Archive for the ‘Former East Berlin’ Category

When I hear Potsdam, I think of the Potsdam Conference of 1945. On 17 July of that year, the heads of government for Great Britain (Winston Churchill, and later Clement Attlee), the United States (Harry Truman), and the Soviet Union (Joseph Stalin) met at the Schloss Cecilienhof in Potsdam to confirm decisions made earlier at Yalta concerning issues at the end of World War II.

Churchill, Truman and Stalin at the Potsdam Conference in 1945

Potsdam is also home to Alexandrowka, a  picturesque Russian village with a quirky history that illustrates the back and forth alliances among the French, Prussians, and Russians. Back in 1812, after defeating the Prussians in 1806/07, Napoleon forced the Prussian King to provide 20,000 soldiers for his Russian campaign, during which the Prussians took Russian prisoners, some of whom ended up in Berlin. Of those POWs in Berlin, a 21-men Russian singing group was formed and attached to the 1st Guards Regiment of Foot.

In March 1813 Prussia and Russia again become allies in the war against Napoleon and the Russian singers marched on Paris with the Prussian Army. King Friedrich Wilhelm III loved the melancholy Russian songs and his friendship with Czar Alexander grew, especially after his daughter Charlotte married the Czar’s brother Nikolaus I. A permanent home was established in Potsdam for the Russian choir members, and the resulting Russian-style village was named Alexandrowka in honor of the Czar.

The Alexander-Newski-Kapelle is a tiny jewel-box of a church, built to provide the choir members with a place of worship. Today the church continues to be an ongoing Russian Orthodox congregation of 90 individuals and is affiliated with the Holy Synod in Minsk.


The choir members were provided with a house, land for growing fruit and vegetables, a small barn and hayloft, and a cow.  In order the receive a house, the choir member was required to be married and the house and land could only be passed on to one of his sons. Descendants of the original choir lived in the houses up until 2001. Several of the houses have been updated and have passed to private owners. One has been converted into a small museum, another into a charming Russian restaurant.

Russian-style House

We hiked up nearby Pfingstberg to the newly rebuilt Belvedere which offered fabulous views of the surrounding area. We could even see the tv tower in Alexanderplatz (another place named after the Czar) in the middle of Berlin. Walking in this area was forbidden during the DDR because of the lovely view of West Berlin.

Belvedere auf dem Pfingstberg

View from the top of Belvedere

Soon we’ll be returning to Potsdam and explore the palaces and gardens built by the Hohenzollerns.


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Today’s Berliner Morgenpost included yet another story about a newly discovered Blindgänger, an unexploded bomb from WWII. When a 250 kilogram bomb is found, the surrounding area must be evacuated until the authorities can safely remove the bomb. This is the fifth Bindgänger found in Berlin since our arrival at the end of March: 6 April in Spandau; 5 June in Berlin-Buckow; 30 June in Berlin Zehlendorf; 5 July in Potsdam; and 6 July in Köpenick.

Blindgänger are verrry dangerous.

World War II continues to be very much alive for Berliners, as they read about or experience themselves the evacuation (sometimes as many as 7,000 citizens), as well as public transit and traffic disruptions when roads and tracks are closed due to a newly uncovered Blindgänger.

Today we set off on our bikes for a 20 km round trip to Treptower Park to revisit another reminder of World War II. This colossal monument to the Red Army was built from 1946 to 1949 in Treptower Park, a park formerly famous for the 1919 uprising where Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemberg assembled 150,000 striking workers.

Entry Arch to Soviet Memorial

The Motherland

Today the monument to fallen Soviet soldiers is what the park is best known for and is where 5,000 of the 80,000 Red Army soldiers who died in the Battle for Berlin are buried. The Battle of Berlin was fought from April 16 to May 2, 1945. As the German Army was nearing defeat, Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin. An estimated 100,000 German soldiers and 22,000 Berlin civilians also lost their lives during this battle.

The Red Army is victorious

The kneeling soldier honors his fallen comrades

On May 8th the formal German Instrument of Surrender was signed, stating that the Germans surrender to both the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force and simultaneously to the Supreme High Command of the Red Army. The signing took place late in the evening May 8th, after midnight in the Soviet Union. Thus, the Soviet Union, and now Russia, celebrates Victory Day on May 9th. East Germany celebrated Victory Day until 1990.

The large scale of the memorial is hard to capture.

Colossal (see the tiny people?)

Those tiny people were Russian tourists.

Friezes along the pathway depict the horror of war and the valiant bravery of the Soviet soldiers.

The Horror of War

Brave Soldiers

The Mausoleum

Up the steps to the mausoleum, there is a room covered in mosaic depicting people grieving their losses. Today someone had lain fresh flowers as a tribute.

Fresh flowers for the fallen

In 2000, Vladimir Putin visited the monument and laid a wreath in honor of the fallen.

Putin visits the memorial in 2000

Pondering the fact that, during World War II, the Soviet Union experienced between 8.8 and 10.7 million military war deaths and about 13 million civilian deaths, the grand scale of the memorial is understandable.

On our way home we passed by a reminder of life after World War II—one of the last remaining watch towers in the border control system between East and West Berlin.

Watch Tower from the Divided City

Riding along the Spree, we had a good view of Molecule Men, the 30 meter high aluminum sculpture erected in 1999.

Molecule Men

According to American artist Jonathan Borofsky, the huge yet light and airy sculpture reminds us “that both people and molecules exist in a world of probability and that the aim of all creative and intellectual traditions is to find wholeness and unity in the world.”

