Day two in Berlin and the weather was not on my side, it was pouring with rain when I opened the bedroom curtains. After a quick coffee and a little juggling around I decided to head off to the Topographie des Terrors as it was mostly inside.
At the time of the Third Reich Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse was probably the most frightening address in Berlin. It was here in 1934 that three of the most terrifying Nazi political departments had their headquarters; The Third Reich’s Security Service (SD); The Gestapo and the Schutzstaffel (SS). It was in buildings here that decisions were made about the Germanization of the occupied territories as well as plans for the genocide of European Jews.
After the war the buildings were demolished but in 1987 an exhibition was installed in the former cellars documenting the Nazi crimes. It gives a fascinating insight into the way the Third Reich worked and the horrors they committed. A preserved section of the Berlin Wall also runs alongside the building.
As the rain was starting to ease off I made my way along to my next stop Checkpoint Charlie. There’s little left of the former crossing point between east and west Berlin except a replica checkpoint booth complete with sandbags and the famous huge sign on the old western side that reads “You are leaving the American Sector”. It’s a fun place to stop and get some photo’s but that’s about it.
After a short subway ride I arrived at my next destination the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. The huge Neo-Romanesque church was designed by Franz Schwechten, it was consecrated in 1895 but was destroyed by bombs in 1943.
When the war was over the ruins were removed, leaving only the massive front tower at the base of which is the Gedenkhalle (Memorial Hall). In the hall there is a history of the church and some original ceiling mosaics, marble reliefs and other objects from the church. In 1961 an octagonal church in blue glass and a free standing bell tower were added.
Another short subway ride and I was in an area called Charlottenburg to visit Schloss Charlottenburg the former royal summer palace. The palace was intended as a summer home for Sophie Charlotte, Elector Friedrich III’s wife. Construction began in 1695 with subsequent extensions built over several decades. The palace has been meticulously rebuilt following the war and contains some beautifully decorated interiors. I only got to see the outside as the palace was closed on the day I visited.
The Schlosspark is the extensive royal park that surrounds the palace and is worth a wander if you have time. Just behind the palace is a French style Baroque garden made to a strict geometrical design and filled with flowerbeds, ornate fountains and carefully trimmed shrubs.
As the weather had improved I decided to walk back from Schloss Charlottenburg and through Berlin’s main park the Tiergarten. Once a royal hunting estate, the Tiergarten became a park in the 18th century, it’s the largest park in Berlin covering 495 acres.
Walking down the Triumphal Avenue really gives you an idea as to how big the park is. Eventually I reached the Grosser Stern, a vast roundabout in the centre of the park. In the middle of the roundabout is the Triumphal Column (Siegessaule). It was built to commemorate victory in the Prusso-Danish war of 1864, after further victories a gilded figure, “Goldesle” by Friedrich Drake was added to the top. The monument originally stood in front of the Reichstag building until the Nazi government moved it to its present location in 1938.
One of the biggest memorial in the Tiergarten is the Monument to Soviet Soldiers (Sowjetisches Ehrenmal), it’s huge. The monument near the Brandenburg Gate was unveiled on 7th November 1945, on the anniversary of the start of the October Revolution in Russia.
The monument commemorates over 300,000 Soviet troops who lost their lives in the battle for Berlin. The two tanks that flank the memorial were the first two tanks to enter Berlin when the city fell. The vast column was made from marble taken from the headquarters of the Chancellor of the Third Reich when it was being dismantled. Following the partition of Berlin, the site ended up in the British sector, but Soviet soldiers were always granted access.
Just south of the Reichstag in the Tiergarten is the moving Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism. The monument is dedicated to the memory of the 220,000 to 500,000 people murdered in the Porajmos, the Nazi genocide of European Sinti and Roma people.
When I stayed in Berlin my hotel, the Berlin Marriott, was in the modern entertainment area known as Potsdamer Platz. During the 1920’s this was Europe’s busiest plaza, but during WWII it was reduced to a pile a rubble. After the war was over the division of Berlin made this area a wide open space and no man’s land next to the Berlin Wall. After reunification, the square was redeveloped by various international business concerns and Berlin’s old hub once again became a dynamic centre.
The Sony Center is a huge complex and its piazza has become one of Berlin’s most popular attractions. There are restaurants, shops, offices and apartments all situated inside this impressive building.
Also inside the Sony Center is a small but magnificent historical gem, the Kaisersaal. Set behind a glass facade, the dining hall, one of the city’s finest, was once part of the Grand Hotel Esplanade. This hotel was the epitome of luxury in pre-war Berlin and was almost destroyed during WWII. When the site was redeveloped by Sony it was stipulated that the Kaisersaal, stairways, bathrooms and several other rooms should be restored and integrated in to the new building.
My last call in Berlin was somewhere that I’d wanted to see for a long time as I’d heard so much about it, so after another subway ride out to the old east Berlin I finally got to see it. The East Side Gallery was something I’d heard a lot about and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a mile long stretch of a part of the Berlin Wall that has been given over to graffiti art and it’s quite impressive.
Over 118 artists coming from 21 different countries have their work on display here and it was all organised by the Scottish artist Chris MacLean back in 1990. In 2009 it was restored to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall.
A few photo’s later, more of which you can see in a separate post about the East Side Gallery, and I was heading back to my hotel my weekend in Berlin over. I’ve had the most amazing time in Berlin and feel that I’ve just scratched the surface, I can’t wait to return and do even more exploring.