Thursday, March 27 - Berlin Day 2
Today I went on the Discover Berlin tour from Berlin Walks, which I highly recommend for an overview of the city. Our tour guide was Jacob and we met outside the Zoo Tiergarten station. We took the S-Bahn a few stops and then saw the TV tower from far away. We went past the Berliner Dom, saw the roof of the Synagogue, and then hit Museum Island. There Jacob pointed out the bullet holes in some decorative columns, and explained how they were made during the Battle of Berlin. I think he said the Soviets made them.
Seeing the Gedachtniskirche's bombed out remains and now being in front of these bullet holes had a sobering effect on me. WWII had played out on the very ground beneath my feet. Many of the buildings and roads around me had been destroyed and rebuilt. It's one thing to learn or read about war, or even to watch it in a movie. It is quite another thing to have physical remains of a war in front of you.
We continued over the island and stood in the Lustgarten while he told us about the Altes Museum (Old Museum) and then the Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace). We then continued down Unter den Linden ("under the lime trees") past tons of buildings of historical importance and took a break in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Consruction on The Gate began in 1788, and since then it has become the ultimate symbol of Berlin's history of rule by the Prussians, Napoleon, the Nazis, the Soviets and now it's reunification. It was part of the Berlin Wall and witnessed Reagan's speech where he implored, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
After walking through the gate, we could see the dome over the Reichstag building off to the right, but turned left towards the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The Memorial is a non-square city block covered in 2,711 large concrete slabs called stele (plural: stelea or steles). They vary in height from 8 inches to almost 16 feet, and the ground slopes down toward the center. The overall effect is chaos and order coexisting. The architect stated he wanted to show a supposedly ordered system that had gone awry. It was pretty somber walking through, even though the optical effects were interesting when I was near the center. One of the pictures I took there is now the wallpaper on my Blackberry.
After we all met up on the other side of the Memorial, we walked over to the parking lot of an apartment building and Jacob told us the story of Hitler's last days. We were standing right above the bunker where he killed himself, and Jacob explained how it was all just a pile of concrete rubble now. We walked past the former Luftwaffe headquarters and over to a section of the Berlin Wall that still remains on Niederkirchnerstrasse. Here he told us the story of the Wall coming down. We headed over to Checkpoint Charlie and then up to Gendarmenmarkt where the tour ended. I was surprised to see an Obama bumper sticker stuck to the sidewalk near Checkpoint Charlie.
I took the U-Bahn to Friedrichstrasse station to get batteries for my camera. The charger was not charging them in the camera, so I had been using my Blackberry for pictures during the whole walking tour. I then walked over to the Pergamon Museum. Inside I saw the Pergamon Altar, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market gate of Miletus. I climbed to the top of the Pergamon Altar and then saw a scale model of the site of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.
After that, I bought some food at a grocery store and headed back to my hotel. Tomorrow I take the train to Prague.