Tuesday, October 13, 2009 – Breakfast at the Hotel Adlon was included as part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts hotel package we had booked through our American Express TeamOne travel service group, and what a breakfast it was! A dozen different kinds of cold cuts, a half dozen kinds of French soft cheese (including several family favorites), a handful of different Meuslis, fresh fruit juices (such as pineapple, coconut, and ginger blended together), eggs to order, different sausages, and all sorts of fruit, as well as carb-evil pastries and breads. Champagne, coffee, and tea were available too.
By 11am we were finally on our way, with the intent to see the famed Checkpoint Charlie, and more specifically the museum there.
We started by tracing the path south from Brandenburg Tor where the western part of the Berlin Wall used to be, and found ourselves at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a memorial created to remember the Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.
The memorial consists of 2,711 blocks of cement of identical width and depth, but varying height. These blocks fill a plain of undulating brick, spaced equally apart, thus creating walkways. The feel is that of a cemetery when you first enter it, but soon you feel like you are in an oddly symmetric warren as the rectangular blocks start to reach the height of your head and beyond. Disconcerting and eerie, which was no doubt at least part of the intent of the memorial’s designer, Peter Eisenman.
By the time we hit Potsdamer Platz a bit to the south we were so cold we needed to warm up, so we chose a local café for some Café American, tea, and a cookie for Bas, as well as free Internet service. After waiting through a massive rain storm, we continued on towards Checkpoint Charlie, stopping at an outdoor museum entitled “Topopgraphy of Terror”, dedicated to provided a history of the prison and torture facilities at that location, run by the SS, Gestapo, and Reichssicherheits Dienst (Empire Security Service) during World War II.
However, the exhibits at the Topography of Terror covered much more, explaining the evolution of the Nazi party and their plans for systematic deportation and killing of Jews, Gypsies, and other “lower races” (pretty much anyone that was not Aryan German) in order to claim their lands and property for German expansion and resettlement. It was a frightening and sobering exhibit, as well as violently graphic, picturing hangings, executions, and many photos of people being marched off to certain death. More astounding was that the Nazi bureaucracy maintained meticulous records of all their actions, and many of the ledgers and memos used to both record their actions as well as direct those actions were shown (with translations for English readers). A number of the Nazi leaders were profiled, as were dozens of victims of “Nazi justice” who were interned in the prison at the site on Prinz Albrectstrasse at the behest of the so-called “People’s Court”, a bureaucratic body used to justify arrests and executions in the name of the people of Germany, but truly to simply further personal and political goals of the Nazi leadership.
The exhibit also covered the atrocities the Nazis carried out in the territories they captured. For us, with our Czech ancestry (Jake’s parents were born in Czechoslovakia shortly before the invasion by the Germans leading up to World War II), it was particularly poignant, as the exhibit documented how the entire Czech village of Lidice was slaughtered and then taken completely apart, leaving virtually no sign that there ever had been a village there. And all this in retaliation for the attempted assassination of a high ranking Nazi officer.
Jake’s brother Mike joined us as we finished going through the exhibition and we proceeded to Checkpoint Charlie, passed it by to get on the U-Bahn (Berlin’s subway) for one stop and then have a late lunch at Maximilian’s, a Bavarian restaurant. We gorged ourselves on Bavarian food – Schweinshaxe (pig knuckles with crispy skin), wurst (sausages) of all kinds with both sharp and sweet mustard, leberkäse (a slice of a loaf of meat made with liver), and goulasch of two sorts. And beer, of course. For Jake, this brought back memories of his childhood, growing up in Munich. We finished up with coffee and tea at the Café Einstein (a coffee shop chain which appears to be Starbuck’s main competition in Berlin) next door.
Instead of actually going back to Checkpoint Charlie, our intended destination for the day, Mike instead gave us a personal tour of other nearby parts of Berlin (and we managed to hit Checkpoint Charlie a couple of days later instead). We visited Berlin’s biggest chocolate shop, Fassbender & Rausch, followed by a walk around a plaza called the Gendarmenmarkt (police market). The Gendarmenmarkt features a number of large historic buildings from the 19th century, including a church, a performance hall, and a government building, surrounded by “plattenbau” apartment buildings. These were apartments built by the East Germans using a modular construction methodology which allowed for buildings to go up very quickly. Functional but rather unattractive.
From there we moved on to a collection of three buildings known as the Galeries Lafayette. These buildings feature high-end fashion shops and a delicatessen area, all connected via an underground shopping passage.
Mike then took us to Oranienburger Strasse, an area featuring a synagogue with Moorish architecture, as well as an artists’ commune and numerous coffee shops and eateries. At a small Italian restaurant in one of the many small courtyards, we enjoyed some Glühwein (hot spiced wine – great in cold weather) while we waited for Mike’s son Mat to join us. Mat is 21 and is training in the field of event management, and also has his own band called “Danke” (“thank you” in German).
We continued our walking tour with our personal family guides, exploring more courtyards and sights, including an old dance hall that is still in use today, ending up for dinner at Pan Asia, a restaurant with Asian-themed food. Quite good and enjoyable, with a great ambiance.
We walked all the way back to our hotel, enjoying the lighting of various buildings and objects as part of the Festival of lights that had just started in Berlin that night (and running for a full week). Again, as we strolled, Mike and Mat both gave us some history of the parts of Berlin we were walking through, helping feed our ever present desire for knowledge about the places we visit. We arrived back at the Hotel Adlon full (both food and information-wise), tired, and happy.
Our final achievement for the day was discovering that our shower in the Hotel Adlon also featured a steam bath button, allowing us to thoroughly warm up after freezing all day long. What a brilliant feature for showers in cold climates! (Note: The kids’ shower did not have this feature – something we teased them about incessantly.)
Note: Larger versions of the above photos as well as a dozen additional images can be found at Jake’s Flickr Page.