Last night after we returned from Sachsenhausen, Quincy took us to a nearby grocery store. We intended to buy things for dinner and breakfast – which we did – but we ended up with a little bit more! We bought our first Vienetta (ice cream cake), cheese, coffee drinks, beer, chocolate, etc. We made a nice pasta dinner, had some German beers, and watched the US world cup game. It was an eventful evening and we consoled ourselves after the game with the Vienetta – cappuccino flavored.
Sunday morning we got up a little late and headed out to Gendarmenmakt. It’s a plaza – some say one of the most beautiful in Europe – with the Konzerthaus in the middle of twin German and French cathedrals. The French cathedral, Franzosischer Dom, allows visitors into the dome for a small fee. Once at the top you can see all of Berlin. It was the perfect day for such a trek – blue skies, clear view. We had a little time to kill before the box office opened at the Konzerthaus so we walked down Friedrichstrasse to Checkpoint Charlie. An incredibly important historical marker of post-war Germany and the Cold War era, it has been exploited as a tourist attraction. Zach and I were greatly disappointed when we arrived and saw tourists taking pictures with men dressed as US soldiers and holding the American flag. It was a mecca for run-of-the-mill tourists; we didn’t stay more than a few minutes. However, along with the messy touristy site it has become, there was a wall filled with photos and the chronological events that led up to Checkpoint Charlie and the US/Soviet stand-off, as well as the reunification of Berlin. Then we walked back over to the Konzerthaus and bought discounted tickets for the afternoon performance of the Konzerthausorchester!
Since we had a couple of hours before the concert we decided to go over to the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall that remained after the rest of the Wall was torn down in 1989. In 1990 artists from 21 different countries came to paint the Wall to celebrate its demolition. This part of the Wall now acts as an open-air gallery. It was incredible to see the artwork displayed across the Wall. We only walked a small part of the way, but we left inscriptions of our own on the Wall in a whitewashed space full of signatures, quotes, and drawings.
We ended running short of time and were not aided by the S or U. We sprinted to the Konzerthaus and made it up the stairs to our seats just seconds before the doors were closed. It was well worth the run. Mahler 9 was astounding; it was a gorgeous hall and the Orchestra was lovely. Of course, I don’t know anything about the technicalities, so to my untrained ears it was perfect. Zach may possess a different opinion; I’m not going to ask. After the concert we decided to try to get tickets to the Philharmonie concert at 8pm, but were unsuccessful in doing so.
On our way to the Philharmonie Hall we took a small detour to Hitler’s Bunker. It isn’t listed on any maps, only hinted at in guidebooks, and used as a teaser for paid tours. I did a little research online and found the location at the intersection of two small streets off the main tourist path. The site is plain and unsuspecting. There is no indication that the grassy patch was ever of any importance except for a lone marker. There are apartment buildings surrounding it and parking spaces cover most of the area. After the Soviets blew up the building above the bunker, they attempted to destroy the bunker as well, but were unsuccessful and instead sealed it up. Later in the 1980s, the GDR (German Democratic Republic) constructed several apartment buildings around the bunker site, opened up the bunker, and covered it in completely. The marker was not erected until 2006 in preparation for the tourism influx the World Cup would bring.
It’s a quiet reminder of Germany’s ugly past – one the country will always have to face – and it seemed appropriate. A marker is all that is needed for the site of Hitler’s suicide. He doesn’t deserve anything grandiose or trampled by every tourist in Berlin. Instead life moves on around it, past it. There are other monuments more important than the site of his bunker; monuments to those who were exiled, tortured, murdered, those who lost entire families, friends, freedom. Berlin is one of the most modern cities in Europe; it has rebuilt itself piece by piece. It has been an education to explore this city. The juxtaposition between old and new, past and present, suffering and hope are a story of inspiration to a world that is constantly grappling with war and peace. Berlin is a testament to the human race: we can rebuild, we can face our past, we can grow, and we can move forward.