October 15, 2016
Even after nine hours, I think I could have continued sleeping. Nonetheless, I hauled myself out of bed to kick off a day of tourism. After snarfing some food at the train station around 9AM, I set out on foot to the Branderburg Gate. I was not really sure about the distances, but I told myself I could catch a subway back at any point. Once I left the train station behind, my walk felt quite secluded. Nobody seemed to be out on this chilly autumn morning. The Reichstag building soon appeared on my left. Its architecture screams “government building,” but then it has an interesting glass dome on top for sightseers. Today the building is home of the German Parliament (Bundestag). Restoration on the structure, begun after the reunification of Germany, was completed in 1999.
I had trudged perhaps another kilometer when I encountered the Brandenburg Gate. I didn’t really understand why tourists should see the structure, except that it has some similarities with the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I learned more at the site itself, though. The Brandenburg was once one of fourteen gates in the city wall for Berlin. It was built between 1789 and 1791 (roughly the same time as the U.S. Constitution was ratified), replacing a simple earlier gate built in 1734, where excise taxes were charged. It was made more substantial because it was on the main route to Charlottenburg Palace in the Western part of the city. It was topped by a four-horse Roman chariot, or quadriga. The middle passage of the five through the gate was reserved for coaches of the royal family.
When Napoleon marched his army into Berlin after defeating the Prussian army in 1806, he marched them through this gate and shipped the quadriga statue back to Paris. At his defeat in 1814, the Germans brought the quadriga back to the gate and replaced it, this time with an iron cross. The defeat and then victory had given the Brandenburg Gate special meaning for Germany, tied to its emerging national unity. In 1865, it alone was retained as the other gates were torn down (America was wrapping up its civil war). The fighting of World War II destroyed the quadriga and left artillery scars on the Gate itself. In a rare moment of Cold War cooperation, both East and West Berlin cooperated in the replacement of the quadriga from the original molds in 1958. Just three years later the monument became inaccessible to the West when the Berlin Wall was erected nearby, putting this monument in the prohibited zone and “death strip.”
As an American in Berlin, I could hardly help but head southeast from the Gate to approach Checkpoint Charlie. As I wandered south along Frederich Strasse, though, I was struck by the lovely architecture near Franzosische Strasse. Many of the buildings from the late 1800s were particularly striking.
Checkpoint Charlie itself has become a little bewildering. The replica of the sign is still in place, and actors in period military uniforms are ready to accept your money for a photograph with them. But the abundance of places named after Checkpoint Charlie makes it rather unclear which building is the museum for its history. The chronology of the site is spelled out on signs hanging from a nearby construction barrier. Another information sign notes that the original border sign (“You are entering the American sector”) was donated to the “Haus am Checkpoint Charlie,” 40 meters away. I couldn’t seem to spot it, though. Instead I walked to the little courtyard around BlackBox Kalter Krieg to take a picture with a small fragment of the Berlin Wall.
My route from there was somewhat circuitous. I started with Bethlehemkirchplatz, which contains a steel frame reduction of the original church around concrete benches that read “Hope for those who hope” and an eleven-meter statue called the “house ball.”
I continued east to Gendarmenmarkt. I loved the plaza, framed by the German Dom, the Berlin Concert house, and the French Dom. I laughed to myself when I read that the French Dom tower was added to an existing church just to improve the look of the square. I mostly ignored the statue of Schiller, though my eye was certainly caught by a pensive fellow sculpted to lounge at the statue base.
I struck east again, with a dribbly rain falling, and this time I kept going until I had crossed the Spree river. I loved a distinctive red brick building with a high tower. I learned afterward that this was the Rotes Rathaus (red town hall) that gives the bridge I’d crossed its name.
My feet began sending the signal that they’d had enough. I had already racked up more than five kilometers, and noon had only just arrived. I paused for a moment in the St. Marienkirche. The art in the church were a bit on the macabre side. The fresco at the entrance is called the “Dance with Death.” It’s still undergoing restoration. Another memorial shows a man with his eyes to heaven, his hands resting on a skull. It’s a pretty church, though, and I certainly appreciated the chance to lift my feet.
I walked back toward Museum Island. Tucked in beside the subway construction signs I found a pair of statues that I might have missed without a map. Sitting by the riverside in massive bronze are Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the co-authors of the Communist Manifesto (1848). Both of them were German (well, Prussian) by birth, though Marx lost his citizenship after a 1849 coup d’etat. Their ideas have compelled a response from many philosophers, economists, and others. I thought I would get a photo standing with them.
Since I will talk about my adventures in the Berlin Neues Museum in the next post, I will delay my description of that area. I do, however, want to show the Berlin Dom (cathedral). When I was trudging along the riverwalk and it is hanging over me, it seemed almost crushingly huge. Once I reached the Lustgarten, though, it seemed a bit more manageable. The building has sometimes been called the “Protestant St. Peter’s:”
I was particularly struck by the art on the doors of the cathedral. It seemed somewhat unusual for a church door. [My god-mother Winona later discovered that it represents the culmination of the story “The Prodigal Son.”]
With a very full day of walking behind me, I retired to a restaurant and then my hotel room, as quickly as I could!