History - World War II, Berlin
At first glance the Schwerbelastungskörper (heavy load bearing body) looks like a gasometer. The ground in this area is sandy and this huge concrete cylinder was constructed in 1941, at a cost of 400,000 marks. It weights 12,650 tonnes, it is 21 metres in diameter it extends 18 metres into the ground and is 14 metres tall. It was used as a test bed to assess how the ground would withstand such a huge force. It was hoped that the structure would not sink anymore than 6cm but in the end it sunk 18 cm. If things had worked out then a massive Triumphal Arch would have been built close by as one of the main structures for the new Germania. The Triumphal Arch would have stood on the end of 7 km long new avenue of victory. The new avenue would have been120 metres wide and would have formed the north/south axis. But it did not make any diffence in the end as the Nazis lost the war and the arch was never constructed. After the war it was considered blowing up the cylinder but this idea was dismissed as it would have damaged buildings close by. It has now become a listed historical monument. As far as I can ascertain entry can be gained to the site via Berliner Unterwelten who provide guided tours, but only in German. The tours run from April to October, several times a week. There is information on their website in the German Language section.
Just outside Friedrichstraße Railway Station there is a almost life-sized bronze statue of 7 children. The statue is one of four by the sculptor Frank Meisler and it is named 'Trains to life - trains to death'. Five of the children face one way representing those lost during the holocaust. The other two face the other way and represent 10,000 children saved by the Kinder transport to the UK. In the 10 months before the start of WW2, 10.000 children from different parts of Europe were rescued and brought to the UK by train and boat. One of the children who came to the UK on the Kinder transport was the sculptor Frank Meisler who left Friedrichstraße Railway Station on route to the UK. The other sculptures are 'Departure' located at Danzig, 'Channel of life' at the Hook of Holland and 'Kindertransport - the arrival' at Liverpool Street Railway Station in London.
Located on some of Berlin's busiest streets are some unusual street lamps with 2 glass cylinders on top. These were designed by Hitler's architect Albert Speer and were going to assume an important position at the end of the east-west axis of the new world capital of Germania. Located along part of of Straße des 17, Bismarckstrasse, Kaiserdamm finishing at Theodor-Heuss Platz they form a total length of 5kms.
For those visiting Siegessäule you have to reach the column via an underground walkway from one of the four classical style entrances. When the Victory Column was moved to its present location by Albert Speer, he had the four temple like buildings constructed. The 4 buildings provide access via the stairs to the underground walkways and a safe route to Siegessäule in the middle of the busy roundabout. The buildings are suppose to crumble over the years to look like an ancient ruin. At the end of WW2 the allies decided to keep the buildings as they were a practical way of reaching the victory column. These four structures are the only buildings designed by Albert Speer that remain in Berlin. On the day I visited there was a piano accordion player positioned on one of the walkways. Every time he spotted the legs of someone walking down the steps he started up. Unfortunately for him I kept on walking between the four buildings so he kept on bursting into song.
The villa that once stood at Tiergartenstrasse 4 no longer exists. It was badly damaged during WW2 and was torn down during the 1950s. It was once the main office that secretly organised a program to murder people with mental and physical disabilities or chronic illnesses that were no longer considered worthy of life by the National Socialists. The program was called Aktion T4 after the location of the building. It is thought that 300,000 victims were murdered by starving, drugs overdosing or gassing. The causes of death were falsified and the relatives issued with death certificates. Any valuables the victims possessed was seized by T4. Very few of the offenders were called to account for their actions after WW2 and what happened was mainly hidden for years. A memorial plaque was put up in 1989. From 2008 a steel statue was erected together with information boards and one of the grey bus memorial was there for a while but the area for buses to stop. From 2 September 2014 a new memorial has been erected on the site and the bus stop removed. It is thought that this may be the last major memorial dedicated to the Holocaust that with be erected in Berlin. The memorial consists of a 24 metre transparent blue glass wall. The memorial includes a separate information point and stories about some of the victims.
The House of the Wannsee Conference was the first place I visited on my first ever trip to Berlin in 2003. I have made a number of further visits since then.
On 20th January 1942, in these beautiful surroundings, Reinhard Heydrich, Adolf Eichmann and 13 other Nazi officers made the decision which sealed the fate of millions of Jews. The decision to exterminate the Jews had already been made, and Heydrich, as Himmler's emissary, held the meeting to ensure the cooperation of the various departments in conducting the deportations. The museum documents the history of the events leading to the holocaust and the persons who made the decision.
