Tuesday Sept 4, 2018
We started the day with the OPOS Semiya as I had managed to get the roasted vermicelli and green chillies in the Indian store, Dostana at Hamburg. Its amazing that we are able to cook our own food anywhere in the world with just a light weight induction stove and a 2 Lit pressure cooker, all thanks to OPOS. We had booked the Discover Berlin walking tour for the day and the starting time was 10.30 am at the Hackescher Markt. We had to take the S5, S7 or S75 (S Bahn are trains that run overground) train. We saw the map and it said the Ostkruez station had a direct line to the Hackescher Markt station, so we decided to walk to that station.
It was an easy walk of 1.3 kms and we reached the starting point of our tour with enough time to spare. There was a big group of people waiting to go on this walking tour, so two guides split the group between them. Our tour guide was Gregor an East Berliner whose parents were born in the erstwhile East Berlin. He was outstanding as a guide ! We started the trip on the banks of the river Spree under the shade of a tree as the Sun was beating down.
Apparently the name Berlin came from the Slavic word Berlo which means swamp and Berlin is built on a swamp. Berlin came into being around 1237 as a tiny trading post. In the year 1618 when the 30 year wars started and plague hit Berlin, the 12000 strong population of the tiny town was cut down by half. When Frederick I of the Hohenzollern family became the mayor of Berlin in 1415, he laid the foundation of the Prussian Kingdom and his successors became the Kaiser (Monarch) of Prussia till 1918. At the end of WW1, people revolted against the monarchy, overthrew them and a republic was born.
Our first stop was at the Berlin Cathedral built by Wilhelm II. The construction was started in 1893 and completed in 1905.
The TV tower can be seen in the background. This cathedral, the Altes Museum, War Memorial and a few other buildings are in what’s called the Museum Island area of Berlin.
Our next stop was near two buildings that are adjacent to each other – one an erstwhile armoury (Zeughaus) built in 1705 with a baroque architecture and the other a war memorial whose facade is neo-classical and this was built in 1818. It was initially a guard house and later a war memorial for different soldiers who died in different wars. Now it is called the Nueu Wache (new guardhouse) and has a replica of a sculpture made by Kathe Kollwitz titled “Mother with her dead son”. Its a poignant reminder of the loss that a mother experiences when her son dies on the battleground … irrespective of country or culture.
From reflecting on this sculpture we walked across to the Humboldt university building where the famous book burning took place on May 10th, 1933. Nearly 20000 books were burnt and it was mostly students that were influenced by the Nazi propaganda who emptied the library shelves and lit the fire. The memorial here is just a glass pane through through which you can see empty bookcases, a great reminder of what happens when books are burnt … sometimes it leads to people being burnt as well.
By this time the Sun was beating down on us and we earned the coffee break. Gregor took us to a lovely cafe where we had the much needed coffee. We also met Rupinder and Preeti, an Indian couple who were part of the walking group. They also live in Delhi and we chatted for a while before the walk started again. We walked next to the famous Brandenburg gate. This gate was commissioned by William II of Prussia and to represent peace. The Gate was designed by Carl Langhans, the Court Superintendent of Buildings, and built between 1788 and 1791, replacing the earlier simple guardhouses which flanked the original gate in the Customs Wall. The Brandenburg gate is famous and Hitler had his troops march past the gate at the height of the Nazi rule. Read some more facts about the Brandenburg gate here – 14 little known facts about the Brandenburg gate.
A few interesting things that we noticed at the gate – a cycle rickshaw and another cycle which 5 riders could ride ….
After the Brandenburg gate we walked across to the most stark reminder of the holocaust… the memorial to the Jews massacred across Europe. The memorial is over an area of 19,000-square-metre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae” arranged in a grid pattern. Its to represent different individual jews who were reduced to a number in the concentration camps… its almost as if the artist is trying to give them back their individuality. I was moved by the memorial and I just shudder to think about the 6 million jews who lost their lives.
A few hundred metres away is Hitler’s bunker, which is where he committed suicide and today the place is just a plain parking lot.
May the world never be subjected to that kind of Xenophobia …. but we see so much of it even today in different parts of the world.
We walked across the massive “Mall of Berlin” to see the remnants of the Berlin wall that came down in 1990 and Germany was reunited. The stories around the Berlin wall are known, so just a picture here to see it. As we were walking towards it, I also took a picture of Samsung’s hot air balloon that promises you a re-imagination as you soar over Berlin :). We stopped at the Nazi Air ministry building which is interestingly the office building of the finance ministry now…
Our walk ended at the famous Checkpoint Charlie. You have actors now donning the US army uniforms and patrolling this point. Don’t miss the KFC right there 🙂
We walked across to the Hackerscher Markt station after a stop at the AlNatura store for a quick lunch. By the time we reached back to the Airbnb we had walked 16 kms !! A nice long walk through history indeed.