At some point during this trip I visited my friend in the Oranienburger Street, which is a quarter that still has some milestones of German history. He pointed out to me that there were certain stones called Stolpersteine (roughly translates to “stumbling blocks”). Engraved on these stones were names of former Jewish citizens, their DOB as well as their reason and date of death. Hadn’t he pointed these out to me, I would have most likely just walked past them without knowing much about them. He also showed me how at many corners you will just find a blank piece of land and told me these were once corner houses. The buildings standing on the corner of a street were common targets of air bombs during WWII and ever since then some corners have not been rebuilt.
Berlin has a pretty interesting history, come to think about it, and I am glad that I was able to take in so much of it. Such as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe, which we visited the other day: An entire field with nameless gray stones of different heights dedicated to the Jewish homicide. I find the idea great but was appalled by the amount of disrespect people showed by just climbing the stones and posing for good pictures on top of the memorial. I would have found it better to personalize the memorial with names of the deceased but of course this must be an impossible project so I find the concept of nameless stones good in a way but also unimpressive at the same time. Such is the case sometimes with modern art – and the Holocaust Memorial has only existed for the past 8 years.
Back to my first day: After visiting the museum, we went on to snap pictures of the Wall, which consisted of two walls with a narrow walk way in between (some things you have to see until you believe them!). I heard there is a great piece in a different part of Berlin and Liz from JustBe.LoveAll.LiveLife has artfully captured the Wall from this part of town in her post out & about in Berlin (see the very last picture!). You can see how it is artfully decorated by graffiti and paintings from famous artists of the city. My local friend told me later-on that the city wants to build a huge mall on the spot where this remnant of the Berlin Wall stands. She has even joined a protestor’s group to prevent this from happening. In any case, the Wall would be hopelessly destroyed – a piece of history never to return. Small chunks of the Berlin Wall are still sold throughout the city, so I was glad to snag a few for friends overseas (the price is relatively cheap compared to the kind of history you are paying for).
Checkpoint Charlie was right around the corner and with it huge amounts of tourists. I thought this picture to be very funny and moment-capturing: A group of Turkish tourists posing with costumed soldiers re-enacting American and German militants. What was especially humorous was that at first it was only two people taking a picture but when the posers said it’s €1 for one picture, the entire family moved in (what a great way to get your money’s worth). There is a Checkpoint Charlie museum which
we successfully avoided we found a bit too overpriced for what we were getting out of it. Plus the tourist masses in front weren’t really inviting in terms of waiting time.
After a coffee break and waiting out the rain inside, we ended up at a beautiful, peaceful spot: The Gendarmenmarkt in the middle of Berlin. It is here that you see several different churches all at once in addition to small tourist groups, street performers, and kids performing bike tricks.
And finally we got the see the Brandenburger Tor, which is pretty much the epitome of Berliner tourism and a symbol worth checking out. Just as we were in front and contemplating which way to go next, a random car stopped in front of us and a party of 12 people exited, carrying a Meditarrenean bride along. She was dressed in a lovely white dress – obviously belonging to a wedding party performing some sort of ritual. Someone turned on the music in the car and the group began dancing in a circle for the length of one song. Until now we have no idea which country this group originated from and what tradition exactly they displayed but if anyone can come up with anything, please let me know. Regardless, this tradition is simply lovely and must be one of the highlights of a wedding when marrying in Berlin.
The next day we made our round towards the one and only Reichstag right next to the Gate. Then back towards the Museum Island, while walking along a street called “Unter den Linden”. With fancy souvenir shops, a great Nivea crème store, and lots of embassies on our way.
[For more pictures on Berlin, go to Days Spent in Berlin (II)]