Sunday, July 10, 2016

Willkommen in Deutschland! (Part 1)

Grady spent six weeks working in and touring around Germany during this past April and May. In late May, I had the gift of joining him and we spent a week sightseeing together.

First stop: Berlin.

We had a FANTASTIC time and, as to be expected, there was way more to see and do than there was time to do it. But, because Grady knows how to make every minute count and knew we may never see Germany again, he ensured we saw and did and tasted and took in as much as possible. Our feet hit the ground running - or, for two days, biking - and didn't stop until we crashed each evening. With his trusted map in one hand and Google's GPS in the other, we covered a lot of ground.
With so many pictures and each one deserving an explanation or a history lesson for reference, this post will be brief and simply highlight some of the key things we saw and did. 

Our hotel was across from a plaza with two old cathedrals and churches. Beautiful architecture and detail that you don't see here in the States. And the cafes - everywhere! Darling places to enjoy a simple bratwurst or a nice meal; cozy coffee and pastry options galore. 
Humboldt University was just around the corner from our hotel. Here the famous Nazi book burnings happened. To remember this event and all that it signified, there is a glass window over a portion of the courtyard and below are rows and rows of empty bookshelves. To see the historical school was one thing; to stand and imagine thousands of college-age adults burning books and pledging allegiance to Hitler and Nazism was another.
Checkpoint Charlie was a couple of blocks from our hotel, as well as some remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. This is one of the best-known crossing points at the Berlin Wall between the East and the West during the Cold War. There is a timeline of events and pictures detailing the history of the Berlin Wall that winds along a couple city blocks around this area.
The Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror) is a museum that documents the horrors in Germany during the Third Reich. The museum is a simple building that sits on a barren city block, which used to contain the headquarters of the Secret State Police and its house prison, and then during WWII it contained the Reich Security Main Office. There is no landscaping and nothing to beatify the area... just a large, flat, gravel city block that has been set aside to remember the terrors that once came from here. Along one side, there is a long portion of the Berlin Wall that stands on the foundation of SS headquarters.
The hours spent reading and looking at historical documents and pictures brought a sickening pit to my stomach as I reflected on the depravity of man, and that because of God's grace I haven't lived to experience such things. But it also compelled my heart to seriously consider the ramifications of where our country and world are going today and the reality that what I saw detailed in pictures from Nazi Germany aren't altogether impossible to imagine in time to come.
We spent time at the Brandenburg Gate, a site of many different historical events. In particular, this is where Hitler, SS members, and thousands of stormtroopers paraded when he was finally appointed chancellor of Germany. Although WWII destroyed a lot of Berlin, the Brandenburg Gate survived.
The East Side Gallery is an almost one mile stretch of the Berlin Wall that is an international memorial for freedom with art from people all over the world. During the Cold War, the West Berlin side of the wall was covered in graffiti as a way for people to express themselves, while the East Berlin side of the wall was totally blank because people weren't allowed to get close enough to touch it.
We quickly discovered that the best way to get around the city and the best way to see as much as possible was by renting bikes. We started out somewhat timid - going slowly, using sidewalks, obeying all signs. But before long Grady blew caution to the wind and decided it was time to stop looking like tourists and start biking liked we lived there. I kindly reminded him not to leave me in the dust and that if he heard my bike bell furiously ringing along with me frantically shouting, to please slow down and wait for me to catch up!
Hands down we will both say that the two days we spent riding bikes were our favorite days! We saw so many things we wouldn't have seen otherwise - quaint alleyways, quiet neighborhoods, and paths along the river. Not to mention the time we saved - by biking we got to places much faster than waiting to get on and off public transportation which allowed us to cover a lot of the city in our short time.

It's always interesting to see how the modern architecture of European cities melds with the old architecture from centuries ago. There is nothing like it in the States. And, I found it especially intriguing to see WWII bullet holes or artillery damage on many of the historical buildings and sculptures. It's hard to imagine a time when the beauty of what we can now see was once a place of destruction.
The Holocaust Memorial, while wonderfully arranged and carefully thought out, was a difficult couple of hours. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe sits on almost five acres with 2,711 slabs of concrete in differing heights. Each concrete slab is representative of a varying number, so that together, the height of the slabs remembers the 6 million Jews that were killed in Eurpoe. As you walk among the concrete slabs, it gives the impression of an immeasurable amount in an endless wave - a very powerful image.
The actual museum is underground. After passing through security, the first thing visitors see is a large quote from Primo Levi, a holocaust survivor, which says: "It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say." Powerful.
The Holocaust Memorial is quite different from the museum in Washington DC in that it isn't full of video and artifacts and discussion rooms. Instead, the Memorial seeks to take the staggering number of 6 million murdered Jews and put that in a personal and individual context. Various Jewish families from different countries are highlighted for an inside look at how the holocaust impacted families in a specific way: how families were separated, how some were killed, and how some survived.
We toured the Reichstag building and also the rooftop observatory, which gave incredible views of all of downtown Berlin. The Reichstag was opened in 1894 and used used for the German Diet until 1933, when it was damaged after a fire with plausible ties to Hitler and his Nazi regime. The building was further damaged during WWII and it wasn't until the Berlin Wall came down in 1990 and restoration began for the unified German government.
The Berlin Wall Memorial was both fascinating and crushing, interesting and horrifying. For details on events that happened at this particular site and why a memorial was arranged here, visit this website.
This memorial contains one of the last standing guard towers as well as original relics from the border fortifications. The Berlin Wall was much more than just a wall. It was layer upon layer upon layer of tortuous force to prevent people from escaping.
Notice all of this post contained pics of history that we visited. While we didn't do any fine wining and dining, we did enjoy some fantastic food - ranging from a simple bratwurst and pretzel from a vendor in a plaza, to a nice dinner of weinerschnitzel over candlelight. We stopped at lots of cafes for coffee and pastries. We sat on benches and people-watched. And we thoroughly enjoyed every second of learning and exploring together!
After three full days in Berlin, we left for a day in Heidelberg and two days in Frankfurt. Coming in Part 2...

1 comment:

  1. Love this babe. Great summary of the trip to relive the memory. Love you!