April 24, 2015

Berlin: History that is NOT Ancient

Brandenburg Gate

This last weekend we visited Berlin, Germany. It was a city of history. Now, we have been visiting many historical places throughout Europe this year (it is hard to travel in Europe WITHOUT going somewhere historical) but the difference between the ancient historical places and Berlin is that the history is more recent.

We walked the clean and neat streets and stopped at shops along the way. We then explored both ends of Unter den Lindon—the main street that runs between Brandenburg Gate at one end to Alexander Platz at the other. At one point it was lined with large Lindon trees to welcome those strolling along. However, during the rule of Hitler, the trees were removed at replaced with the red swastika flags that we all have come to equivocate with war. Thankfully, those trees have been replanted, at least some of them, for people to once again enjoy.

Inside a Christmas Shop

Brandenberg Gate is the only surviving gate from the old cities of Berlin. It is famous because it was on the line where East and West Germany were split after WWII and during the Cold War. It was solemn to read the history and look at the photos of what Brandenberg Gate looked like at the end of the war when Soviet troops stormed into the city. 

Brandenberg Gate today

Brandenburg Gate at the collapse of Berlin at the end of WWII

We then walked along the path of the WALL. Much of it was removed years ago, but they have a small stone path marking where the WALL was. Eventually we made it to the Topography of Terror Museum that is located on the block where SS and Nazi headquarters sat. Those buildings, other than the foundations, are long gone.

We walked along the wall, a large remaining portion, and then went through several of the exhibits of the museum. After being in a concentration camp earlier this year, seeing how some countries like Poland, Czech Republic and others still are dealing with the after effects of WWII, it is solemn to see what people will do in times of war. Propaganda and a fight for survival blind people to basic human characteristics of kindness, helpfulness and communication. All I could do was wonder about it and just about then I passed a piece of wall that had spray painted words on it, someone years ago painted my very question on the wall, “WHY?” Why do we forget who we are and treat others as inferior? Why would people do this. As I was pondering this I kept walking down the wall, and another tagger had answered our question with this one word moral lesson, “Madness.” It is complete madness that people have done this.

As stories unfolded of reality under the Nazi regime, I was saddened to read about people who would ‘give up’ their neighbors, family and friends to ‘protect the republic.’ However, I was also touched to read the stories of people, like the woman who sheltered an entire family for nearly 6 years. Neighbors brought extra food and clothes to help and nobody turned them in. She was a hero despite the reality that she would be killed with them if they had found out. Again I was reminded that there are good people everywhere no matter how hard the situations are.   Amid the darkness there is always some light.

We stopped and enjoyed watching the iconic Trabi Cars (Trabant). Lucky Dragon loved their bright colors and loud engines as they passed.

On our way to see Check Point Charley, we paused to contemplate the vast field memorial for Holocaust Victims. Walking through the grid of casket sized concrete pillars, in varying height sized from a few inches tall to nearly twenty feet, it was a foreboding feeling. The artist who designed it did well. I could see that if it was a metaphor for the lives of people who lived during WWII, the pillars show that once in the middle you are helpless and almost trapped, you can only move forward or backwards without knowing what is around the next corner or lurking in the shadows, but you move forward towards the light at the end with the hope the shadows will disappear and you can once again feel the fresh breeze on your face. Sadly, many of them never made it out of the maze of terror. They were consumed by the shadows and became part of the pillars.

Check Point Charlie was one of the areas that people could cross between East and West Germany. There is still the small white booth in the middle of the road where tourists can go take photos. They have two men dresses as ‘American Soldiers’ (although they look SO European) to take photos with for a fee. Again, it was an odd reminder of how life was controlled during and after WWII and into the Cold War. What a different life we live now. How grateful I am for freedom  and democracy.

Check Point Charlie. (We Don't know these people, we just didn't want to pay the money to take our own)

We went exploring the TV tower and Alexander Platz area and that was fun. Lucky boy loved having a place to just run and explore! As we left Berlin we were struck with how many Turks we were in contact with. We went to a few areas of the city that all the signs and stores were Turkish! We felt right at home. We even went to eat at a “French Restaurant” called La Femme. When we went in we were surprised to see simit and then realized that EVERYTHING on the menu was Turkish Breakfast! It was kind of nice, we could order our food and have no communication problems!

Rides the subway like a pro now

Tribute to Istanbul in Berlin

 It was a great experience to see Berlin. It is an interesting city of history, industry and new pop culture. Lady Hiva and I both left with an appreciation for what so many went through to have what we have now.

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