2020 Berlin 15 Feb - 20 Feb

We stayed at the Sir Savigny Hotel at Savignyplatz, which was a few miles from the city centre, but the centre easily reachable by S-Bahn. The hotel was surrounded by an abundance of restaurants, the majority of which were Vietnamese. In the event we did not partake of the Vietnamese, but had two dinners in the hotel restaurant Butchers (well it was more an up market burger bar) ; one dinner at Christopher's, a Michelin restaurant; one dinner at Lutter und Wegner, a middle of the road German tourist restaurant; and a lunch at a micro brewery, Gasthausbrauerei Meierei, in Potsdam.

The hotel put us onto the S-Bahn day ticket, and we used one each day. What was amazing was that there were no controls on tickets to enter or leave the stations, nor did we see any inspectors. I can only conclude that fines were so high, that everybody conformed and bought a ticket.

Before getting down to the tourist things to see, we were surprised to see versions of bears everywhere along the streets of Berlin. Apparently the idea was conceived in 2001 to bring colourful artistic expression to urban spaces around the city. The bear was their animal of choice because it has long been the symbol on Berlin’s coat of arms. These bears are meant to promote tolerance and peace amongst the world’s many different religions and cultural groups. The original Buddy Bears are posed standing with both arms up in the air as a symbol of kindliness and optimism. First unveiled at the city’s famous department store KaDaWe, artists initially painted 350 bears to be distributed to public spaces. By this point, the bears came in four different positions: the original bear with arms overhead, one on all fours, one standing with its hands at its side, and one doing a headstand.

Each one of these fiberglass bears is hand-painted. More than 240 artists partook in the painting of these bears. Not only do these life-size bears come in completely unique patterns and designs, they are also molded into different positions relevant to their locations. For example, the Buddy Bear outside of the Europa-Center is doing a gymnastics pose.

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Anyway having got the bears out of the way, our first serious stop was the Stasi Museum- The Stasi Museum is 10km east of the city centre, and we got there quite easily by S-Bahn. Though it was a bit of a hike from the S-Bahn Station, and not well marked (read that as not marked at all).

The museum is in one small part of a sprawling complex that was the headquarters of the GDR Ministry for State Security (MfS). The building was erected in 1960-61 as the offices of Erich Mielke, who served as Minister for State Security from 1957 until the end of the GDR.

Following the fall of the wall, on 15 January 1990, demonstrators took over the Stasi headquarters. And by November 1990, it opened as the Research Centre and Memorial at Normannenstrasse. The offices of Erich Mielke are preserved in their original condition and form the centrepiece of the historic site.

They get around 100,000 visitors per year. I found it quite chilling the number of informers that fed information to the Stasi, and the lengths that the Stasi went to get information with hidden cameras, hidden mikes and interrogation.

The word Stasi comes from State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst) and it was the official state security service of East Germany. It has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies ever to have existed. The Stasi was headquartered in East Berlin. The Stasi motto was Schild und Schwert der Partei (Shield and Sword of the Party), referring to the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany . Erich Mielke was the Stasi's longest-serving chief, in power for thirty-two of the GDR's forty years of existence. One of its main tasks was spying on the population, mainly through a vast network of citizens turned informants, and fighting any opposition by overt and covert measures, including hidden psychological destruction of dissidents.

It arrested 250,000 people as political prisoners during its existence. Its Main Directorate for Reconnaissance was responsible for both espionage and for conducting covert operations in foreign countries. Under its long-time head Markus Wolf, this directorate gained a reputation as one of the most effective intelligence agencies of the Cold War. Numerous Stasi officials were prosecuted for their crimes after 1990. After German reunification, the surveillance files that the Stasi had maintained on millions of East Germans were laid open, so that any citizen could inspect their personal file on request; these files are now maintained by the Stasi Records Agency.

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Taking the S-Bahn back to the city centre we walked down the Unter den Linden , but the digging of what appeared to be a new U-Bahn line had destroyed the charm of this well known avenue. They had even removed vast numbers of the lime trees. But the Brandenburg Gate was still impressively there

The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument, built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II after the temporary restoration of order during the Batavian Revolution. One of the best-known landmarks of Germany, it was built on the site of a former city gate that marked the start of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg, which used to be capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg.

