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Continued from part 1…
We walked through the Brandenburg Gate, then crossed a split area between the roads that came together there. As we did so, we began to notice a strange increase in the number of policemen around, which, while odd, didn’t mean anything initially. Hannah gathered us up around the crosswalk and pointed. In the middle of the road, there was a line of cobblestones, which was very different from the asphalt around it. That line of stones denoted the original location of the Berlin Wall. “Anywhere you see those bricks, that’s where the wall ran.” The line went parallel to the road in front of the Brandenburg Gate, splitting the road in two.
She then pointed out a silver domed building to the right, which was the Reichstag, or German Parliament. It was built in the 19th century, beginning in 1884, but was gutted in 1933 by a fire when Hitler took power. It symbolized the end of German democracy as it had been, and although it was rebuilt, Parliament didn’t reconvene there until its new reconstruction. It barely survived the Battle of Berlin, and in 1960 it was remodeled again and used for various governmental needs. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, German Parliament reconvened in 1990, one day after official reunification. The dome on the top was rebuilt starting in 1993 and was designed by the architect Lord Norman Foster.
We really didn’t catch most of that information as a generally large ruckus suddenly occurred at that moment. The police were making way through the streets, and we could see lights approaching from the direction of Victory Column. Hannah stopped, mid-sentence, and asked, “Okay, what’s going on??” Apparently some people were jogging down this road, escorted by policemen and Red Cross trucks. We decided it was a fund raiser for the Red Cross, and this small batch of joggers had to be celebrities. As they passed, I snatched a picture for later identification.
Once the mass of civil servants had moved on, for the most part, we crossed the street, stepping over the line of cobblestones. We were now officially in what was once West Berlin. She did this purely for effect; we immediately crossed back over the same road a few meters down and approached what appeared to be a large field of grey stone blocks. This was the new memorial for the Holocaust, the Field of Slate, which is under construction until later in the year.
It was designed on uneven ground with uneven stones of all sizes to make it look like a wave; people assume it was meant to look like a cemetery as well. This site was under great scrutiny, as the actual location really didn’t have any historical significance for the Holocaust. They had discussed putting it on the site of a concentration camp nearby, but this location was nearly inaccessible by normal transportation, without real effort. They didn’t want it to be limited or difficult to get to, so a suggestion was made to have buses go to it every ten minutes. This eventually was dismissed, and construction began on the current site. Once they began to dig, they found a bunker that was used by a prominent German official during the war, and a big controversy arose from this as well, a sacred site about mass murder shouldn’t exist on top of somewhere a person who likely ordered such a horrible act to take place was using for sanctity. If that wasn’t enough, the company that is producing the anti-graffiti paint that will eventually be used on the stones (and boy does it need it) apparently is a daughter company to the one that produced the chemical used in the gas chambers of the concentration camps! This too was a huge mess, but it was later shown that the company was actually exemplary in its post-war activities and treatment of Jews, and in the end, nobody was able to make an actual financial link to the two companies. This all passed by, and construction was due to be completed this year. Hannah, for one, was anxious to see it completed, as it was certain to be much different when walking through it than looking at it from the outside. There will be no one entrance to it, and it will certainly be a very somber place for reflection when it is available for visits.
We continued down the road in front of the Memorial and hung a left by some very cool, very new architecture. This street was lined with a number of brilliant buildings, and Ruth was a fascinated as I was with the structures. She and I were both trying to get good pictures of each one, and she told me that these were the government offices for the German States. “Like counties in the UK, only much, much bigger,” she said. She told me that while I’m in Finland, I should see as much architecture as possible. It’s very contemporary and very cool. Further down this road were some relatively new apartment buildings. I thought they were newer than they were, and strangely enough, there was a very historical significance to the intersection we’d arrived at.
“Under this spot are the remains of Hitler’s personal bunker,” she told us, “and where he took his own life in April of 1945.” The bunker was massive, she explained, and had tunnels going everywhere, even one to Hitler’s favorite pub. When the Russians moved into Berlin (the Battle of Berlin was almost exclusively a Russian campaign) Hitler could hear them coming, just beyond the Brandenburg Gate. He wrote his last letter, showing his hatred for Jews, homosexuals, and even the Germans themselves. “He was very disappointed in Germany; He had all these grand hopes and ideas for Germany becoming a world power, and well, they failed him.” He made very strict orders about what they would do with his body as soon as he committed suicide (so that it wouldn’t be used as a victory trophy) and then he and his wife (married the day before) Eva Braun took cyanide and shot themselves in the head immediately thereafter. Hitler’s associates then burned his body immediately. Only a piece of his jawbone and a bit of his skull were recovered, and they were taken back to Russia. “They used dental records to identify the body, and later did DNA testing on the skull fragment, so we know Hitler did in fact die *here*. So all you conspiracy theorists can let go of your fantasies of Hitler living in Argentina with Elvis.” This of course drew a good chuckle out of everyone. Once the war was over, getting rid of the bunker was a real chore; the ceiling was six feet thick concrete, and nothing they did, dynamite, flooding, etc., was capable of eliminating it. When these apartments were being built, they used the heavy equipment to chip away at the concrete until the ceiling collapsed in on itself. “So, the bunker is still down there, but it’s just a pile of rubble and isn’t accessible.” The apartments, in and of themselves, were actually interesting – they were “upper crust” residences during East German times used for people who were the upper echelon of German society, and weren’t really a danger for escape. Since they were so close to the wall, theoretically people could just keep an eye out for the guards to leave and then race over the wall. Katerina Witt, for instance, was allowed to live here as she was an athlete and was traveling all the time anyway. There wasn’t anything denoting this spot, and she said that Germans weren’t trying to cover it up or anything. It was simply because if they put anything down, they might get Neo-Nazis coming through and putting wreaths of flowers down on Hitler’s birthday or something bizarre. She did also note that the Neo-Nazis do exist in Germany, but in very small numbers. “There are more Neo-Nazis in the US than there are here,” she said.