Let us all be reminded not to kill each other.

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It’s easy to forget that Germany as we know it didn’t exist as a country until relatively recently. During the 19th century the German Empire was formed from various kingdoms, duchies, city-states, and principalities, with Berlin as the center. Kaiser Wilhelm and Otto von Bismarck brought the various lands together either by diplomacy, or when diplomacy didn’t work, war. In the 1870’s a German constitution was passed and a parliament (Bundestag) with two houses was established.

The Reichstag building was originally erected in the 1880’s to house the parliament and survived World War I and the Weimar Republic. In 1933, under unclear circumstances, the Reichstag burned. The fire was used as evidence by the Nazis that the Communists were beginning a plot against the German government. Hitler urged President von Hindenburg to suspend the constitution and put into force emergency powers. Mass arrests of Communists, including those who were part of the parliament, resulted in the Nazis going from a plurality to a majority. (Wikipedia) We all know what happened next.

The Third Reich’s puppet parliament met at an Opera building rather than the Reichstag. Nonetheless, the symbolic building was a major bombing target for the Allies.

Reichstag after WWII

Triumphant Soviet soldiers waved their flag in victory atop the Reichstag in 1945.

Triumphant Soviet Soldiers Waving Flag over Reichstag

Twenty-five years after the end of the war, East Germany issued a memorial stamp celebrating East Germany’s Liberation from Fascism and featuring the Soviets on the Reichstag.

Liberation from Fascism

The bombed out Reichstag building was just over the line in the British Sector of West Berlin.

Reichstag, Wall, Guard Tower (left to right)

During the Cold War, the minimally restored Reichstag served as a viewing post for the reality of divided Berlin. I remember visiting the Reichstag as a university student and guest of the West German government in 1975. The guide explained how someone had recently been killed trying to flee through the heavily guarded no-mans-land that we could see out the window. The Wall was right below the window.

Fast forward to the fall of the Wall, German unification, and Berlin becoming the capital of the new Germany. In 1999, the new Reichstag was unveiled. While preserving the outer façade including the four corner towers symbolizing the original four kingdoms of Germany—Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg, the new design incorporates a modern interior building where the Bundestag meets today.

The most brilliant part of this new Reichstag is the glass cupola where visitors walk up a spiral walkway, admiring the vistas of Berlin while learning about German history. We put off visiting the Reichstag during our October visit to Berlin because of the three-hour wait.

Long Lines in the fall (photo by Richard)

A new online reservation system is now in place, which works well for those who can plan ahead a couple of days and have ready access to the Internet. The morning was sunny and glorious when we arrived on our bikes, no line in sight.

No Lines

After presenting our passports and going through airport-like security, we were escorted up to the roof in a huge elevator and started our journey up the walkway.

Double helix walkways--one up, one down

The cupola is open at the top and any rain or snow is captured, the water reused. Environmentally friendly, the cone serves to help with air circulation as well–drawing out warm air and pulling in cool air.

Open to the air at the top

Looking down toward the center, there is a glass roof over the central Bundestag meeting room. Depending upon the light, you can see the members while in session.

Peering into the legislative chamber

The views of Berlin are outstanding

Fernsehturm (tv tower)

New Hauptbahnhof (main train station)

Tiergarten--Berlin's Central Park

The melding of old and new gives one hope of a bright future for the new Germany and the new Europe.

New Germany and New Europe

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Across from the Wasserturm, an icon of Prenzlauer Berg, there are two Russian-themed restaurants with lovely outdoor seating. We had a drink at the elegant Pasternak recently.

View of Wasserturm at Pasternak

We decided to check out the edgy modern bar next door–Gargarin. Named after the famous Yuri Gargarin, the bar sports yellow formica-topped tables, modernist light fixtures, and frightening signs to the mens and ladies toilets.

Mens Room Sign

Womens Room Sign

Inexplicably, a shelf in the ladies room holds various toilet articles and toothbrushes. I wonder who uses them.

Toiletries for whom?

In case you’ve forgotten, Yuri Gargarin was the first human being to travel in outer space, when his Vostok spacecraft completed an orbit of the earth on April 12, 1961. Gargarin became an international hero and died in 1968 when MIG15 training jet he was piloting crashed. (Wikipedia)

So, why wouldn’t you name a bar in Berlin after him?

Cafe Bar Gargarin

He was an honored hero.

Award Winner

And the options for design are endless.

To Infinity and Beyond!

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Prenzlauer Berg is in former East Berlin and has undergone major gentrification since the fall of the wall. The leafy area we live in is full of baby carriages, bicycles, and altbau turn of the century buildings with charming details.


It’s easy to forget that where we live was once in the heart of communist East Berlin.

Today I rode my bike a few kilometers to the location of the cooking class I’ve signed up for through the Pankow Volkshochschule (community college). You just never know when you’ll run into a righteous monument to a communist hero.

Ernst Thälmann

Ernst Thälmann was the leader of the German Communist Party during the Weimar Republic. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1933 and held in solitary confinement for eleven years before being shot in Buchenwald on Hitler’s orders in 1944. (Wikipedia)

A leafy, sprawling park encompasses this monument to Thälman, and includes a planetarium and my closest public swimming pool

Other people found the monument photogenic as well. Here’s a closer shot of the photographer and his model, shooting on the left side of the photo of Ernst’s monument above.

Give it to me, baby!

I can see why Ernst survived the fall of the wall.

Der Ernst!

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