Category Archives: Berlin

Post-Berlin

I am back!

And now with nearly one whole day behind me since flying back yesterday, I feel like I’m recovering nicely from any jetlag.

My travels to get here were certainly interesting, as some of you have already heard. For those who don’t know, I almost had to spend the night in Amsterdam yesterday after I was put “on standby” when I got to the AMS airport. When I checked in at Tegel Airport in Berlin the check-in people couldn’t give me a boarding pass for the flight from Amsterdam to Memphis, so they told me to go to the transfer desk at AMS. As it turns out, there are 8 transfer desks at AMS, but I quickly figured out with a transfer desk near the beginning of every specific gate hallway (B through H and M) and assumed that I should go to the desk for the gate of my flight (E9).

I was correct, and stood in line at the desk for nearly half an hour just to have the attendant tell me that they overbooked the flight because they have so many transfers (whatever that means) and that at that point I didn’t have a seat on the plane. She told me to go to the gate and go through security (at the gate) and that at the desk for that flight they would try to get me a seat. I wasn’t the only one waiting; four other people were currently seatless. One guy who looked like a business traveler got his seat fairly quickly, within about five minutes of sitting down. Then about 15 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time the other three got seats, and I was the last person waiting. Finally, after all the last two or three last-minute passengers showed up and went through security, the staff found me a seat. I then went into the tunnel to get on the plane (nearly the last in line) and as I waited a stewardess came up the tunnel from the plane asking for a Mr. Cook. She changed my seat on the spot in pen, as I assume someone had the seat they assigned to me.

In the end, it was a great seat. I had the aisle seat on the second row of the economy class seating, which meant that I was one of the first to get food and drink service and was one of the first people off the plane in Memphis. The flight itself was pretty much uneventful, if not a little annoying because my “neighbor” in the window seat next to me was a 9 or 10 year old boy whose family (of 4 other kids plus his mom) were somewhere in the back of the plane. The first several hours were the annoying part, as he kept the window shade up, letting in the blinding sunlight on the video screens. I eventually switched to my iPod (for as long as its battery would hold out) and eventually went to sleep. The service was great, the food was better than usual, and the flight arrived in Memphis about 40 minutes early, so on the whole I can’t complain.

After riding to Jackson with Mom and Dad, we ate at Chik-fil-a and went to Granny and Pop’s house for dessert and to get the key to Anita’s house were I spent the night. I’ve been doing laundry, working on photos, and entertaining myself online while waiting for them to get back from their Destin vacation. They should get back at 6:15 according to their borrowed GPS. Only 37 more minutes to go!

Berlin Days 12 and 13 – Last Days

The last two days have flown by as I have prepared both to see Barack Obama and to fly home. Yesterday I spent most of my day in and around the Tiergarten as I took pictures and looked at the “Diplomatic Quarter.” I then went to see what the setup around the Siegessäule for Obama speech today. They had most of the barricades in place but foot and bike traffic could still get through, which meant that we on foot (or bike) had the entire Strasse des 17. Junis to walk down by ourselves without cars! It was pretty neat. After observing tourists for a while around the Brandenburg Gate (and eating Dunkin’ Donuts) and the Bundestag (and looking at the NBC platform where I assume Brian Williams led the nightly newscast) I headed back into the Tiergarten for a while for more pictures and then came back to the hotel.

Today I finished up last minute shopping and got most of my packing done this morning. I left the hotel at 2 p.m. (five hours early) to get ready for Obama’s speech. When I got off the Unter den Linden S-bahn stop I came up from the stop into a crowd of people. They were all crowded around the Hotel Adlon where Obama stayed and was supposedly leaving soon. After standing around for nearly 30 minutes I decided it wasn’t worth the wait, so I started walking down Strasse des 17. Junis until I reached the barricade where people were starting to wait to go through security. That was nearly 3 p.m.

After standing around for an hour, they opened the barricade where the crowd then RAN to get to security off to the sides of the street. Security took around 15 minutes to get through (as they hand searched every bag, made you take pictures with cameras to prove they weren’t bombs, drink from bottles to prove it wasn’t gasoline or explosives…) and then I made it to a good spot less than 15 yards from the podium. After noticing a lot of people around me sitting, I decided to join the sit. After all, it was going to be another 3 hours till Obama spoke. I started to listen to people around me, three 20-something Americans who have lived in Berlin for around four years. They were very interesting to listen to, though I didn’t talk to them for a while. A live band was playing off to the side of the Siegessäule pumping lots of loud bass into the crowd.