We walked between the sets of apartments and down a long road. As we walked, I talked to Ruth, Cathryn, and Raj about how much graffiti we’d seen everywhere. They agreed it was a real problem, and apparently Bristol used to have one as well. It’s since died out, but they have walls there designated as “graffiti zones” where people are allowed to mark them up. Around us was a great contrast in old versus new. There were some buildings that were extraordinarily new looking, while others were in decay to the point of crumbling apart. Our group was split in two by a light change, and I ended up with the UK Three on the far side of the road. Initially we were all standing just outside some concrete blocks which denoted the end of the sidewalk, as it was under construction, but we all hopped back inside as each of the cars that passed in front of us were threatening to remove toes or worse. As the light changed, we hurried to catch up to Hannah, who was waiting patiently for the group to reconvene.
Down this road to the right was Postdamer Platz, which during the Separation had one of the biggest “death strips” – the area between the East German and West German walls (there were two actual walls) which was heavily guarded and people were shot on sight – which spanned about 150m. After the reunification, it became quickly obvious how valuable this section of property was, and it was almost immediately bought up and building commenced. In that spot stood a huge skyscraper and the Sony Center, which is the big tent-like structure we’d seen from the Brandenburg Gate.
In contrast to the newly-built, modern architecture we could see down the street, however, was the building before us, the original German Air Ministry. This building, despite its size and of obvious military value as a target, was miraculously *not hit* during the bombing of Berlin in WWII. The only explanation she could give us was that bombing technology was poor at the time that the city was being bombed. After the war, this became the location of German Parliament until the creation of the Palace of the Republic. A mural was painted in 1951 on the side, showing the “happy worker” in his happy Communist life. In 1953, a set of protests started protesting unreasonable work hours all across East Germany. These protest culminated in a demonstration in Berlin, to which the German government resorted to contacting Mother Russia for support. They sent in tanks, and suddenly, they began to fire on the crowd. Several hundred protesters were killed, and it became a turning point in the Cold War. In front of the building is a long glass memorial to the massacre, with information about it in surrounding areas. Interestingly, the memorial mimics the long mural nearby, as if the mural shows the expected result of Communist rule, and the glass memorial shows the actual result. The Air Ministry, by the way, is currently the German Ministry of Finance.
As we walked down the road to the left of the building, Raj and I began our own personal conspiracy theories as to why nobody hit this building in WWII. He suggested that there was an Allied spy inside, and if they hit the building they would lose their valuable source of information. I agreed with this scenario, since bombing technology isn’t the “precision” level it is today (although I use that term *very* loosely) but it was by no means completely inaccurate. If the Enola Gay could drop a bomb directly over the intersection of four streets in Hiroshima, then the Allies should have been able to hit a building of this size, at least partially. I decided I’d have to look that up when I had Internet access again.
At the end of the street, we were presented with something that needed little explanation, unlike the various museums and buildings we’d seen: a surviving piece of the original Berlin Wall, just across the street from the Air Ministry building. It had been heavily chipped at and painted, but was still generally intact. Hannah explained that this was the third generation of the wall, with built-in feet for a self-standing structure and concrete tubing at the top. Previously, the wall had barbed wire, but after it came to the attention of the powers that be that escapees were using the barbed wire as a way to hold on when jumping the wall, they decided the concrete piping would make it slippery and therefore more difficult to traverse. She told us a fantastic story of a lift mechanic who worked in the then-Parliament building who realized that the death zone in this section of the wall was only a few meters (who would try to escape so close to a government building?), and used this to his advantage. He brought his wife and 9 year old son to work, who he hid in a broom closet until late at night. At that time, he brought everyone else up to the roof, then hurled a hammer with a rope attached across both the Eastern and Western walls. He had friends awaiting him on the far side who attached a cable, which he pulled up and fastened to the roof. Using homemade pulleys and cloth harnesses, his family glided their way over both walls and into West Berlin. Nobody apparently looked up that night, because the escape wasn’t discovered until the following morning! She says it’s not really known how many people actually made it to the West as the defections were typically kept quiet since the East German government could still put pressure on their remaining families and friends. Surely there were other daring escapes, but we will likely never know about them.
Another interesting fact: the Eastern side’s Wall graffiti was all new since it came down. Nobody would have been able to get to that side while it was up. The Western side’s wall on the other hand was very heavy with artwork and always had been. The East German government, in an attempt to prevent human rights activists from tearing it down, placed the Western Wall just on the inside of East German territory. Thus, any attempt to damage it would be considered an act of war, effectively, against East Germany. However, this had a side effect; if someone stood that close to the wall and started putting up graffiti, they were technically inside East Germany, and the Western Polizei could do nothing to them. “You could stand there until the cows came home and paint away,” she said, using American slang I wasn’t sure everyone would understand.
