Museums and World War II History

Museums and World War II History

Yesterday, I went to the top of the TV tower and the Pergamon museum. The TV tower was built by East Berlin to showcase their superiority to the West, but due to people leaving to West Berlin by the thousands per day, there wasn’t enough engineers left behind to properly design it. Instead, the DDR leaders had to import Swedish engineering to finish it. The tower was meant to show the atheistic attitude, at a time when the DDR leaders were having crosses removed from the church domes and spires. Instead, when the sun shined on their tower – a huge cross is reflected in the mirror ball.

I then went to the Pergamon museum, which was much smaller than I anticipated – you can do a guided audio tour and hit all the highlights in 30 minutes. The museum specializes in Classical Antiques, and its main attraction is the Pergamon Altar and Ishtar Gate. The Pergamon Altar was taken from a 2nd century BC Greek temple showing the gods fighting giants on the sculpted frieze and the Ishtar Gate was a massive gate created by the Babylonians in the sixth century BC to fortify their city. Both were impressive, but there wasn’t much more to see.

IMG_0121

IMG_0144

After the museum, I went to an indoor shopping mall near Alexanderplatz. While I didn’t buy anything, I did find a Starbucks that had fast and free Wi-Fi. The login page says there is a two-hour time limit, but you can just log back in and get another two hours. After realizing this, I went back to my hostel, grabbed my computer, and headed back. I spent most of the afternoon catching up on email and uploading pictures to http://picasaweb.google.com/mszelis. I’m still not caught up on pictures, but I got a majority of them uploaded at original size.

That evening, I rode around on my bike and took some more pictures at night. Despite being a pain to carry around, the tripod has been well worth the money and lets me take pictures that would otherwise be impossible.

IMG_0283

Today (the 11th) I woke up around 8:00am and took the S-Bahn to Wannsee to see the House of the Wannsee Conference – the lakeside villa where the Nazis determined the final solution for the Jews.
Entrance to the lakeside villa

Entrance to the lakeside villa

After seeing the movie Conspiracy which details the meeting, I found it to be a bit smaller than I imagined – especially the front driveway. I went through the movie and then through my pictures, trying to match them up with different scenes.. All the fireplaces, columns, windows, etc. were the same – pretty neat.
IMG_0005
It looks like an ordinary house, but in this room they determined the Final Solution for the Jews.

It looks like an ordinary house, but in this room they determined the Final Solution for the Jews.

The outside was under construction but the inside had a nice museum describing the history of anti-Semitism and meeting itself. The meeting was held in the dining room, which now contains copies of the minutes that were taken at the meeting and descriptions of the attendees.
I grabbed the S-Bahn back to Berlin and after sleeping for a couple hours, went to the East Side Gallery. The gallery isn’t very centrally located and it took a good amount of time to bike there. It was pretty impressive though, stretching along the canal for almost a mile.
IMG_0130
IMG_0127
I biked back to the city center and got some good pictures as the sun was setting. It’s funny – when I’m traveling by myself I have to ask other people to take pictures of me and 90% of the time, it doesn’t turn out the way I want. Whenever I give my camera to someone using a point and shoot camera, they don’t know how to use it or look through the view finder. But whenever possible, I try to find someone who also has a DSLR camera, since they typically know what they are doing.

Near the TV tower, I found a married couple with the wife carrying a higher-end Canon DSLR around her neck. She was a semi-professional photographer and got some good pictures of me next to the tower. I then left and took pictures near the Berliner Dom (cathedral). I asked two different people to take my picture (neither of which turned out how I wanted) before I just pulled out my tripod and set it on a self timer. After a couple tries, I got a few that looked good.

IMG_0206

I then went to the Reichstag and instead of getting in line right away, I got dinner and came back around 9:00 pm (last entry at 10:00pm, close at midnight). Turns out to be a mistake since a school group came right before me, making the line too long to get in before 10:00pm. I thought about going back tomorrow morning when they open at 8:00 am, but it would cost me nearly 4 hours of travel time – looks like I’ll be doing that on my next trip to Berlin.

Last thing I did was go to the German Resistance Memorial. While the museum was closed when I got there around 10:00pm, the courtyard was still open. It was in this courtyard that Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were shot (as popularized by the 2009 Tom Cruise film Valkyrie).

IMG_0268

I finally went back to the hostel and briefly started planning for Prague tomorrow. I ended up changing my hostel booking from Prague Square Hostel to Czech Inn after reading some negative reviews. I lost the ~$10 booking fee but I think the new one will be much better. I’ll be spending four nights in Prague, (6/12 to 6/15) and then going to Krakow, Poland.

Overall, I really enjoyed Berlin. It is very different from the other European cities I’ve been to – most of its most famous history has occurred in the 20th century. Due to the devastation of World War II, most of the buildings are less than 80 years old and the city is still recovering from being divided just over 20 years ago. The city also has a large debt and is constantly doing construction but hopefully in another 20 years Berlin will be prosperous again.