With a lot of WWII history in our minds, we continued on our long day tour to see another one of Berlin’s most notable sights – the Wall. Like I had said earlier, a gold line runs through the city, showing everyone where the line that used to divide the city stood, but not much remains of the actual original wall itself. We came to a point that looked as if it were crumbling before our eyes. Across the street from the wall was a large office building, and our guide told us of an escape story of a man who once worked there. Apparently, this worker had an office with a window and contact with someone in West Berlin. One day, he snuck his family into work and they stayed there until night fell and escaped out the window. It seems almost impossible to have managed to make it to West Berlin from the complex defense system that the Wall had. While everyone talks about the Wall, the Berlin Wall was actually two walls set apart from each other. The first wall acted as a barrier, but if you managed to get past that you were confronted with spikes that you would land on after jumping over the wall. Next you would have to make it past the armed guards with flood lights and if you were tricky enough to avoid death until then you needed to sprint through a narrow field with pointy-teeth dogs waiting to attack. Only then could you make it to the other wall and attempt to scale that and finally if you could hoist yourself over that you were in West Berlin, free from the Reds. With all that in mind, it is quite amazing to hear about success stories.
If you didn’t attempt to put your life in the hands of Nazis and dogs and barbed wire, the only other way to walk across the border was through the Tränenpalast – the Palace of Tears. So named because it was once an immigration stand that separated East and West and was the sight of many tearful goodbyes. When the Wall was built, it was built practically overnight. People went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning trapped in East Berlin. Because no one planned on waking up to a wall, many families were apart the night that the wall went up. Anyone who woke up in West Berlin became a West Berliner and for the unfortunate who woke up in the East, they were doomed to be Easterners. West Berliners could come and visit East Berlin for the day, to see family, shop, etc, but East Berliners couldn’t do it the other way around. So, families would come to see relatives on the East side and at this Tränenpalast is where they would eventually have to say goodbye. A large building of glass windows, the people could watch their families enter the Palace of Tears and see as they passed through immigration to free land, and they couldn’t do anything but stand there. Not like going through immigration to West Berlin was a piece of cake – many Germans were interrogated for long periods of time when crossing back in small rooms with intimidating guards. One story we heard involved a West Berliner who came to East Berlin for the day and got in a fight and had a broken nose when he tried to leave. Obviously his face looked a bit different than his immigration photo and the guards held him for multiple days because they thought he was an East German trying to escape.
A different way to pass through to East German was through the Allies checkpoints. The most famous in Berlin is Checkpoint Charlie (alpha, bravo, charlie – it was checkpoint C). Still standing in it's original spot as when the Wall was up, the soldiers that passed through to East Berlin needed to check out of West Berlin and did so at these checkpoints. Posted next to the booth is a sign stating that you are leaving the American sector, in English, Russian, French and German. It is only a replica now but with an actor standing guard, we got a good idea of the way that it used to be crossing over.
Staying in East Germany we finished our tour on Museum Island - you guessed right - an entire island in the middle of the city dedicated to Museums! We popped a squat in front of the first museum that was built on the island in 1830 - Altes Museum. Our guide mentioned again that Germans aren't the most creative when it comes to naming things, but instead use extreme accuracy (like street under the linden trees). This museum used to be called only 'museum' but the GASP another museum was built and they had to figure out how to name two museums. Hence, this became Altes Museum (Old Museum) and the second museum became Neues Museum (New Museum). Imaginative, I know.
Kiddy-corner from the Old Museum sits the Berliner Dom (basically Berlin Cathedral). Known as a Cathedral since it was built, it was actually a Protestant place of worship until 1930 when the Holy See created a Catholic diocese in Berlin. The biggest church in Berlin it is a massive building that has only re-opened in the last 15 years after terrible damage during the war.
Through our 8-hour tour we really saw that Berlin, in debt up to its ears, is rather a poor large city, but as the mayor had said before, it is sexy. From new buildings to old, half-crumbling ones, to massive churches next to little cafés, the tour showed us a whirlwind tour of the enchanting city. The tour finished in the sunshine on the grass and Joseba and I picked the guide's brain for some good spots to see in our neighborhood and also other surrounding neighborhoods that we were planning on visiting in the coming days.
Exhausted from so much walking we caught the metro home and took the required Spanish siesta. However, since we took a late siesta, when we finally woke up and got around we had successfully missed the German dinner time again and were back in the same situation as the day before. This time we passed up the 3€ pizza and decided on a place called Der Imbiss, a bright orange restaurant that used the McDonald's 'M' upside-down as their logo. We weren't expecting much from the little place that could only hold a few tables, but were hungry and thought we'd give it a try.
When we got back to Spain I looked up what Der Imbiss means in German, and it actually means ‘take-out’. We didn’t take the food to go though, we decided to eat in, and from the German menu with some pretty bad English translations we decided on a ‘Popeye’s Cigar’ and a ‘Burrito’. I was quite anxious to see what would come out of the little kitchen. Much to our surprise the meal was delicious. My burrito took me back to my Arizona days and Joseba’s ‘Popeye’s Cigar’ made spinach and cheese the most desirable combo ever. When we finished, we were very satisfied but decided to press our luck on the New York cheesecake. In Spain, maybe they just don’t know how to make a NY cheesecake, but I have basically given up on finding a true American cheesecake in the entire country, so when Joseba suggested trying this one at Der Imbiss I was skeptical. Just like our dinner though it was amazing and actually spot on. I was excited to finally taste a rich cheesecake again and Joseba was delighted to finally try a real New York cheesecake with someone who could verify it was true to its word!
With full bellies and tired feet we were very tired but decided that we were in Berlin and we should be drinking some beer! That’s what Germany is all about right? Haha. Well, we found a random bar that had mis-matched Christmas light balls hanging outside and ordered a light and a dark beer for me and Joseba (respectively). That was the last straw though, and after one beer we just had to go home and get some rest, but were rather impressed with what we had accomplished in 12 hours!
More to come on our less-touristy adventures in Berlin coming soon!Küss!