The photo above is of the Berlin central train station which is currently the largest train station in all of Europe and also the only train station in Europe to have train tracks running into it at right angles. You enter on the ground floor, which is a shopping area. The next floor down (below ground level) is a shopping area. The bottom floor, which is two floors below ground level is one of the train platforms. Then, above the ground floor is another train platform floor (it was creepy to have the trains going over you in a mainly glass building) where the trains run perpendicular to those on the bottom train level. It was in this train station that we arrived after the long train journey back along the river, through Dresden again then up to Berlin. We had roughly 24 hours in Berlin before we planned to catch our next train up to Copenhagen. Because of this I was worried that we wouldn't get much out of our time in Berlin. Thankfully I was proven wrong. In Dresden and Prague tours and admission prices were pretty exorbitant so if you wanted to learn the history of the city, you either had to pay top dollar for it then or do as we did and read all about the place in Wikipedia after coming home; at times I'm convinced that Michael is having an affair with Wikipedia, he will sit down and read for days on end after a trip -- which I've decided is probably a good thing after we've spent many days in much closer proximity to each other than is normal in this tiny apartment, but I digress. Berlin, unlike those cities, makes all of it's history very prominent and public. Our first night there, we spent a good 2 hours (freezing) reading walls with hundreds of posters documenting the rise and fall of Hitler and the subsequent rise and fall of the Soviet occupation of the city and country.
The Rick Steves Europe 2009 clued us into the fact that there are many companies that organize free walking tours of Berlin so after a Dunkin' Donuts breakfast (pictured above) we took full advantage of that little tip. If you are ever visiting Berlin, I urge you to find one of these tours. The guides work for tips (and are very animated and interesting because of this) and give you a very comprehensive 3-ish hour tour. I'm going to give you a brief overview of the main sites we visited while in Berlin both on our own that first night and with the tour guide the next day.
The first stop on our walking tour was of the Brandenberg Gate located on Pariser Platz. It was formerly one of many gates around the city and is now the only one remaining. Located to the left of this picture is the ugly bunker-style American embassy and to the right is the doubly ugly French embassy...the pictures aren't worth posting here.
The newly finished (2005) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was next on our tour. The memorial was meant to be indivually interpreted by each visiter but at the same time, was meant to cause a feeling of confusion and unease. This picture was taken at the very edge of the memorial but as you can see in the distance, the paths between the concrete slabs dip down and the slabs get higher and highter. By the time we got to the middle, we 10 feet below street level with 20 ft of concrete towering over us. We heard somewhere (either Rick Steves or our tour guide) of a scandal when the memorial was getting it's final touches. It was found that the company hired to cover the slabs with a graffiti resistant glaze had been a major producer of the deadly gasses used to exterminate people in the concentration camps during the war. This lead to a lengthy and heated moral debate within the board of trustees but in the end they decided that they can't continue to shun everyone who wasn't on the right side of the war; not to mention the fact that many slabs were already coated in the glaze and would have to be destroyed and rebuilt if they voted against the company which would have cost many millions more. In the end, the concrete slabs were glazed for free by the company.
The parking lot pictured above doesn't look like much but was actually very important. While standing on this lot we were actually standing over the bunker where Hitler and his wife famously killed himself just before the soviets succeeded in taking Berlin.
This was the first view that we had of a remaining section of the Berlin wall. We were shocked at how thin it was but were later told that this was one of two walls that made up the border and the dangerous part was the space in between where guards and menacing dogs kept watch.
This is another daytime view of this section of wall. It is fenced in and will eventually be a part of a Museum exhibit. Most of the wall was destroyed by the people of Berlin just after the collapse but they managed to save a few small sections.
Through the city, the former path of the wall is marked out in these double cobblestones.
Very few buildings were left standing after WWII but those that did remain still bear the marks today.
Checkpoint Charlie was the only wall crossing checkpoint where allied forces and foreigners were allowed to cross the border between East and West Berlin. The poster in the photo shows an American soldier.
This mural was painted as a piece of socialist propaganda to show the German people just how well socialism works and how good life can be under a socialist government.
This mural was placed on the ground just in front of the mural above after the Soviet occupation to illustrate how bad the lives of the people actually were under the socialist government.