and there was a young couple also getting photos of the Wall with a small Canon DSLR.  They asked me to take a photo of them, but at first there was a bit of a “language issue” so I wasn't sure what they were asking.  I asked them what language they spoke and when they said “Italian” the problem was solved.  I'm not fluent but can manage "simple" conversations, and once again I switched very easily to Italian.  As it turned out, the guy was from Palermo and the girl from Sicily (both places I'd like to visit in the future).

Unfortunately there was a delay in getting the photo as another group of about eight were taking numerous photos of themselves, and they kept getting in our field of view.  They could definitely see that they were repeatedly interfering with our photos, but they didn’t seem to care.  After a few minutes of this, I was getting quite annoyed was close to either standing in their field of view, or saying to them “how many f@#king photos do you people need”.  Eventually the inconsiderate group left and we got the photo.  The young couple offered to also take a photo of me standing next to the wall.  Unfortunately I can't post it here as I'm not able to process photos taken with my DSLR until I get home.

On the way to the restaurant, I walked past several street merchants selling replicas of old Soviet military uniforms and other memorabilia.  A few people seemed to be looking, but not many appeared to be buying.  I eventually arrived at McDonalds which is where I'd decided to have lunch on this occasion (one can't travel far in Europe without encountering the ubiquitous McDonalds outlets).  That might sound like an odd choice in Germany as there are so many better options, but there was a reason I chose that today.  The McDonalds in that area is located right across from Checkpoint Charlie, and watching the "zoo" during lunch would provide some entertainment.

After lunch I took the Metro back a few stops to Friedrichstrasse and walked to the Deutsches History Museum.  Again, I remembered the approximate location from the walking tour. The Museum is located near Humboldt University and is quite large.  It covers German history in several segments from about 700 AD and forward.  I moved through the early parts fairly quickly, but spent more time in the 1914-1918 and 1930-1945 sections.  I also took a fairly quick look at the post-war sections and the Soviet era.  The displays at the end included both a Trabi and a Volkswagen.

At this point I assumed that I had seen the entire Musuem, but I decided to explore another part of that was across a large covered Courtyard.  As it turned out there was a large (temporary) photography display on display there, covering more modern history such as the collapse of the Soviet era and the subsequent wars in the former Yugoslavia.  For someone interested in photography, it was incredibly lucky that I happened to be Berlin when this display was on.  I thought the photos were excellent!

At the end of my Museum tour, it was after 16:00 so I decided that was enough for one day.  I walked out in front and found a stop for the #100 Bus and used that to get back to Bahnhof Zoo.  When I got back to the Hotel, although I was tired I decided to stop at Dicke Wirtin’s for a pint of Guinness.  They had a nice selection of vintage 80’s rock playing this afternoon.  With the sunshine gently streaming in from outside it was such a pleasant and relaxingatmosphere that I decided to have two pints.  After that it was back to the Hotel for a much needed rest!

I got moving again about 19:00 and went out to find some dinner.  The restaurant Mary Y Sole that I thought was Greek is in fact a Spanish Tapas place so I didn’t stop there.  Instead I turned left at the corner and discovered an entire small neighborhood of restaurants, including several serving Italian food.  I found the dining experience at the Italian restaurant I chose to be somewhat mediocre at best.  The food was satisfactory and the service reasonably quick, but it was very impersonal and business-like.  None of the staff were smiling and I had the impression they didn’t want to be there.  Needless to say, I won’t be returning.  I should have clued in, as there were a LOT of people at the other restaurant next door, and only a few dining at the place I visited.

I was fortunate that I walked in that direction tonight, as I also discovered that the entrance to the Savignyplatz S-Bahn station (where I had arrived a few days ago) is right there.  It will be considerably easier to walk there with my Backpacks on Thursday morning rather than the longer distance to Bahnhof Zoo.  On the way back to the Hotel I got some night photos and then stopped at Schwarze’s Café for a take-out Coffee.  They were busy as usual.

As I was crossing the outdoor patio back to my room, I again encountered the three people I’d been speaking to the night before.  They were sampling another box of red wine, and said they had also been on the #100 Bus and had seen me (they were on the top deck so I hadn't seen them).  I stopped for half an hour or so and had a visit with them and at about 22:00 we all decided that was enough for one day.

