We loved Warsaw. I remember little of our drive from Warsaw to Berlin. Berlin is a very exciting, memorable city today. It was in ruins in 1945.
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
Our group went out for an optional Berliner Dinner. We were seated in a corner of a cramped restaurant and a very small number of noisy tour-mates made the decibel level needle swing, I’m sure, into the ear damage range. Being a singer who accompanies himself on the guitar, I was not ready for any increased hearing loss. Ready to walk out, my ear drums were rescued by a keyboardist who began singing and playing for us. His amplified sound actually caused the noisies to quiet down and the decibel levels to re-enter the safe range. He was looking for volunteers to sing with his accompaniment, so, knowing this upbeat, friendly crowd of Aussies and Yanks pretty well, I suggested to the keyboard guy that I sing Elvis. He said “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and I said “Nope, but it’s a great song to do!” My stock went up during that song. It was languishing after my embarrassing scene, 5 days earlier, going through security at the parliament building in Budapest, grumbling about having to take my money belt off, unbuckled pants, etc. etc. grrrr… etc. I hate surprises like that and am over-sensitized to them after a similar security “strip” at the Colosseum in Rome in 2007.
Berlin, Once Divided – Now Beautiful:
On April 30, 1945, with Russia’s army occupying most of Berlin, Hitler committed suicide. On May 2, Berlin itself surrendered to Russia. Russia initially occupied all of Berlin and East Germany. That same year, Russia, occupying all of Berlin, shared it with three other countries: Russia kept 8 boroughs (German: bezirkes), the U.S. got 6, the U.K. 4 and France 2. The Russians opposed many of the changes pushed for by the Western powers, relations deteriorated for many reasons, and in 1961, with the Cold War in full bloom, the East Germans constructed the ziggy-zaggy Berlin Wall to prevent its citizens from defecting in embarrassingly large numbers to the West. Almost 30 years later, after a brief period of glasnost and perestroika,the Berlin wall fell in 1989. While walls in general are a bad thing, the world’s subsequent total acceptance of our neoliberal system has enabled the New Great Wall between rich and truly dirt- and water-poor, between materialism and biosphere, to grow immensely larger due to Western inability (in the wake of this Pyrrhic victory) to see the evils inherent in unregulated capitalism.
Most of the areas of historic interest are in what was East Berlin. The Berlin Marriott Hotel is near the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz – right near where the Berlin Wall was. The streets and sidewalks are marked with ~4-inch metal squares to show where the wall used to be. Potsdamer Platz was, for us, an ideal place to eat and take the bus or subway anywhere we wanted to go. We did a tour of Berlin that morning on the bus, getting out opposite the Konzerthaus Berlin. The bus passed by the Brandenburg gate and the Holocaust Memorial, blocked off because of a visit by Israeli PM Netanyahu. Security was everywhere. Anita and I walked by those things in the evening and took photos then.
Our Wonderful Afternoon:
Anita and I grabbed a bite to eat at a sandwich shop near Potsdamer Platz, bought two transit day-passes and then took the 200 bus to Museum Island and visited the Pergamon Museum, my absolute must-see in Berlin. It houses several large, rebuilt, iconic places from the ancient world. I wanted to see Babylon’s famous Ishtar Gate: built 2600 years ago, looted by Germany in the 1930’s and reconstructed with the original bricks here in Berlin. Right next to the Pergamon was the Egyptian Museum of Berlin, which contains the ultra-famous stucco/ceramic bust of Nefertiti, Queen of Egypt and wife of the Pharaoh, Akhenaten. Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti were New Kingdom theological revolutionaries in the 14th century B.C. who flirted with monotheism and were killed as a result. They were featured in a BBC Radio 1 play in 1970 or 1971 that we listened to in England on our tiny transistor radio – our only household source of entertainment while we lived in Macclesfield, Cheshire where Anita trained as a Registered Nurse. We popped over to reminisce over the “real” bust, housed in its own room with a touchable copy nearby so that blind visitors might feel its form. No photos allowed, but I shot my Nefertitis outside, as you will see…
The Berlin Wall Memorial:
We had skipped our tour’s afternoon visits to the Topography of Terror show and Checkpoint Charlie in order to see the Pergamon, but we both wanted to see the Berlin Wall. With help from a passer-by we found and took the S1 commuter train from Friedrichstrasse Station near the Pergamon 2 stops north to Nordbahnhof station, which was very near the Memorial. I had selected the original and authentic Berlin Wall Memorial – an outdoor site open to the public in daylight hours with excellent interpretive material at each separate exhibit. Being Monday, the visitors’ centre was closed, but the rest of the site was open and easily navigated.
We took the S1 or the S2 commuter train line from Nordbahnhof to Potsdamer Platz and found the Marriott.
The Brandenburg Gate:
Can’t remember what we did for supper, but after eating something we walked north on Ebertstrasse, past the Holocaust Memorial and the U.S. Embassy, to the Brandenburg Gate. Walking back to the hotel after dark, security was still evident but lower key.
It was a very enjoyable time in Berlin. Hope to return one day.