On 20 January 1992, on the fiftieth anniversary of the conference, the site was finally opened as a Holocaust memorial and museum. The museum also hosts permanent exhibits of texts and photographs that document events of the Holocaust and its planning. It includes a copy of the minutes of the meeting which were found after the war. The memorial is open daily from 10am to 6pm and is closed on public holidays. The library is open the same hours Monday to Friday. If you wish to reflect after your visit you could walk back to Wannsee Railway Station which takes about 30 minutes. If you fancy a longer walk of about one & a half hours you can follow the lake and River Havel to the Glienicke Bridge (Bridge of Spies) and then catch tram #93 to Potsdam Railway Station.
Also called as Reich's Air Transport Ministry, it was built in the very center of Berlin. It is typical monumental Nazis architecture. Somehow this building survived till these days and was skipped from bombing Berlin. Nazis were very famous in air force, that time aviation minister was well known Hermann Göring.
It is funny, that nowadays this place is also associated with not so good things - taxes :) German Tax office is located here :)
Approximately 200 metres away from the Berliner Fernsehturm in Rosenstrasse stands a 3 metre tall rose coloured Litfass column. Most people walking past the column are too busy to stop and read the information but this was the site of a huge protest during the National Socialism era, something which was almost unheard of during this period.
Until the beginning of 1943 so called privileged Jews, who were mainly men and married to Aryans, were exempt from deportation and the final solution. On 27 February Jews were rounded up all over Germany for deportation. In Berlin approximately 1800 privileged Jews were taken to 2 - 4 Rosenstrasse, an Administration Centre of the Jewish Community to await deportation.
As word of the arrests spread the wives started to slowly arrive at Rosenstrasse. As the numbers started to grow the wives were threatened by the gun totting SS and Gestapo men and ordered to clear the street or be shot. Though the women would disappear down alleyways they would soon reappear. After a week of protests the men were released. This was the only protest to the deportation of the Jews during the war.
Towards the end of the war the building at 2 - 4 Rosenstrasse was destroyed by allied bombing. Besides the Litfass column there is a memorial to the women who took part in the demonstration in a small park also in Rosenstrasse. The memorial was created by Ingeborg Hunzinger and was erected in 1995 and it is named Block of Women.
A film was made of the event which was released in 2003 and called Rosenstrasse,
I have been to the Volkspark Friedrichshain a couple of times though usually not making the best use of public transport and walking further than I needed too. This time I had researched things better and simply caught the #200 from Alexanderplatz. My intention was to visit the Memorial to Polish Soldiers and German Anti-Fascists which is located on the northern edge of the park. It was built in 1972 when relations improved between Poland and the GDR. Today it is the main memorial in Germany to Polish soldiers who died during World War 2 as well as a memorial to German resistance to National Socialism. The memorial was rededicated in 1995 to included those left out during the original dedication. The inscription reads, 'For your freedom and ours.'
I was once told that only children and dogs look up so that as adults we miss a lot of our world. Every day thousands of adults walk past this building but as they do not look up they miss what is above the front entrance. Perched on the roof above the main entrance is a large Nazi Eagle which is clearly visible from the street. The building was built during the 1930s and was used by the Todt Organisation during WW2. It is now a regional office for the Federal Employment Agency and is a listed building.
On the northern edge of the old village green at Lichtenberg stands the parish church which dates back to the 13th century. The green, now named Loeperplatz has one of the first memorials that was erected after WW2 on the southern edge. The simple Memorial to the Victims of Fascism was erected in 1948. It has a plaque on each of the four sides with a simple message. The memorial is topped by a red triangle which was the symbol used by the SS in the concentration camps to denote political prisoners.
A new exhibition has opened at the Forced Labour Camp at Schöneweide. The exhibition charts the history of the camp, the history of forced labour during the Third Reich and personal accounts of those forced to work. This is a brilliant state of the art exhibition and well worth a visit the same as its related site the Topography of Terror Documentation Centre.
