4. Over the bridge

OK, just like the Soviet troops you are now over the bridge. If you are a young Soviet soldier you will not pause to pen a quick “Hey Mum! I’ve reached the Reichstag!” postcard because you will have come under fire from the heavy Flak guns (128 mm, from memory) on the Zoo flak towers which are around two kilometres away and are largely manned by Hitler youth.

Berlin, Flakturm am Zoo

Photo source: Bundesarchiv Bild

You won’t get far because the area directly in front of the Reichstag is a building site(!). Speer had diverted part of the Spree river so some of the area in front of the Reichstag was flooded and the Siegessaule (see photo below) had been moved. Here is a photo of the Reichstag when it was new and pretty (1880) although it’s worth remembering that Kaiser Wilhelm II hated the building, probably because he wasn’t keen on that whole democracy thing and the words above the door (“Dem Deutschen Volk” – “For the German People”) would have reminded him that he had to share the train set. Hitler didn’t think it was much chop either, probably for the same reason.

R1Old

The photo above (Library of Congress) will give you some idea of distances. The red arrow is the Reichstag (well, derrr…) the blue arrow is the Brandenburg Gate (a couple of hundred metres away). the green arrow is the Siegessaule (now moved to the Strasse des 17th Juni) and the black arrow is the approximate site of the New Reich Chancellery, about three city blocks away. The Russians apparently believed that Hitler was hiding out in the Reichstag (where else?) but he was in fact in the Fuhrer Bunker in the grounds of the New Reich Chancellery, amusing himself by having his brother-in-law-to-be shot. Hitler would be dead within 48 hours of the Russians crossing the Moltke Bridge.

So you’re standing looking at the Reichstag. Here is a map, courtesy of Tumblr, showing your journey so far (in red). take note of the building indicated by the blue arrow. It will be on your left. This was – and still is – the Swiss Legation and is interesting because it is the only building, AFAIK, from the embassy quarter which is still standing although it’s a fair bet that they had the renovators in sometime after 1945.

Journey so far 1

Notice also in the period photo, the black mass (not the Johnny Depp one) where the red line ends. This is a large pool created by Speer when he had the Spree river diverted so he could remodel Berlin after his master’s tastes. Unbelievable that the Nazis were still building such things that late in the war, especially when they could be blown down/up by nightly air raids. This is what the Swiss Legation building looks like today. The Moltke Bridge is in the background. I haven’t actually been in the Swiss Legation but I hope it has multiple Toblerone vending machines.

Swiss

And this is what the area looked like before all the stupidity that destroyed so much of Berlin and other beautiful European cities. The Swiss Legation would be on the left, just behind the buildings on the left on the other side of the bridge. Today, all of the visible buildings – except the Reichstag – lining the far side of the river are gone. The Soviets had a bugger of a job clearing the buildings on the right-hand side of the road as they were infested with carefully dug-in and positioned defenders who weren’t keen to call it a day just yet. The triangular shaped building on the right was the Ministry of the Interior but for reasons known only to themselves, AFAIK, the Soviets called it Himmler’s House. The Soviets could not assault the Reichstag until these buildings had been cleared and the assault groups often had to blast holes in walls to move from building to building to winkle out the defending troops.

MB8

The source for the above photo is Moltkerbrücke Generalsgebäude por janwillemsen, en Flickr and if you want to see a large and wonderful collection of pre-war photos of Berlin I suggest you either Google janwillemsen (as I did) or you can find most of them (and others) at http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=196145&page=71

Whether you have chosen to cross the pissy little bridge on the left (and are now regretting my warning about serial pests) or the much more interesting Moltke Bridge, this is your path to the Reichstag:

PLB

Suck eggs if you’ve got one of those suitcases with the little wheels. They will get stuck in the sand. Trust me.

If you half turn to the right you will see a nice view of the Moltke Bridge and the Siegessaule which I am only including because I like the photo:

MBP4

It has just occurred to me that if we keep stopping to look at the history of Berlin on the way to our accommodation, we will never get there and those who flew in and whom we left having a beer in Potsdamer Platz will be as full as a bull’s bum. So next post we move straight onto organising our accommodation and searching the gutters of Potsdamer Platz for those who flew in.

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