2. Visiting Berlin: Getting Started …

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These are my recommendations if you are visiting Berlin, especially for the first time.

Don’t worry about being unable to speak the language – in common with many European countries, most of the locals will speak English to a greater or lesser extent. The younger ones are, not surprisingly, not only good at it but are better at doing so than many native English speakers, IMO. If you want to try speaking German, the locals will appreciate your efforts.

Here are the basic expressions you will need to enjoy your stay in Berlin:

  1. Ein Bier, bitte.” ( Phonetically : Ine beer bitter). This means “I’d like a beer please.” If you really want to show off or if you are a chronic drunkard you may want to learn the first ten numbers in German. Google them.
  2. Noch ein Bier!” (Ph. Nock ine beer!). “Another beer please!” If you look up the word for “another” in an English/German dictionary you will find ‘andere’ amongst other synonyms. If you use this word you will make a fool of yourself as I did on my first trip to Heidelberg.  It means “Another (different kind of) beer”. The waiter will eventually tell you they have run out (of different types of beer) and everyone will laugh uproariously once you have left. Use “Noch ein Bier” unless you particularly want to try all the beers in the house (not recommended).
  3. Wo ist die toilette?” (Ph. Vo ist dee toilet?) “Where’s the toilet?”

Well, that’s pretty much it.

If you need directions, the key words are:

  1. Links” (pronounced as it looks) means ‘left’.
  2. Rechts” (pronounced like the Australian beer Reschs only with a ‘t’ on the end instead of the ‘s’) means ‘right’.
  3. Gerade aus” (there are no soft ‘g’s in German so it’s pronounced “ge-rar-der”. “Aus” is pronounced like a Cockney would pronounce “house” and means ‘straight ahead’.
  4. Zuruck” (there’s supposed to be an umlaut in there but I can’t do them on a keyboard and Lemmy’s dead so I have no-one to ask). This one is a real bugger to pronounce. Try ‘zoo’ followed by ‘ruck’ pronounced to rhyme with ‘fluke’ – means ‘back’.

How to get there ...

I am assuming you are already in Europe. If you are the two best ways to get to Berlin are to fly or go by train. If you drive into Berlin, skip the following advice. I am assuming also that you intend to stay in central Berlin – or Berlin Mitte as we Berliners like to call it. I recommend the Apartments am Brandenburger Tor, although I shouldn’t because as soon as word gets out what a good deal they are every man, woman and Hund will be hoovering in and I won’t be able to get a reservation anymore. You will need one. Here is the website: http://www.apartments-mitte.de/  and here is how to get there:

If you fly into Berlin, get a taxi -they are fairly cheap and offer excellent service: the driver will chat amiably and at great length (even after you tell him you don’t speak German) to Potsdamer Platz. Have a beer while you are waiting for the next set of instructions.

If you go by train, get off at Berlin Hauptbahnhof. Be impressed by the station – it is impressive. Then walk over to one of the glass walls and see if you can see the Reichstag. When you can see the Reichstag, that is the side of the station to leave from. Walk to the Reichstag. You will have to walk across the park. The distance is about 500 metres and you will be harassed by Serial Harassers who infest Europe. They are often kids of school age and they often carry clipboards and pretend to be conducting a survey or whatever. They will ask for money. Politely but firmly decline and they will leave you alone. Don’t be conned by someone amazingly ‘finding’ a gold ring on the ground and then offering to sell it to you (the ring, not the ground).

Now while I’m trying to work out how to cut and paste my Google map of Berlin Mitte, let’s do a virtual walk from the Hbf (Main Station) to the Brandenburg Gate.

While we are doing the virtual walk, those who flew in are probably wondering which beer to start with. These two are very good:

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Now for the virtual walkers. My advice : you will see a pissy little bridge in front of you over which everybody else will be walking. Do not go there. To your right you will see a lovely old stone bridge . Walk towards it – for two reasons: one, you will avoid the serial pests and two, you will be walking on a great piece of history.

Observe the following photo. The orange arrow indicates the impressive Hauptbahnhof whence you have just walked. The red arrow indicates the pissy little pest-infested pedestrian bridge. The green arrow indicates a decorative griffin (more of him/her later) and the blue arrow indicates your destination, i.e. the Reichstag.

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The next post will address the history of the Moltke Bridge and we will then attempt to meet up with those who flew in before they get too tired and emotional on Berliner Kindl or Radeberger.

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1.Reconstructing Berlin

Statement of Purpose:
I am writing this blog for my own amusement and possibly for the amusement of others. My intention is to show what historic sites can be seen in Berlin today – on foot – starting roughly at the Brandenburg Gate. My field of interest runs from unification (1871) to the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). My main interest is in the New Reich Chancellery, Speer’s short-lived creation, and in Voss-Strasse itself, hence the title of this blog. There is no political intent, implied or otherwise.
Pretty much everything I write about here can be found on the Internet in greater detail. I aim to supply interesting stuff for those who couldn’t be bothered ploughing through hundreds of websites. If you’re in Berlin and want to know where certain events happened or what happened near where you are staying, hopefully this blog might help.

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Rip It Down And Start Again?

