Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 3

Posted by admin on July 2nd, 2013 filed in batman, photography, travel

Saturday, June 29th, 2013
Samstag, 29. Juni 2013

Staying up past 2am after dancing resulted in a late start for us the next morning. We had set an alarm, but shut it off and slept in until around 10. We had to check out by 11, so we packed, snacked and moved out bags to our next locale where they let us settle into our room early. The new hotel, Hotel Messe am Funkturm, was rather unique. It was situated next to the S-bahn station on the floor above an authentic Berlin Mexican restaurant that was probably run by Russians. The Messe was in an older, very smoky building that had been converted and reconverted several times, probably for slightly different functions on each occasion. I should have taken pictures of the hallways, but there were at least three different door heights, probably more. It felt like a scene from Alice in Wonderland or Being John Malkovich. Ours was a small door, but the room was comfortable. We left the windows open to air the room out while we toured Berlin for the day.

We had mapped out our intended S-bahn route, but part of it was closed for construction, so we were diverted to a bus that finished the trip, dropping us off near the Topography of Terror, a museum built on the former location of the Gestapo/SS headquarters near a large remaining section of the Berlin Wall. The exhibits in the Topography of Terror building are amazing. Through pictures, personal documents, newspapers and other records, they construct a very vivid picture of life in Berlin and Germany before and during the Nazi regime. I didn’t feel comfortable taking any photos and had to leave the building twice to stop crying, but several things, which hadn’t reached me through the textbooks, stuck out.

The first was a mention of one of the major laws that helped erode (if not totally evaporate) personal rights. I remembered it was called something about “the protection of people and state”. Looking online, it was probably what is nicknamed the Reichstag Fire Decree. Click on the link and read the pink box halfway down the page. I think the wording of the translation in the museum also provided a list of the crimes declared now-punishable by death, including treason, arson and others.

A photo on the next row left a strong mental imprint: a sea of people in salute stance, with one person in the crowd standing arms crossed. It brought to mind a student in one of my elementary school classes whose family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. While all of us stood, hand-over-heart reciting the pledge each morning, he either sat or stood silently. I didn’t understand it at the time.

A few rows down from there was a poster meant to build support of a euthanasia program. It’s of a healthy man standing behind a seated handicapped man with text broadcasting an estimate of what it costs to keep him alive. I have heard similar arguments, though thankfully not as extreme, from contemporary politicians. I forget who, on the national level, pointed out that being what everyone calls “pro-life” is really just being pro-birth. Being truly pro-life would involve valuing and supporting a life throughout its course, not just in the womb.

The standing remnants of the Wall lined the edge of the museum grounds. Most of the immediate surface of the Wall has been chipped away by people removing the graffiti, either to erase offensive material or to sell it piecemeal to tourists (You can find postcards everywhere with tiny colorful chunks of the wall embedded in plastic portholes of postcards: “Own a piece of the wall!”). New graffiti has begun to emerge to replace the blank (but textured) gray surface. Most of it is personal (“X was here”) or hopeful (“Save the world”).

A few blocks from the Topography of Terrors site is the intersection where the checkpoint between Soviet East Berlin and the American sector of West Berlin was located (Checkpoint Charlie). On the blocks North, East and South of this intersection are construction facades covered with museum-quality displays about Germany’s history during and after WWII, contributing political factors to the creation of the Wall, policy changes relating to crossing the East/West Berlin border, successful and unsuccessful attempts to illegally cross the border, the names of those who died as a direct or indirect result of those illegal border crossings, and the events that contributed to the eventual teardown.

Before surmounting all of this information, we passed into what was West Berlin for lunch. We found a Mediterranean grocery market about two blocks in and gathered canned dolmas, canned olives, a jar of cooked eggplant, and a bag of sugar-coated chickpeas. Unfortunately, the deli there didn’t have any plasticware, so we walked to the McDonald’s adjacent to Checkpoint Charlie, ordered a coffee and some fries and obtained a couple of forks and spoons.

If you were wondering, here’s a closeup of the grape leaves can:

After lunch we returned to the Mediterranean market for several more cans of the stuffed grape leaves (which we’ve been eating every day since), then walked back to the displays on the history of the Wall.

While reading up on how the war affected the Polish, Czech and Hungary people, we noticed a familiar sweater standing nearby. Phillip (from the previous evening’s dance) greeted us and gave a rundown of his own whirlwind tour of Berlin thus far. Then the four of us spent the next hour or so talking about our respective countries and cultures and of our memories of how the wars affected us, our parents or our grandparents.

After parting ways again, we walked to Potsdamer Platz in search of a post office.

We ended up in a dazzling mall where the information station lady informed us that the post office was closed but that we could buy stamps from a store at the mall entrance (which I originally thought was going to be a mall kiosk, but was actually called “Kiosk”) and drop the mail in an adjacent mail box. At least that’s what we think she said. What information we could garner panned out, and a similar situation played out with the clerk at Kiosk. She and I pantomimed questions and answers, peppered with a few simple German and English words for supplement, about postage to send cards to the US. I ended up with the stamps I asked for and sent some postcards on their way, so we’ll see if they make it to their destinations.

It started to drizzle after that, so we headed for the nearest U-bahn station and rode back to the Messe where we turned in early, in hopes of waking early to sight-see a little more before picking up our rental car for the drive to Dresden.

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