We walked across the street to be closer to the wall, which was surrounded by a heavy metal fence to protect it from people who had obviously been picking away at it bit by bit. Hannah explained that there was a museum beneath the wall (?) since this spot used to be somehow related to the SS. I missed exactly what she was referring to, but there was obviously some sort of bunker on the far side of the wall that people were climbing in and out of. People were taking loads of pictures, and after a while Hannah led the crowd along the wall’s path to the left. She took us around to the front of a small apartment complex and stopped here for more information. As we walked, I noticed that the bricks seemed awfully close to the sidewalk we were on, and as such, it seemed strange that there was enough room for a death zone. I asked her what the bricks signified, and she said that they were the West German side of the wall; the death zone would have been on the other side. She had us take a break here, and I rested my backpack on the wall behind me as my shoulders were killing me at this point. I was very pleased that I’d taken the time to remove my laptop from my bag.
Here she took the time to walk us through the events leading up to the removal of the wall and German reconstruction. A short version is that at some point there was another revolt, only this time, the leader of Germany (name forgotten…) ordered the German militia to go in and remove the protesters with all available force. However, this time, they refused the order. They weren’t about to cause another massacre like in 1953. This was of course a gigantic turning point. She said that around this time, Gorbachev took power and was very big on reform. There was a big publicity event when Gorbachev came to town, and the leader looked very bad next to forward-thinking Gorbachev. Gorby wanted things to change, and the leader guy wanted nothing to change. It ended up being a publicity nightmare for him. So… this guy’s health goes into the toilet, and meanwhile Russia passes down to the outer countries the ability to control certain things, like passage out of the country. The other leaders of East Germany met about this and decided that if people filled out the correct paperwork and followed proper bureaucracy, then a handful of people would be allowed passage to the West. This was all fine and dandy, but the leader guy comes back from being sick and has had exactly zero fill in on this deal. He had to give a speech, and as he does, a secretary comes out with a piece of paper. He obtains this paper and reads it word for word. “Eastern citizens are now allowed to travel to the West.” This of course is tremendous, but slightly incorrect news, but he’s clueless. The press asks when this will go into effect, and, not knowing the details, he says, “Now..?”
Three million East Germans gathered up their things and headed to the border practically seconds later. They approached the gate, and all were shouting that they had been given permission on TV. A guard hasn’t heard this news, and as there is one couple that actually has the correct paperwork, he decides to open the gates to allow this one couple through, then close them again. Yeah, right, that’s gonna work. Moments later, people are streaming into the West, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. What commences then is hands-down the biggest party in the history of Germany, which lasts for three full days. East Germans are each give 100 Western Deutschmarks as a welcome gift to the West, and the money burning a hole in their pockets, they immediately go out and spend it on anything they’ve not had access to: bananas, cigarettes, candy, etc. Perfect strangers drank champagne together in the streets. Families were reunited after decades of separation. A real blow OUT. Conveniently enough, this occurred on a Friday, so it was able to wrap up by Monday morning.
We continued on straight down this street, Hannah in the lead. I approached her with my question about the apartments to our right, and how close they were to the wall, but she’d already answered it. Since that was really the *outer* wall, they wouldn’t be sitting right in the middle of the death zone. I asked her how long she’s been studying German, since her language skills were impeccable. She said she’d started her freshman year of college, which was six years ago. She’s an art history graduate student, and has been in Germany now for three years, which explains why her accent and such is so good. What’s really funny about listening to her talk is that she often would end sentences with “ja?”, as if she were speaking German. She also occasionally pronounced English words with a German accent, despite the rest of the sentence having a standard American inflection. I noticed what looked like a whitewashed, intact version of the Wall we’d just seen earlier off to the left. Since it was on the “inside” I said, “Oh, that must be the East German part of the wall, huh?”
“They put it in the wrong place,” she told me, “don’t even GET me started on that.” A moment later I realized we’d arrived at Checkpoint Charlie. To our left was a big field of wooden crosses; it was some sort of memorial. To the right of us was a small booth, where people might have stopped to talk to the guards, plus a sign announcing our entrance to the American sector. Strangely, there was a big picture of a random American soldier. Hannah gave us the lowdown. It was named Charlie since it was the third checkpoint, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie. “Everything you see here is a replica. None of it is original,” she explained. It was all set up the give the idea of what it was like here when the wall was up. The soldier really was generic; he was just shown for effect of what it was like being on this side of the checkpoint, with the Americans looking over. On the other side was a similar generic Russian soldier looking back. A private museum to the left held artifacts and stories of people getting either over the wall or of having been killed. The memorial, she said, was to people who lost their lives trying to escape from East Germany. This memorial was not well favored, and she in particular disliked it for three reasons. “One, they put the wall in the wrong place,” she said and pointed out the cobblestone path, which cut right through the middle of the wall at a 90 degree angle. “Two, it’s a *private* memorial set up by the owner of the museum,” she told us, in disgust. “How would you like it if someone used your family’s pain as advertising?”- since that’s essentially exactly what it was doing. “And three, it was made under the assumption that everyone here wanted a Christian burial, which I’m sure wasn’t the case.” Indeed, all the names were put on wooden crosses; to assume that everyone here just happened to be Christian in some fashion would be lunacy. A real memorial, with not as much grandeur but more tact and consideration was set up close to the Reichstag. At any rate, the memorial was actually being taken to court over the inconsideration, sometime in March. She hoped it would be removed.
