Completing the Puzzle in Berlin

Trip Start Dec 12, 2010
Trip End Dec 16, 2012

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Flag of Germany  ,
Monday, March 25, 2013

As thirty one year olds, we were born in the early 80's. Ah the 80’s, a time of great retro music, royal weddings, a nuclear disaster, and the fall of the Berlin wall. Then came the 90’s, the decade where we grew into teenagers. The decade of music like MC Hammer, Michael Jackson, and New Kids on the Block. The 90’s also saw massive changes in the world. The Gulf War occurred, Princess Diana died, but most importantly the iron curtain of communism in Eastern Europe came down. We lived through the 80’s and 90’s, but a lot of what was happening in the world didn’t really matter to us as kids. We didn’t know much about communism in Eastern Europe. That was until we grew up and travelled the world, and made Eastern Europe one of our must see destinations on our journey. After visiting all the countries of Eastern Europe, the whole communist history was still puzzling. That is until we visited Berlin in Germany. It was here where we were able to complete the puzzle.

Heading to Berlin, we had visited the countries of the former Soviet Union. We had been to museums that focused on life during the soviet times, the horrible regimes of Stalin and Lenin, and the suffering people went through during the communist era. But it was when we went to Berlin, that we realised the East Germans were in the same boat as all of their fellow communist citizens. It was in Berlin where we were able to understand where the Berlin Wall stood, and why it stood. But most importantly, we learnt why the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the bringing down of the communism.

When we first arrived in Berlin, we headed to Alexander Platz, where we took pictures of the famous world clock, and grabbed a quick curry wurtz for a snack. We then took a self-guided walking tour of Karl Marx Allee, a famous street in East Berlin. But to get you on the same page, we must explain, that after World War II, Germany had lost the war and was in shambles. The big powers of the war took it upon themselves to break up Germany into East Germany and West Germany. The USSR would control East Germany, and West Germany would go to the USA, France, and the British. The problem was that everyone wanted Berlin, so to solve this, Berlin was split into East and West.

East Germany established themselves as the German Democratic Republic. Even though they called themselves 'democratic’, they took on a soviet communist regime. People were given jobs, apartments and guidelines to live by.

As we walked down Karl Marx Allee, we could see the soviet apartment buildings, we checked out the GDR cinema, cafes, and other communist features. We saw where the Stalin statue use to stand, and we read info about life in the GDR. This was East Germany, but surprisingly to us, this was just like soviet Russia, and in some ways even worse.

The next day, we came face to face with more reality of life in the GDR. We visited the Tranenplast museum, a museum focusing on the border between East and West Berlin. Yes, a border existed and people had to apply to travel between East and West Berlin. At this museum our fears were that the GDR was just like communist USSR, but believe it or not, it was even worse. As life in the GDR got more oppressive, and its citizens tried to escape to West Germany, communism reared its ugly head. The GDR government wanted to stop people escaping, so within 56 hours Soviet and GRD soldiers built a 160km long wall around West Berlin. After this, it was official, East Germans were blocked out of the Western world and were confined to the world of communism, of oppression, and of a doomed reality.

We were only half way through our time in Berlin and the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. We had so many questions about World War II, the Nazis, and the Berlin Wall. We were hoping to get a better understanding here. We then went off on a free three and a half hour walking tour of Berlin. On this tour, we saw all the sights, took lots of photos, but most importantly the ‘iron curtain’ puzzle was completed.

We learnt how Hitler came to power, through pure manipulation, and then inevitably turned Germany into a dictatorship. We knew the result of what Hitler’s regime did to the world, the loss of millions of lives, that’s what. We saw the abstract Memorial to the Murdered Jews, and even saw where Hitler’s bunker used to be. We saw the spot where Hitler and the Nazis ordered the burning of 20,000 different books as they were labelled illegal (written by Jews, homosexuals etc.), and we saw the bullet holes and shrapnel marks of WWII on Brandenburg Gate.

But it was the Berlin Wall that really started to complete the puzzle of the Iron Curtain for us. We started the tour at the Brandenburg Gate which was on the East Berlin side of the wall. We then saw segments of the wall that still stand, and heard stories of East Germans trying to escape over the wall. To do this they would have to face barbed wire, razor wire, and soviet guards in the death strip before they reached the wall, which they had to try climb over, and in most cases ended up dead. We visited the site of Checkpoint Charlie, a checkpoint which was manned by the US on the West Berlin side. This was the site when in 1961, US and Soviet tanks had a face off for 17 hrs. This was the height of the Cold War’. Ahhh haaa, pieces of the puzzle were definitely coming together Berlin.

Berlin was a very historical city, and we really enjoyed seeing all the beautiful buildings, but it was at the end of the walking tour that our Iron Curtain puzzle was completed. Our tour guide told us about the fall of communism in Poland, and protests in Hungry. Then we learned of protests in East German cities such as Leipzig. These protests lead to protests in East Berlin, which in the past had failed, and eventually lead to the building of the Berlin Wall. But this time, the protests were working. But in the end, the fall of the Berlin wall was because of one man. One man, who was participating in a press conference in which he was meant to inform the media of the GDR’s new policies for crossing the border into West Germany. He was meant to tell the media about the fees that the East German citizens would have to pay, and the paper work they would have to fill out. But it was this man, who stumbled on a question about when the Berlin Wall would be open, and he mistakenly said ‘effective immediately’. Right there and then our puzzle of Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain was completed.

On the 9th November, 1989, the wall between East and West Berlin came down. GDR citizens crossed into West Germany for the first time in decades, and this massive historical event made way for the fall of communism, the breakup of the USSR, and the end of the Iron Curtain.

We gained so much historical knowledge in Berlin and our puzzle was complete. Along with a visit to the Stasi Museum (GDR secret service), and with just talking to our couch surfing host Olaf about his experiences of living in the GDR as a twenty year old, we really got a crystal clear understanding of how harsh the GDR regime was. It would have been horrible to live under the Iron Curtain. Yet it is history, and all the mistakes that Germany made in terms of WWII and the Berlin war, we as humans can learn from them.

Completing the puzzle in Berlin was an interesting and historically stimulating experience, one that we will remember for years to come. The Berlin of today has so much history, but so much culture and is truly one of our favourite cities in Europe to visit. If you are puzzled about communism, WWII, the Cold War, or the Iron Curtain, we challenge you to explore Eastern Europe, and finish your journey in Berlin, as it will certainly complete your puzzle like it has done for us.
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