So, a good couple of weeks after my trip here is the blog post for my last day in Berlin. Sorry about the delay – been distracted by work, making plans for my trip to Norway in September and a family weekend celebration.
My last day in Berlin was finally sunny. Still cold, but sunny. The first place I went to was actually back to the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag just so I could see them in the sunshine. I didn’t stay long, only a few minutes to take some photos.
From there I went to the East Side Gallery. This is a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall which is still standing, with artwork painted along the east side of the wall. Almost immediately after the fall of the wall, 105 paintings were painted by artists from all over the world. The paintings reflect the mood of the time of the fall of the Wall, with subject matters including images of freedom and euphoria, and oppression. Many of the paintings are iconic and it was amazing to see them. It is a protected landmark, and was restored a few years ago as time and the elements had taken their toll on the artwork.
After that I headed to the Berlin Wall Memorial museum, to learn more about how the physical structure was built and how it divided a community. However, on route I found a minor distraction.
The station on the S-Bahn, Nordbahnhof which you use for this exhibit was one of the “ghost stations” of the Wall era. When Berlin was divided in 2, 2 U-Bahn lines, and 1 S-Bahn line, although starting and ending in West Berlin, crossed the division several times as the border wasn’t a straight line. The stations they passed through which were now in East Germany were closed, becoming ghost stations, where the trains no longer stopped. All outside exits were closed, in some places so effectively that you couldn’t even tell there was a station entrance there. Internal doorways/passageways were boarded up to make going through them harder. Guards were even posted on the platforms in case passengers jumped off a passing train. Trains also couldn’t stop at these stations. If anyone was successful at escaping to the West from a station, that station was very quickly examined and the route used by the escapee was quickly sealed.
The exhibit is free, and set up around one of the foyers inside the station. There are several photos and a number of information boards explaining it all. It was all very informative and interesting, and a side to life in Berlin I hadn’t thought about at all, and have never experienced.
The Berlin Wall Memorial was interesting. There is a small visitors centre, which has a shop and toilets, but the actual exhibit is outside, on the site of more remains of the Wall. It explains, through remaining artefacts how the Wall grew, and became the structure it was. At this particular site, the wall divided a street, as it did in many places, and this exhibit shows the impact on the local community of having the Wall rip it in 2. The exhibit also provides details of the wall itself. On the West Berlin side, it was just a wall – a tall wall, but just a wall, which locals could go up to and touch, and drew pictures and graffiti on. On the East Berlin side, it was much more forbidding, with a second wall built several metres away from the Wall, with the death strip between the 2 walls, and multiple guard towers in the middle – all designed to make it impossible to escape. Many people tried of course, but given the obstacles of 2 walls and the guarded death strip the chances of escaping without being seen and shot were slim. The exhibit, in addition to explaining how the Wall grew into the barrier it was, also details several escape attempts made by various people as a memorial to them.
From there, I had planned to go to the Tranenpalast (Palace of Tears), which was about the divide between East and West, and what it meant to say goodbye to friends and family at the border. However, I got distracted (again!), and went elsewhere. Instead I went to The Marienfelde Refugee Center.
The Marienfelde Refugee Center is in Western Berlin, in what was the American Sector. Between 1949 and 1990, about 4million people fled East Germany for the West, and although they were welcomed – none of them was shot, or made to return, they did have to apply for refugee status, which I had never realised. The Marienfelde Refugee Center was one of a number of refugee centres where they lived while their application was being processed. Today, it’s a museum, explaining the process they went through, what it was like living there, and the implications of getting or being denied refugee status. Those who were granted refugee status received lots of help with settling in the West, which became more and more important as time went on, as the West became more prosperous, and West Germans enjoyed far more freedom than those from the East were used to, especially those who were born in East Germany, in the years after the division of Germany. On that cold day in January I was the only person there, but it was really interesting and I would definitely recommend people visit.
After that, I went to the Sony Centre, which has shops and restaurants and a big cinema, and then onto the Mall of Berlin, which is near Potsdamer Platz. It was huge, and I didn’t see all of it. There is a food court, and many, many shops. It was clean, glitzy, and only opened a few years ago, so still looks new. I didn’t spend long there, as my feet were tired after a day sightseeing, but I’m glad I went.
That’s it, my trip to Berlin. A very enjoyable, informative trip to a city I will definitely return to one day…