Sunday, September 28, 2008

To be proud and learn from the past...

ORIGINAL POST: 21 May 2008

Okay, so what is arguably the one city in Europe that has had more bearing than any other city on the nature of the world during the greater part of the 20th century?

No, its not Israel - that's not in Europe, nor is it a city. Ironically enough, Israel ties into this city, too.

The Cold War, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the seat of a government that has provoked two World Wars and inspired some to imagine it to be "how NOT to become a world power"...

...this is where it happened.

...this is Berlin.
Okay, so its not any of those things anymore. Besides some remnants of its past, Berlin is an ULTRA-modern city with amazing architecture...

...and a public transportation system better than any city I had yet seen through my travels in Europe. I literally could get ANYWHERE in the city usually on a direct route or MAYBE with one change.

This is Alexanderplatz, by the way, a hub for a few of the lines. (And, its another movie location from the Bourne Supremacy.)

Oh, and as I said earlier, Berlin is simply a hub for history. The newly renovated Reichstag...

...with its glass rotunda and famous facade.

Not to mention the nearby Brandenburg Gate:

...that, as far as famous stuff goes, its on the short list.

At least in my life, the Brandenburg Gate is probably in my first memories of news and things that. I was almost 4 years old when the wall fell and there are some VERY vague memories of being aware of it at the time. Whether it was from then or the hundreds of times I've seen the photos and videos from the night all the people from East and West Berlin stood atop the wall... this was it.

...and there it was in front of me.

So, I had headed out on my own for a day in Berlin. One of my stops definitely would be the Berlin Museum to tie up some loose ends with Egypt. When I got there, I was greeted by this dude:

But, I was there to see something that I had wanted to see since my travels in Egypt: the Bust of Nefertiti.

It was every bit as cool to finally see her in person as I had heard as far back as good ol' Osman in Egypt. As I traveled through Europe, I began these little interjections into my past months abroad... Nefertiti was up there in that list.

Why was she in Berlin? you may ask... why indeed!
Well, the Bust of Nefertiti was actually in Hitler's bunker when he killed himself at the end of the war. Odd, right?

Not HALF as odd as what I found out about Hitler's "Fuhrer Bunker" with a little digging around. It actually took me quite a bit of research on the Blackberry to find it, but I did manage to locate Hitler's bunker. Well, if you intend to go find it, too, just know that it isn't ACTUALLY on any of the tourism maps I could find... nor is it marked AT ALL!!

And, get ready for this: when I did actually manage to find the vague instructions that its "near the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and An der Kolonnade" I walked around that stupid corner for 15 minutes before I found anything.

In front of this nondescript apartment complex is this glass panel. On this glass panel, it gives the entire history lesson of this location. Before World War 2 a huge mansion used by Kaisers and other major government officials - including Hitler. It was pretty much leveled by the advancing armies in 1945.

But here's the bizarre part: notice the place I've marked with an arrow in this photo.

Here's the enlargement:

In the center of the frame here is the line "In 1943 [Hitler] had the "F├╝hrer's Bunker" built in the gardens, where he killed himself in 1945." This is the only mention of the bunker. After this, I went into the courtyard of this apartment complex and found some sort of mound where I assume an entrance or a part of it still lies underground. There's a children's play set there now.

No markings. Not even its own little glass sign history lesson. Maybe I'm a nerd, but I'd kinda like to see this thing! But... oh well... I guess its not exactly a popular subject matter to take up a collection to memorialize such a site.

Anyways... returning to our story and returning to the Bust of Nefertiti:

This randomly massive structure next door to the Berlin Museum was rather impressive...

...known simply as "the Dom".

Then, in a quest for more nerdy fun, there was the Kaiser-Wilhelm Ge├Ąchtniskirche on the western side of the city center. I took the ever-efficient metro over there to check it out...

...this church was bombed out during World War 2 and was left in its destroyed condition for almost 70 years now. Yes, those dark markings are actual burn marks from Allied bombing.

It was a mighty cool thing to see up close. It was difficult, however, to imagine practically everything in the area looking like this.

Well, I've seen the Great Temple of Zeus where the massive statue (one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World) once stood... why not go see the Great Altar of Zeus.

Brought here from Pergamon in present-day Turkey, the Great Altar of Zeus is really really big and has its own building, the Pergamon Museum, which also showcases plenty of other ancient art and architecture.

Huge architecture.

Like, a complete blue (reproduction) Ishtar Gate from the Processional Way in ancient Babylon:

Yeah, I know the perspective is weird, but how do you get something 100ft wide and 50ft tall in an 18mm lens? Its truly huge!

It was all I could do to get the entire Pergamon Altar in there!

But never too big to get a little street-ish shot of a random person looking confused in front of a Roman bema.

Speaking of street...

...I hit the streets again on this cold and windy day to visit the remaining section of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery.

There's a certain amount of respect you just feel compelled to give a place like this.

As a media-minded guy like me sees something like this, I see all the thousands and thousands of stories and photographs and news spots this place has conjured up for the last half century.

Our parents grew up with this thing in their news.

And even our grandparents, for that matter.

Here it is, my friends. Its real. It wasn't thousands of miles away in a foreign country where nobody speaks English.

No, this thing was in my humble camera's viewfinder.

Crazy stuff...

Well, by this time I was rather cold and extremely hungry. How to remedy it? Easy. Street food! There was a man selling brats outside the metro station. It was a mighty good thing. Did I get some rabid disease from it? No.

Okay, so I've drunk the water in Egypt and Jordan and eaten street food all over the Mediterranean world... I'm still here.

At least, nothing Imodium won't fix.


Next, off to a little thing that was just SLIGHTLY depressing to witness:

In classic capitalistic style, Checkpoint Charlie has been sold out to the highest bidder. This time, the highest bidder has come in the form of a tourist trap. Complete with uniformed "actors" holding flags for tips from tourists wanting to get their photo taken.

Oh well. Not everything can escape the iron fist of cheesy tourism...

...not even a location that, on more than one occasion, almost saw the Cold War escalate to armed conflict.

I had a little extra time before I was due to meet up with my traveling companions at the train station so I took another opportunity to find a few more movie locations. That was fun...

But, as usual, train stations were the first and last things we saw in any city.

We were heading toward our next destination via Karlsruhe, Germany. Since all the night trains were booked solid direct from Berlin, we were having to take a 6hr ICE train down south to get on a night train to our destination.

It wasn't long before the afternoon scenery turned to complete darkness...

Berlin was our first stop of a few hugely major locations. It was only west from here... west in direction... and "west" in thought.

The next location MIGHT just warrant two blog posts... I'll see if I can keep it down.


Got any ideas yet?

See soon. Stay tuned.
~Noah D.

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