Berlin, Germany

This winter I went to Berlin for school. We were joining forces with another art school to participate in a workshop the following week. I’ll go into that more in the next post though. I was pretty excited to go because Berlin is a must see city in Europe, and I hadn’t been there yet. I didn’t know at the time why it was a must see city, but now I do. Berlin is awesome. This is the most historically relevant city I have ever been too, which is kind of obvious. The events that happened during WWII still vibrate throughout the city, and how the people have moved to step forward from the past fills the city with culture and individuality.

Bauhaus Archive – museum for design

I’m going to start with a bit of design-geekness. The Bauhaus is a design school that developed in Germany in 1919, and it was unique because of the modernist style that came from the school. The style is still renown today and considered high-end. We received a tour of the archive, and were shown some original art that was made at the school, from an art historian. He was of the opinion that the school faculty basically hated each other, and that while great designers taught at the school, there was nothing actually unique happening at the school to deserve the credit and prestige that it has today. The school is interesting because the Nazi-party shut them down since they saw the school as un-german. The school was shut down in 1933, and many of the teachers went to Switzerland to escape persecution. Some of them even began teaching at none other than the Basel School of Design (that’s where I go to school).

Alright, less art-geek, more history-geek.

As many people should know, once the war in Germany ended, the city was spilt between four countries. The British, the Americans, and the French all occupied West Berlin, and the soviets occupied East Berlin. The wall was built to seperate the two sides of the city, east berlin becoming communistic and west berlin was democratic, and typically working together. While the wall was up, several people died trying to cross it. One story our friend Russ told us was of three brothers who successfully crossed the wall. The first brother ran across before the wall was finished being built. The second brother crossed using a zip line that the first brother shot over the wall using a bow and arrow. The third brother was saved only 8 months before the wall was actually torn down in 1989. The other two brothers learned to fly microflyers, very very small airplanes, went over the wall, picked up the third brother, and then returned to west berlin. The video is somewhere on Youtube. Throughout the city today, there is evidence of the wall in the roads, there is a brick “path” that marks the place that the wall was in the roads/sidewalks/yards. I wouldn’t recommend walking it, as its goes into streets.

Checkpoint Charlie – checkpoint C, this is an entrance to the American quarter of Berlin.
Another interesting thing about Berlin is that there are constant reminders of the war throughout the city. Such as Treptower park, which acts as a Soviet memorial/cremetary for the 80,000 russians that died in the Battle of Berlin. This is one of three memorials like this in the city.

Another thing to say about Berlin, is that it is well designed. The roads are wide, the buildings are new, its like the whole city was wiped clean and rebuilt. Oh wait… it was. During the war, over several years, 65,000 tons of explosives were dropped on the city, 125,000 civilians were killed, and for every citizen there was 35 sq.meters of rubble to call their own. There was 314 air raids on Berlin, 85 in the last year of the war. Sixteen sq.miles of the city was rubble. I don’t really have an opinion on the reason for all this bombing, and I’m not trying to make anyone “feel bad” for the Germans during WWII. I’m just trying to paint a clear picture of what the city was like back then, so that seeing how it is now can be fully appreciated. Think of this as a before picture, and the after picture is about to come.

Bullet holes in the Berlin Victory Column.

Berlin today is full of interesting people, good foreign food (the only place I’ve had decent mexican-american food in Europe besides Chipotle), and has a thriving art scene. It is credited with having a high quality of life for it’s citizens. There is a big shopping culture in Berlin, the prices on items (food or product) is reasonable, there are small independent shops all over, there are a ton of art museums, and apparently a thriving night life.

A man playing glasses. I think he was playing Greensleeves at the time.
This duo was playing some popular song that I don’t know the name of, but the drummer was JUGGLING his sticks. While keeping the correct rhythm. Amazing.

On top of having a very interesting city culture, they have also replaced/rebuilt a lot of the bombed out buildings. The Berlin Victory Column has traces of the war still present on it’s facade, so while many of the building have erased such traces, they can still be found. I’ve also heard rumors that they may of been “cleaned,” so the traces are still there, but it’s been altered from how it really looked after the war.

Berlin Victory Column

The Berlin Victory Column was made to recognize the victory of the Prussian-Danish war in 1864. The war was a victory in a series of other wars that ended up being called the unification wars, which began shaping what we now know as Germany. In 1871, the Reichstag building was built to hold the German parliament, and was a symbol of German Unification. During the world wars, the country was of course spilt into West and East Germany, and in 1933 the Reichstag was seriously damaged by a fire. The building remained damaged, and the parliament moved to Bonn, until 1990. The building was rebuilt, the country was reunified, and now Parliament is again in the Reichstag.

Reichstag – German parliament building

Near the Reichstag is Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). This gate is an important symbol in association with the Berlin wall, because this is essentially where the wall was first torn down. In 1989 the checkpoint next to the gate was opened and the West Germany chancellor walked through it to be greeted by the East Germany prime minister. The Brandenburg Gate has been the backdrop for demonstrations against the wall, Ronald Reagan gave a speech before it in 1987. It is especially suitable as a backdrop for such demonstration because it was built as a symbol of peace in 1791 in response to the Thirty Years’ War.

Brandenburger Tor – Brandenburg Gate
Stained glass from the Berlin Dom.

Today it is pretty clear that Germany is still recovering from the World Wars, in physical damage as well as reputable damage. In Norway we spoke to a German couple about German nationalism (we were watching the Olympics) and they felt that it is very difficult for Germans to have national pride. It is frowned upon or shunned to be proud of where they are from, which is a reason they go so nuts at soccer games and at other sporting events. It’s an acceptable outlet for them, and an opportunity for them to be proud of their success. This was an older couple though, so maybe younger people would feel differently. Either way, I am really pumped up about Berlin. It’s a great city to visit.

Berlin Fernsehturm – Television Tower. Built as symbol of East Germany in 1969.
Also the top of St. Mary’s Church.

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