I have been visiting Berlin since I started focusing on German politics in graduate school in the mid-1990s. I have gotten used to watching the city change, when I first visited Germany, the capitol was still in Bonn and the Reichstag hadn’t yet been refurbished. Parts of the Berlin wall still stood in their original locations. Over the years, each visit would bring major changes as construction cranes took over the skyline. The original Checkpoint Charlie became a fashionable shopping avenue. The Reichstag gained a glass dome. Four years ago I had spent 3 weeks in Berlin with my family, conducting research at the Free University of Berlin. I made a quick visit a year and a half ago, but I went straight to a conference and didn’t spend any time touring the city. I was excited to see what four years had wrought in a city that was in the middle of so much change.
I arrived in Berlin the morning of June 2nd after an uneventful flight. After a nap, I headed out of my hotel to enjoy the ambiance of the Ku’damm – a major shopping area in the heart of the city. Compared to my trip to the Netherlands a year ago, when most of the stores seemed in distress and were having major price reductions, things seemed normal, maybe even more expensive than I was used to. My first meal was a chai latte from Starbucks to wake me up, and the traditional curry wurst and pommes from a nearby outdoor stand.
Ku’damm on a sunny afternoon…
Wittenberg platz – this is the station we used all the time the last time we were in Berlin
The last time we were here they were raising funds to refurbish the Gedachtnis-Kirche – a reminder of the tragedy of the war. It is clearly being refurbished now. Also, most of the fountains weren’t running four years ago – it was nice to see them working, although I did notice many more homeless people, particularly young people, hanging around the square. This was the first time that I visited this area and felt a bit uneasy.
After a bit of shopping for some World Cup gear for my boys (and a few cute items for myself from Desigual), I took a break. Later I headed off in the direction of the Tiergarten and eventually hoping to go into the Reichstag where the German legislature sits (the Reichstag fire led to Hitler and the Nazi’s taking control of the German Government, so it is a potent symbol). For the first time since i have been visiting Berlin the Siegessäule (victory column) was open – here are a few photos of that monument:
The view towards the Brandenburg gate.
I know Andrew, my military history buff, will be interested in the frescoes on the sides of the monument.
As I walked towards the Brandenburg gate, I noticed that the TIergarten gets it’s name for a reason – actually, a few years ago I was running through the park and saw a fox with a rabbit in it’s mouth, so these guys do have natural predators out there…
Germans are almost as much into cycling as the Dutch, so I was dodging a lot of bikes on my way to the Brandenburg Gate.
To my surprise, I ran into a peace protest which mainly seemed focused on the ills of capitalism, avoiding war in Ukraine and pushing for peace in general.
The protesters have been meeting regularly on Mondays and draw on themes from the Monday protests before the fall of the Berlin Wall – this is the first protest of this type I have seen in Berlin
Here’s a link to some video from the protest: http://youtu.be/ihoDS2MLpPE
The next surprise for me was the new security at the Reichstag. Four years ago you could just walk up and get in if they were open – now there’s a registration process and security barriers. I guess I won’t be seeing the inside on this trip, luckily I’ve been inside before. Here’s a few pictures from around the Reichstag:
This is a memorial to legislators murdered by the Nazis.
These bricks mark where the Berlin wall was located.
a chalk tribute to currywurst
The Reichstag with newer, modern government buildings in the background.
Another new memorial is one to the Roma and Sinti who were part of the genocide during WWII
As I walked back to the Brandenburg gate, I had to take a picture of the US Embassy, which sits in a very prime location. The UK Embassy is around the next corner, both require a lot of security.
Looking East, you an see the Fernsehturm (TV tower) which was a symbol for East Berlin
I saw another group gather down the street and went to take a look. This time it was a group of Spanish protestor, who were calling for an end to the monarchy in Spain, the Spanish King abdicated the throne to his son today.
The last set of pictures are just some interesting shots from the rest of my day, I’m sure I’ll have more tomorrow, and I’ll be talking about some of the political issues in my Europe blog – http://givenseurope.blogspot.com