Obama started speaking about 15 minutes late and spoke for around 30 minutes. Read about it here at CNN.com.

After the speech I worked my way through the thousands of people to a spot where a lot of people were cutting through the Tiergarten to Potsdammer Platz, where I sat for supper in Sony Center before coming back here.

Tomorrow I check out and fly out of Berlin at 10:20 a.m., and then again from Amsterdam at 2:05 p.m. I’ll be getting back to Memphis around 4:50 p.m. See you all soon!

Berlin Day 11 and plans for 12 – Sachsenhausen and Tiergarten

Sorry for not blogging yesterday, after spending at least five hours at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp memorial (<- link to Wikipedia article) I didn’t feel like doing much of anything. The site is enormous — much bigger than I thought it would be. Dr. Rogers and I walked nearly all of it and read plenty of the history of the place through at least six of its lives.

Originally it was mostly a field with a factory (or was it a brewery?) when the Nazis claimed the no-longer used facility and built an SS training camp around it in 1936. Soon after its creation, they began holding political prisoners and homeless or jobless people which they used to build the camp further. Because it was so close to Berlin and one of the first camps to be created, Sachsenhausen became a model for other concentration camps. Though it was not intended to be an extermination camp (like Auschwitz) nearly 100,000 of the 200,000 prisoners (consisting of Jews, political opponents, conscientious objectors, Russian and British soldiers, and people from every nation taken over by the Nazis) were murdered by the SS or died because of the camp’s horrid conditions.

In 1945 the camp was liberated by the Russian and Polish armies and soon after the war it became the Soviet’s Special Camp No. 7 in which Nazi leaders and people tried under the Soviet Military Tribunal were held, often with the same terrible conditions as under the Nazis. The camp was finally closed in 1950, and in 1956 the East German government established a memorial site there. Today it has grown into both memorial and museum, as we experienced.

Having now seen nearly half a dozen memorials and museums in Berlin Dr. Rogers and I came to the conclusion that Berlin would make a good place to study just museums and museum design and aesthetics. There are obviously many ways to go about displaying historical events and Berlin rivals any world capital (Washington D.C. included) on the variety of its museums. I’ve also noticed a large upswing in tourism this week. I might have mentioned it earlier in a blog, but a lot more nationalities and languages have been easy to find this week. Italian, Spanish, Russian, English (both British and American), Turkish, French, some Asian languages (and obviously German) have all been accounted for. That’s basically all the languages I recognize when I hear them, and obviously even that is limited because I’m not sure which Asian languages I was hearing.

All of that goes to say that the International element of my research is still in play, but it is in question. Neither Dr. Rogers nor I could really assert nor discredit the international elements here, but to prove it in a paper is going to require statistical research and also comparison to cities of similar size or status (e.g. national capitals). This means I’m going to have to find statistics for Berlin and a decent size list of other cities such as D.C., London, Paris, New York, Chicago, L.A., Milan (Italy) etc. That will all have to be sorted out in the next few weeks.

That’s all we did yesterday; we were too tired to go to the Hertha vs. Liverpool game. It’s just as well; the final score was 0:0 (teams can tie in “friendlies” in soccer). Today Dr. Rogers is flying out, or probably already has by now (11:20). I’m going to check out the embassy row and the Tiergarten this afternoon and see what things are like for Obama’s “Fan Mile” for tomorrow. I plan to get there early, though he isn’t speaking until 7. They’ve got some information about the Fan Mile in the paper, so I’m reading up on what’s not allowed into the fan mile and where it starts, etc.

Be seeing you soon!

Berlin Day Ten – Checkpoint Charlie and the Zoo

As I figured yesterday, Dr. Rogers and I met up at the famous Checkpoint Charlie this morning to see the site that served as a main crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. We went through the museum, which was very nice considering that it is a private collection though a bit expensive. The student price alone was 7.5 Euros, which is roughly 10 USD. It took us about two hours to read and view information about the Cold War and the Wall (its construction, those who tried to escape, those who helped, how people escaped, etc.) and some of the original artifacts (cars with hidden storage, two small helicopters, a hot air balloon) used to escape. The information signs were amazingly in German, English, French, and Russian all the way through the exhibit, and many of the signs looked like they had been around since the late 1960s when a private investor and some college students began the collection.

