Berlin, what a city.
The modern industrial skyline shares its facade with bombed out churches and buildings that remain from the fall of
Germany at the end of World War II. The clash of the old and new can be seen regularly in Berlin. Kebab shops now compete with traditional German currywurst stands to steer tourists and German locals away from the McDonalds’, Starbucks’, and Dunkin Donuts’ that seem to be everywhere. The Allied rule in the postwar years is evident as
you walk from the American sector, to the British sector across the brick-lined Berlin Wall into the Russian sector. The hub of commerce throughout time in Berlin, Potzdamer Platz, once bustling with black market trade between the Allied sectors is now filled with Imax theaters and Sony along with other international conglomerates.
I traveled to the city for a weekend workshop on delivering the Middle Years Program of the IB Diploma, I leave now with a minute understanding of a complex city and a desire to know more. Here are some of the things I learned about on my latest journey.
is where the German parliament sat and was said to be the heart of German politics. The building was home to some of the most important debates, discussions and politic before the Nazi Party came to power. On February 27, 1933 the Reichstag burned, which would become one of the most important moments in German history. The building allegedly burnt by a Dutch communist anarchist would lead Hitler to declare Germany a state of emergency, which would last until Hitler’s death toward the end of World War II.
The burning of the Reichstag displaced the German parliament to the Kroll Opera House to vote on the Enabling Act. The vote was held with Hitler’s SA standing outside of the opera house armed and instructed to murder any of the members who openly voted against the Act.
Ninety-eight members of Parliament cast their open votes against the act, and this photograph shows the memorial to them.
The passing of the bill effectively meant the end of democracy in Germany and established the legal dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.
The Brandenburg Gate
is without a doubt an extremely important landmark and symbol of Germany. The gate is adorned up top with the Quadriga, a statue featuring four horses and currently the goddess of peace has an amazing history that you can read more about here.
Built from 1788-1791 by Prussian King Freidrich William II, the Brandenburg Gate has seen the rise and fall of the nation from Napoleon’s siege of the city in 1806, to the parade to celebrate the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933, to the famous “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” speech by Ronald Reagan in 1987 in the waning years of the Cold War. Still today it is a symbol of modern German progress and victory in overcoming its rocky and dark past.
To read more of the important events at the gate click here.
Below are a few great speeches that happened at the Brandenburg Gate.
John F. Kennedy – June 26, 1963
Ronald Reagan – June 1987
While passing past the Brandenburg Gate we cut through the Akademie der Künste (Academy of the Arts). I had never ever heard about the concept of Welthauptstadt Germania (World Capital Germany) that Hitler envisioned and had planned during the Nazi reign in WWII. The model was housed inside the current Academy of the Arts building.
I was interested to learn that the model constructed by Albert Speer, first architect of the Third Reich, whom aided the Third Reich in using architecture as another type of propaganda. If you would like to take a short virtual tour of what Germania may have looked like, watch this video.
Berlin’s Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe
I have never completely understood contemporary art, and after creating an interdisciplinary unit involving contemporary art I still don’t. When I heard that the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin was a love-it-or-hate-it contemporary piece I was both intrigued and bothered.
I arrived around 6:45 pm, the darkness had fallen which made the scale of the memorial difficult to see. I had learned that the reason that this design won was that it evoked an emotional response based on obscurity. There are no images, no words, no titles just a labyrinth of large, various sized, hollow concrete blocks on uneven ground.
While walking through the memorial at night, the intended purpose of architect, Peter Eisenman, became clear. I experienced a wide range of feelings as I walked deeper and deeper into the middle of the memorial. The walkways become narrower, the concrete blocks, or stellae, become larger and lost my sense of direction. I became alone and disoriented, and would catch glimpses of others as they quickly crossed my path in the grid from a distance. Children were screaming and making a ruckus somewhere in the memorial, which added to my sense of chaos.
That night upon exiting the memorial I jotted the following words down in my moleskin.
Which I would argue could have been written by a victim of the Holocaust as well. Despite still not completely grasping contemporary art, I now understand the emotional power that it could have. I was pleased to read more about the memorial and its purpose. The memorial’s website explains that the stellae and memorial “suggests that when a supposedly rational and ordered system grows too large and out of proportion to its intended purpose, it in fact loses touch with human reason. It then begins to reveal the innate disturbances and potential for chaos in all systems of seeming order, the idea that all closed systems of a closed order are bound to fail.”
I was so moved by the memorial that I needed to go see it again during the day. I returned and spent a few hours in the powerful museum located below the stellae.
The story of Johann Georg Elser.
The simple man who could have changed the history of the world and saved over 50 million lives.
On November 8, 1939, Hitler was giving an annual speech at a beer hall in Munich. Elser, with the intention to assassinate Hitler, had previously hid a bomb in a column directly behind the podium where Hitler would be speaking. Hitler was known for giving extremely long speeches and had the weather cooperated this would have been his last.
The speech began at 8pm and the timer on the bomb was set for 9:20pm. There was heavy fog in Munich that night which caused the Munich airport to shut down forcing Hitler to change his plans and take the train to Berlin instead. He exited the beer hall at 9:07pm to catch the train to Berlin and was sat comfortably in a limousine when the bomb detonated.
We can only hypothesize what the course of world history might have been if it weren’t for the fog in Munich on November 8, 1939. To read more about this assassination attempt by the humble but determined musician and carpenter click here.
72 Hours is not enough.
I think its save to say that 72 hours just isn’t enough time to visit Berlin, or any other major city for that matter. I have tried to scratch the service with this blog of what I was able to do in my first 72 hours in Berlin. Hopefully it has provided you with some insight, some inspiration, and some understanding of Berlin’s past, present and future.