We walked directly away from Checkpoint, towards a terrifically modern and clean looking set of buildings. Small stands were hawking various Russian-looking military hats and fur caps. Something interesting is that it’s illegal in Germany to sell anything with a swastika on it, which isn’t all that surprising, I guess. Remember how I mentioned earlier that there were some very ironic sights that showed capitalism in old East Germany? Right there, one block from Checkpoint Charlie, facing back at the American soldier on the East side of the Wall was a Schlotzky’s Deli. This really kind of made me laugh. A Subway was on the Western side of the “border”. In addition, another Starbucks was just a few blocks further down on the right. Talk about changes.
As we walked, Ruth told me about a movie she and Cathryn had watched called “Goodbye, Lenin” wherein a woman who is very stoutly communist at the end of the 80s goes into a coma and wakes up after the Wall comes down. The doctors tell her son that any shock to her system will kill her, so the son goes about a very elaborate deception keeping his mother thinking she’s still in the same Communist state she was in when she went into her lapse. Ruth said it’s a fantastic movie, and I was really interested in seeing it.
“I fell asleep in it, but it was really good…” claimed Cathryn. We rounded the corner and passed by a huge chocolate shop. Inside, they had some gigantic items made out of chocolate, like buildings, the Titanic, and others. I snapped a really quick picture then raced to catch up with the group.
Hannah stopped in the middle of a large plaza. “Well, you’ve made it, you’ve managed to reach the end of the tour!” This was the Gendamenmarkt, a site on which once Roman soldiers used to camp, so it gained a name related to it, which stuck. On two sides were two churches, the French and German Cathedrals. In the middle of the two was the Konzert Haus, a musical establishment that was burned by retreating SS. “If we can’t enjoy our wonderful things, then they won’t either.” Once it was burned, it sat there in burnt out hulk form until 1979 when it was reconstructed and opened to the public in 1984. Surprising, since the East German government wasn’t good at rebuilding anything. Indeed, the German Cathedral had a *tree* growing off its roof until it too was finally renovated moderately recently.
She thanked everyone for joining her, and we all applauded in muffled, gloved chorus. As I waited to give her a tip, I asked Raj, Ruth, and Cathryn what they were doing now, and they said they were going to get something to eat, then do some more sightseeing. “You’re more than welcome to join us, if you’d like,” Ruth and Cathryn said in semi-unison. I was very glad to hear it. After spending all day with a crowd, the last thing I wanted to do was go the rest of the day alone. I was very happy to have been invited. I passed Hannah a small tip and thanked her for the tour, also asking about the ATM, which she pointed out. I wanted to see if I could get her email address in case I had any questions and maybe keep in touch – I’ve been trying to build up a network of people around the world I can communicate with, muhahaha. She was still getting hammered by thankful individuals, so I decided to let it go. I joined the UK Three and they followed me to the ATM across the street, leaving Hannah with the teeming crowd around her.
Cathryn went into the ATM building with me, as it was relatively warm in there, and all of us were chilly beyond compare at this point. My fingers didn’t work at that point, but worst of all neither did my brain. First I used the wrong card. Then the wrong PIN. Then the wrong PIN again! I finally managed to work the silly machine and extract 100 Euros, which I hoped would last me for a while. I’d have to replenish my ATM account again. The two of us from indoors met the two who were waiting outdoors and we walked down the road searching for somewhere to get food. At this point I learned that Cathryn was a lawyer, and she “didn’t understand a single word we’d said” when Raj, Ruth, and I had been talking computers and/or planes. I told her that everyone has their own experience; we wouldn’t know the first thing about law either. We ended up at a large street, and turned left, trying to find anywhere that would serve the four hungry foreigners lunch. Ruth led us to a small restaurant nearby, which served traditional German food. She translated the menu, quickly, on the outside, and Cathryn hurried us in. As long as they had something we could eat, it was fine.
We took a seat at an empty booth, and Ruth started translating the menu. She speaks German due to language lessons by her company. She also has traveled quite a bit for work, and I was jealous. Admittedly I had this jealousy while on a trip to Germany for work, so I guess it was a little ironic. After reading over the beverage portion of the menu, the waitress came over and took our drink order. I sided with everyone else and got a glass of warm red wine, which arrived a few moments later with little shortbread cookies to go with it. At first it didn’t sound very good, but the warm wine going down my throat really warmed me up from the inside out. Everyone else seemed to have the same reaction. Ruth continued through the menu, slowly explaining what everything was. We changed each of our orders about three times before we managed to decide; I ended up ordering a “bit of pork with potato dumplings and sauerkraut”. Ruth also had spent some time in Japan; I want to say Kyoto, but I don’t remember exactly. We had a conversation about cold weather in a Japanese house, and bonded on it; she relating the story of her house with the one little space heater that could only heat 2/3 rooms at a time, and me with Molly’s and my trip to Matsumoto, where you could see your breath in the bathroom. We discussed different travel destinations, including Seattle, where Ruth was scheduled to go relatively soon. The three of them described Bristol, and I relayed the features of Austin to them.
Eventually, the food arrived. My pork bits with dumplings and gravy looked very down home and very German. Cathryn got a sausage plate with potatoes and sauerkraut, Ruth got a plate with some salami, vegetables, and bread, and Raj got the prize. His was a sausage, pork cutlet, fried potatoes, and sauerkraut. “I want YOURS,” I told him. After I’d taken pictures of all our food, Cathryn perked up.
