Sunday, June 8, 2014

Berlin Walking Tour

In the morning we all woke up, enjoyed a quick breakfast before getting on the bus and heading into central Berlin so we could enjoy a walking tour. Our walk was hosted by Original Berlin Walks and we went on their Third Reich Tour.  Berlin is full of so much history from World War II and full of some iconic buildings.

Our first stop on the walk was the Reichstag building which was built to host the Parliament of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Parliament until 1933, when it was severely damaged by fire. The fire gave a pretext for the Nazis to suspend most rights provided for by the 1919 Weimer Constitution in an effort to weed out communists and increase state security.

During the 12 years of Nazi rule the building was not used for parliamentary sessions. The main meeting hall of the building was used for propaganda presentations and military purposes. The building, having never been fully repaired since the fire, was further damaged by air raids. During the Battle of Berlin in 1945, it became one of the central targets for the Red Army to capture due to its perceived symbolic significance. 

We walked from the Reichstag and followed our guide along to the Brandenburg Gate which is a former city gate rebuilt in the 18th century that is one of the most well known landmarks in Germany.  It was truly amazing to see it in person. I touched the large columns of the gate just imagining what history they had stood through.

The gate was commissioned by King Frederick William II of Prussia as a sign of peace and built by Carl Gotthard Langhans from 1788 to 1791. Having suffered considerable damage in World War II, the Brandenburg Gate was fully restored from 2000 to 2002.

From the gate we walked over to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is also known as the Holocaust Memorial. It was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and consists of a 4.7 acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field.  According to Eisenman's project text, the slabs are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. 

The memorial was definitely something to contemplate. As you walk through the slabs the sloping of the ground lowers you and the slabs reach above your heads. In some parts you feel like you are in a maze, surrounded by row upon row of the slabs.  The photo above almost looks like a computer generated image to me. 

We stopped for a break and I enjoyed a lemon crepe and a refreshing mint iced tea. I definitely did not eat as many crepes as I could have. Saving them up for my next trip to France perhaps.

The next stop after our short break was to look at the spot where the Führerbunker was/is. The bunker was an air-raid shelter located near the Reich Chancellery and was part of a complex constructed for Adolf Hitler.
Hitler took up residence in the Führerbunker on 16 January 1945 and it became the centre of the Nazi regime until the last week of World War II in Europe. Hitler married Eva Braun here during the last week of April 1945, shortly before they committed suicide.
After the war both the old and new Chancellery buildings were levelled by the Soviets. Despite some attempts at demolition, the underground complex remained largely undisturbed until 1988–89. During reconstruction of that area of Berlin, the sections of the old bunker complex that were excavated were for the most part destroyed. The site remained unmarked until 2006, when a small plaque with a schematic was installed. Some corridors of the bunker still exist, but are sealed off from the public.

Below is the parking lot that resides over where Hitler committed suicide.

Our guide was doing a wonderful job giving us all a history lesson on all the buildings we passed and how they involved the Third Reich. We stopped to admire this statue of the profile of a man's face. Our guide told us the story of Georg Elser, a German who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Hitler.  As we know, Hitler sadly did not die by assassination and I wonder how the world would be if he had. Lots of big thoughts coming from this post.

Above our guide telling us about how much propaganda helped fuel the war.

We walked along sections of the Berlin wall and reached the Topography of Terror which is an outdoor and indoor history museum on the site of buildings which were headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS from 1933 to 1945.

Our tour was starting to come towards it's end and we walked past the Trabi Safari which looked like a lot of fun. I know a few people on my tour who were able to drive the cars around Berlin. They just look so cute!

The tour sadly came to an end at Checkpoint Charlie which was the Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. The checkpoint has now become a tourist attraction and students dress up as soldiers for you to get your photos taken with them. 

If you are ever in Berlin, I highly recommend taking one of these walking tours. It was very informative and gave you a good history of the buildings in the central area. I always enjoy walking tours as it gives you a chance to walk through the city and get  your feel for it. The guides also point out the specific buildings you may have just walked on by without stopping and inform you of their history and role they played. I've done guided walking tours now in London, Edinburgh, Barcelona and Berlin.

My go to walking tour group is Sandemans New Europe tours. I've gone on four of their tours and enjoyed all of them. 

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