Friday, June 24, 2011

Berlin, Germany, June 23

Thursday, June 23. Our port is Warnemunde, Germany. Our excursion trip to Berlin, Germany, included Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, several sections of the Berlin Wall, a Russian war memorial, the book-burning memorial, the Reichstag (parliament) building, the Holocaust Memorial, Alexander Platz, Potsdamer Platz (with the Sony Tower), and a Spree River cruise. Princess Cruises chartered two trains to take excursion passengers to and from Berlin. The train ride was three hours both ways.

The Berlin Wall was up 28 years. 1,068 people were killed while trying to go from East Berlin to West Berlin; 4,500 people were successful. "With the wind to the west" is a movie about a hot-air balloon. We saw several sections of the wall that remain as a monument or memorial to that time and condition. There is a double-row of bricks making a line in the ground where the wall has been taken down. There were two walls with a no-mans land between them, with watch towers and machine guns.

On November 9, 1989, an East German official gave a broadcast speech in which he made a big mistake. He was supposed to announce that border restrictions were in the process of being revised, but he misinterpreted the information, and instead announced that the border was immediately open to all people. Tens of thousands of East Germans who heard the broadcast went to the border gates. The shear quantity of people stormed the gates and went through. The wall was now open and soon was taken apart by people. November 9th could not be celebrated by Germans because several bad things happened on that date, so the October, 1990 date of German reunification was chosen as the celebration date. Artists were asked to paint the sections of wall that were left standing.

The division of Berlin into four parts was supposed to be harmonious, so Checkpoint Charlie was a small temporary-style hut to demonstrate the temporary nature of the division. The two "military" men in front of the hut are Berliners trying to make money from tips for posing for photos.

East Berlin had a bus that gave rides to handicapped people. The driver sat in a separate compartment, and the engine exhaust was piped into the bus interior, so all the handicapped riders would die. Handicapped people had no value in Soviet society.

The Brandenburg Gate was built in 1789 to celebrate victories of the Prussian army, and has seen the victors of several wars walking through its arches. In WW II everything around the Brandenburg Gate was destroyed, but the Gate was relatively untouched.

The Reichstag (parliament) building was burned by the Nazis, so after the war Germany kept the decorative shell of the building and built a new functional building inside the shell.

The Soviet Union built a tall television tower, with a large spherical observation deck, to dominate the sky in East Berlin. Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, when the sun is shining there is a reflection from the sphere that looks like a cross. The West Berliners call that "The Pope's Revenge".

The Holocaust Memorial takes much of a city block. It is a pattern of granite blocks of different heights, somewhat like a cemetery. The museum is below the memorial.

All German school children are taken to see the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which was one of the most notorious death camps and a training center for SS soldiers.

There has been a tremendous amount of building and growth in Berlin after the war, including Alexander Platz (plaza) (named after Russian Czar Alexander I) and Potsdamer Platz (with the highly noticeable architecture of the Sony Tower).

The Spree River runs through Berlin, and at some places was part of the no-mans space between the two walls. We had a river cruise to see the center of Berlin from the river perspective. Berliners are so desperate for being on the beach that they sit and lie on the edge of the river.

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