“See, it’s not just me,” she told Raj and Ruth. Apparently they had given her flak for taking pictures of food before. I told them my family is fascinated with food, and I knew that my family would be reading the logs at home and wanting to see what I’d eaten. Everything about the food here was delicious, and we ordered another cup of hot wine to wash it down. We all cleaned our plates, then paid and headed out the door. Our plan at this point was to go to the Jewish Museum, then maybe get in some shopping.
Raj was asking about how long it might take to see the Museum, and Ruth interpreted this as him not wanting to go. “Nah, I wanna go, I was just curious how long it might take to see it,” he told her. We followed Hannah’s last set of directions which led us down the road we’d left her at earlier, somewhat back in the direction of Checkpoint Charlie. We passed some interesting architecture I couldn’t help but take pictures of. Cathryn and Ruth were doing the same. Cathryn explained how she lived with murderers (I guess her neighborhood wasn’t all that safe, by comparison) and we made a contrast between America and Britain with regard to murders. Lovely subject, eh? They said how a shooting death would be front page news there, but in our case only the interesting ones actually made it that far.
“Yeah, but what kind of gun control is there in the UK?” I asked them. They said that no one is allowed to own a gun, and subsequently, shooting deaths are rare. We discussed gun control and I mentioned how in Texas, as long as you were licensed, you could carry not just a weapon, but a *concealed* one at that. My friend John has a concealed handgun license, and he told me once why this was useful, outside of the obvious, but I couldn’t remember why to tell them exactly. At this point we’d arrived at the Jewish Museum, just about the time that the sun had started to go down. We walked the length of the building annex.
The new part of the building is extraordinarily bizarre. Ruth said she’d heard it was supposed to represent barbed wire or something like that. It’s all angular and bent at weird angles, and the windows appear to have been placed by the scientific method of sneezing on the blueprint. There are no doors on this building to get in from the outside (fortunately there are fire exits); you must go in from the much older looking building to the left and enter from the underground. Much of the building and its procedures was designed to make a statement, and this was just the first fact of many. We entered the lobby of the museum and had to go through metal detectors and X-ray screening to be able to get inside. I guess they’re really worried about someone bringing in a bomb or something to damage the exhibits. We each bought tickets for 5 Euros, then entered the lobby, which has a convenient (I’m assuming) kosher restaurant off to once side. We were forced to drop off our bags at a check, since they didn’t fit inside the little box, which was much smaller than the one airlines use to limit carry ons. As the guy picked up my backpack, he made some comment in German to the girl he was working with and they both laughed. I asked Ruth what they’d said, and she relayed that apparently my backpack looks just like his, and she suggested he trade with me. Ha ha. We picked up a guide, and I examined the nearby glass case. Apparently, Ken and Barbie are Jewish. When we attempted to go down the long staircase that granted access to the funky building, the ticket takers insisted we go check our coats as well.
“But I’m cold,” said Cathryn.
“It’s not cold in the exhibit,” the man told us. Sheesh. We returned to the coat check and delivered to them our outerwear. When we returned again, Cathryn realized she’d left her ticket in her coat. We waited for her while she retrieved it; the timing couldn’t have been worse as there were a number of people in front of her in line waiting to drop off or pick up items. She finally got her ticket and the skinny employee who’d barred us entrance allowed us to pass for real. We took the long staircase down into the basement, which cut a sharp left turn when it reached the floor.
This hallway was at a bizarre uphill slant, and was crossed a moment later by a different hallway on its own slant in both vertical and horizontal angles. It was like we were in a big fun house, and nothing around us made sense. At the end of this hallway was a gigantic staircase back up, several stories, in fact. I said the group that perhaps this was to make you “toil” on the way in. The exhibit started on the third floor, which means we’d walked up more than four flights of stairs to get to it. Out of breath, we all entered the main floor. There were many different displays about us that included historical artifacts and reference material. To the right as we walked in was a large artificial tree that had a spiral staircase around it. I’m assuming this was supposed to be the tree from the Garden of Eden, as it included a bunch of red balls hanging from it. It also included, strangely, video monitors hidden within it. I noticed a woman walk the staircase up and through the tree, then into the cylindrical wall that connected to the staircase. I wondered what was in the cylinder, but decided not to climb the tree. It didn’t seem to be adult-sized.
Various bits of information were scattered about, initially this was a history lesson about where the Jews lived and how they were oppressed since the beginning of their history. A gigantic garlic bulb sat in one display, which you could pull open and view the information inside it. Around the corner was a bizarre display that had you literally blow across a screen to reveal the information upon it, as if you were blowing the dust away. We soon realized that this type of strange dissemination of information was common; various pieces of data were provided in doors, drawers, on screens, through recorded audio, and question and answer using buttons. There was information on famous Jews, jobs throughout history, various types of discrimination, and customs. The years the history described increased as we spiraled downwards, moving towards the bottom. One particular oddity was a set of headphones you’d put on and face a black glass monolith. The headphones would suddenly beep, and someone would begin speaking in German in your ears. There were some technical glitches, though, and half of the headphones didn’t work. Information saturation began to set in, at least for me, and I was ready to pretty much scoot on to the exit. The windows as we walked appeared randomly, and I noticed that they had anti-nesting devices installed on the sills. We thought they looked funny as they were lots of big metal spikes. We theorized that some poor pigeon some day is going to come in too fast for a landing and end up skewered. Once we reached WWII, I was trying very hard to continue to pay attention. One story did stick out in my mind – a ship carrying some 200 refugees left from Hamburg to Havana (I think) over 13 days, but when they arrived, the deposits they’d paid in advance for guaranteed arrival and acceptance were scavenged by corrupt officials. The ship was forced to return to Germany, and all of these people were eventually put into camps. Only about 30 survived. That was pretty scary. I wondered why they didn’t attempt to go to the US, what with being so close in the first place?