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Just round the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag. The Reichstag was constructed to house the Imperial Diet of the German Empire. It was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until 1933, when it was severely damaged after being set on fire.

On 2 May 1945, Yevgeny Khaldei took the photo "Raising a flag over the Reichstag", which symbolized the victory of the USSR over Germany.

After World War II, the building fell into disuse; the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (the Volkskammer) met in the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, while the parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany (the Bundestag) met in the Bundeshaus in Bonn.

The ruined building was made safe against the elements and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on 3 October 1990, when it underwent a reconstruction led by architect Norman Foster. After its completion in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament: the modern Bundestag.

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We did a lot of exploring of the wall, and covered the three sites where small sections remain - the Wall Memorial Museum, Checkpoint Charlie and Topography of Terror site. Our photos and history of the wall is given on this link

We left Checkpoint Charlie and walked up Friedrickstrasse,and along Unter den Linden , past the Humboldt University to the Berlin Cathedral. Here we climbed the 360 steps to the top of the Dome and looked around the vista of Berlin. Given the WW2 bombing, there are very few old buildings left in the city

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Next day we went by S-Bahn to Potsdam . The write up on Potsdam is on this link

We were back in Berlin the next day, and started with the Topography of Terror Museum - the story of Hitler's rise to power and his abuse of it when he got it. The photo below shows a section of the wall that has been preserved at its original site.

The Topography of Terror is an outdoor and indoor history museum. It is on the site of buildings which during the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945 was the SS Reich Main Security Office, the headquarters of the Sicherheitspolizei, SD, Einsatzgruppen and Gestapo. The buildings that housed the Gestapo and SS headquarters were destroyed by Allied bombing during early 1945 and the ruins demolished after the war.

The boundary between the American and Soviet zones of occupation, and the Berlin Wall ran along the south side of the site, from 1961 to 1989. The wall here was never demolished. Indeed, the section adjacent to the Topography of Terror site is the longest extant segment of the outer wall .

The cellar of the Gestapo headquarters, where many political prisoners were tortured and executed, was found and excavated. The site was then turned into a memorial and museum, in the open air but protected from the elements by a canopy, detailing the history of repression under the Nazis.

In 1992, two years after German reunification, a foundation was established to take care of the site, and the following year, a design was chosen. However, construction was stopped due to funding problems after the concrete core of the structure had been built. This stood on the site for nearly a decade until it was finally demolished in 2004 and a new building begun. The construction of the new building was finished in 2010.

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I was interested in the information on Karl Wolff - his son worked for Philip Morris when I was working for them in Germany. Karl Wolff was Chief of Personal Staff of Heinrich Himmler and an SS liaison to Adolf Hitler. By 1937 he was an SS-Gruppenführer which placed him third in command of the entire SS (after Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich). He ended World War II as the Supreme SS and Police Leader in occupied Italy. Wolff evaded prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials, apparently as a result of his participation in Operation Sunrise. In 1964, Wolff was convicted of war crimes in West Germany; he was released in 1969. Over the next fifteen years Wolff lectured on the internal workings of the Schutzstaffel (SS) and his relationship with leading figures in the Nazi Party including Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Reinhard Heydrich. He also appeared in several television documentaries such as The World At War. Karl Wolff died in a hospital in Rosenheim in 1984.

We then took the U-Bahn from Central Berlin to Schloss Charlottenburg and managed to get round that by closing time. As we left Charlottenburg, the sky blackened dramatically and a hail storm started just as our bus arrived. Happily it had finished by the time the bus got to the S-Bahn station

After breakfast on our last morning we walked a mile or so to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church - the link gives more photos and information on the church. Originally a memorial for Kaiser Wilhelm, now a memorial to the WW2 bomb damage to Berlin. The remains of the old church have been stabilised and are open as a memorial; the new church and bell tower are built in a modern style, and I thought that the whole site made a harmonious whole to show th effects of war.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Church was our last visit in Berlin. So it was off to Tegel Airport and the delights of Ryanair for our flight to Alicante.