Here’s a whirlwind summary of our past 24 hours:
Students were jolly on the flight from London to Berlin. Five minutes after this shot was taken, 90% of them were sound asleep.
We landed at Berlin’s Tegel Airport, which we love because it’s human sized. We walked off the plane into a light rain and onto a bus that transported us 100 yards across the tarmac to the terminal. Security is just inside the terminal, and after getting our passports stamped we walked 20 feet to the baggage carousel. A new massive airport being built on the outskirts of Berlin is three years behind schedule and billions over budget. The newspapers here are covering this debacle on the front pages. Personally, we hope Tegel remains open and the new airport becomes the Mall of Germany.
Our hotel is the Sylter Hof, a favorite of Elon Study Abroad courses. Our group crossed paths with the Holocaust course folks, and we ate breakfast together this morning, effectively overwhelming the hotel restaurant. Hatcher and Makemson sat with Jeff Stein, Chief of Staff, Senior Advisor to the President, Secretary to the Board of Trustees and Assistant Professor of English.(We like putting all of Jeff’s titles after his name. His business cards are roughly the size of an iPad Mini.) The other professor teaching the class is English Prof. Richard Lee. Like us, he has only one title.
Sites near our hotel include Ka De We, a 1907 department store that rivals Harrods of London in elegance, and with a better food court; and Wittenbergplatz, the oldest subway station in the city, built in 1902.
The Ka De We Department Store.
Berlin’s oldest subway station was closed for a number of years and reopened in 1993 after the Wall came down and East/West reunification occurred.
Students waiting for a train in an underground station. Some of the stations in the former East Germany were closed and called “ghost stations.” Residents behind the Berlin Wall could hear the trains rumble beneath their feet but were powerless to board them to freedom. Those from the West who rode the trains saw empty platforms as the trains raced by, except for an armed soldier and a guard dog.
We went on a three-hour walking tour of Berlin to see major sites associated with both the Nazis and the Cold War. For details of these sites, we refer you to the individual blogs written by the students that can be found elsewhere on this site. Below are a few highlights of the walk:
Potsdamerplatz was a wasteland in East Germany during the Cold War years. Now it’s a thriving center with high rises and sleek buildings. We’ll be heading here Saturday to visit the Film Museum. The pink pipes are above-ground water pipes, necessary because the water table is so high.
Our guides Carlos and Finn split us into two groups. Carlos, who is half German, has a Ph.D. in history. Finn, who is all Irish from Belfast, has a graduate degree in film studies. Here Carlos explains to the students how Germany was divided into four sectors after WWII.
We visited the iconic Brandenburg Gate, which is always majestic looking.
This is an image from 1989 when the Wall came down. Courtesy The Daily Mail.
A Nazi rally in Berlin. Getty image from annefrank.org.
The Bundestag Building where Parliament meets. It was called the Reichstag in 1933 when a fire broke out, allowing Hitler to use his propaganda machine to build concentration camps and pave his way to dictatorship.
We saw a number of memorials in the area near the Berlin Wall site, some of which have only opened recently.
Memorial to the murdered members of Parliament, many of whom died in concentration camps.
This is the memorial to the murdered Roma, also known by the slang term of gypsies, by the Nazis. A fresh flower, constantly replaced, floats in the middle of the pond, reflecting the renewal of life.
This stone block contains a film on an endless loop showing homosexuals embracing as a way of memorializing the marginalization and murder of thousands of gay men and women during the Nazi regime. The film must be viewed through the small window in close proximity to others.
This is memorial profile sculpture is dedicated to Johann Georg Elser, who attempted to assassinate Adolph Hitler by planting a bomb in a Munich beer hall where Hitler was speaking in 1939. Hitler left the hall 13 minutes before the bomb exploded.
Students view the remnants of the Berlin Wall. After visiting the site of the wall, we toured the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, which documents escapes over and under the Wall from 1961-1989.
A replica of the former Checkpoint Charlie booth stands at the crossing site. This now kitschy attraction, complete with actors in American and Russian uniforms, shows how freedom is now a fact of life for those who remember the oppression and for those too young to have experienced it.
The Trabant was a small two stroke car produced in East Germany from 1957-1990. Named one of 50 worst cars ever made by TIME magazine in 2008, many who owned the car still have affection for it. For a small car, it carried four adults and tons of luggage. On the other hand, it belched smoke and got terrible gas mileage. It had about 18-26 hp and strained to reach 70 mph. There was no fuel gauge, so you had to stick a dipstick into the tank to see whether or not you needed a fill-up. Paper, plastic and other materials were used to make the body. Head-on collisions could cause it to burst into flames. The car was used many times, with clever conversions in the trunk and engine areas, to smuggle people across the border from East to West Berlin. I want one.
For a handful of Euro, you can rent a used Trabant to drive around town.