After my post yesterday Simeon and I walked across town to take an English walking tour of Berlin. Along the way we stopped to grab a soft pretzel and a hot dog from a friendly street vendor. Mmmmm (that’s German for Yummy). We arrived at the location where the tour was to meet and didn’t see anyone around. Simeon instantly panicked thinking he read the pamphlet wrong and we were to meet at 2:30pm instead of 3:00pm. As it turned out we were perfectly on time (the 2:30pm was the tour on the other side of the city) it was just a smaller group and we didn’t notice them among the crowds. The smaller group was preferable to me, as it brings a more individualized, intimate feel to the tour. Julie, our guide, was fabulous and had lovely anecdotes which made the tour very interesting and memorable.
The most entertaining thing about Berlin is while it looks like a grand old city, it is very new. So much of the city was destroyed during WWI and WWII and has been rebuild to look like the original structures. They even went so far as to copy the styles of architecture from other ancient cities to give it a more “old world” feel, which I believe they have accomplished. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a mere 19 years ago, the city has slowly been working to rebuild itself. Being an impoverished city, it has taken decades to repair the damages. Even as we walked the streets, we can see much of the buildings are under construction to repair the wounds inflicted decades ago.
I am not a big history buff, and can honestly say I had no real expectations of our stay in Berlin. But I have been so moved by the devastation and oppression the city has experienced and fought to conquer; WWI, the holocaust, WWII, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. While the majority of the buildings and monuments are very elaborate and decorative, I think the site that really impacted me the most on our tour would have to be one of the simplest: the monument in Bebelplatz Square. In the center of a cobblestone courtyard is a pane of glass. Below the glass is a lit library with rows and rows of empty book cases. It is to commemorate the scene of the Nazi bookburning in which 20,000 books written by Jewish authors were all destroyed. There is a plaque that reads “In the center of this place on 10 May 1933 National Socialist students burned work by hundreds of free writers journalists, philosophers, and scientists.” Perhaps more moving than the empty library is the quote by Heinrich Heine: “where books are burned, in the end people will burn.” If only Heinrich knew just how true that was.
But our tour was not all doom and gloom. A more humorous monument would have to be “The Pope’s Revenge.” The Fernsehturm, Berlin’s Television Tower, is a very noticeable monument that can be seen from much of the city. (In fact Simeon and I saw it from the air as we landed in Tegel airport–we thought it resembled a Christmas tree topper and kept referring to it as such.) When the sun shines on the Tower’s shiny “disco ball” the reflection creates a sort of cross. There was massive religious suppression as a result of the Communist governments atheist undertones which went so far as to ban all crosses. Though they have tried and tried, there is no stopping the reflective cross from appearing on sunny days, thus Berliners call the cross Rache des Papstes, or “The Pope’s Revenge.” You gotta love a religion with a sense of humor! I just never would have thought it would be the Catholics! (Just kidding….kinda.)
Anyway, we saw way more of the city than we ever imagined on our tour and as a result are taking it easy today. The weather has been quite drizzly and wet, so Simeon and I took the opportunity to sleep in and spend some time relaxing in cafes, drinking rich coffee, and enjoying German cuisine. It doesn’t get any better than that! Later today we may take advantage of our hotels fabulous spa before venturing back into the city again. I am determined to find me some Lederhosen…..
(Once again, all pictures are in my Flickr.)