The history of European first-class hotels would in itself make an interesting blog but here we are only concerned with those in Berlin and specifically the Kaiserhof.
But first some context: the Grand Hotels in Berlin would include the Adlon – which we’ve already seen on Pariser Platz – the Excelsior, whose main claim to fame was that it was directly opposite the Anhalter Bahnhof and guests could walk to or from the station through an 80 metre long tunnel without having to bother themselves with the pesky real world above. Guests could even buy their train tickets from a booth in the hotel.
The Excelsior allegedly was the Nazis’ first choice as a hotel for Hitler and his mates but the manager, one Curt Elschner, wasn’t mad keen on Nazis so he gave them the bum’s rush, a decision he came to regret. Hitler moved to the Kaiserhof and the Excelsior was boycotted by the Nazis for all events. Party members were forbidden to patronise it and the loss of income bit Elschner hard. He tried to curry favour by demonstrating a new commitment (or so I’ve read) to Nazi ideals but Hitler was still in a huff and remained at the Kaiserhof. Elschner (surprisingly, IMO) survived the war and died in 1963. The hotel stood in today’s Stresemannstrasse so if you really want to see where it was, you can find the (empty) spot opposite the ruins of the Anhalter Bahnhof. Here it is in its heyday:
… and the Anhalter Bahnhof in 2011. This ruin can be found about 500 metres from Potsdamer Platz:
Another Grand Hotel of interest was the Esplanade, which was almost completely destroyed during the war but a section of it survived and can be seen at Potsdamer Platz today. If you’re a fan of the movie “Cabaret” some interior shots were filmed in what was left. (http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Hotel_Esplanade_Berlin)
So much for context. If you check the previous maps, you’ll see the Kaiserhof took up a whole block. Hitler stayed there, Goring had his (second) wedding reception there (the actual wedding – to actress Emmy Sonnemann – was of course held in the Berliner Dom) and visiting dignitaries also stayed there. here is the Wikipedia link:
However, a word of warning: Wikipedia is often wrong. In this case, the Kaiserhof was not “located next to the Reich Chancellery “. It’s about a good eight-iron away, unless you’re Jordan Speith in which case it’s probably a sand wedge. For me the most interesting thing about the Kaiserhof is this exchange I had on Axis History Forum in which some bloke (an Australian would you believe?) claims Hitler personally strangled Dr Ludwig Roselius in the Kaiserhof in 1943! Must’ve been a slow day for Adolf …
(Roselius, BTW, is worth a Google):
This following photo shows some cool dudes parading past the Kaiserhof in 1936 (check out the pennant on the extreme right of the photo and the foreign flags outside the hotel). Mind you, if I owned that car I’d be doing a bit of parading too:
The Kaiserhof site is now the Republic of North Korea embassy. If you walked down to Mauerstrasse in 2015 and turned right, you would find the entrance to this embassy. There are – or were – numerous posters of goosestepping North Korean soldiers waving bright red flags on a board out the front. I’m guessing there’s no word for irony in a North Korean dictionary.
And one last interesting thing about the Kaiserhof … (found on page 439 of Robert Forbes’ excellent “For Europe”):
During the afternoon of April 29, 1945, Dr Gustav Krukenberg, SS Brigadefuhrer and commanding officer of the remaining French SS soldiers in Berlin, awarded the Knight’s Cross to 21-year-old Unterscharfuhrer Eugene Vaulot for destroying eight Soviet tanks in 24 hours. Shortly afterwards, Vaulot was ordered – hopefully not by Krukenberg – to lead a patrol from Krukenberg’s HQ in the Stadtmitte U Bahn station to the Kaiserhof Hotel to find some table linen, which he did. Table linen? I can’t believe that was the sole reason for the patrol especially when you consider that the Kaiserhof was around 550 metres from the German front line in Prinz-Albrechtstrasse.
Eugene Vaulot Ritterkreuztrager (Source Axis History Forum)
So when you’ve finished looking at the site of the Kaiserhof/North Korean embassy, walk back down to where the Wilhelmplatz meets Vossstrasse and look down towards the Air Ministry building. On the block opposite (but on the same side of Wilhelmstrasse) were the RSHA/ Gestapo HQ in which were holed up the last few French SS of the Charlemagne Division. My point? On the day before Hitler shot himself, a French SS patrol went looking for table linen while their compatriots were holding off the Red army 500 metres away. The only troops on Wilhelmstrasse between the Soviets and Hitler were around 50 – 60 French SS. The other 300 or so French SS who had volunteered(!) to drive/march into Berlin were all dead or wounded. Dunno about you but I find that a major spinout.
If that don’t rock your boat, according to Robert Forbes, another Frenchman may or may not (there is some argument if the award was processed correctly) have been awarded the Knight’s Cross in that ceremony, one Oberscharfuhrer Francois Appolot. I don’t know if Appolot got his Knight’s Cross or not but (once again according to Robert Forbes) Appolot was a card-carrying member of the French Communist Party throughout the war and after. You’ve got to wonder …
Ritterkreuztrager Francois Appolot (source Pinterest)
My advice? read Forbes’ book. If you’re not particularly interested in the history of the Charlemagne Division, just read from Chapter 13 (“The First Days at Berlin”) onwards.
