Berlin: Alexanderplatz to the Reichstag
One of the first German words I remember learning, strangely, is Fernsehturm (TV tower) because the one in Berlin had just opened in 1969 when I started learning the language at school. It dominates the skyline from all directions, East and West, which was no doubt the original intention (and, unsurprisingly, after reunification it was found to contain a lot more than just TV equipment.) It’s in Alexanderplatz just a couple of stops on the U-Bahn from our hotel, and a big transport interchange so that most journeys we made passed through it. On Tuesday, we decided to get off there and walk up to the Reichstag – when we visited Berlin in 2004, we did this walk in reverse so it was interesting to see the changes.
First, we took the lift 203m up to the viewing platform of the Fernsehturm. This involved quite a bit of queuing, but was worth it for the panoramic views. Unfortunately, the pictures look as if the weather was slightly hazy, but actually it’s just that they were taken through very dirty glass! Here, for example, is the Rotes Rathaus (Red Town Hall – so called because of the colour, not the politics). The picture also shows one of the main changes in this area – a huge building site. Around here, and all the way up Unter den Linden, the streets are being dug up for an extension to the U-Bahn system.
(For some great pictures of the Fernsehturm and surrounding area at sunset, see this post from andBerlin.)
Working our way west we passed the statue of Marx and Engels:
This really puzzled me, because I remembered the statue being in a vast, open cobbled area so I was pleased to check our 2004 photos and discover I hadn’t lost my memory – it was, but the area has now been landscaped and the statue moved to a less conspicuous position where it faces in the opposite direction. Here it is in 2004:
The rather hideous 1970s building behind is the former Palast der Republik which housed the GDR’s parliament. This is now an empty space being used, temporarily, for an exhibition about Berlin’s 775th birthday:
However, the plan is to rebuild the Berliner Schloss, the old Imperial Palace, which previously stood on the same site, at least as far as reproducing the exterior. Opposite, the Berliner Dom (Cathedral) has not changed so the area will return to its early-20th century appearance. This seems a very unadventurous idea, though one which would probably be enthusiastically approved of by our very own Prince Charles.
Unter den Linden was not looking photogenic because of the underground works, so the next point worth a picture was the Brandenburg Gate:
Not far beyond the Gate is the Reichstag with its Norman Foster glass dome (just visible from this angle). Inside, a ramp spirals up to a viewing deck – we did this last time, so didn’t repeat it but it is well worth a visit.
The Reichstag is right next to the River Spree where a row of plaques, such as the ones below, commemorate those who were killed trying to swim across to the West.
In the other direction from the Brandenburg Gate is the Holocaust Memorial. This was still a building site when we were here before, so it was interesting to see it completed. Above ground is a sombre series of 2711 grey blocks of varying heights which create strange alleyways.
There’s also an information centre below which is as harrowing as you might expect – you could hear a pin drop as people walked round it in silence. At the end, terminals offered links to the Yad Vashem database of Holocaust victims and the database of all commemoration sites to the murdered Jews of Europe which are projects I didn’t know about, and very worthwhile.
After this, we were exhausted and emotionally wrung out so went off for a drink before returning to the hotel. A simple stroll up a city street had thrown up so many tragic sites, whether related to the Holocaust or the Cold War era. It’s to Germany’s credit, though, that it confronts its past head-on in this way.