Today, I learned about:
As you probably already have heard, today exactly 30 years has gone since the government of East Germany was pressed to permit its citizens in East Berlin to visit West Berlin, which eventually led to the extinction of the whole East Germany and its reunification in 1991 with West Germany.
The first time I visited Berlin was in May 1970, when the Wall, which divided the city into two parts, was going on its 9th year. My German language class went on a field trip for almost a week. First, we took the train to the South of Sweden, where the train boarded a ferry to Sassnitz in East Germany. After four hours on the boat, it arrived on German shores and from there it was no longer an electric locomotive pushing the train, but an old steam engine with its heavy black smoke, paving its way through the grey landscape, all the way to West Berlin. See also reference #1 below.
Unfortunately, I do not have any photos left from the trip to show, but I remember well the contrast between the two parts of Berlin. We stayed at a hotel in modern West Berlin, close to the business street Kurfürstendamm and had quite a few interesting and funny days there. On 1970-05-08 was the 25th anniversary of the end of World War II, which of course created some heavy demonstrations, and on the following day we went to Berlin’s Olympic Stadium to see the West German football team beat Ireland with 2-1.
But the strongest memory of the whole week was no doubt from the visit we paid on 1970-05-07 to East Berlin. We took the S-Bahn and after quite some waiting in the checkpoint, we were “free” to walk around in East Berlin. I remember the visit to the Pergamon museum with its majestic Pergamon altar and other impressive artefacts. But the most vivid memory comes from the film of the trip that my friend Jan Johansson and I had been commissioned to create. He was the Super-8 camera man, whereas I made the sound recordings on the brand new cassette tape recorder and interviewed people on the street about how life was in East Berlin for everyday people, a dangerous task. Only later would our teachers learn about that and reprimand us.
My second visit to Berlin only occurred in October 2006, when I was there for a brief business meeting, but I also returned in June 2007, when I had a whole day to go on a guided walk through the streets of Berlin. It was extremely interesting and our guide, who was a native Berliner, had extensive answers to all of our questions. No wonder that the originally planned 4 hour walk only ended after 6 hours!
Below are some photos I took on that city walk on 2007-06-09.
Photos taken in chronological order during the city walk:
Photo #1: Fernsehturm (TV tower) at Alexanderplatz. Since most people in East Berlin could watch TV broadcasts from the West, although it was forbidden, the East German government decided to build an enigmatic TV tower that would be seen all over both parts of Berlin. There is a rumour that the Swedish engineering firm that made the design on purpose made it so that when the sun shines on it from a certain angle, a golden cross appears on the globe. The Berliners call it the Pope’s revenge, since East Germany was so hard on religion.
Photo #2: In central Berlin there is an island named Museum Island, where many interesting museums are located. I already mentioned the Pergamon museum in 1970, but of course there are many more. This a photo taken from the steps of Altes Museum (Old museum), home to antiquities. To the left is the catholic Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) and beside it, under construction, is the cultural building Volkspalast, which substituted the former GDR parliament building. The construction of Volkspalast was heavily debated both among politicians and people in general.
Photo #3: In one of the pillars of the old buildings on Museum Island can still be seen bullet holes from the fightings at the end of World War II.
Photo #4: Zeughaus (Ammunition building) is the oldest structure of the former parade avenue Unter den Linden, with parts from the beginning of the 18th century. Today it houses the German historical museum.
Photo #5: Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg gate), located at the opposite end of Unter den Linden, is a war victory monument from the end of the 18th century. This is probably the best known landmark of Berlin still today.
Photos #6 and #7: Two photos showing what is left today of the former Wall that divided the two major parts of Berlin between 1961 and 1989. Photo # 6 is from Bernauer Strasse, taken from the former West Berlin, showing a 60 m long part of the Wall that is kept as a remembrance still today. Behind it, on the former East Berlin is now located Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial). Photo # 7 shows one of the memorial plaques spread out all over Berlin on the exact locations of the former Wall.
Photo #8: Checkpoint C(harlie), the best known crossing points between West and East Berlin, active between 1947 and 1991. On the right side of the photo is a sign saying, in English, Russian, French, and German “You are leaving the American sector”.
More about Berlin can be found in reference #2 below.
Today, I listened to an interesting live transmission by Radio Sweden from Berlin. The reporters were standing on Bernauer Strasse, exactly on the place where I took photo #6 12 years ago. If you understand Swedish, listen to the program, see reference # 3 below.
Finally, Berlin also makes part of my series of cities around the world that has been the host of an Olympic Game. It happened in 1936, when the Summer Olympic Games were held here, with the Olympic stadium I mentioned above in my visit in 1970 being the main venue. See reference #4 below.
That’s what I learned in school !