The ruins of the Kaiserhof after the war:
… and if you really want to get the location right, compare the building still standing (red circle) next door:
If you are really keen to learn about Wilhelmplatz in particular and Nazi Berlin in general, I can’t recommend this DVD series too highly:
This stuff is terrific. The DVDs are not particularly expensive and are highly detailed, accurate reconstructions of all the major buildings.
So now you’re at the Wilhelmplatz. If you stand with your back towards the Peking Ente restaurant, i.e. on the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Vossstrasse and look towards the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station, you will see this:
Not much chop,eh? There are only two original, i.e. pre-war buildings remaining on the Wilhelmplatz. The gabled building in the distance (House of Soviet-German Friendship during the DDR years) is original but is not on the Wilhelmplatz. The Star Wars type building on the right is the Embassy of the Czech Republic and the building next to it is the Embassy of North Korea. The embassy of North Korea is on the site of the famous Hotel Kaiserhof, destroyed during the war and subsequently demolished. (The building with the Ullrich sign on it is a very handy little supermarket if you are staying in the area.) There are two interesting things about this view: with the exception of the gabled building in the distance, none of the buildings you can see existed in 1945 or earlier and the blue subway sign near the red and white van is the entrance to the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station. Give or take a metre or two, you are standing where Mohnke and his breakout groups started their dash to freedom (you will have seen this dash in “Downfall”). They dashed across Wilhelmstrasse to that U Bahn station and slid down the artillery-smashed steps into the U Bahn tunnels below. The Peking Ente restaurant stands roughly where the Borsig Palais stood (but back around ten metres from the Wilhelmstrasse, so if you’re standing on the footpath, you’re roughly where the Borsig Palais was. Here it is in its heyday:
The red circle indicates where you should be standing on the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss and the blue line indicates my guess as to where the frontage of the Peking Ente now stands. And here is the Borsig Palais and the Reich Chancellery some time after the war. The red arrow indicates where you are standing and where the breakout started and the blue line indicates the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn entrance (called the Kaiserhof U Bahn at the time).
More information on the breakout itself can be found in O’Donnell’s book:
So, let’s re-enact the dash, avoiding the Wilhelmstrasse traffic. When you get down into the U Bahn station you will see this:
Take a close look at the walls: they are faced in unpolished marble (actually granite). Here’s a closer look:
For many years it was believed that this marble/granite came from the New Reich Chancellery which you will recall was demolished by the Soviets (and which was only a few hundred metres from the U Bahn station). However, it has since been determined by petrographic research that this marble/granite came from Thuringia, not Voss Strasse.
So you’re demolishing a large building and repairing a nearby U Bahn station? “Well we could use some of that lovely material from the Chancellery or we could – for no apparent reason – bring some from Thuringia which is roughly 250 kilometres away.” I’m inclined to believe the ‘petrographic research’ findings were published to deter neo- Nazis from making a shrine of the place although the thought of latterday stormtroopers travelling to Berlin to worship a railway station makes me smeck somewhat (although if you are a marble/granite -worshipping stormtrooper you should go to the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park because that is dressed in marble/granite from the Chancellery.)
So from here the ten or so groups made their way to Stadtmitte and thence to Friedrichstrasse and the Weidendammer Bridge where the fun really started.
But back to Wilhelmplatz…
Here’s a map of Wilhelmplatz pre-war. Sorry about the quality but it’s the best I could find. The red line indicates the former Palais Marschall, subsequently the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and the blue line indicates the Ritterschaftsdirektion which Wikipedia informs me was a sort of loan office for run-down nobility. The green line indicates the frontage direction of the Kaiserhof Hotel and shows that the current Czech embassy is built on part of the Wilhelmplatz itself, not on the site of the Reich Finance Ministry as some Internet sites claim. More on that later …
These are the only two surviving pre-war buildings on Wilhelmplatz.
Let’s check them out. Walk back up the U Bahn steps and cross the road to the Ullrich store. Walk away from the Peking Ente/Borsig Palais direction:
and you will come to this building, seen second on the left above. It was the Ritterschaftsdirektion but I have no idea what it is now:
Big woop I hear you say? For me the interesting thing about this building is that it appears in so many period photos. Compare the one above with this Getty image from the Kapp Putsch:
A good way to differentiate this building from others on the Wilhelmplatz (especially the Finance Ministry) is the round window above the doorway entrance. And check out this carefree dude as he adds a new dimension to the word “louche”:
BTW, that building to the left of the Ritterschaftsdirektion was the US Embassy up until (I’m guessing) 1932 when it moved to its current location on Pariser Platz near the Brandenburg Gate. And next to it you can just make out the three arches which yet survive of the Propaganda Ministry.