11 Sept. 14 – Wednesday

The breakfast room at the Hotel was busy as usual, but I found an empty corner on one table.    I started chatting with a young couple from Texas, and they said they’re heading for Bacharach tomorrow, and staying in Pension Lettie.  I gave them a lot of information based on my visit there last year, and told them to make sure they have Lettie’s Waffles for breakfast.  The Hotel Clerk was quite impressed with the detailed information I was able to provide!

At about 09:30 I made the now familiar walk to Bahnhof Zoo.  I stopped at one of the small shops and got some Mentos as my supply was running low.  That proved to be a good decision, as that’s all I had for lunch.  I met the Guide, a young lad named Mike from New Zealand, and paid for the Third Reich tour.  When the tour began, the group all moved around the corner at which point severe wind gusts started.  The gusts picked-up dust from local construction sites and that was swirling through the air.  At this point I was wondering if I should have packed my Umbrella.  Even this early in the tour, my back was already starting to cause me some problems.

The Guide pointed out the remains of a historic Church that is behind scaffolding and another concrete block building next to it that is also a Church.  The historic Church was heavily damaged by allied bombs in WW-II and reportedly a former British Bomber Pilot (who may have bombed this Church) has been instrumental in raising funds to repair the historic building.

The tour group took the #100 Bus to our first stop. We boarded the Bus and everyone was instructed to sit on the top deck while the Guide went down to buy tickets for all those that needed them.  Our first stop was the Reichstag and then we moved to a small coffee shop across the street which had an outdoor patio.  The Guide explained the history of the origins of the Third Reich and the methods they used to eliminate all opposition and seize power.

One point that I found very interesting is the fact that Hitler accomplished this in the short space of only 23 weeks, and the country went from a multi-party system to only one party in that time!  The other political parties either dissolved themselves or “got out of Dodge” as they could see what was coming.

The fire at the Reichstag in 1933 was a very “convenient event”, as that provided the justification for Hitler to go to the 80 year old Emperor, and ask that emergency judicial powers be given to the Nazi’s so they could take care of the Communists and others supposedly threatening the country.  A Communist activist was eventually charged with setting the fire (simultaneously in several locations - the credibility didn’t seem to matter in this case) and he was quickly executed.  One interesting point is that Goering had a home directly across the street, which was connected to the Reichstag by tunnels.  At the time of the fire Hitler was being entertained in the private bunker of Goebbels, which was just down the street.  It’s long been suspected that several members of the SA (Paramilitary Brownshirts) used the tunnels to access the Reichstag and set the fires but of course that can never be proved.  The SA were eventually eliminated in 1934 in the Night of the Long Knives (so called as they were “stabbed in the back” by the Nazi’s whom they had once served).  They were replaced by the SS (Schutz-Staffel) who were fiercely loyal to Hitler and the Nazi ideology.  The Guide illustrated the points he was speaking about, using a large book with photographs of the time as well as some other items.

The Guide also talked about the financial situation in Germany at that time.  At one point, one U.S. dollar was worth about 8 Reichmarks, however this worsened to the point where one U.S. dollar was worth ten trillion Reichmarks!  The attached photos show some of the Bank Notes of that time and some postage stamps that are worth over one million Reichmarks.  A Wheelbarrow of money was needed to buy a loaf of bread, and the wheelbarrow itself was worth more than the money in it.  This situation helped to create the ideal conditions for the takeover of the government, as the Nazi’s promised to improve the economy and the unemployment situation.

The tour then passed through a large park and we were told that an 800-metre underground highway still lies under our feet.  This was built by the Nazi’s as part of their grandiose plan to create a new and spectacular empire called “Germania”.  The underground freeway and also the inside of the Humboldthain Air Defence Tower (Flak Tower) can be toured with the Berlin Underground Association, but unfortunately I won’t have time on this trip.  The Guide told a humorous story about his first visit to that Park a number of years ago.  As he was walking along one of the paths, a naked man burst from the underbrush.  He was chasing his Dog at the time, and the Guide indicated that the Dog appeared to have a look of fear on his face.  This type of event apparently occurs at times, as nudists use that park in the warm weather.  The Guide mentioned that “it’s always the wrong people that decide to practice nudism”).

