Berlin, WednesdayThis is what I wrote in my paper journal on the train from Berlin to Rostock:
Hallo, my name is Nicole and I will be your EXPRESS tour guide for Berlin.
Although I woke up with a splitting headache yesterday, I knew it was my only day in Berlin and I had a LOT to see. So I took a bunch of pills and marched on. It was pouring rain and very cold.
I took bus 109 to the zoo and then bus 100 to Siegessäute (the victory tower), walked around for a bit, saw the Bismarck monument and some other (probably significant) statues and monuments. I walked down Staße des Juni to teh Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. Although these places are important, they were not the main reason why I came to Berlin, so I did not spend much time at them (I did not go inside the Reichstag (the line was around the corner!) Instead, I decided to invest in some mittens and warm up at the cafe across the street.
The Holocaust Memorial
The Holocaust Memorial WAS one of the main reason for my stay in Berlin- and it was totally worth it. I spent probably 45 minutes taking photos outside in the rain and cold. The memorial is a series of concrete "boxes" (about the size of a coffin) on a grid with narrow (maybe 2'-0" or 2'-6" wide) cobblestone walkways in between. No names, no faces, no plaques. Just a quiet space to comtemplate. If I had a dream career, I would design places like these- memorials or public places with out the history- just a place that represents something- a place to think about the event or location that is important there. I get so bored with historical museums and places with plaques with long histories and statues of famous people.
The holocaust museum below was also laid out on the same grid, but it was below ground, at the northeast corner of the memorial. I was pleasantly surprised. There was a kinda-wordy history and all, but it was more interesting to me maybe because the text wasn't mounted on the wall. Part of the exhibit had the history on panels on the floor and on coffin-size blocks that came out of the ceiling and didn't touch the floor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_to_the_Murdered_Jews_of_Europe
Just around the corner from the memorial was the location of Hitler's bunker. It was really nothing more that a big sign with some text and a floor plan. I'm not even sure that the bunker was still there or if it had been demolished.
This is where I got very lost. I think I was distracted by all the modern architecture there like the Sony Center. After I found my bearings, I stopped for a late lunch at the "Quizno's" of Berlin- "Der Rächer Feihl." My panino, kaffee and water was 5,85€.
Berlin Wall, Gestapo Headquaters and "Topography of Terror"
It is so crazy to stand a place as historically significant as these and imagine all that happened there. Even the Gestapo headquarters was demolished except for parts of the foundation, but to know what happened in that building when it stood is appalling. Trials, soldiers quarters, prisoner cells were all housed at this location. And I was there. Behind the Wall was also an exhibit called "Topography of Terror" which was just more history, old photos and artifacts.
Check! A little building in the middle of traffic with some sandbags and a sign that warns that you are leaving the American sector.
I was outside this Daniel Libeskind building for a good while as well- until my hands wouldn't move anymore to take photos. It was 7€ to get into both exhibits and both buildings- one old building and one new. The permanent exhibit was the Jewish history. It was one of the most effective historic exhibits I have ever experienced. What made it so effective was how interactive it was. There were moving panels, phones to pick up and listen to, places to sit and play with objects that taught you about Jewish history.
One of many interactive displays at Jüdisches Museum
How fun is this museum?
My favorite part of the permanent exhibit was called "Ja Oder Nein." It was a little station with a computer screen that asked a question like, "Do you think that in your circle of friends anyone holds prejudices against Jews?" And you are supposed to push either the red button or the green. After you make your selection, the screen gives you a percentage of the people who voted yes and no and how many had voted.
From the entrance plaque at "Shalechet":
Menashe Kadishman's installation "Shalechet" is first a memorial to the Holocaust. But he reaches beyond this and dedicates it to all innocent victims violence of war. He requests that his vistors walk upon the work. The title "Fallen Leaves" raises suggestions of both negative predestination and of hope for new life in the coming spring."
Me on the exhibit "Shalechet"
The funny thing is- I didn't really go to the museum for the exhibit- I went to see the building. Usually, the exhibits themselves aren't part of the design- they are independent of the exterior of the building and are usually the regular facts and photos and artifacts. There were all of those things, but this type of learning is so much more effective than standing around reading plaques all day!
The temporary exhibit was about Darfur. It was a slideshow along with drawings from children survivors of Darfur. Each drawing had a description from the child- most were drawings of people with guns or knives or a picture of their brother or sister or mother or father being murdered. The most powerful part of the exhibit was the movie, "Hell Came on Horseback," which I don't think translates correctly, but It was the documentary of a photographer who was a former Marine who spent 6 months in Darfur taking photos of what would later be declared genocide.
I arrived a bit late to the film, but it was amazing. At one point, the narrator/photgrapher Brian, was in a helicopter with his crew and they came across the Janjaweed in action burning down a village. When they saw the helicopter, the Janjaweed fled by Jeep. They showed 2 or 3 vehicles full of men with guns driving away from the village. He said something to the effect of: I could have ended it all. Right there, right then. If I had been behind the scope of a gun instead of a camera, this would all change right NOW....But I wasn't behind a gun.
It was very powerful. I'm not sure what the status of this movie is, but you should try to see it and do anything you can to help the people in Darfur.
The Taxi Ride
When I came out of the movie, it was snowing. And it was after 9pm. I was so exhausted that I asked the museum to call me a cab. It was 14,20€ to get back to my hotel, but it was worth every penny. All taxis in Berlin are Mercedes and this one was a newer one- leather seats and everything. Riding in that car after more than 12 hours of walking and sightseeing made my day. Not to mention how handsome the cab driver was... ("cabbies" are not like the cabbies in the US) He could have stepped right out of a Marc Jacobs ad- wool peacoat and all. Too bad I said "Si" instead of "Ja" when he confirmed my destination....
Overall, I loved Berlin. It was so clean, the transportation was very efficient and the architecture was amazing. One day is defintiely not enough though. I will have to return I guess.