We had planned to stop in Dresden on the way to Berlin. Considered a strategic target in World War II, the allies bombed the heck out of it to the point of devastation. The rain changed our plans – it was coming down in buckets and we had only one umbrella, no adult rain gear and too many backpacks – so we headed straight to Berlin. The central terminal is sleek and shiny and almost like a mall. The city symbol is a bear, and like Denver’s cows, there were bear statues in various colors and costumes all over the city. Our hotel was in the former east Berlin, near the Gendarmarie market and not far from Checkpoint Charlie, which we visited the next morning.
Michael looked around when we got to our hotel and said, ‘wow, this is, like, a brand new city.’ And the former east Berlin is that for sure, and especially compared to Prague, Vienna and Budapest. Parts of the Berlin Wall exist around town and are made to be open-air museums and exhibitions. There were three gates between east and west – A, B and C. They were given NATO agreed upon letters, hence C for Charlie. There’s a funny fake ‘gate’ with actors in military uniforms and sunglasses with whom you can take your picture or photograph them stamping your passport. Down the block we stopped into a Trabant museum, which was an interesting little display of the various cars (sorry, I mean one car) that was available in the countries within the iron curtain. You could have your choice of three colors, but only one car. There was a great film running about its design and manufacturing – Trabant actually designed the hatchback, but Moscow didn’t want the ‘new’ stuff coming from Germany, only from Moscow. So Trabant never released the hatchback, but somehow VW got its hands on the design and they were the ones to make hatchback history.
We left the Trabi museum and walked to the Topographie des Terror, a museum with indoor and outoor exhibitions on the rise of the Nazi regime. The museum sits on the grounds where the SS, Secret Police and the Reichstag Security offices were located during World War II – they were bombed to nothing by the allies in 1945. Demetri and I took turns in the exhibits while the kids drove their matchbox-sized Trabis around the sidewalks and bannisters. From there we walked to Potsdamer Platz, which was sort of no-man’s land when the city was divided up, because the Berlin Wall bisected it. Prior to that it was a busy city square. We had some food and continued walking to an apartment complex built on top of Hitler’s bunker where he, Eva Braun and Joseph Goebbels were from January ’45 until their suicides that April. The bunker was excavated, inventoried and essentially destroyed in the late 80s, and the few remaining corridors were resealed. Not far from the bunker site is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. Outside, the memorial is 19,000 square meters with 2711 concrete blocks. The inside memorial contains diaries, letters and last notes written during the Holocaust, a room of names of all missing and murdered Jews in Europe and video interviews with survivors that can be watched in 10 languages. It’s devastating and emotional and very well done. From there we walked past the US Embassy (just coincidence), along the edge of Tiergarten Park (the size of Central Park in NYC) boogied to Uptown Funk blasting from the pole vaulting competition (USA came in first, Germany second), and crossed through the Brandenburg Gate onto Unter des Linden street, which looked like a combination of national mall and NYC’s Fifth Avenue. It runs from the Palace to Brandenburg Gate. We stopped for a coffee (Demetri), dessert (kids) and limoncello (me) on the way back to our hotel. We were totally underdressed for fall-like Berlin in our lightweight summer clothes.