We finally came to what we thought was the end of the museum, which led us back to the long staircase we’d come up. Another flight down, however, led us to a photo gallery. I don’t think any of us had any ability to intake more data, and we flew through this area, which fortunately wasn’t very long. At the far end, there was an interesting art piece dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust: it was a large multi-story room with small steel plates all over the floor that had been carved into faces. The sign said that the artist preferred people to walk on the work, and after a couple of pictures, I did. The noise of the plates clanking together echoed in the silent room, and I quickly stepped off. I think this was the point, however – the loud noises causing a disturbance in the solemn room.
I hurried off to catch up the Three, and we walked back up and out from the entrance staircase. We retrieved our things, which took forever, since there were only two people working the coat check, and briefly visited the gift shop. Ruth was the only one to buy anything, as it mostly contained overpriced books, key chains, and even mouse pads. There were also selling kosher wine, and one bottle had a label on which appeared a realistic muscular diagram of someone’s leg, if they had snapped it sideways at the knee. I informed Cathryn of this, and told her I wouldn’t be buying any of that wine anytime soon.
We headed out the door and across the street back in the direction of Potsdamer Platz. Along the way, we discussed store hours, but from a very different perspective. When they mentioned the hours, I immediately complained about how everything closes so early here. They laughed, since they were saying the exact opposite: everything was open so *late*! In Bristol, you were lucky, outside of American stores like Borders Books, to find one open past 6PM. This of course made things very difficult, since most people barely got out of work before then. Another random fact about the UK – it’s cheaper to fly around the country than take the train these days, and unless you bought tickets weeks in advance, it wasn’t worth the time and effort. Ruth even said she used to commute to work every day on a plane, but she also works for Airbus. :)
We wandered down Potsdamer Platz in the general direction of the Sony Center. It was generally a long walk, and we noted that we were definitely getting our exercise in for the day. We passed the Air Ministry building, and eventually arrived across the intersection from the extremely busy area. I mentioned that it was somewhat creepy to know that this sprawling hotbed of activity stood on top of what was once the biggest area of death zone between East and West Berlin. It was highly likely that many people could have died here. We crossed over the street, and on the other side was a small piece of the wall, which was heavily adorned with graffiti. As we moved in the direction of Sony Center, there was an entrance to what appeared to be some black tie affair taking place in a big tent below the building. There were guards and several people dressed in very nice clothing. A bunch of bright lights illuminated the area, and I wondered if that was somehow for cameras, although I didn’t see any.
We passed under the tall building and entered the main passageway into Sony Center. It’s a massive empty space, which contains dozens of restaurants, coffee shops, stores, an IMAX, a regular multiplex theater, and of course, a big museum type thing which contained lots of Sony products on display. A gigantic TV showed endless numbers of Sony commercials and propaganda beneath the large tent-like roof above us, which was illuminated with lights. There were twinkling lights everywhere, and it was very high-tech and as such, very much my kind of place. We walked around the central circle and found our way towards a brew pub, where Cathryn, for one, wanted a drink. Just before the movie theater, a noticed a guy on a bench with a laptop. “I wonder if they have free wireless Internet access here,” I mentioned to the group.
“Probably,” said Raj. “It makes sense. It’s that kind of an area.” I briefly wished I’d had my laptop, but decided I was much better off without it. We entered the brew pub down on the end, which was very crowded. We passed by the big copper kettle in the middle and up a flight of stairs, where Ruth managed to locate us a free table way in the back. The table was up against the windows, and there wasn’t much room to move around it. The waiters were used to this, though, and were able to serve the two tables beyond us using cat-like balance and circus acrobatics to maintain the lack of food on Ruth’s and Cathryn’s heads. The waiter brought us English menus, and a bit later took our order. Cathryn and I decided on a wheat beer infused with some fruit juice. She got banana, and I chose peach. Ruth and Raj chose Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine much like champagne. Our drinks arrived and we relaxed, our topics varied. Outside, the bustling area continued its activity, and inside we were laughing and chatting away. They wondered what the grain was inside the glass that was holding up the candle, and I told them it was wheat, which I’d seen at other brew pubs. Raj took a kernel out and snacked on it to see what it was like. At 8PM, I suddenly noticed the tent roof was suddenly bright blue! A moment later it reverted to switched to purple, and proceeded to continue the change back and forth.
We examined the guide book of Berlin they had to try and locate a Turkish restaurant, since that’s what Cathryn was in the mood for. “No more German,” she said; they’d had it a lot since they arrived. It turns out they were staying only about 4 blocks from my hotel, so it was extremely convenient. The Turkish restaurant we’d located was relatively close to both of our places of rest as well. The beer was delicious, and the peach was really good in it. We each tried the others’ drinks, and everyone was pleased. I finally got up the nerve to mention something that had been a difficult thing to control. I explained that I always try to pick up accents, and I was trying really hard not to break into a British accent around them. They pointed out that the have three very different accents, and I’d actually noticed that. Cathryn’s and Ruth’s I could do, but Raj was hard. He didn’t have a native British accent – I guess English is a second language, which explains why his was hard to mimic. I started speaking in one to them and asked them if it was any good. “It’s very good,” they said, “but sometimes you sound Australian.” Heh, I’ll have to work on that. I broke into several other accents just for fun, in particular they wanted to hear a Texas one, like George W, whom they said had a really strong one. I demonstrated, but actually, I have a hard time with a Texas accent when I’m not around people who really have one. Isn’t that odd?
