History - World War II, Berlin
The area west of Checkpoint Charlie used to be home to some of the most sinister buildings of the Third Reich, such as the Gestapo and Secret Service Headquarters.
After World War II all of the buildings were demolished except for the cellars. These days, the underground cells now house a very interesting open-air exhibition called the Topographie des Terrors.
This free exhibit documents the history of the brutal institutions of the Nazi regime that occupied its site and their historical importance. It consists of a large series of photographs with German captions. You can get a free audio guide in English from the information booth, or just walk around as we did, finding that the photos were descriptive enough to help us understand the accompanying text.
The Humboldt unversity library is a nice building to look at. It has a good name as well. The thing to look at here though is the glass tiles on the square in front of the Humboldt.
They where put there in rememberance of the bookburnings on May the 10th in 1933. The chambers beneath the tiles remain empty to remember us to that fact. The books burned were books written by Jewish authors and the ones opposing the National Socialistic regime. They were held in the whole country not only Berlin.
A statue of a mother holding a dead or dying son is in the center of the building which has an opening in the ceiling always to let in the light or whatever weather. Its very sober in this place as it should be, voices are low, and flowers often are laid here.
The website link is an interesting one. If you are looking to see if you have family member or friends who were victims, you can put their name in the database. Its huge. Its against forgetting anyone at all.
This was a vibrant jewish community since 1844 until the Nazi's came to power. There are a few memorials to Holocaust victims on Grosse Hamburger Strasse. One is the names of victims who lived in this area on the side of a couple of apartment complexes.Another is right in front of the old Jewish cemetery. It is of jewish victims that are waiting for the trains on a platform that will take them to any of the death camps under the Nazi's. The tiles on the floor are positioned in a way that they look like train tracks. It also shows the victims as already being malnourished and with the few rags of clothes on their backs.
The other memorial is of the Jewish cemetery itself that was destroyed by the gestapo in 1943 with the bones being disposed of. It is now a garden with plaques commemorating all the dead. They are all very sombre and rightfully so because the world should never forgot this dark chapter in its history.
Located on 17th June Strasse about a three minute walk from the Brandenburg Tor you will find the Soviet War Memorial or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Some locals call it the Unknown Rapist due to the fact that Soviet soldiers committed many rapes when they took Berlin. 2500 Soviet soldiers with unknown identities that died in the taking of Berlin are buried here. Materials used were taken from Hitler's Reich chancellery. An inscription in Russian translated as "Eternal glory to heroes who fell in battle with the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union" is written underneath the soldier statue. Red Army ML-20 152mm gun-howitzer artillery pieces and two T-34 tanks flank the memorial on each side. The memorial is located in what was the British sector of Berlin, its construction supported by the Allied powers. Until 1991 Soviet soldiers guarded the memorial. Today it is a site of pilgrimage by Russian war vets and is maintained by the City of Berlin.
When visiting Berlin make sure to visit the Topography of Terror in what was then the SS headquarters. It's an outdoor museum near Checkpoint Charlie. A piece of the Wall sits atop it. This museum documents the brutality of the SS. Entrance is free and an audio guide costs you next to nothing.
This cemetery was opened in 1909 when Marzahn was just a village. There are a number of memorials but in the northwest of the cemetery is the Soviet Memorial which was inaugurated in 1958. The oberlisk stands about 5m in height and is made out of red granite. A pathway from the oberlisk leads a pergola which has an limestone urn containing the ashes of 125 soldiers. Other graves are laid to lawn with surrounding hedges.
As you walk into the cemetery via the main entrance, usual for most cemetries there is an attractive pond with stone edges and plenty of wildlife including some ducks. Close by is a sculture called the oath hand which commemorates 3300 victims of allied bombing during WW2. Further into the cemetery and signposted off the main pathway is a memorial to the hundreds of Roma and Sinti victims who were interned in a camp close by during WW2, before they were shipped of to Auschwitz and murdered.