One of the next sites we covered was the Soviet War Memorial, which has a pair of Artillery pieces and two T-34 Tanks in front.  In true Soviet fashion, this was a large and imposing structure, designed as much for propaganda purposes as for a memorial. We were told about some of the “discrepancies” in some of the Soviet photographs.  For example, there was one story about a Soviet soldier who rescued a baby from the arms of his dying mother, and delivered it to an orphanage.  When the “official photo” was released, it showed this same soldier not only holding the baby but also swinging a Sabre to “dispatch” a Nazi as well as grinding a Swastika flag into the dust with his boot (all at the same time).

We were also told that some of the photos showing Soviet airplanes flying over the Reichstag in April 1945 were actually “modified”, and the airplanes were painted-in.  However that didn’t stop a number of Soviet Pilots from coming forward and saying “I was flying that plane in the photo”.  One more item that was mentioned was the photo of a Soviet soldier with two Wristwatches.  He had obviously taken one from a dead enemy soldier, and this type of activity was frowned upon by the Soviets as they liked to present the image of a just and honest people.  Stealing Wristwatches was not to be “officially” seen, so the photo was “modified” (a time-consuming task in the days before PhotoShop).

We also visited the location of the Opera House, which was once the location of the offices of “Euthanasia”, where they processed those who were going to be disposed of.  They started with forced sterilization of some groups, but this quickly progressed to elimination of the mentally and physically handicapped (and then others such as Gypsies and political opponents).

We also visited the outdoor displays at the Topography of Terror Museum (which I visited yesterday) and it was great to be there with a Guide this time as it really made the history so much more interesting and meaningful.  He again talked about the “Wild Camps” which were created by using old offices, warehouses or factories to hold their political opponents, before the Concentration Camps were built.  The “Wild Camps” were only used for a short time.

One of the most significant sites we visited was the Bendler Block which is where the offices of Count von Staffenberg were located, and where he and several others were executed by firing squad after the failed 20 July assassination attempt.  This was portrayed in the recent movie Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise.  After the war the conspirators were thought of as traitors, but this has all changed now and they’re revered as heroes of Germany.  The building now houses the Museum of Resistance, and is located on StauffenbergStrasse.  The building seemed to have a somewhat “institutional smell” when I first entered, but this seemed less prevalent on the upper floors.  It was somewhat eerie to stand in von Stauffenberg’s office where the assassination plot was planned, looking at photos of him and the other conspirators.  That part of the visit ended in the Courtyard where the executions took place.

The final stop on the tour was the site of the former FuhrerBunker, which I had visited on the other walking tour a few days ago.  Mike provided slightly different detail than the other Guide had, and he mentioned that Eva Braun had actually been buried at the very tip of South America.  The tour finally ended just after 16:00 and I was definitely ready for a rest and some food, as the Guide didn’t allow any time for lunch.  I felt that it was an excellent tour and well worth the small fee of €10 (Senior’s rate).  The Guide spoke continuously for almost the entire tour, and provided an enormous amount of historical information (more than I can possibly remember).

I took the #200 Bus back to the Hotel and decided to have a short rest.  I got up at about 17:00 and by that point was ready for dinner.  I decided to try the San Marino restaurant that I had passed by the previous night.  It was an excellent meal!  The Server was somewhat “reserved” but was attentive and friendly.  He always seemed to know when I needed something, and showed up at the appropriate time.  Now I know why the place was so busy the previous night, and by the time I was finishing my dinner it was starting to fill up again.

I made a stop at the Savignyplatz S-Bahn station to get some idea on the layout.  I decided to buy a ticket for my trip to the Hauptbanhof in the morning.  I had thought about “taking a chance” and just using my rail ticket, but I had been speaking with a lady earlier in the day who mentioned that she and her husband had their tickets checked yesterday so I didn’t want to take any chances.  Having to take care of a hefty fine and missing my train to Prague would NOT be a good start to the day!

I picked up a Coffee at Schwarze’s Cafe and went back to the room to update my records.  I’ll need some time to try and once again fit everything into my Pack, so that’s another reason I wanted to get back to the Hotel early.
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