As seen in great detail at the Wall museum as well as subtly throughout the city at different museums, monuments and former Communist sites, it has been amazing to see and study how desperately the DDR tried to keep its citizens inside its borders. The cruelty and inhumanity with which the DDR used to keep a grip on its people is only surpassed in magnitude by the great ingenuity with which people tried to escape. These people weren’t necessarily those under heavy scrutinization by the Stasi (Communist state security) but rather mothers or children or fiances or normal college students who wanted to be reunited with their family and build a life with better opportunities. Not many of them went on to what we would consider great fame; aside from being listed in newspaper archives, books, and this museum, most went on to live quiet lives as doctors, teachers, human rights activists, etc. There was actually one student who helped with the escapes who went on to become a West German Astronaut, but that’s all that I know of.

After the museum we escaped from Checkpoint Charlie (tourist central!) and got a drink around lunch while deciding what to do. We didn’t really want to do any more museums after all we’ve covered in the last few days, so we opted for the zoo instead. It was a good, fun choice. We ended the day with lots of animal photos and really tired feet. My feet have actually been so sore that they haven’t even been fully recovering over night.(Germany’s sidewalks and cobblestone walkways just aren’t very forgiving.) We stopped in a shoe store off of Ku’damm and I bought some expensive (read: 20 Euros) gel shoe insoles to hopefully solve my foot woes.

After that we headed to a fish place on Ku’damm for supper, but I wasn’t in the mood for fish so I opted again for an awesome pasta. Dr. Rogers made the mistake of ordering some fish that wasn’t cooked, but rather at room temperature which he didn’t enjoy. Oops…He said he should have known better.

Anyway, after we ate we figured out how to meet up in the morning: we’re going to see the Sachsenhausen concentration camp site/museum in the morning and might go to the Bundestag (free English tours on Tuesday) or the Hertha BSC vs. Liverpool soccer match in the afternoon.

I’ve pretty much given up hope on getting my photos uploaded in a timely manner. Look for them toward the end of this week and when I get home.

Tchüß!

Berlin Days Eight and Nine – Busyness

The last 48 hours have flown by a lot faster than I thought they would! Yesterday, my supposed “off day” because of the rain ended up quite a bit useful. The thunderstorm slated for the day moved through over night, so the day ended up pretty nice. After sleeping in late (15 minutes from the close of breakfast) I got up and did a little work on photos before heading out for an early lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe just down the street. I was the first customer of the day, as they let me come in about 15 minutes before they officially started lunch.

After that I was tired again for some reason, so I got another hour nap in before talking to Karen and my parents on Skype. After that I dabbled with my photos again for a little bit in Photoshop but then decided it was too nice to stay in any longer so I thought I would go to the Pergamonmuseum. As luck would have it, a minute after I got on the bus it started to rain pretty heavily. Just for fun I took the bus to the end of the line to see what that side of Berlin was like. It goes along the south and is more of a blue-collar, lower middle class area. There were a few signs of Turkish populations (via their businesses) on the streets the bus went around.

From the end of the line I had to figure out how to get back to the middle of town to Museum Island, so I caught a subway that went to Alexanderplatz. When I left the subway it was sunny and nice again, so I took the opportunity to take some pictures with the sun while I had the chance. Then I made it down to Am Kupfergraben and crossed the Spree to the Pergamonmuseum where I paid 12 Euros to enter. It was worth it, as they currently have a special exhibit combining their collection on ancient Babylon with collections from the Louvre and the British Museum (the Royal British Museum? I’m not sure which British museum…) The entire collection was stunning, and I was there for over two hours. When I left it was almost completely dark, so I just found my way back to the hotel in what had become a very active night scene in a drizzly Berlin.

Today Dr. Rogers and I met up at his hotel near Gesundbrunnen, a shopping mall and major train crossing station. After walking around in Prenzlauer Berg and some of the northern districts, we paid about 7 Euros for a tour of Berlin’s underground – one of three or four tours by a nonprofit company trying to preserve Berlin’s underground historical bunkers, some of which pre-date World War II. We toured both a pre-war bunker and a 1970s Cold War era bunker which is built into and around the Parkstrasse U-Bahnhof. It was well worth the nearly two hours of hunching over in mostly dark, underground bunkers.