As I said, the Ritterschaft appears in so many period photos:
… and consider this one, taken pre-war by a Norwegian visitor:
…and this, taken at the turn of the century during an outbreak of head-eating giant hats:
This one might help you orient yourself better, given there are now hideous buildings between the Ritterschaft and Wilhelmstrasse:
Here she is being turned into a Guest House on Thalmannplatz (formerly Wilhelmplatz) while under new (DDR) management in 1949:
Freshly scrubbed and refurbished:
The next couple of shots show the demolition of the New Reich Chancellery in Voss Strasse, this one shows our old friend in the background, the Ehrenhof having been demolished:
Wilhelmstrasse crossing left to right, Vossstrasse following the wall under “The Berlin Mall lives here now”:
This is an interesting shot. It must have been taken fairly soon – I’d guess a few months – after the fall of Berlin. There’s an American army truck in the background and what appear to be a couple of British soldiers eyeing off the comely young maidens in left foreground. The low ‘walls’ on which they are sitting are actually water reservoirs for emergency supply during/after air raids:
Now the next time you see a shot of the Wilhelmplatz in a (shudder) documentary or book you’ll be able to impress your friends – if any – by pointing to this building and announcing that it’s one of only two original buildings on the square and was used pre-war as a charity office for nobles who had fallen on hard times. As if …
And finally – for a while at least – one particularly interesting photo. This last one shows the Ritterschaft at left, a big pile of rubble (possibly from the destroyed and no longer visible water reservoirs) and the Kaiserhof at right. Why is it interesting? Well, IMO at least, the photo was almost certainly taken from the balcony of Hitler’s New Reich Chancellery across the Wilhelmplatz:
Now you know where you can have a meal and a beer, time to familiarise yourself with the immediate area. For the purposes of the next few posts, we will be concerned with the area bounded by Unter den Linden, Friedrichstrasse, Vossstrasse and Hermann-Göringstrasse … sorry, Ebertstrasse. One SBS documentary too many.
Now let’s start by walking from Unter den Linden down Wilhelmstrasse in the direction of Tempelhof, i.e. you start with the British Embassy on your right. This is the same route you will have previously taken to get to the offices of the Apartments am Brandenburger Tor except today you are continuing down Wilhelmstrasse towards the previously-mentioned Wilhelmplatz. Here is the British Embassy, pre-WW2 and pre-bombing by British and US air forces:
And here it is in its current iteration:
Ironically, this whole block as far as the front of the Adlon (far right) is today protected from terrorist bomb attacks by bollards. Directly opposite is this original-ish building – the former Education Ministry during the Third Reich (you can see the aforementioned anti-terrorist bollards):
You will notice also from this map that this building was originally the Marine Ministry. The red line indicates your route down Wilhelmstrasse. I do not intend to identify every period building site as there are a number of historical markers which will show you what used to stand where. I will just (as above) indicate the origin of sites if there is no historical marker and/or supply additional information where appropriate:
You will notice also that Behrenstrasse originally stopped at Wilhelmstrasse. Today it continues through to Ebertstrasse and if you continue down Wilhelmstrasse, about halfway to Leipzigerstrasse and just before Wilhelmplatz:
You will find this building:
which is the former office of Rudolf Hess.This is the doorway through which he walked on his many official and other excursions. At some point in time, he walked through this doorway for the last time. There has been a lot written about Hess, much of it speculative. The man apparently flew to Scotland on a peace mission, was captured, declared mad by pretty much everybody and locked up for the rest of his life. He spent the last thirty years or so of his life as the sole prisoner in Spandau Gaol.
The book that caused a huge stir in 1979 was “The Murder of Rudolf Hess” by Dr Hugh Thomas. Thomas claims to have examined Hess in Spandau and discovered no evidence of him ever having been shot, despite Hess’ medical records indicating he had been wounded during the First World War. Thomas’ argument is that Hess was murdered and replaced by a double. I find the first proposition possible but the second highly improbable. A recent (Sphere, 2001) publication entitled “Double Standards: The Rudolf Hess Cover-Up” offers some additional and more revealing information despite being, IMO, in places poorly written and poorly argued. The “Double Standards” book provides – for me at least – evidence that makes the whole Hess situation less muddy although I still don’t believe the ‘double’ argument. The most intriguing argument suggested by “Double Standards” is that Hess was expected in Scotland in 1941 by a fairly influential peace movement, possibly involving the Royal Family, and was even to be aided in his return to Germany. This possibility, if true, goes a fair way to explain some of the more bizarre subsequent occurrences in this saga. If you want to read a useful book and make up your own mind, I recommend “Double Standards”. Both books are readily available online.
The Padfield book will give you an overview but if you are already familiar with the case you might want to consider the Melaouri book: he was a male nurse who looked after Hess and wrote this book without permission after working with Hess in Spandau. He arrived at the scene of Hess’ death and is not convinced that Hess wasn’t murdered.
