Episode 283 – This is “Our” East Berlin

Our apartment for the month of July is at Schumannstraße 16, very near the drama mask signs in the top third of the map above that indicate the Deutsches Theater. You can see how close we are to the Spree River, the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), and the red and blue lines that indicate the former location of the wall that separated Berlin into east and west until 1989.

Our location (“Berlin Home”) on a current map with no dividing wall.

For the first few days of our stay here, we’ve wandered mostly around what used to be East Berlin, exploring our immediate neighbourhood and strolling along Unter den Linden.

Memorial to Albrecht von Graefe outside the gardens of the Charité Hospital., on the corner of our street. Albrecht was a Prussian-German ophthalmologist who lived from 1828-1870, who was famous for breakthroughs in the treatment of glaucoma. The statue’s engravings celebrate the importance of light to humans.
The Charité Krankenhaus (hospital) is just one block from our apartment. Only patients and their families are currently allowed on the grounds, but the beautiful exterior architecture is visible to everyone. The Charité was founded in 1710 and is one of the world’s oldest hospitals. Its campus stretches over several blocks, incorporating old and new buildings, and offering some of the best and most innovative health care in Europe.
Kitty-corner from us on Schumannstraße is this lovely bakery. We’re not sure whether it’s the heavenly breads or the strong coffee that made this sculpted patron “flip” !
Crossing the Spree to reach the Bundestag. The complex in the background with the large red DB (for Deutsche Bahn) is Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station). We can get anywhere from here! The office building in the left foreground is the aptly named Berlin Cube.
The Reichstag building housing the Bundestag (Germany’s parliament) is less than a 10 minute walk away…. just inside what was West Berlin. We’re scheduled to tour it next week.
The 26 metre tall Brandenburg Gate, much less crowded than when we visited last in July 2016. The gate was designed in 1791, and sits close to the centre of Berlin. Its design is based on Athens’ Acropolis.
In 1795 the monument was crowned with a chariot drawn by four horses heading into the city, known as the Quadriga. The bronze statue represents the Goddess of Victory. The original sculpture was destroyed during World War II, so it was replaced by an exact replica made in West Germany in 1969. (Caption taken from introducingberlin.com. The photo, of course, is Ted’s)
Germans are not afraid to highlight the awful things in their history. Several of the flagstones around the memorial were etched with the names of the concentration camps to which the Sinta and Roma (“gypsies”) were taken and killed. There was also a glass wall with a detailed chronology of the genocide. Inside the garden, quiet but haunting “gypsy” violin music was playing.

It’s been 33 years since reunification, and it’s becoming harder and harder for non-Berliners like us to differentiate between the two halves of the city, especially since the stark utilitarian Communist buildings of the post-war era are gradually replaced by attractive modern ones, and lovely historic buildings that were neglected under Soviet rule are repaired and refurbished. The most obvious reminder of the Soviet period is the massive Russian Embassy located along Unter den Linden a few blocks east of the Brandenburg Gate.

One tiny portion of the huge Russian Embassy, seen through the linden trees. Note the ornate brass doors.
A makeshift memorial for Ukraine on the boulevard in front of the Russian Embassy. Interestingly, the Ukrainian Embassy is on Albrechstraße. right around the corner from our apartment. Each day when we walk past it there is a long line of people waiting to enter – we assume they are refugees from the war getting travel documents updated or applying for German residency. There is also always a smiling policeman or two nearby, giving directions and ensuring traffic can pass.

We took the opportunity on our first Wednesday here to visit the nearest once-per-week eco-market at the Nordbahnhof (north rail station), one of four “Marktzeit” (market time) branded markets, each running just one day per week in a quarter of Berlin. Sadly, this pop-up organic market was a big disappointment, with less than a dozen vendors, and only one sad-looking vegetable seller (the veggies looked sad too). So instead we ended up at REWE, another German grocery chain, and picked up fresh pretzel buns for lunch, some huge sweet cherries from Türkiye, and a large piece of Bienenstich (bee-sting cake) for dessert.

Mmmmmm… yeast cake, plenty of whipped cream, and honey-glazed almond slices. I knew it wouldn’t rival what my Aunt Erika used to bake, but it was still delicious (maybe the best commercially made one I’ve had!)

I’m still glad we walked to the market though, because the route took us right to the Berlin Wall Memorial, located very near the Nordbahnhof on Bernauerstraße.

It’s was truly sobering to walk on the grass that now grows in the area once known as the “death strip”: the belt of sand-or-gravel-covered land between the two main barriers of the Berlin Wall. From 1961 through 1989 it was constantly under surveillance, eventually by guards in watchtowers who could and did shoot anyone they saw trying to escape from East to West.

Views of both sides of the “inner” wall, showing the steel reinforcements in the concrete. In the top photo, you can see that the wall is about twice my height – yet enough people tried to climb over that eventually a second wall was built to supplement it.
Graffitied portions of the hated wall are on display in many parts of Berlin. In addition to graffiti, many sections of the wall are coated with discarded chewing gum, which itself has become as hard as cement.

Between 1961 and 1989, at least 140 people were killed or died at the Wall in connection with the GDR border regime, including 101 people who were shot, accidentally killed, or killed themselves when they were caught trying to make it over the Wall; 131 of them are remembered via black & white photo portraits printed onto glass and accompanied by their birth and death dates on the memorial called The Window of Remembrance.

The photos make it real, and heartbreaking.
Two further memorials within the death strip.
Top: Memorial to the victims of the Second World War and the German separation, erected by the Sophia Chirch Parish, is engraved “It should not be by army or strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.”
Bottom: a simple wooden cross. The explanatory plaque reads: “Approximately a thousand graves had to be moved when the border strip was developed. It is however possible that the graves of World War II bomb victims were not exhumed and that the border grounds were built over the graves. This cross commemorates them.”

Dinner tonight was an “Elvis” (Italian salami, ham, mushrooms, peppers – and no cheese!) pizza and German blonde beer at Pizzeria Marienkäfer (“Ladybug Pizzeria”), just a 300m stroll from our front door. As you can tell from my smile, not much makes me happier than yummy food eaten alfresco on a street in Europe with my favourite guy!

5 comments

  1. Your blog continues to be an absolute delight – I’m loving touring Berlin vicariously with you. The photos and accompanying narrative are perfect. I know the work that goes into a blog, so thank you for taking the time to do so!

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  2. Oliver and Connie built a SOLID house in Epstein When I told Rafael – American cousin – he couldn’t understand why you would build something to last forever. The hospital is magnificent!! Love the whimsy you find. Another great read!! Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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  3. ROSE: What an excellent way to explore Berlin!  Comparing your experience with our Full day tour (that included 8 hours on the train) on the Homeland Cruise reinforces the difference between cruises and saying in one place for an extended period.  I’ve been describing port experiences on a cruise like a survey course in college where you touch on many subjects, but none in depth. Thanks for sharing! Al

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