People and Places

Last Post from Berlin

Posted on March 9, 2013

Some final highlights from our days in Berlin.

The Reichstag.  Home of the German Bendestag, the lower house of the German Parliament, it was set afire in 1933 and Hitler used that event as a pretext to seize power (a Dutch Communist was blamed and more recent scholarship seems to confirm his role, but his misdeed nevertheless served the Nazis well).  Sir Norman Foster designed the reconstruction and built an amazing glass dome that rises 155’ above ground atop the old building.  One walks up along a spiraling ramp to amazing views over the city.  A mirrored cone washes the chamber below in light and is designed to release hot air (cue the drum roll for all the appropriate jokes here) and also symbolizes the notion of transparently governing in the light.  It included one of the many really excellent audio tours we enjoyed during our various stops.  I’d put this building in my Top Ten architectural list.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.  Once one of the most important churches in Berlin (where royal events took place), only the steeple remains from the bombed out WWII ruins, but next it is a an octagonal modern (1961) church that looks sort of monolithically boring on the outside and then takes one breath away upon entering.  The church walls are composed of 22,000 squares of stained glass, almost all blue, that wash the contemporarily austere interior in blue light.  We just sat in silence and soaked up the sacred feel of the place.  The stained glass, a reconciliation gift from France, was made in Chartres and is beautiful.  It gets much less play in the guidebooks than it deserves.

Charlottenburg Palace.  Not sure I’d say this 17th C. Baroque palace was a highlight, as I find these palaces mostly boring.  


Our visit reinforced two long held beliefs:

  • Working people should have rid themselves of these useless inbred packs of undeserving idiots long before the French and American revolutions got around to it (I’m talking to you too, Queen Elizabeth and family);
  • Their personal morals and behaviors were separated from those of street whores and degenerates by two things: money and arms.

Compared to Versailles or Hampton Court, Charlottenburg Palace was modest in size and grandeur and I’m also reminded that the average middle class American family now lives a vastly better life than the royalty of just two and three-hundred years ago.  I’ll also grant them this: they sure did gardens pretty well.

The Cold War.  We visited sections of the Wall and the Checkpoint Charlie crossing and the quirky (no, just weird) Checkpoint Charlie Museum and I was impressed that a double line of cobblestones retraces the original course of the wall throughout the city.  Really one gets a sense that Berlin has moved beyond those bad old days and has little desire to dwell on them, in contrast to the Holocaust, and I think I felt a little of the same. 

Seeing the pictures of 1989 when the Wall came down – remarkably because an East German television reporter misinterpreted a news item and announced free passage – I had two main revelations:

  1. Wow, we were crazy to stand on the brink of nuclear annihilation;
  2. Short shorts and Birckenstocks with white socks (an apparent trendy combination in 1989) is the fashion equivalent of nuclear annihilation.  Ugh.

Places we have visited like Budapest and Sofia seem to be trapped by the Cold War years and past Soviet domination, still struggling to reinvent themselves all these years after.  Germany, in contrast, has left the Cold War a distant and increasingly dim memory.  That said, while we were visiting there were protests in Berlin at the news that a developer wanted to move one of the last standing sections of the wall. 

Maybe best of all was just walking around, seeing the neighborhood where Hannah and Ted are living, visiting the outdoor market, and soaking up day-to-day life.  That’s often the case when we travel.  We are of course drawn to the blockbuster sites and cultural attractions, but it’s the texture of small things and how people live that I find as interesting. 

 It was fun seeing families in the playgrounds, poking around the food section of the Galleria, and stopping in at our favorite little beer place to take the same table each time. 

On both levels, the big attractions and the quality of life, Berlin was a delight and I’d happily return again.  Now onto Oxford to visit daughter Emma!




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