If you are interested in the Hess case, you might find this interesting: I went to Spandau Gaol in 1982 just to have a look and to take a photo or two. On arrival at the gaol I was naively surprised to see signs warning against approaching the gaol and stern warnings deterring photographs, including the warning that lethal force might be applied. Someone was obviously afraid that there might be an attempt to spring their only prisoner. While I was outside wondering whether to risk a clandestine photo, a jeep came out of the main entrance and a red-faced officer and two MPs confronted me. The officer started yelling threats at me in German and ordered me to surrender my (brand-new and expensive) camera. I, being young, stupid and Australian, replied aggressively in English that that wasn’t going to happen whereupon he stopped – appeared to consider the publicity issues of getting involved with what was obviously a young, stupid Australian – and then dropped his voice. He then said between his teeth words to the effect of “All right, I’ll tell you what. You keep your camera but if you don’t fuck off now, we’ll take you inside and give you a fucking hiding.” I momentarily thought of saying something like “I’d like to see you try you fat bastard” but decided that honour had been satisfied and that a wiser course of action would be to fuck off which I did. I got some distance down the street, stuck my camera on the roof of my mate’s car and hit the timer. We pretended to look in a shop window and ten seconds later I had my photo of the gaol. At some safe distance. I will post the photo when I find it but it’s really just a long distance shot of the gaol. Don’t bother going to Spandau to replicate my performance as after Hess died/was murdered the gaol was demolished to stop it becoming a neo-nazi shrine. Or so they said …
Continue walking and you will come to the Wilhelmplatz.
Let’s assume you have booked into your accommodation, had a shower and turned on the TV to discover to your great joy that there are multiple channels. When you realise however that some of them show “Big Bang Theory” (dubbed into German) 24 hours a day you may wish you had chosen Bankstown instead of Europe for your holiday. Be warned also that some Berlin TV channels show episodes of “The Saint” from the Sixties with a suave Roger Moore speaking Berliner dialect. OK, towel yourself dry, put some clothes on and get ready to explore Berlin.
First up, walk back to Pariser Platz. If you’ve been paying attention you will walk back to the Brandenburg Gate. If not, Google Pariser Platz. When you get there, the Tourist Information Office is in the little temple-shaped building to the left of the Brandenburg Gate, helpfully marked here with a red arrow for those who think 24 hour reruns of “Big Bang Theory” is a good thing. There is also a red sign with a white “i” in the window for the chronically inattentive:
The office is generally crowded but offers a supply of good-to-great tourist merchandise. Before you dive into the treasure trove of Berlin fridge magnets and tea towels go to the information desk and buy two things. First get a travel pass. They come in various denominations: day, three-day, six-day etc (from memory). They are well worth the money and will get you all over Berlin. They work on the U Bahn (a subway-like rail system), the S Bahn (sometimes a subway, sometimes a train) and buses. You must remember to validate your ticket the first time you use it. It’s a bit like an Opal card (if you’re Australian, or at least a Sydneysider) or an Oystercard (if you are a Pom, or at least a Londoner) except you only validate it the first time you use it. When you get on your first U Bahn/S Bahn train or bus there is a small machine just inside the door, or alternatively there’s usually one on the platform. (They are red I seem to recall.) Bung your ticket in (the correct way) and you will hear a ding! unless you are deaf like me in which case you won’t hear much at all. This deafness is not such a bad thing on some German trains as will become apparent. Once your ticket is validated you then have a day, three days or six, depending on which one you bought, in which to travel throughout the city of Berlin and you don’t have to ding your ticket again. The first time marks the time and date you started your adventure: just be sure not to overstay your allotted time.
The really bizarre thing about the Berlin U Bahn is that periodically, i.e. almost every trip, some of those serial harassers you avoided at the Hauptbahnhof (see second post) will turn up on your train with musical instruments. I kid you not. Some of these instruments are amplified and you are ‘treated’ to a rendition of some bloody awful folk song or other atrocity. Seriously, these people will get on your train and just when you are daydreaming about whether to start your Berlin holiday with a Berliner Kindl or a Radeberger ale, your thoughts will be interrupted by someone bellowing out an old ex-favourite like “Wooden Heart” or “Shoop Shoop Diddy Wop”. Now what would normally happen in Australia is that the passengers would patiently wait until the train crossed a bridge and would then unite to throw the pest, instrument and all, out the door. The Germans are more tolerant of unsolicited noise than they are of people being thrown from trains (or at least they are these days) so no-one, except me, complains when these musical terrorists then pass the hat around for donations. Once again, politely decline and they will leave you alone.
The second thing you should buy at the tourist office is a copy of this:
but only if you are interested in this period of German history. The book is excellent, so much so that, IMO, a wise person would order a copy over the Internet (Abe Books has it, for example) and use it as pre-reading for your trip. Any of the books by Tony Le Tissier would serve as an excellent guide but they are a bit bulky to be lugging around and you would stand out as a tourist like the proverbial male canine’s reproductive storage units:
However, if your idea of learning about history stems from watching The World at War, The History Channel or SBS documentaries you should have gone to Disneyland instead.