The Forced Labour Camp at Schöneweide is the last of its kind in Berlin. The reason the buildings still exist was due to the fact that it was built from blocks whereas as the other camps were built from wood. During 1944 there were 420,000 foreign workers in Berlin housed in 3,000 buildings. Some foreign workers worked as servants in private houses and they were housed in those buildings. Thirteen buildings were constructed between 1943 and the end of the war and unlike earlier buildings these were block built due to the now frequent air raids. They were used to house up to 2,160 civilian workers, females prisoners from concentration camps, prisoners of war and forced labour. With approximately 200 prisoners in each block they had to get up early to wash etc due to the lack of facilities. There was a pecking order at the camp with those from western Europe having one day off a week, a small wage and being allowed out of the camp on their day off. Those from eastern Europe had to work seven days a week and not being allowed out of the camp. There were armed SS guards at the camp for security. Workers from the camp had to work in such places the Pertrix battery factory, railway repair yards and the Pierburgs factory which made carburettors and fuel pumps for the military. Pertrix was not a nice place to work due to the harsh conditions. There were no protective clothing and poisonous gases from lead and cadmium. Prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp were forced to work at Pertrix. As with the concentration camps many deaths occurred due to sickness, no heating, lack of food, the number of hours forced to work and the working conditions. After the war as this area was in the GDR the buildings were put to other civilian uses, including offices, vaccine laboratory, workshops and child care. The camp was rediscovered after reunification but the Documentation Centre was not opened until 2006. A number of buildings have been saved though some are still used by other businesses. Money has been tight but a donation from Pertrix has allowed a new exhibition to be opened on 07 May 2013 and unlike the old exhibits this one has an English translation. Barracks 13 is a slight distance away from the main exhibition site and is the best preserved of the barracks. Visits to Barracks 13 are only by guided tour which have to be arranged in advance, details are available via their website. There are public tours which are published on the website but these are only in German. There is a library for those wishing to carry out research. The exhibition is free including the guided tour of Barracks 13 and the camp is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm. There have been attempts to set fire to the camp by Neo-Nazis and signposts to the camp had been turned around. .
This huge Soviet War Memorial and cemetery took 1,200 workers over 3 years to construct and contains the bodies of 5,000 Soviet soldiers who were killed during the battle for Berlin. The focus of the memorial is a 12m tall statue of a soviet soldier with a sword and holding a child, and standing over a broken swastika. Beneath the statue is a room covered in mosaics where wreaths are laid. In front of the statue is a central area lined on both sides with 16 sarcophagi, one for each of the Soviet Republics. The central area contains the remains of 5,000 Soviet soldiers that were killed during the battle for Berlin. In front of the central area are 2 portals in a stylised flag, that are clad in marble taken from the former Reich Chancellery, these are flanked by two statues of kneeling soldiers. This is one of the larger memorials in Berlin covering an area of 10 acres. As part of the agreement when the Soviets left the memorial is now looked after by the German Government and after renovation a few years ago it has been well looked after.
This bunker has had a long and interesting history. It was originally built as a brick built gasometer to store gas for street lighting in 1874. It is 56m in diameter, 21m in height and topped with a magnificent 6m tall steel copula. It was eventually taken out of service in 1922 with more use being made of electric street lighting. It remained empty until 1940 when it was converted into an air raid shelter. Reinforced concrete was used to construct 6 floors and some 750 rooms, the walls and roof were increased to nearly 3m in some parts. It was designed to house 6,000 during air raids but it is rumoured some 30,000 people were sheltering in the building towards the end of the war. After the end of the war and for the next 18 years it was used variously to shelter, refugees, the elderly, juvenile offenders and the homeless. The conditions inside became so poor that it was finally closed in 1963 but it continued to be used as a storage facility in case of another Berlin Blockade. In 2007 work started to construct a number of luxury apartments on the roof of the building. Direct action was taken to try and stop the development but work was finally completed in 2010. The apartments are reached via an external tower containing a lift and stairs. Berliner Unterwelten conduct tours of the bunker at weekends, this is tour F. Please check their website for details.
During WW2 when the tide of war was turning against Germany massive air raid shelters were built to protect the civilian population. There are numerous air raid shelters around Berlin that have survived due to the difficulty of trying to remove them. One of the most unusual is located at 30 Pallasstrasse in Berlin-Schöneberg. Work started on the structure in 1943 using forced Russian labourers. After WW2 the American forces had a try at blowing it up but it was decided that it would cause damage to surrounding buildings. It was therefore used for storage but retained its use as a civil defence bunker. In 1977 a decision was made that makes the bunker unique. Accommodation was needed in the area but the bunker was still in the way. So how do you solve the problem, easy, build a block of 514 flats housing 2000 people over and around the bunker. The block of flats is built on stills at the bunker end and does make contact with it. To add to the uniqueness of the building a main road and footpaths run underneath at ground floor level.