After that we thought we would try our hand at traveling south but when we arrived at the Hermannstrasse U-bahnhof we surmised that the area was similar to that of Prenzlauer Berg. We were getting hungry by that point (around 5 p.m.) so we headed back to Alexanderplatz where we planned to go to the TV tower to see the city from above (hopefully on a clear evening). We ate Italian at a nicer outdoor restaurant and sat around talking about Berlin but even then it wasn’t close enough to sun down to go up to the tower. After sitting around people-watching for a while we figured we had time to watch a movie, so we went to see Get Smart (with German voice-overs) at a nearby Kino. When that ended we went up to the tower, an expensive 9.5 Euros which wasn’t even really worth it because the view from the tower had a bad reflection of light on the Plexiglass and wasn’t good for taking photos.

Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy again, so we’ll probably spend a lot of it indoors, starting with the Checkpoint Charlie Museum.

See you all later, and sorry I haven’t gotten pictures up yet. I just haven’t had the time and now it’s getting to be a bit overwhelming!

Berlin Day Seven – Progress

Today Dr. Rogers and I met up at Potsdammer Platz at 9 a.m. to explore western Berlin. I showed him around Potsdammer Platz in a prevailing mist-rain, which we tried to sit out in Sony Center after walking around some. Finally we just left to go to the Ku’damm area, but fortunately the drizzle let up not long after we got there.

I continued to show him around the sites that I’ve already been to, and we went into both the old and new sections of the Gedächtniskirche to see what it was/is like inside. It is one of the few places that I’ve been to that feels really touristy. By that point it was nearing lunch, so Dr. Rogers and I sat down for a drink (and I had a currywurst) at a wurst stand outside the Zoologisher Garten Bahnhof area.

Dr. Rogers asked me if I thought I was getting what I needed out of the trip, and I told him I thought so, but he wasn’t so sold on all of it. Based on his other trips and studies in Europe (and because of my lack of experience in other European cities) he explained that his first impression of Berlin is that it isn’t all that international like a New York, L.A., or Chicago. Sure, it has a large amount of international retail stores and restaurants, a little bit of global culture and some international tourists (not nearly as many as expected this year) but so does nearly every major capital city, including D.C., London, and Paris. He also pointed out that these same capital cities (and other major European cities) also have international business headquarters and plenty of cultural arts just like Berlin.

This is all makes sense, and wasn’t even something I recognized without knowing what other capital cities are like. I did suggest that perhaps tourism is down this summer because of economic reasons, and it is possible that Berlin has become less exciting of a tourist destination than say the exciting early reunification days of the 1990s. It may be, for example, that British tourists who once considered Berlin an exotic tourist destination of the emerging eastern Europe now consider it less edgy and head to Romania (Bucharest was Dr. Rogers’s example) or the Czech Republic instead. That doesn’t make Berlin a has-been, just more in line with the norm. And, even if the down-tourism-year scenario is correct, it still doesn’t make Berlin very different from other major places; again, just closer to normal than it used to be.

My work isn’t all for naught, of course, with this new information. My field work is just revealing that my hypothesis was a bit off but still salvageable. My paper can still show the importance of Berlin in the E.U. and particularly to Germans (as most of the tourists we’ve seen have either been high school age or old retired Germans.) It can also show how successfully they’ve reunited in a short time. Plenty (practically all) of the elements of my research are still useful to my work. This is precisely why I had to do fieldwork here, to gain a real feel for Berlin without the bias of book and article writers.

After our sit we headed out to explore Charlottenburg, which is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Berlin. We both agreed that we would want to live here if we had to choose what district of Berlin in which to live. We walked around the Schloss Charlottenburg – practically empty today as compared to overflowing with tourists last year – and saw the gardens and took some pictures and then decided to take a U-bahn trip to Spandau. Spandau is far west Berlin, though it was originally a city unto itself and is older than Berlin. It still retains its own feel and doesn’t really fit into the rest of Berlin, as it is more traditionally German. It was a nice visit and we had a nice supper at a restaurant next to their large church, but it wasn’t really of much importance to my paper.

Now I am quite tired and have even more photos (100+) to go through. It is supposed to be very rainy (thunderstorm) conditions tomorrow, so I’m going to stay in and sleep and work through photos instead of getting out and about.

Hope everyone is doing well!

Berlin Day Six – Long Day

It’s just about 10 p.m. here in Berlin, and I’m wiped out! Walking around Berlin with Dr. Rogers has been an all day affair, and much like two days ago, I have over a hundred photos and not enough time to work on them tonight. It may be just as well, because it’s looking like rain this weekend which means I might spend the better part of at least one day inside and just work on photos as the rain comes a-tumblin’ down.

Our day started off by meeting at the Brandenburg Gate at 9 which meant a wake up call from Karen around 7. I didn’t really want to get up; I was quite tired, but getting to breakfast earlier was nice since I beat the young tourist crowd. (They’re still here; still loud. Maybe they’ll leave this weekend?)