Berlin is full of great restaurants. I will recommend only three, all on the Wilhelmstrasse and all within a block or two of each other. I’ve already recommended the Viale, on the corner of Behrenstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse. The Viale is mainly a pizza place but is a little more upmarket than your basic Crust pizza. Not cheap but good. It’s only a short block from Unter den Linden, past the British Embassy. This is what the Viale looks like again, in case you missed the earlier post (the green line indicates where the Hitler Youth had established a barricade against the Russians in 1945, just one block from Hitler’s bunker):
Further down Wilhelmstrasse – about one block, maybe two if you count An Der Kolonnade as a street, which I suppose it really is these days although it didn’t exist before 1945 – is the Peking Ente, a Chinese restaurant. If you are going shopping at the Berlin Mall (great pun, BTW) you will walk past it as it is on the opposite corner to the Mall. This building – the Peking Ente – is interesting for a number of reasons. If I’ve read James P. O’Donnell’s “The Bunker” correctly, the Mohnke breakout group smashed a cellar window from this site after Hitler’s suicide and ran across the road to Mohrenstrasse U Bahn station (which at the time was Kaiserhof U Bahn station) to start their breakout. When you get there you’ll be surprised at how close the Peking Ente is to the entrance to the station. Mohnke’s breakout group would have had to run about 100 metres. The O’Donnell book is, IMO, the best book on the bunker even though – or maybe in this case because -it is written by a journalist:
Secondly, the restaurant advertises itself as being on the site of Hitler’s Chancellery. I don’t believe it is. I believe it’s on the site of the Borsig Palace which was the only building on Vossstrasse not to be demolished during the building of Hitler’s New Reich Chancellery. Also, the line of buildings currently on that part of Wilhelmstrasse is, IMO, moved back about ten metres from the original Wilhelmstrasse frontage. The Borsig Palace, from memory, served as the headquarters of the emasculted SA after the Night of the Long Knives. For some reason, ( according to the excellent DVD series Atelier-Neubauer, it was because the Borsig family had been keen supporters of Hitler in the early days) Hitler and Speer decided to incorporate it into the New Reich Chancelleryt. Here is what it looked like:
In the photo above, the Mohrenstrasse U Bahn entrance in just behind the statue of the General at lower right, so the breakout group had run across this road from roughly where the Borsig Palace was. This is what it looked like after the war:
If you’ve been paying attention, you will now know that all of those buildings on the left of the photo have been replaced by the Berlin Mall. The only surviving prewar building on either side of Vossstrasse is the one arrowed (with the balconies) and there will be a post on this building later. This what it looked like in 2013 ( you will notice that the statue of the General has been replaced, pretty much in the same spot):
And here is where the restaurant stands on almost the same spot as the Borsig Palace today:
The Peking Ente is a very good if a little expensive Chinese restaurant. Their other selling point is that some American star ate there – I think it may have been Barbra Streisand. If you find this a sufficient motive to eat there, you should be watching “The Block” or “My Laundry Rules” or something.
My favourite Berlin restaurant, however, lies roughly between the Viale and the Peking Ente at (from memory again) 77 Wilhelmstrasse. It’s the Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus and it’s such a great restaurant I feel like getting on a plane back to Berlin now. Not too pricey and it has that wonderful gemütlichkeit (means … um…’comfortable’ or ‘hospitable’. Difficult to translate) often found in cosy English pubs.
Despite the racket found on their website: http://www.altberliner-wirtshaus.de/ they don’t have that hokey German folk music blaring out like in some Sydney faux German restaurants. Just great food and great beer and it’s especially nice if you’re there in good weather as you can sit outside and watch the girls pass by in their summer clothes enjoy the sunshine.
The apartments am Brandenburger Tor (henceforth AaBT) stretch along a number of city blocks so it’s a bit of a chook raffle to see which one you get. I’ve always been lucky: the view out of the windows has always been sensational. But first let’s check out the rooms themselves. This is the larger variety.
Big woop I hear you say? This particular apartment in which I stayed in 2010 probably sleeps about six and fronted onto Behrenstrasse. Big woop again? Well the thing is you get to look out the window at all the rich people staying at the Adlon if you’re of the stickybeak persuasion and let’s face it – who isn’t? Remember, this is where the Queen stays whenever she jets into Berlin to do Queen stuff. Also, the occasional pop singer will wave his microchild out the window if you – unlike the child – are lucky. If you Google the Adlon you will find a whole list of famous people who have stayed there but this is my favourite fact about the Adlon, courtesy of Wikipedia:
“After World War I and the abdication of the Kaiser, Lorenz Adlon remained a staunch monarchist and thus never imagined normal traffic would pass through the Brandenburg Gate’s central archway, which had been reserved for the Kaiser alone. He therefore never looked before crossing in front of it. Tragically, this resulted in Adlon being hit by a car in 1918 at that spot. Three years later, on April 7, 1921, he was again hit by a car at exactly the same spot, this time fatally.“
I taught a few slow learners in my time.
The Adlon fell on hard times after the war. The DDR/Soviets were in no hurry to rebuild such a symbol of western luxury/decadence:
Source: Axis History Forum
But eventually some progress was made and the surviving wing of the Adlon eventually resumed service albeit on a slightly scaled-down … um … scale.
Now there were some famous people staying in the Adlon when I was there in 2010. Actually, I suspect they are diplomats but famous or not they must be rich.
You will have no idea how difficult it was to resist the temptation to drop a beer bottle out the window to see what happens …
But then again I didn’t travel all that way to get shot.