We eventually got the bill, which really wasn’t too bad either. I think I paid 3 or so Euros for my gigantic beer. Just before we left, a stroke of evil hit me, and I lifted one of the menus. They’re just paper, they won’t miss it. ;) We returned back to the main floor, and on the way out, I tried to get a video of the ceiling changing color, but missed it. The movie theater was playing Team America, and I really wondered what people here thought of it.
As we walked back to the busy intersection, the black tie event was in full swing, and a line of big Mercedes were dropping off expensively dressed people. We’re pretty sure they were celebrities, but we don’t know who. We passed by one car, and I noticed a woman inside with a 2-inch choker, studded with what had to be real diamonds. Nothing glitters like that unless it’s real. The thing must have been at least $30,000, if not way, way more. Instead of going back the way we came in, we turned left and walked back down the road towards the Brandenburg Gate. I suddenly asked them if they had anything like a TiVo back in the UK. They really didn’t, they said, although Ruth knew what it was thanks to Sex and the City. “The redhead girl had one of those, remember?” she asked Cathryn. “She was treating it like her boyfriend, like she was dating it.” Cathryn really hadn’t watched Sex and the City, though, so she didn’t remember the episode.
We passed the Brandenburg Gate, and found the memorial Hannah had mentioned to the people killed trying to get over the wall. It was indeed very small, and was just across the street from the Reichstag. We crossed over, turned left, and walked to the front of the building. I really didn’t know where we were going, and I didn’t quite understand what it was at the time. As we walked up, I tried hard to get a picture of the flags in front because they were really cool looking, but it was just too dark. I even tried my big flash, but no go. I wasn’t willing to break out the tripod at that point, and since they were moving it would have been no good anyway. We waited in a very short line outside some glass doors. “When I was here before, the queue was around the side of the building,” Ruth told us. It was almost 9pm on a Saturday night, and so no one was here. We were allowed inside, but had to go through the airport-like screening again. Only Cathryn was stopped, but whatever set off the metal detector wasn’t important. We rode a glass elevator up to the roof, and Ruth and I shared our disdain for them. As we exited, I could have sworn someone had dropped my off into a James Bond movie.
The roof construction glittered wildly in the spotlights. A huge funnel of mirrors hung down from the ceiling. This funnel was surrounded by a sphere of steel and glass, unto which a pair of ramps spiraled up to the top. As we walked up, I half expected an evil mastermind with a cat to be standing at the base, ordering his ultimate weapon to be launched/released/detonated. And where was our quasi-futuristic clothing? There had been a sign as we walked in the building below that pictures weren’t allowed. I decided, after seeing some people snap a few, that this didn’t apply on the roof. We trekked up the twisted ramp rotating around the funnel in the middle, at the base of which many people were examining some kind of display. Half way up, some men passed us in a hurry, and I realized they were police. I was a little nervous about having been taking pictures, but I was sure they would have said something to me by now. As we arrived at the top, Ruth pointed out the room she thought was the Parliamentary meeting hall, which one could see from above. She said that when I go to Finland I should go to the Finnish Parliament building, which also allows visitors, but is much smaller. She also noted that in the UK, it’s impossible to get into any public service buildings unless you work there or have a real need.
“I mean, they wouldn’t let you into the *White House* would they?” she asked, sure of the answer.
“Well, actually, they do,” I told her, “but it’s a little harder to get into these days.” She was surprised of the answer. The police were already at the top, apparently helping some young girls retrieve something from between the slats of the bench in the middle of the circle, which was immobile. I stopped to take some pictures using the tripod, and put on my zoom lens to capture some far off things. However, I was wishing I’d bought either the remote trigger, the image stabilized zoom, or both. Every time I pressed the shutter, the camera would shake at high zoom and cause the image to be somewhat blurry. So *that’s* what the extra 200 bucks is for, I thought. When I was done taking pictures, I pulled the normal lens out of my pocket and-
I lost my grip on it with still-cold fingers and it went flying onto the floor from about three feet up. I thought that the ground was covered with carpet and I wasn’t worried about it in the second I watched it plummet to the ground. I hadn’t tried very hard to catch it for this reason. However, when I picked it up, I realized it was either really thin carpet or wasn’t padded at all. The sound I’d heard when it hit wasn’t pretty either. I was sure, at that point, that I’d broken the lens, and I’d be screwed for the rest of the trip. The zoom lens took really poor normal pictures, so without the normal lens, I’d be taking portraits of peoples noses. I picked it up and shook it, but didn’t hear any rattling glass. After I placed it back on the camera, I made a few forced zooms and determined that it was functioning. Whether or not it was *accurate* was an entirely different thing. I took some more pictures further down the ramp, and it seemed to be working, thankfully. I did discover I’d dented the UV filter as the lens cap wasn’t fitting very well. If that was the extent of the damage, I wasn’t going to complain. It had also scratched off some paint at that location on the filter, so think it might have missed the carpet and hit the metal seam between the ramp and the top floor. I’d have to check the subsequent images to see if they were correctly taking pictures when I got back to the hotel. The little screen on the camera wasn’t enough to really tell.