I recently watched “Bridge of Spies” and it reminded me that I had promised/threatened to post a travelogue on Berlin while I was there. It’s going to be more of a rant, actually, so if you don’t like it, don’t look at it. Bit like commercial television really.

The question is: how do you rebuild an historic city that has been pretty much completely destroyed in a war? Berlin is a metaphor for all the cities destroyed in all the wars and I only chose it because I’ve been there in the 1970s, 1980s and the 2010s and I like the history . In this blog I propose to write about what I consider to be interesting things and to start with all of the ‘interesting things’ will be within walking distance of the Apartments at Brandenburger Tor car park.

As far as I can see there are three options in rebuilding this city: you clear the rubble and build new, modern structures; you tidy up the surviving buildings and re-use them or you leave them the way they are.

I propose to look at a few examples of what’s remaining of historical interest (to me anyway).

Let’s start with the DDR. If you want to go and see what Berlin was like under the East Germans (from now on I’ll simplify that to DDR to avoid having to distinguish between East Germans and Soviets) you should go now. The inner city is being gentrified at an alarming rate but there are still things to be seen. The DDR did not go out of its way to reconstruct Berlin after the war – they largely concerned themselves with tearing up (or down) old Nazi sites, the Reich Chancellery and a selection of cemeteries for example. This means that large sections of the city remained untouched for decades. For example, in the 1970s I did a bus tour into East Berlin (across the Berlin Wall). The young East German woman who provided the commentary on the bus waxed lyrical about how the government was going to build wondrous new sports complexes and government buildings and so on but outside all we could see were vast tracts of fenced off land that had literally not been touched since 1945. There were of course the odd Communist Party buildings which were a bit tarted up but in general the whole place gave an impression of being depressed and depressing. At the end of the tour, the young host had to disembark on the Eastern side and Russian and East German guards – armed with automatic weapons – came on the bus and began checking IDs. They then ran dogs under the bus to check that no desperate, disenchanted East German had decided to do a Cape Fear and defect by hanging on under the bus. When we got through Checkpoint Charlie, the bus driver told us – wryly – that the young host had had to learn her entire 90 minute spiel off by heart to get the tour guide job and that the Bad Guys were in the habit of slipping a fake ‘tourist’ on the bus to check that she wasn’t editorialising. Apparently, she was allowed to see members of her family briefly when she got on the bus in the West.

Sad.

Here’s an example of the changing of the political guard in Berlin.

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The above photo was taken in Behrenstrasse – which runs off Wilhelmstrasse – in 2010. I took the one below almost exactly five years later. Now this large (un)polished image of Lenin was still on this building  – and only a few hundred metres from the Brandenburg Gate – twenty-one years after the Wall came down. Check the dates on the photographs.

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As late as 2011, you could still find Cyrillic lettering in the foyers of some apartment blocks in central Berlin.

Because the Communists did not do a great deal of rebuilding you can still find old buildings from before the Second World War but you will need to hurry – because the Wall has come down a lot of these places are disappearing. A case in point is the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Voss-Strasse.  This corner originally (i.e. pre-war) was the site of the Reichs-verkehrsministerium (Reich Traffic Ministry). It can be seen in its heyday in the centre of this photo (red arrow), the Finance ministry is to the left of the photo (blue arrow), the Air Ministry (still standing in pretty much its original form) (orange arrow) can be seen further down the street and the Borsig Palais (green arrow) to the right:

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Here’s a comparison with the above photo taken in 2015:

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Here’s what it looked like in 2010. The buildings on the left hand side of Voss-Strasse (the street the red Mini drives down) had been there since the war (1945). You could still see battle damage on pretty much all of them.

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Here’s what it looks like now:

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These changes took place in only five years. See what I mean about getting there quickly if you want to see original stuff?

Interestingly, if you look at the very first photo I have posted – the one with the two women with cake tins on their heads in front of the U Bahn entrance – you will see a large building directly behind the entrance. That building -the Ritterschaftsdirektion -(and the U Bahn station itself, but not that entrance) still survives and can be seen on the Wilhelmplatz today. More detail on that building when I get around to the Wilhelmplatz.

So here’s the plan. I intend to post a series of …ummm … posts on touring Berlin with an interest in the history of the place. To start with I am going to suggest places of interest within walking distance of the car park behind the Apartments am Brandenburger Tor. The Apartments am Brandenburger Tor run along Wilhemstrasse from the Adlon Hotel and up Voss-Strasse in a vague U shape. They also wander around various other blocks. Suffice it to say that that whole block bounded by  Peter-Behrens-Strasse , Wilhelmstrasse, Voss-Strasse and Friedrich-Ebert-Strasse constituted the lion’s share of the Regierungsviertel, or Government Quarter from Bismarck’s time to 1945. The current Holocaust Memorial, the car park, the apartments and sundry other structures pretty much made up the Ministry Gardens.

For some reason some of my posts are appearing in random order therefore I intend to number them so anyone bored enough to be reading this can read them in order. A complete list of the posts so far can be found here: https://wordpress.com/posts/vossstrasse.com although I have no idea why posts 4 and 5 are in the wrong order.