Update: SBS (Australia) recently had a series called “Hotel Adlon” which charts the history of the hotel. It’s described as a “Familiensaga”. Be warned: it is certainly a saga and for my money it concentrates too much on the Familien and not on the hotel itself. Some great period footage though …
On subsequent trips I haven’t had an apartment opposite the Adlon possibly because the wallopers spied me with a beer bottle in my hand. Nevertheless, I’ve always had a great view. Depends what you mean by a great view of course. In 2011, my apartment was on the corner of An der Kolonnade and Wilhelmstrasse, fifth floor, perhaps 300 metres down Wilhelmstrasse in the direction of Tempelhof. This was my view out of the window:
Still on the big-woop side, nicht wahr? (German for “Isn’t that so?”. Pronounced ‘nisht var’ rhymes with ‘jar’. Feel free to put it on the end of every sentence as you become more confident in speaking German. You will eventually make a fool of yourself but that’s half the fun, nicht wahr?) Well, see that light grey-ish building in the middle of the photo? That’s what’s left of Dr Paul Josef Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry. It stretches behind that ugly DDR school building on the left but the wing which used to front onto Wilhelmstrasse was demolished by the DDR.
Source: Axis History Forum
Here is the same building in ‘happier’ times. This is a fairly early photo as the Propaganda Ministry was remodelled at some later stage (the curved doorway in the centre of the photo was replaced) and Hitler is taking the salute from his car parked outside the Old Chancellery, his balcony presumably not having been built at that stage.
You can sometimes get into the remaining parts of the Propaganda Ministry building when there’s an exhibition on but they’re not keen on you taking photos or wandering around. That whole area between the Propaganda Ministry and the Reich Chancellery constituted the Wilhelmplatz.
Source: Axis History Forum
In the above photo, Hitler could probably have hit a sand wedge from his balcony onto the balcony of the Propaganda Ministry had he so desired. His (obscured) balcony is indicated by a red arrow while the balcony of the Propaganda Ministry is to the right centre of the photograph. Compare this photo with the demolition shot of the same building (above) – the wall with all the flags on it on the right-hand side of Wilhelmstrasse is the one being demolished
And here is the right-hand side of the Propaganda Ministry.
There was an exhibition (see notice above door) when I took this photo (no entrance fee) and I got inside but as I said they were very poogly about photographs.
And the left-hand side:
The photo above, taken in 1949, shows the same three open doorways as in the other photos above and the three ‘closed ones. The wings to the left of these doorways are still there today. You can walk behind the ugly school building to see them but you can’t access them. The Wilhelmplatz was renamed Thalmannplatz by the DDR in honour of the prewar leader of the Communist party. The small railway in the foreground was there to aid demolition of bomb and shell-ruined buildings, especially the Borsig Palace and Reich Chancellery. And here is a view of the Wilhelmplatz when it was still the Wilhelmplatz. The red arrow indicates the surviving ‘open’ doorways and the large corner building in the centre of the photo also survives and will loom large in our narrative if I ever get around to completing it.
So that’s what you see – or what you would’ve seen prewar – if you look out your window on Wilhelmstrasse.
I probably shouldn’t advertise the positives of staying at the Apartments am Brandenburger Tor as I may find myself unable to procure a booking in future. So here is the bad-ish news. The apartments were built by the DDR government as ‘luxury’ apartments but be warned: by western standards they are not luxury. They are clean and comfortable but the plumbing – in my experience – hasn’t been brilliant and the washing machine is positively malevolent. The ones along the Wilhelmstrasse were also built hard up against the Berlin Wall in 1988-89. I read somewhere that they were built for DDR apparatchiks and this wouldn’t surprise me. Probably only hardcore party faithful could be trusted not to get a ladder up against the Wall and do the Harry to the land of Big Macs and Starbucks. I doubt these apartments would have been made available to the DDR pole vaulting team.
Be warned that the rooms generally aren’t ready until at least 2:00pm on the day of check in. If you have time to kill I recommend a short walk to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Walk out of the AABT office, turn left and walk about 100 metres. You can enter the memorial itself or join a tour group.
When the Memorial was being built the excavators discovered an air raid bunker under what had been Josef Goebbels’ villa. Here is some of the junk that was found therein.
Photo source: Ullstein bild.
Goebbels’ villa stood roughly where Behrensstrasse joins Ebertstrasse (back in the day Behrensstrasse stopped where it joins Wilhelmstrasse, i.e. where the previously-mentioned Hitler Youth barricade had been.)
The blue arrow (above) indicates the offices of Apartments am Brandenburger Tor. The green arrow (around the corner) indicates the boardwalk where you can have a beer or coffee or whatever and the red arrow indicates the Jewish Memorial. You can’t miss the Memorial: it takes up a whole block and is invariably swarming with tourists.This whole area from Ebertstrasse to Wilhelmstrasse was once the Ministry Gardens. This is where – in “Downfall” – Eva Braun smoked her cigarettes.
This may give you some idea of how big the Memorial is. In the top left-hand corner you can see the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. Notice that the US Embassy has not been completed in this 2005 photo, nor has the tourist boardwalk to the right of the Memorial.
