Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011: Berlin - Insider's Tour, Topography of Terror, Spree, Holocaust Memorial

In the morning I went on an "Insider's" tour of Berlin. It was led by a woman originally from Sweden, but she'd lived in Berlin for a number of years, so I guess that qualifies her as an insider. The focus was on the history of the Berlin wall and the division of the city into East and West. From today's vantage point it seems utterly improbable that a city could have been divided up so suddenly and thoroughly. That being said, I've visited the divided capital city of Cyprus, Nicosia, in 2000, so maybe it's not so improbable after all.

At the end of the tour I visited the Topography of Terror museum, which exhibitions about the division and the Nazi regime. It's built on the site of former Gestapo headquarters, with a large segment of the Berlin wall preserved.

In the evening Mark and I took a boat tour along the Spree river through the city. It was a beautiful evening, with warm weather and sunshine. Many people were hanging out along the river banks at the beach bars (imported sand, palm tree and beach chair lending a resort-like air). Berlin is a pretty diverse mix of old and modern architecture side by side - with all the warfare, there have been plenty of holes to fill with new buildings, unlike other cities we've visited in Europe.

Mark and I also went to visit the Holocaust Memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman (also the designer of the City of Culture in Santiago, Spain), which I'd seen earlier that day on the tour. It's such a striking design - as the height of the walkway changes, the stelae transform from horizontal grave-like slabs to tall, forbidding structures, and you feel lost in a city emptied of people. It was a very powerful and affecting experience.

Checkpoint Charlie - a somewhat Disneyesque re-creation of the crossing point from East to West Germany

A very moving combination of lonely sculpture, with exposure to sun and rain

The wall at the Topography of Terror

Classic East German Trabi cars for rent by tourists driving about Berlin

A plaque memorializing the location of the wall that divided the city

An overhead view of the Holocaust Memorial

And the oppressiveness from within the Memorial's depths

Beach bar along the Spree

A classic brick bridge over the Spree

Berlin's modern architecture

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