Category Archives: Berlin
The Berlin Wall may be physically gone but it is still present in the city as a tourist site, as a commemorative site, and as a vestige of the physical reality. Plaques set into the sidewalks mark the location of the wall so that, if you are paying attention, you can always see when you cross between former East and West Berlin.
On Sunday afternoon, we went out to a large flea market near the Eberswalder underground stop. You can buy vintage items, junk, food stuffs, clothing, just about anything at this flea market. In the field next to the flea market, we saw picnics, musicians, jugglers, and people just hanging out. The Berlin Wall ran across the top of the hill next to the field. The wall is gone, but a replacement wall has been built as a venue for graffiti artists. During the Cold War, this neighborhood was in East Germany.
Wansee is a small town located southwest of Berlin. It sits on the edge of two lakes and was a popular vacation spot for German kaisers and their families, who built several castles along the shores of the lakes. Like many places in the Berlin region, Wannsee is both a Nazi and a Cold War historic site. In 1942, senior Nazi officials met in Wannsee and made plans for the Final Solution to murder all European Jews. The Glienicke Bridge between Wannsee and Potsdam was one of the few crossing points between East and West Germany. The bridge became famous when it served as an exchange point for captured spies and dissidents between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Today it is still a popular vacation spot; people come to Wannsee for the beaches and boating on the lakes. The parks and castle gardens are reportedly beautiful in the spring and summer. Unfortunately the gardens were still bare in mid-March, but I can imagine that it is lovely when everything is in bloom. After walking across the bridge and through the gardens of Schloss Glienicke, we ate lunch in a beer garden. I had sausages, rolls, spicy mustard, and a piece of cherry streusel cake.
Friday, Day 1:
Morning – fly from Kaunas to Berlin
Afternoon – Pergamon Museum on Museum Island
One of several museums on a small island, the Pergamon Museum is internationally known for its collection of classical antiquities. The main floor houses three halls each with installations of original buildings and walls — the Pergamon Temple from Greece, the Gate of Miletus from Rome, and the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon. Truly an amazing sight. The exhibition of Islamic art was also beautiful.
Evening – drinking beer and having interesting conversations in a mix of English, Lithuanian, Russian and German with a group of 2 Americans, 3 Lithuanians, 1 German, 1 Latvian and 1 Russian.
Saturday, Day 2:
Morning – Berlin Zoo
The weather was pleasantly warm and we wanted to be outside, so we went to the zoo. A few blooming trees and the baby animals made it really feel like spring.
Afternoon – Wansee
In the afternoon, a Lithuanian acquaintance who lives in Berlin took us out to Wansee, a small town outside of Berlin with lots of castles.
Evening — home-cooked dinner with an Indian German poet
The rest of the group continued on to Postdam, but I returned to Berlin with one of my travel companions, a Lithuanian-American writer. She had been invited to dinner with a friend of hers, an Indian poet who emigrated to Germany thirty years ago. Another evening of fascinating conversation and deliciously spicy home-cooked Indian food.
Sunday, Day 3:
Morning — exploring the city on foot
The young people had stayed out until the very early hours of the morning at a club, so I went off on my own to explore the city. I returned to Checkpoint Charlie to see the Berlin Wall exhibition along the street, then walked to Potsdamer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag.
Afternoon – flea market and Turkish food
We spent the afternoon at a large flea market in a field in a former East German neighborhood. One of my goals on this trip was to eat Turkish food. It was was tasty and spicy!
Evening – Tajik Tea Room
After a day of walking, we sat on cushions on the floor, drank smoky-flavored Russian tea and ate delicious cake at the Tajik Tea Room. A cozy and lovely tea room, it was a gift from the Soviet Union to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in the spirit of the brotherhood of nations. It’s apparently a very popular place with the locals because we had to wait 30 minutes for a table and most of the people there were Germans rather than tourists. I recommend it as a place to relax after a long day of tourist activities.
Back to Kaunas on Monday morning. More stories and photos to come…
I have wanted to visit Berlin ever since I started studying Russian and East European history as an undergraduate in the mid-1980s. At that time, Berlin was the iconic representation of the division of Europe and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall was the iconic representation of the end of those divisions. As a young person interested in this part of the world, those images were powerfully ingrained in my imagination. I was determined that this year I would visit Berlin and the past weekend, which included a Friday holiday, was the perfect opportunity (plus this is the last month that Ryanair is flying direct from Kaunas to Berlin).
It was an amazing weekend. There is so much to see in Berlin and there are many things that I had hoped to see and didn’t. But I was able to experience various aspects of historic and contemporary Berlin. I’ll post more stories and photos this week about my adventures. As a historian, I am of course interested in historic sites and museums. In Berlin, it seemed that I was constantly tripping over history even when I wasn’t intentionally looking for it. Statues, buildings and street names that refer to major events and people in German — and 20th century European — history are, of course, everywhere. Yet the most intriguing experience was the constant crossing back and forth between what had been East Berlin and West Berlin. Plaques on the ground mark the route of the wall so that, while the buildings and street life no longer indicate the division, it still there under out feet.
At the top of my list was a visit to Checkpoint Charlie because of its iconic nature. I envisioned going one afternoon and seeing the museum, along with hundreds of other tourists. Instead my first visit to Checkpoint Charlie occurred quite inadvertently. We were walking to the metro station from a pub at 2:30 in the morning of our first day when we turned the corner and there it was. We stopped briefly at the famous sign “You are leaving the American Sector” before continuing on our way. I looked at the young people in the their mid-20s with whom I was walking — a Lithuanian, a Latvian and a Russian who had all been born in the Soviet Union when the Berlin Wall still seemed to be a permanent reality. I realized that these young people have grown up and live now in a completely different world — one, at least, without this wall.