Source: By Tonythepixel at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Kafuffle using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13248163
This is the original position of the villa, next to the US embassy. Note the urn-type decoration on the wall surrounding the Ministry Gardens. The red arrow indicates the villa, the green circle shows the urn/wall:
Photo source: TU Berlin Architektmuseum
Another (similar) shot. This time the Russki tanks roll down soon-to-be-renamed Hermann-Goring- strasse:
Source: Axis History Forum
And here is a comparison photo I coincidentally took in 2011:
And here is the US Embassy and the Goebbels villa (right) at the end of the war:
Here is the villa in 1945. If you don’t believe it’s the same building, check the urn decoration and wall in the TU Berlin Architektmuseum photo above.
There is a spirited discussion about this villa here: http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=44&t=154588&hilit=Goebbels+villa
If you don’t want to do the Memorial tour – or if it’s too busy – you can relax on the boardwalk which faces the Memorial. This used to be a nice, friendly area in which several eateries and tourist shops shared a common boulevard/boardwalk but as of 2015 each shop has put up walls turning the whole thing into a series of boxes. Pity. Also you can get a variety of beers here including (strangely) Paulaner which is a Bavarian beer (highly recommended to beer aficianados such as John Cleese and me). And you’ll always have company:
If you can’t see the company in the above photo, have a closer look:
And here’s the boardwalk before the border disputes which turned it into a Lego set:
It doesn’t get much better:
Sadly you can disregard everything written in blue above as I discovered on my return to this site in 2017 that the boardwalk had been completely demolished, as had the entire block on the left-hand side of Wilhelmstrasse (in the direction of Tempelhof). I am not going to delete the section though as it brings back fond memories of the beer and wurst and I like sparrows.
We are heading towards the office of Apartments am Brandenburg Tor in Behrenstrasse and have just passed the Reichstag on our left. Ahead we can see the Tiergarten but before that we must cross Scheidemannstrasse. A wise move would be to walk down Scheidemannstrasse to Ebertstrasse (in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate) and cross there. Ebertstrasse used to be called Hermann-Goringstrasse but for some reason the name was changed after the war. When you get to the crossing look to your left. This is what you should see:
Had you been standing on the same spot in 1945 this is what you would have seen:
Photo source: pinterest.
OK, a short walk to your right towards the Brandenburg Gate. Spare a thought: you are about to walk through a place where for nearly thirty years the only people to walk where you are now walking were DDR or Soviet border guards. I took this photo in 1982:
Beyond the (armed) guards is Pariser Platz into which you are about to walk. Notice the barriers where the vehicles are parked. There were more substantial barriers further down Unter Den Linden. Your average East German could not get within coo-ee of the Wall itself. Notice also the viewing platform on the left of the photo. This was for special guests only, as indeed was entrance to Pariser Platz. After 1989, anyone could walk through and have their photograph taken with a giant bear or someone dressed as a giant bear. You can do that later if you must. Here is your journey so far:
The green line is the continuation from the Swiss Legation. Remember: this photo is 1945-ish. The scenery is somewhat different these days. The Tiergarten now has trees again, for instance.You are heading for the Brandenburg Gate:
It’s changed a bit since 1945. That Tiger tank was parked/ knocked out roughly where the person in the white jumper is. The Tiger will feature in our narrative again:
You should eventually walk through here:
and in front of you should be this square (Pariser Platz):
On your right -where the American flag is – is the US Embassy. Heckle the security guards at your own risk. The dark building behind the fountain used to house Albert Speer’s studio and Hitler used to walk across the Ministry Gardens (behind the studio) from time to time to talk architecture with Speer. I have read that some of Speer’s studio rooms still exist but I haven’t been inside to find out. In 2016 the building housed an art gallery. Those columns on the far right house the tourist office and we will be coming back here.
The large building with the green roof is the famous Adlon Hotel. The original hotel was built by Louis Adlon, a wine merchant, and opened in 1907. This is what it looked like:
And during the Third Reich:
And after the Third Reich:
In the photo above you can see a brick wall was built to protect the hotel and its guests from bomb splinters during air raids. There was also a large bunker built beneath it which served as a hospital during the final days fighting in the capital in 1945. The hotel pretty much survived the war but became a victim of some drunken Russian soldiers who got a skinful from the hotel’s wine cellars and accidentally burnt the hotel out. The patients had to be carried outside into Pariser Platz once the fighting had stopped.
So you’ve walked through the Brandenburg Gate and you’re in Pariser Platz. Walk down towards the Adlon Hotel. You may care to spare a moment to see if you can spot any famous people. The Queen stays at the Adlon for example. However, if you look up to your right you can see the very window (circled) where Michael Jackson dangled his baby Doona (or whatever his name is) for the hordes of adoring nincompoops who like that sort of thing.
And had the building not been rebuilt, this would have been the same window in c.1946:
When you have sated your desire for windows-out-of-which-a-baby-was-dangled, walk down to the first cross street. What stretches ahead of you is Unter Den Linden but we are taking a sharp right into Wilhelmstrasse which was traditionally the centre of government in Germany from about 1870 onwards. Walk down Wilhelmstrasse. You will pass the British Embassy which is still in the same place it was pre-war. It is the weirdly shaped building with the slanted flagpole out the front, where the head of the red arrow is. I think it’s still there but with Brexit and all they may have packed up their tweed jackets and gone back to sunny Blighty.