This air raid shelter was built in 1940 on site of a former Wehrmacht Engineering School. The shelter is 35 m long by 19m wide and the walls over 1m thick. It has 3 floors and could accommodate up to 500 people. It came equipped with showers and toilets. The buildings on the site were used by the Soviets after WW2 for various purposes. The most famous building that is part of the complex is the former officer’s mess which is now the German-Russian Museum where the German Wehrmacht signed the instrument of surrender for WW2. The air raid shelter has suffered from the usual graffiti that pervades Berlin and some of the site may be redeveloped with new housing. There are occasional open days but these are only advertised locally.
I saw a short piece on a documentary called, The Nazis a warning from history about the deportation of Jewish Citizens from a freight station in Berlin called Putlitzstrasse. I decided I would visit the memorial not realising at the time that I had already been to the site a couple of times before but I had not fully realised the significance of the memorial. The first transport of 1,000 people left on the 18th October 1941 for the extermination camps. From then until the spring of 1945 a further 35,000 people were transported to their deaths. The memorial is made from stainless steel and was completed in 1992 and it is located on the Putlitz Bridge overlooking the freight yard.
The Levetzowstrasse Memorial is located at 7/8 Levetzowstrasse and it commemorates the former synagogue and collection point. The synagogue was one of the largest in Berlin and it survived Kristallnacht but was damaged during bombing latter in the war. From 1941 some 37,000 Jews were removed from their homes and taken to the synagogue which was used as a collection point. They were then transported by train to concentration and extermination camps. The memorial has a metal obelisk with the dates of the transports. There is a ramp with people huddling together as they are forced into a cattle car, which stands on rails.
1. Children investigating the sculpture
2. Children on the sculpture
3. Trains to Life -- but only for the children, not their parents
4. Trains to Death -- for children and parents together
5. Plaque on the sculpture
The children in the first two photos are investigating the new sculpture "Trains to Life, Trains to Death" while their mother explains in simple words what the sculpture is about.
Trains to Life were the trains that saved the lives of ten thousand Jewish children by transporting them from Nazi Germany to Britain between December 1938 and September 1939. Many of those children never saw their parents again.
Artist Frank Meisler was one of those ten thousand rescued children. Now, seventy years later, he has designed two sculptures to commemorate the rescue -- and to memorialize the thousands who other children and their parents who were sent to their death, also on trains, by the Nazis during the Second World War.
The sculpture "Trains to Life, Trains to Death" was recently unveiled in front of the Friedrichstraße train station in Berlin. This is where the first emergency transports of Jewish children left for England on December 1, 1938.
This sculpture has a counterpart, by the same artist, outside Liverpool Street Station in London, which is where Frank Meisler arrived at the end of August 1939 with 14 other children from his home city of Danzig, now Gdansk, Poland.
These days it's just a non-descript parking lot, and for years anyone who walked by wouldn't know what dark place used to lie beneath. It wasn't until Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 that a plaque was put up to remember this spot. This is the site of one of Adolf Hitler's bunkers, the bunker where he spent the last few weeks of his life and where he and his companion, Eva Braun, committed suicide in 1945. Even though there's nothing to look at now other than the plaque showing the layout of the former bunker and explaining the rooms and history of what went on there, I think it is worth visiting. If you use your imagination and realize that this is where one of the most prominent figures in history that had so much influence over the world killed himself, it's pretty mind-blowing.
On the grounds of the former Gestapo headquarters where the holocaust was directed, long a vacant waste ground, you can examine a series of displays that explain the bleak history of the site. Perhaps the bleak surrounding area is an apt landscape for the theme. The northern stretch of the area has one of the longer remains of the Berlin Wall.
If you've been to the holocaust memorial, this sight will provide some good background and context. Plenty to contemplate here.
Update - when I returned here in July, 2009, this whole area was being worked on and closed down to tourists.
The Germania Exhibition runs until the 31st December 2009. It displays the Nazi’s ideas for the new world capital of Germania which would have replaced Berlin. The exhibition contains photographs and plans of what the new capital would have looked like. The show piece of the exhibition is a model of how the main area would have looked. The huge model was built for the film Downfall. The staff speak excellent English and there are English translations for all the exhibits apart from the film. The exhibition takes a good 2 hours to view but unfortunately no photography is allowed.