BERLIN: A Step Into The Past
In all history books, one of the most talked about period on world affairs is none other than the World War 2. With better technologies and education, people have evolved to create better strategies, weapons, and even more extreme ways of showing their power over others. The spark of World War 2, begins here, in Germany and also ends here, in Berlin, with the death of Adolf Hitler..well at least in war in Europe, as Japan was still fighting when Germany surrendered.
Well, I like Berlin because of its rich history, and I can identify with it as we have studied much about the course of events that happened during the World War 2. Usually, I would explore places on my own, but for today, what’s better than to join a tour that explains to you the history and places of Berlin. I woke up real early and travelled to Washingtonplatz at 10:30am to join a tour. BUT!!! I missed it by 3mins!!! All the tour groups were so fast, they have all left! And I was there stunned and lost. Then a tour guide who was last to leave asked me if I was here to join a group and I said yes, and he explained to me that they have all left. And his group now is a Spanish group. Seeing my disappointment, he secretly told me that there is a free English tour that I can join! And I have at least 15mins to rush to the location! I immediately ran for the train!
When I arrived, I found a crowd at the location. I took a number and waited for them to split the groups. There must be like 150 people waiting there! The tour agency is called Sandemans New Europe, apparently they have this service all around Europe, US and Middle East. And the best part is they are free! They actually allow you to give whatever amount you want to give. So actually there are some who will give more and some less, its all up to you, so technically not free la.
But I must say, because of this system, all of them really give their best, cause they can earn more than usual if they are good, and I didn’t regret choosing them, as they were all very dedicated! I also happened to have a very fantastic girl who was so knowledgeable, as she studied history during her uni days and she is also a very good storyteller. She was able to give a great history background of Germany in just less than 15mins, which was not all boring!! Till today, I could still remember parts of what she has mentioned. She is also one of the reason why I like Berlin, she was able to explain to clearly how the place evolved to where is it today. I think her name is Sophie.. Well, if you see a petite, pretty girl, that should be her!
Meet up at 11am at Pariser Platz , Brandenburg Gate
The whole tour was about 3.5 hours and a pit stop for you to have lunch. I also went back to some of the place to explore more areas with BB when he was free. So what I am going to share would be inclusive of my own trip..
Once you exit the train station S-Bahn Unter Den Linden, you will see the Brandenburg Gate at the Parier Platz!
After grouping and assigning our tour guide, we started our tour! I feel that before you come to Berlin, it would be good, if you could read up a little about the history of Berlin, then all the attractions would make more sense to you or you would just think it is just a monument. The rich history behind every monument is worth finding out, or like me have someone nicely explain to you so that you would appreciate the liberty that people now enjoy and how the monument stood to remind the people of what it stands for.
The infamous hotel, Hotel Adlon, known for Michael Jackson dangling his baby outside the hotel window.
The Bradenburger Tor
Having destroyed badly during World War 2 but was rebuilt again.
A little bit of history here… after World War 2, Germany was divided into 4 parts. Likewise, Berlin, was divided into 4 parts, controlled by the allies, US, Britain, France (West Berlin) and of course the Soviet Union (East Berlin). People were able to access both sides and through this gate, The Bradenburger Tor, to enter East Berlin. East Berliners were able to cross borders to work in the West Berlin, visit their relatives and etc. However, the Soviet Union had plans to drive out the allies and to take over the whole of Berlin, thus the tension between these parts were getting more severe.The East had a very different school of thought, such as communism and the West Berlin was introducing capitalism and democracy and was becoming more prosperous resulting in people leaving the East to the West due to the vast difference between the two living conditions. A good example in today’s context would be liken to North and South Korea.
And on August 31, 1961 and at midnight, the Berlin Wall was activated. Who would have thought, they would just build a wall to stop people from leaving the city! They got this concept from non other than another country who had the same school of thought, though not for the same purpose, the Great Wall of China.
You can also visit Topography of Terror to see the parts of the remaining Berlin Wall and read about the documentation the Nazis and more.
You might think why didn’t the West Berlin retaliate? The politicians actually it thought it solve the problem of the conflict with Wast Berlin and the movement of people, so they left it as it is.
So how did the people react? Well just imagine in Singapore, you stay in Jurong West and you stayed over at your friends place in Tampines. The next morning you wake up, a wall was built and you cannot go home, and God knows when it would be able to see the other side. Friends, relatives, spouses, parents and children were separated. The wall was not that tall but enough to block you from seeing each other.
There were barb wire built on top of the wall and also a few metres from the wall. Soldiers were guarding the wall and had authority to arrest and shoot citizens if they were to cross the barb wire. As the wall was built hastily, many were connected by buildings of houses, which many quickly made use of the windows to escape. But the East Berlin immediately covered the areas as well. Many managed to escape through badly made barb wire and other methods during the first few weeks since it was built. However, 2 deaths made everyone realised that they may lose their lives trying.
For 28 years, the government had reconstructed 4 times to make it harder for citizens to escape. What you see here, is the forth generation of Wall that was built.
After 2 months since the wall was built, finally, US activated their 30 tanks with loaded cannons facing 32 loaded tanks from East Berlin at Check Point Charlie. If any shooting were to happen, nobody knows how bad things might happen. The whole world stood in stand still and held their breath. Finally, after 3 days of the stand-off, the Soviet Union allowed US soldiers to enter East Berlin, but the wall remains and citizens had tough access control.
The walls continued to be constructed in stronger materials and more layers of “walls were built”. Between the wall and the barb wires there was a death strip which has mines and auto shooting mechanism to detect any people trying to escape. All these happened for 28 years.
However, an interesting story leads up to how The Berlin Wall came down after a spokesman from the East Berlin made a mistake in a press conference to announced that the people were allowed to access across borders and the whole city went into celebration and started hacking the wall down. No one had informed the guards about the news as it was a mistake that was announced and they too were in shocked when crowds were swarming to see their loved ones at the wall.
Finally the Wall came down and here we are today with only parts of the wall remaining.
Now moving back to even earlier in the history of Germany, during Adolf Hilter’s period.
The Holocaust Memorial
Can you guess what the art represents?
One glance, I felt it looked like a cemetery. And does the different heights in the stone slabs represent the age or the height of the Jews that died? it does looks like graphs that you use in presentations to represent numbers.
The architect, Peter Eisenman, meant for you to experience instability, disorientation and groundlessness, yet in the midst of orderly built stone slabs.
You can still feel a sense of calmness when you are here, though a cloud of solemness could also be felt.
Ironically, this was built near where Adolf Hitler committed suicide. The carpark area is where he died, of course during that time it was not a carpark.
We are standing now is one of Europe’s most beautiful square, Gendarmenmarkt, being, the 3 well known architectures are surrounded here.
The Französischer Dom (French Cathedral), Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) and the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall)
And the centre is the statue of Friedrich Schiller, a famous German poet.
Some other places that we went…
Finally we ended at Museum Island, which I went on another day on my own, you may read it here, where we parted ways. It was such a good experience and I enjoyed it tremendously. Thanks to Sophie who made it so enjoyable!