Monday, April 26, 2010

Berlin On Foot

By Claire
Our journey into the city this morning was smooth as silk. We left Homer at 7:35 am and were in line at the Reichstag by 8:20. The Reichstag is the Parliamentary Building and this was one of the top things on my list of things to see in Berlin. Rick Steves gave excellent advice about arriving at 8 am or after 9 pm. We lucked out—well, I sped to the end of the line just in front of a tour group—and a rope was pulled across just behind us, cutting off the tour group. The wait was only about 15 minutes and then a group of about 30 of us was herded in to strip down and go through the security check. It was pretty funny when, as the last people, we were now told to hurry, the elevator was waiting, as we struggled back into our jackets, grabbed our bags, and squeezed in.

Reichstag Dome

We arrived at the top of the building on the bottom level of the dome. Free audio guides were handed over (the entry is free as well) and we were directed onto the ramp that spiraled up and around the dome. I liked the fact that the number of people in the dome was kept to a small number. Just as we set foot on the ramp, our audio guides automatically came to life. The narrator breezily described all that we were seeing, told us when to stop and look, when to move on, now take a couple of steps, etc.

I was really impressed with this structure. It stands for transparency and openness in parliamentary democracy, giving everyone an equal right to share in political life. Looking up at the top of the dome I realized it was open to the air. Then, the audio guide explained that it had an environmentally-friendly cone-shaped funnel beneath it. The funnel helps with air circulation, drawing hot air out of the legislative chamber (ha ha) and pulling in cool air from below.

The funnel has 360 mirrors deflecting daylight as well as an anti-glare shield for the plenary chamber below.

The 360° view was fantastic and somewhat reminiscent of the view from the top of the De Young Museum in San Francisco. All of a sudden you can see the layout of the entire city. In fact, now we could see the whale on the top of the Frank Gehry building.

We spent about an hour there, then decided to walk to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum. We noticed a number of interesting sights along the way.

Café with blankets—I love this idea!

Open space

Reflection of Parliament Building

Seeing a tour group enter the museum, we decided to sit it out in a café across the street. Two cappuccinos and a breakfast treat, and we were ready to go.

German croissant—a little heavier than a French one but equally good

Inside the museum, we felt a little bogged down by all the posters with photos attached that required endless hours of reading. Instead, we made our way to the exhibits of successful escapes. It’s astonishing what people will do to escape from imprisonment, even at the risk of their lives.

This car got 5 people out. It had some armor in the windshield and the rear window and the doors were lined with cement.

In this shopping bag, a four year old child was smuggled out from the GDR to West Berlin on a subway leaving East Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station. The mother was granted a short-term permit for leaving the country; but the child had to be left behind. She lived separated from her husband; he would never have consented to allowing the child to be resettled outside the GDR.

A 25 year old GDR woman managed to escape in these two hollowed surfboards in 1987. A Stuttgart shop mechanic, whom she married afterwards, smuggled her out. The two surfboards, with her hiding inside, were brought out of the country on the roof rack of a Renault Fuego.

Most cars were thoroughly inspected at the GDR border. This 1964 Isetta, considered too small to smuggle anyone out, was the only car exempted from the controls. The engine is no larger than a cooking pot and it occupies only one side. The air induction manifold and heating system were taken out. The exhaust pipe was led directly to the underside of the car. The splash-guards over the two wheels were removed and instead a metal frame was installed which, lined with plywood, was capable of carrying one person.

I enjoyed seeing this museum again. There are many harrowing stories of tunnel escapes, homemade balloon flights, and even children taken from parents and put up for adoption when they were caught trying to escape. My first visit was in 1989 when the wall was still up. In fact, the weekend I was there, the last escapee was shot and killed. This was just two months before they opened the wall.

Outside, we found the double row of cobbles tracing the former path of the wall. These cobbles run through the city, even through some modern buildings.

We found the S-Bahn and made our way to the Sony Center with plans to see the German Film Museum but alas, it was closed today. I always forget what day it is and Mondays are terrible for seeing museums; maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I am heartily sick of big cities and public transportation systems. Our transfer point, Friedrichstrasse, is like an airplane terminal with vast distances to cover before finding your next train, usually up one or two flights, half a kilometer down a corridor and then down a flight. They even have grocery stores, department store style shops and restaurants. In spite of this transport, we must be walking miles each day. On the plus side, when we’re inside, I feel like I’m sitting in someone’s living room. The lighting is subdued, the seating plush, and the ride smooth and silent.

Civilization is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbor. ~ Arnold Toynbee


Karin said...

We found Berlin quite wonderful but then that is because we came direct from Athens! Ha, ha. We were in culture shock, finding everything workable, clean, on time!!!! and very pleasant. (I sound like I am knocking Athens; I'm not, it's just a completely different world).

Really enjoyed your pictures....and stories about people escaping over the wall. People are very very inventive when their hopes and dreams are for a better life. Imagine, that life was just "over the wall" yet it was more scary to cross than an abyss on a swinging bridge with loose ropes! I found their bravery beyond description and often wondered if I could have been that determined.

Glad the weather is nice, a bonus.

Karin on Paros

Chuck and Claire said...

And naturally we are comparing Berlin to Vienna. Huge difference. However, Berlin is certainly a place where everything works. As for the people who escaped from behind the wall, a photo I saw that really hit me was of a guy ducking down to climb through a hole in the wall in 1989 with his bike on his shoulder. There was something about it, just thinking that he had been literally walled up inside East Berlin.