A Boat Tour, The Brandenburg Gate and The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Berlin is a city in which I can easily imagine living – or, more accurately, where I imagine that I would have liked to have lived at one time: not so much now, when my days are filled with people here in Canada (including a lovely bunch of grandchildren) and places of which I am so fond. But when I was just starting out, if I had known about Berlin as anything more than a city in Germany that was frequently mentioned in my history classes, I might well have considered it.
From what I’ve read and seen in movies, I know that Berlin would have been an interesting place to live before World War II, especially during the “Golden Twenties.” Of course, I hadn’t been born at that point. I think I’d also have liked to have lived there in the 1980s, during the period when Nick Cave made Berlin his home. (Although Nick Cave himself did issue a warning about the dire fate that befell young women who wasted their youths hanging out in Berlin nightclubs.*) At that time, of course, the city was divided into East and West Berlin, so it would not have been the same as the reunified Berlin of today. So my fantasies regarding a life in Berlin are complicated and impossible. However, I am very happy that we had three days to enjoy some of its sights, sounds and flavours (if not its bars and music halls) in 2022. If there weren’t so many other places I still want to see, I’d put it back on the list for a more extended visit.
Our first day in the city, September 2, began with a stroll from our hotel (the Best Western am Spittlemarkt) to a dock on the Spree, where we would board a tour boat. On our way, we passed some scenic things and some interesting things.
The boarding area for the tour boat was at one end of the Landwehrkanal, which runs parallel to the Spree River and is 10.7 km long. “It was built between 1845 and 1850 …. [and] connects the upper part of the Spree at the eastern harbour in [the district of] Friedrichshain with its lower part in Charlottenburg, flowing through Kreuzberg and Tiergarten.” (Wikipedia) Today the canal is primarily the domain of tour boats – and the approximately two-hour trips are a lovely way to begin to learn about the city. The boat passes through the famous Tiergarten, a park that was originally a hunting ground for nobility who stocked it with exotic animals, and which was badly damaged during World War II. It also goes past Museum Island, which we would visit another day.
One problem with taking photos when you’re seated at a table on a boat is that the same stranger appears right in front of you in almost all of them. I cropped him out of a lot of photos but the image below in which I covered over his face will give you a sense of how difficult it was at times to capture what I wanted without capturing him as well. The advantages of sitting at a table on a boat, on the other hand, include getting to know a bit about people from other places, such as an interesting young family that had just moved to Berlin from India via the USA.
The architecture and the scenery we passed on the tour were fabulous but since I didn’t take notes, I can’t remember what several of the buildings were. Maybe you know. If not, just enjoy the view, as we did. (Click on any of the photos to get a better view.)
After the tour, we walked a couple of kilometres to the Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor), stopping along the way for an ice cream cone. We passed a remnant of the Berlin Wall and a lovely statue of Heinrich Zille (1858-1929), a famous German illustrator and photographer of whom I had never heard until the statue caught my eye. On Unter den Linden (Under the Lindens. I love the name of that long avenue) which leads from Schlossbrucke (Castle Bridge) on the Spree to the Gate itself, we came across signs and installations protesting Russia’s war, and honouring Ukraine.
Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial
Before returning to have dinner in a restaurant near our hotel (German food this time!), we spent an hour or so at the beautiful and very moving Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
“Designed by architect Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold, [the Memorial] consists of a 19,000-square-metre (200,000 sq ft) site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or ‘stelae,’ arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. [….] The stelae are 2.38 m (7 ft 9 1/2 in) long, 0.95 m (3 ft 1 1/2 in) wide and vary in height from 0.2 to 4.7 metres (8 in to 15 ft 5 in). They are organized in rows, 54 of them going north-south, and 87 heading east-west at right angles but set slightly askew. An attached underground ‘Place of Information’ holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims, obtained from the Israeli museum Yad Vashem.” Wikipedia (The history of how the site was designed and developed, which can be found at that Wikipedia link, is very interesting. So is the museum’s website, which tells us that “Following an amendment on 3 July 2009, the Federal Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is now also responsible for the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under the National Socialist Regime and the Memorial to the Murdered Sinti and Roma of Europe.” Only a block or so from the Brandenburg Gate, the memorial is definitely worth a visit, for artistic as well as historical reasons.
And that was Berlin, Day 1!
* To hear Nick Cave’s comments about the young women who have wasted the best part of their lives in Berlin’s nightclubs, check out this video (it’s at about minute 28). If you want a more accessible, albeit almost equally ancient (1990), documentary about Nick Cave, try this one instead.