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Berlin

The new London


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I had mixed feelings about going to Berlin, nothing bad just mixed expectations. People had said it was amazing so I thought if I expected too much I might have been disappointed but I certainly wasn't!! I arrived around dinner time so once again dumped the bags and headed out to explore whatever I could before nightfall. I'm staying close to the Berlin Wall Memorial so that made it an easy decision to head there. Walking there I was desperately trying to think back to school or anything really that I knew about the wall. It was a struggle and when I finished at the memorial boy was I educated big time! At the end of WWII the allied forces, Brittan, American, French and known then as the Soviet Union, divided the region of Berlin into 4 sectors with joint administration. West Berlin was divided into 3 (FR/UK/USA) and the Soviet Union had East Berlin.
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For a good 10 years, post-WWII tensions were high in the 4 quadrants of the divided region. People were fleeing west (not only to West Germany but further to Western Europe) and the communist party wanted it to stop. In 1961 the GDR (German Democratic Republic) commenced construction of the wall. The reasons behind it were to keep the west in, believing the 3 allied areas had anti-fascist capitalist ideas, but also to stop East Berlin/Germany from migrating. West Berlin was receiving help and aid from its 3 allies and the east was being regressed by the Soviet Union and communism.
The memorial not only shows the strip of wall preserved and its guard tower but the stories of those living in these times of separated families and remembering those who lost their lives trying to cross over.
155kms of wall surrounded West Berlin and there were 3 main checkpoints, most famously "Checkpoint Charlie", more on that when I visit in the coming days.
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171 people died attempting to cross the wall, east german police and guards had shoot to kill orders. This is the memorial to them.
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The wall finally fell in November 1989 due to mounting pressure from eastern countries, Poland, and Hungary in particular but also others in the larger political and celebrity arenas. Most famously Ronald Reagan's speech in 1987, challenging Gorbachev to tear it down. David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, and David Hasselhoff all played concerts and publicly supported the removal of the wall. Mass riots and demonstrations followed and the fall of the Wall marked the first critical step towards German reunification, which formally concluded on 3 October 1990 with the dissolution of East Germany and the official reunification of the German state.
I'm sure there will be a commemoration this November to mark 30 years.
The Wall was completely dismantled in 1992 with some of it relocated around the globe, auctioned off, broken up and sold as souvenirs.
After learning so much about these people whose lives were lost and affected, I too now have my very own small piece of the Berlin Wall.
What a few hours already! I can't wait to see what else this amazing city has to offer in the next few days here!

Today it's overcast and showers threatening but I'm on the clock so to speak so I'm off early to fit in as much as I can!
The first stop is the Brandenberg Gate, and it's magnificent! Completed in 1791, taking only 3 years to build! It has been through so much history and if this gate could talk... well you know what I mean! Napolean leads the first victory procession through the gate in 1806 after the Prussian defeat at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. The quadriga (4 horse chariot on top) facing east and features Victoria (goddess of victory) holding a Prussian eagle and Iron Cross on her lance with a wreath of oak leaves. Once only royalty could pass through the middle gate underneath the sculpture but that was abolished after WWI. Like most of this area, called Pariser Platz lots of damage was sustained from WWII bombings.
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The gate was closed (not literally) but it was closed off as a checkpoint during the years of the Berlin Wall. The gate is also a focal point for celebrations such as the Germany World Cup Win in 2014, it's also a brilliant finish to the Berlin Marathon.
And has the busiest Starbucks ever! Or at least it felt like it when I grabbed a coffee before moving on to the next attraction!

Slightly raining now but I head over to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It has 2 parts an underground information center where you can hear stories from Holocaust survivors and read letters from those who were in concentration camps. One of the stats was to hear every name from those killed, it would take 6 years, 7 months and 27 days. Unimaginable...
The aboveground section was really confronting in a way I wasn't expecting. It's concrete rows of concrete basically. My initial thoughts were it was awful, disrespectful to a point. Opening in 2005 for the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, I thought surely they could have used the huge space to build a nicer memorial. It's 2,711 rectangle concrete blocks that are laid in rows, taking up a large city block. Walking through the rows I was still thinking about how awful and faceless it all was. And then in one of the rows I stopped and I think I finally understood the concept of it, or at least my interpretation anyways. Standing there it felt dark, cold, lonely, confusing, separated from the world, and soulless. Perhaps its meant to replicate the feelings described by those who lived it. Orderely faceless rows of concrete like a graveyard or rows of coffins.
It certainly reaffirms how grateful I am with the life and oppurtunities I have.
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Staying in the theme of WWII memorials I headed over to the Soviet War Memorial located in Tiergarten Park. In April and May of 1945, the Battle of Berlin lost 80,000 Soviet soldiers and this memorial is built on the grave site of 2,000 of those lost. It has tanks and the entrance and lovely red flower beds leading up to the half-moon shaped structure. Interestingly it was built in the British quadrant post-war.
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Also located near Tiergarten Park in the stunning Bellevue Palace, the official residence of the President. The spectacular front lawn was tempting to have a lie-down but although I didn't see any guards or security I'm sure they would have been watching!
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My final stop for today was to see the Victory Column, standing 67 meters tall. The column commemorates the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War in 1864. It also features Victoria like the Brandenberg Gate.
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That's enough for today, lots to take in but educational for sure

Another day and the weather is a little better! Starting today on a much lighter note, I'm heading off to Museum Island. There's a complex of 6 museums, located on Spree River in the old town of Cölln. There are a few lovely bars along the waterfront with cute deck chairs to sit and have a beer.
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Another stunning building down this area is the Berlin Cathedral, as it currently stands the building isn't as old as I was expecting, opening in 1905. But it has been the site of a collegial church since 1454 with 3 different rebuilds in that time. Yet another area to sustain heavy bomb damage in WWII, managing to keep standing.
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I head off to Gendarmenmarkt (Grandmarket Square), a marketplace dating back to 1688. Now it is a beautiful open area surrounded by the Berlin Concert Hall, French and German churches. In front of the concert hall, there is a monument to Friedrich Schiller, a German poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright.
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My final Berlin stop is to visit Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous checkpoint located between the USA and Soviet border areas of Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became the face of the Cold War between the US and Soviet Union (post-WWII from 1947-1991), also a checkpoint for the Berlin Wall in later years (1961 onwards). I highly recommend going through the museum located at the checkpoint, it gives great insight to not only life and times during the Berlin Wall but more notably that infamous standoff that almost started WWIII. In Brief, a US Chief was crossing the border from West to East Berlin to see the opera (allied forces did have passing rights at the time, with proper identification) when asked to show identification by German border guards which he refused and he was turned away, unable to pass through the checkpoint. US General Clay ordered armored guards and tanks at the US side of the border as a show of strength. Of course, so did the Soviet Union. A 16-hour standoff with fully armed tanks stood only 75 meters from each other just waiting for the order to fire. President Kennedy opened a line of communication with Moscow that prompted a withdrawal of the tanks and order was restored amongst the allied forces crossing the borders until the fall of the Wall in 1989. It could have been on and then I hate to think the number of more lives lost in wars.
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That's a wrap Berlin, a beautiful city with lots of greenspace and multiculturalism.
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I would love to return one day but for now, it's off to Poland!
Much love,
L xx

Posted by mslaurajade 04:28 Archived in Germany Tagged history travel germany berlin tour tourist jewish wall adventures war wwii loss

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