Monday, June 04, 2007

Berlin: From Prussia with Love

Bondi and the Reichstag, seat of the BHundestag

Today I was rather spoiled by having Tom Williamson, a professional tour guide, escort us through Berlin's main sights for 6 hours or so. He arranged the day so that Bondi could be a part of it. This is a very dog-friendly city, but I certainly wasn't expecting Tom to clear the Reichstag for us .... this time. After collecting us from the B&B, we returned to the Zoo area to sit down over coffee with a map (which was a really good start for a coffee & map geek), where Tom laid out the plan for the day in detail.

Lions' Bridge in the Tiergarten

Cutting an arc across the city, Tom took us through the big sights, and the hidden nooks between them, helpfully elaborating on the historical and architectural details. If you've ever watched a good historian on TV, animatedly waving their hands across the sweep of a castle domain or ancient battleground, then imagine standing on the site with them. That is the benefit of having a guide like Tom at your side, and part of the lure of out-of-the-armchair travel.

When you get out onto the land, or in the streets, as the case may be, you get a better sense of the struggle that a conquering army, or a defending populace will have endured. Sicily was a case in point - what is an incredibly small piece of land from an Australian perspective, becomes a mountainous landscape that challenged many an empire. One or two days driving through that terrain delivers the point quite strongly. Today I got to see how the urban terrain of what got built, what was left standing, what still has bullet-holes in it and what got rebuilt plays into our understanding of modern Germany and its relationship with other countries over the last 300 years.

The Siegessäule

Checkpoint Charlies; A reminder of the tragic June 17 uprising of 1953

Bismarck memorial; Behind every Iron Chancellor is Siegfried?

Parallel to our parade through the Tiergarten, Unter den Linde and beyond, Tom gave a history of the growth of Prussia through the monarchic line of Fredericks. There are lots of these, Frederick the Great (let's call him 'Doc'), Frederick the Dopey, the Sneezy, the Sleepy ... and the Schadenfreude. These are all fascinating characters, and I'll have more on Fritz the Great in later posts. Prussia itself is a fascinating character, and I'm grateful for this day of building a base to connect with my school history covering the 1848 revolutions, and the era of Bismarck and the unification of Germany.

My turn.

Statue of Prometheus hidden under rubble for decades

Look down when you travel!; Chocolate Brandenburg Gate

Photo right shows Hitler's intended construction of a Speer-designed Volkshalle, which would have had a cupola 200m high, and 250m in diameter. Compare St Peter's in Rome at 135m/42m. The observation deck of the TV Tower near Alexanderplatz is 204m.

Standing on drainpipe over Hitler's bunker

Tom's photo; Keith Haring's red and blue boxers

Topography of Terror: excavtion beneath the Wall reveals a Gestapo torture room

We saw so much that I can't do it justice in a blog post, in text or photos. Any of the four broad eras pre-WWI, WWI-WWII, the Wall, Reunification & regeneration have enough material here for a full day each. All of them, in Tom's hands, a lot of fun to be sure.

Bondi and I revisited some places on Monday, so I'm saving some pictures for then.

Monument to pre-war book burning; another Neptune fountain

Some of Renzo Piano's work around Potsdamer Platz

20-metre see-saws
Marx, Engels and the dream of a liberated tourist class.

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