Anyway, we started walking down Unter den Linden toward the east, noting construction on many of the side streets as well as photographing the Russian Embassy. We turned right on Friedrichstrasse and headed south for a few blocks to look at the more built-up areas of downtown. Quite accidentally, we found ourselves at the Gendarmenmarkt, which features the Franzosicher Dom, Deutscher Dom, and the Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Konzerthaus Berlin.

Inside the Deutscher Dom is a permanent, free exhibit on the development of democracy in Germany, and my National Geographic Travel Guide lured me in because it said the fifth floor was about Germany in the EU (a big part of my paper). Well the first four floors were really quite interesting, as Dr. Rogers and I struggled to read enough German between the two of us to make sense of the exhibit. There was an English audio guide, but it didn’t cover every aspect of the museum, so we tried our collective hardest to read the rest. The fifth floor was a bit disappointing, though; it is so high up in the Dom’s dome that there isn’t room for more than a few signs explaining the beginnings of the EU. (The Dom’s dome means the cathedral’s dome…that’s a German-English play on words, since the German Dom means cathedral and sounds like the English Dome… Does it make a bad punster if I have to explain my jokes?)

Anyway, the exhibit took us around two hours to complete, so when we left we tried to decide where to eat lunch, only to decide that we weren’t that hungry and could make it by just getting a drink from a tourist shop on Unter den Linden. From there we rested our feet for a while in the middle of the street: Unter den Linden has a wide median between the traffic lanes that has benches, wurst and drink stands, and, naturally, linden trees.

We then continued our tour by heading deeper into the former East Berlin. We made it to Museum Island around 2 p.m. about which time it started to sprinkle and our decent weather from the morning (complete with sunshine!) had disappeared. We threw around the idea of going to a museum since I thought they were free after 2 on Thursdays (it turns out they are free after 6) but the lines were pretty long and we didn’t really want to waste too much time at that point. Instead, after photographing several of the museums’ outside, we continued on to the Marx-Engels Platz, the Rotes Rathaus, and then Alexanderplatz.

As you will see in photos later, Alexanderplatz (called Alex by the natives) is the center of shopping and commercial business in east Berlin. It was originally developed by the Communist regime of the DDR as the showpiece quarter of the most successful country behind the Iron Curtain. It has been heavily modified and turned into a capitalist center, though many of the former pre-fab housing/apartment complexes around the quarter still show evidence of their cheap Communist-era construction. A few have been nicely redone with new facades, but many are in bad shape and are doomed (At least one ten story apartment building was completely shut down and vacant.)

After we walked around the old “Red” Berlin we decided to go on a subway adventure (much like my trip to Wedding the other day). We got on the U5 at Alexanderplatz and rode it east out into Berlin’s suburbs. The suburb we visited around Wuhletal was pretty nice, more like the traditional German cities that I’ve seen and stayed in during my travels. There we found an old hospital complex for traumatic injuries that was built in 1890 at what was then completely out of town. Germans traditionally associate good health with nature, and the planning of the Krankenhaus (we assumed based on our observations) was that it was built to expose those who experienced trauma to nature to help with the healing process. There were also buildings for psychological study on children and teenagers, and there were several college aged people about, which led us to think that the campus might have been both hospital and medical school. I need to Google it and find out. I’ll report back more later after I’ve had time to search (but for now I’m tired!)

We rode the S-bahn back into town and found a small, interesting Turkish restaurant in the Turkish part of Kreuzberg for supper. Neither of us know much about Turkish food, and since they didn’t have the Dönner kababs famous to Germany, we went with Hackfleisch kababs which were really good. I intentionally planned our stop in that area because the U-bahn station went both north-south on a line toward Dr. Roger’s hotel and east-west (the closed U1 line) toward mine. I took a bus back as far as it would go, switched to the U2 line which follows the U1 line for part of its track, and then switched back to bus to get back to my hotel before walking the last two blocks. It sounds completely complicated, no doubt, to the American readers, but it’s all proof to show that you don’t even have to own a car to get around in Europe. Those of you who been here before know exactly how amazing Germany’s public transportation is.

It’s after 11 now, and I’m going to get in bed. Dr. Rogers and I are meeting again at 9 in the morning, this time at Potsdammerplatz, to explore the west.

I’ll post more tomorrow, and maybe get around to photos by tomorrow evening or Sunday.

Bis Später!