We arrived at the base of the funnel, and checked out the displays. They showed the history of the building from its creation to today. There was a picture of the area after the war, and the structure looked like a strong gust would have blown it over. The area around was effectively rubble as well. In later years it was rebuilt, and in the 90’s was wrapped in cloth by the artist Christo, joining the ranks of such things as the Eiffel Tower. Seeing its transformation was really cool, but I think we were all ready to head out. We walked to the elevator and returned to the outside world.
Our next destination was the Turkish restaurant, to which we’d have to take a train. I had some difficulty locating my ticket, and I was really worried I’d lost it. That would have been unfortunate, since I then would have way overpaid for a little travel around the city. As I pulled item after item out of my pockets, I said, “No, that’s not it,” out loud when I looked at a receipt for something I’d bought that day.
“You just sounded British right there,” Cathryn giggled.
“See, I told you it was hard to control that!” I said.
We walked back through the Brandenburg Gate and into the subway stop we’d visited with Hannah earlier. After a brief pow wow on which train to take, we took a seat and waited for the train. I was missing the Japanese train system, which informed you very specifically where you were going, what time it was departing at, and generally had a different track for each line. We boarded a train bound north for a few stops so we could transfer at a bigger station. I noticed that the next stop at one point was Frederichstrasse, at which a laughed. I asked Raj if he’d seen the movie “Gotcha!” with Anthony Edwards and Linda Fiorentino. He said he had, and I reminded him that the code that Sasha told Jonathan meant to leave East Germany as soon as possible was “Meet me at the Café Frederichstrasse.” Come to think of it, *we* were in East Germany, and I had a very sudden feeling of cool, as I was somehow related to this movie that I loved as a kid.
We exited the train and boarded the one on the next track over, which arrived on short order. “Wow, they’re just not kidding about this graffiti stuff,” I noted, as the train was completely covered, from end to end, inside and outside with graffiti. It was hard to believe, really. We rode this train a few stops to Prenzlauer Allee. Just before we got off, I noticed the small pattern on the walls was actually made up of little tiny silhouettes of the various sights to see in Berlin. We exited the station, and were directly across from the Planetarium. I immediately recognized where we were. Just down the street I could see the Holiday Inn sign, which was rather comforting knowing I was that close to a bed. I was very hungry, however, and after waiting for Raj to buy some cigarettes, we all walked the opposite direction down the road to where the Turkish restaurant was. There was a little confusion about which road it was down; as it turns out, Lonely Planet was off and listed the dot on the wrong street. Fortunately we had the address and we determined it was one block further. Damn you Lonely Planet! I relayed my story of how Molly and I had wandered through the dark areas around Nagoya station trying to find a hotel that was actually on the complete opposite side of the gigantic station. I was not amused.
We located the restaurant in short order, walked inside and took a seat. There was no English menu, so Ruth began reading through the German one telling us what each item was. Our very attractive waitress came by and we ordered a bottle of water (sparkling) and four big beers. See Gene, now I’m getting my German beer in! Ruth had to go through the menu three times – she’d been reading it to Cathryn, then I started paying attention, and finally Raj returned from the bathroom. At that point, she asked if he wanted it all, or just the highlights. She edited the list, and we ordered our entrées, also asking for a three-person appetizer plate.
Good thing there wasn’t a four-person plate. The massive set of finger foods arrived and our eyes boggled. It contained about fifteen different items including breads, fried artichoke hearts, hummus, dips, eggplant (which the UK Three kept calling something else), and two types of cheeses. In the middle of the plate was a candle, around which was wrapped a layer of onion! This was really kind of a nice touch. All of the items was absolutely fantastic, and I think I could have just sat and munched on this all night. Eventually we polished it off, and the plate was removed. We talked about Ruth’s upcoming visit to Seattle, and I told her she needed to go to Pike Place Market and definitely get some very fresh sushi. Her companions on the trip weren’t very adventurous, however, and she wasn’t sure she could convince them to go.
We were all rather full at that point already, but the real food arrived moments later. I got a meat grill plate, which had chicken, lamb, and I think some beef as well. It was all served on a big piece of toast with potatoes and hummus. Everyone else got similar entrees, but I made the mistake of not taking pictures of any of it!
As I walked down the street I noticed for the fourth time today I was missing my “one glove” and raced back to the restaurant. I’d set it on top of my backpack, just as I’d done every time I’d taken it off, and once again forgot it. I asked the man inside, who didn’t speak English if he’d seen it, as I’d done a cursory check of the table and didn’t see it. He asked the waitress, who shook her head, and he checked in the lost and found, even though it had only been about two minutes since we’d walked out the door. He pointed by my feet a second later in a shot of realization, as my glove was there, hiding by the coat rack. I thanked him and walked out the door. “I’m definitely going to lose this thing before the end of this trip,” I told myself as I walked back down Prenzlauer Allee toward the hotel. I passed a pharmacy called the Elisabeth Apothecary and thought of my sister. A brisk, cold walk later, I arrived at the hotel and downloaded the images of my day into my laptop, which seemed to prove that the lens was okay. I noticed I had a text message from my friend Kathryn, whom I called. She was asking about my mailbox as she’s checking my mail, and had a computer issue. It was nice to hear from her, and kind of cool to be talking to her from Berlin. Check out wasn’t until noon. I was happy to hear that. I could sleep in as long as I wanted, effectively. I set an alarm for 10am on my phone, then passed out moments after my head hit the pillow.