Casa’s Blog

A Life Abroad

I’ve been lookin’ for freedom. I’ve been lookin’ so long. I’ve been lookin’ for freedom. Still the search goes on…

Sorry but after another day in Berlin, this time a full day, I think that footage really must be played again and again😛

Okay so what did I do today.  Well after briefly being awoken by 2 roommates who arrived at 4am (the poor buggers tried to be quiet so I feel sorry for them having to check in at such a time) I was eventually up and about just before 9am.  Best of all as the weather is so good in Germany I got to crack out the shorts for only like the 3rd time since I packed them in January.

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I made my way down to Checkpoint Charlie to check out the area properly after I walked past it briefly on the free tour.  Although the checkpoint itself is rather lame as when you compare it to the original photos the area has changed significantly and now just stands as a reconstructed tourist sight, the surrounding area is very interesting.  Firstly there is a long stretch of information boards all around the intersection.  It covers all about the breaking up of Berlin, the building of the wall, attempted crossings and finally the walls demise all with a variety of photographs and English/German descriptions.  In the end it took me about 90 mins to just walk around and read these boards that I suppose a lot of people would walk past.  It was a little annoying that there were beggars (and what I am pretty sure would be beggars/pickpockets) in the area who kept attempting to bug you.  However, the boards are so informative that even with that distraction it was worth it.

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Just around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie is a museum I planned to come back to later in the day but I didn’t get the chance as my later walking tour was so intensive so I will try and go back to that at some point.  What I did do (in depth) was the Topography of Terror which is just a block away and behind a remaining part of the Wall.  Here we are moving back in time from the East/West Germany conflict and back dealing with the Nazis.  It is on an area that originally housed a lot of the SS and Nazi Government offices and although there has been disputes and trouble with permanent museum being built it is open as an outdoor exhibit at the moment.  For a detailed coverage of the SS and the atrocities of the Nazis you cant get much better.  There is a lot of information but also a lot of pictures and reproduction of original documents.  It explains the process of how the Nazi policies developed as well as highlighting plenty of individual accounts from people.

I then made my way up to the starting point for the Red Berlin walking tour I was going to take and stumbled across a memorial.  I suppose with the variety of memorials in Berlin this would be a common occurrence. Opposite the Holocaust Memorial for the Murdered Jews is the one remembering the Homosexuals who were victimised under the Nazi regime.  It is similarly moving as the jewish concrete forest across the road but is definitely different.  On the footpath stands a sign that explains the persecution and then behind, in a park, sits a large concrete cube like structure.  There is a darkened window that draws you in and as you peer inside there is a short black and white loop of two men kissing playing on a television screen.  Not the over the top passionate kind of kiss that ends a romantic movie (usually this occurs in the rain for some reason) or something lustful but something I think more expressive people than myself would call “tender.”I am no designer or arty person but to me I got a very strong message about it highlighting the kind of love that was hidden, suppressed and punished for so long.

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One point to make is that after hearing about the debate that surrounded whether there should be one memorial or multiple memorials for the different I feel the current stance of each group having a separate memorial may be the right one.  To me the reason for this is highlighted on the small plague outside this memorial.  The Nazi horrific laws persecuting homosexuality (Section 175) were effective in the Federal Republic (the “good western guys”) until 1969.  That is 24 years after “liberation” of the people of Germany. Also, in pure numbers the homosexuals persecuted or killed by Nazis is relatively low when compared to the jews or gypsies but the men with pink triangles also supposedly had one of the highest death rates in concentration camps due to severe punishment. The different persecuted groups have different stories to tell so I think different memorials are fitting.  On a side note, it is obvious that Germany and Berlin in particular has come a long way in their treatment of homosexuals from the time of the Nazis…and from the 24 years after the Nazis as well.

After getting some good photos of Brandenberg gate (without a fashion week marque out the front of it) I was off on the Red Berlin tour so I was back thinking East vs West instead of Allies vs Nazis.  Our guide was Paul (a fellow aussie) and generally it was  less organised and scripted tour than I have been on but it was incredibly informative and Paul knew his stuff. We walked and took a lot of public transport to cover a lot of the old East Berlin and get a real insight in to life behind the iron curtain.  Some of the highlights were the Stasi headquarters, the preserved section of the Berlin Wall and Death Strip, the Church of Reconciliation (which is rebuilt from the compacted earth on the site of an old church that for many years stood between the two sections of the Berlin wall and in the middle of the death strip) and ending at the East Side Gallery.

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Probably the best part of the tour was that Paul successfully managed to not give it from a “western/capitalist” perspective as possible.  It wasn’t a case of East Germany good and West Germany bad.  Yes the restriction of freedoms, spying, 53 massacre, etc in the East were horrible and there were a lot of problems but you leave the tour understanding how newspaper polls can still be split 50-50 among East Germans who think things are better or worse than before the wall fell.  Also Paul was able to put forward a perspective that it appears that East German history appears to disappearing from Berlin even more so than the horrors of World War 2.  History must be remembered to be learnt from and this appears to be a struggle at the moment for the German people.

The tour ended  at the East Side Gallery which is a mile of the wall (the longest remain stretch) and was painted in 1990 by artists from around the world.  As I explored it, it is clear that they are in the process of re-doing all the original art pieces (in a lot of cases with the original artists returning) after years of mistreatment and graffiti.  They are hoping to preserve it in to a more permanent memorial this time around.  A few of the sections appealed to me more than others…but I suppose that is always going to be the way with art.

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As I was walking the mile I was hit with another tropical life German late afternoon/evening thunderstorm.  As I walked along getting increasingly soaked you realise the true length of the wall that circled West Berlin.  I was being rained on for just 500m of the wall and it took ages to get to the end and shelter in the train station.  Imagining 155 km of such a wall is unbelievable.  It is even more unbelievable that the original incarnation of the wall was put up in just 57 hours.    I made my way back to my hostel with Vanessa (an american who had been on the tour and was equally drenched while walking the East Side Gallery) and it was interesting chatting about all that we had seen in just one day.

July 5, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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