After you’ve passed the British Embassy, the first intersection you will come to is Behrenstrasse. I did read somewhere that during the Battle for Berlin, the Hitler Youth had established a road block/barricade here. You will appreciate the significance of this once you realise how close this barricade, defended by fifteen-year-olds et al, was to the Fuhrerbunker, i.e. about one block away:
The green line approximates the position of the HJ barricade but if you’re the type of person who, like me, likes to go and stand exactly where historical events took place or old structures stood, be warned – the apartment buildings lining Wilhelmstrasse have been moved back from the original line on which all the government buildings stood. The original building line was about where the green line ends at its right-hand side.
Turn right into Behrenstrasse and walk to where the red arrow indicates. Be warned again: the current (as of 01.08.16) website for the offices of Apartment am Brandenburger Tor has a photo showing the offices further down Behrenstrasse but they have moved (as of 2015) to the middle of the block (where the arrow indicates).
P.S. The Italian restaurant on the corner (Viale) is well worth a look. The food and service are excellent and the waiter had no hesitation in telling me that the Radeberger beer they served was the second-best beer in Berlin, after Berliner Kindl. I suspect that may not have been the opinion of the management.
If you walk a few metres past the Viale restaurant back towards Ebertstrasse you will find the offices of Apartments am Brandenburger Tor.
What is the significance of the three photos posted in Number 5: Before We Continue? As I suggested, these photos and others are intended to keep you reading. Here is the significance (in reverse order). You will have noticed that the Elvis musical was to be held at the Admiralspalast. The Admiralspalast is on the northern end of Friedrichstrasse, about two hundred metres from the Weidendammer Bridge. The three main streets in Berlin Mitte are, IMO, Wilhelmstrasse, Friedrichstrasse which runs parallel to Wilhelmstrasse and Unter den Linden which transects both. Here is the Admiralspalast:
Nice, isn’t it? (The photo is from Wikipedia). It’s one of the very few buildings in that part of Friedrichstrasse that was not completely destroyed in the war (it has been faithfully rebuilt but you can see traces of the original stonework if, like me, you are into that sort of thing). It’s important, IMO, because Max Raabe has played there and if you haven’t heard Max and his Palast Orchestra do yourself a Youtube favour:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlUPqR3Cy5c (the music starts at 0:30).
Also, one of the things I really love doing is finding the place where stuff happened. If I find an interesting photo I like to track down where the place is now and do a Then and Now comparison. So we will eventually find the link between where the Elvis musical played (above) and this famous and interesting photo (from AHF) when we do our stroll down Friedrichstrasse towards the Weidendammer Bridge:
Bugger it. Let’s do it now. It look me ages to find this spot. Thankfully, after two days of walking around Berlin looking for this corner, someone on AHF identified the location for me. See the sorry procession of refugees trudging north (i.e. away from Berlin Mitte)? There’s a burning troop carrier on the left and they walk past a corpse. This is the same spot today (it’s almost opposite the Admiralspalast):
The second photo (of the East Berlin watchtower/border guard bloke) was taken by me in the 1970s when the Wall was still up. If you find stories of drunken Australian schoolteachers on holiday antagonising innocent Communist East German and/or Russian soldiers interesting, read the next few posts. The border guard noticed me taking photos over the Wall with a telephoto lens and produced his – somewhat larger – camera to photograph me. The fact that we got turned inside out at the border crossing into East Berlin the next day notwithstanding, I prefer to believe the guard was trying to be as funny as he could get away with, given that they were under constant supervision. More on The Wall and its guards later but don’t be told that it has all been pulled down. There are sections still standing – some fairly close to where the refugees are fleeing in the above photo. I took this photo a few hundred metres along Chausseestrasse, past its junction with Friedrichstrasse. Notice the derelict building on the right – this photo was taken in 2011. I expect to be back in Berlin in late 2017 so I’ll see if this section has been rebuilt or not.
A little further along Chauseestrasse you could- in 2011 – find this ruin. You can still see blocks in Berlin that were bombed out in 1945 but if you want to see them, you’d better hurry.
And the bunny rabbit? Well, there has been some argument on Axis History Forum and other sites as to how much of Hitler’s bunker still exists, given that the goddamn Commies tried to rip it up in 1988. We will examine the history of the bunker if we ever get ourselves settled into our accommodation. In the meantime, only the bunny knows what’s down there as I took the photo of him/her (let’s not be gender-presumptuous) in the previous post outside the front door of my apartment in 2010. His/her warren is directly above Hitler’s bunker.
Some people have unkindly suggested that I faked the above photo. That is the type of insinuation that I have come to expect from those picky anorak types. I can assure you that I did not photoshop that tree into the picture and that is the same rabbit except in the first photo he is seventy-one years old.
We’d better get a wriggle on to our accommodation or those whom we left at Potsdamer Platz will be totally Willesseed by the time we pick them up.
Last time I looked we were passing the Swiss Embassy and were about to cross the grassed area in front of the Reichstag. We will come back later to look at the Reichstag, the Reichstag Fire and the Battle for the Reichstag in some detail but for now we pass it on our left and scurry towards the Brandenburg Gate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 in the foreground, all of which 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.
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:
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:
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.