Two Hours in Berlin in Winter
Berlin, it seems, has more than its fair share of monuments and memorials. Whether this is true or not I do not know. Someone once told me Washington DC could rival the German capital for the number of memorials. Given Berlin’s history, it would not be that surprising if it were indeed true, or even if visitors just get the impression that there are more than anywhere else. Whatever, it is impossible to avoid recent history on the streets of Berlin and any amount of time will be rewarding – even in winter!
There really is much to see and do in Berlin for everyone of all ages and interests. Personally, I greatly enjoy spending a few hours at a time in one of the five museums on the Museum Island. Even though I am an archaeologist, maybe it is because I am an archaeologist, I get museum fatigue.
When in Berlin I get the 3-day museum pass and break up my museums visits with other activities. As Museum Island is central it is easy to take a few hours away from display cases and explore some of those many monuments and memorials. And a walk from the Reichstag Building to Check Point Charlie is a good way to spend two hours in Berlin.
The imposing Reichstag building has an equally imposing dedication on the architrave: DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE (For the German People.) A stern warning to the royal elite to keep out! This was a parliament intended for the German people.
The building opened in 1894, following German unification in 1871. The building was damaged by fire in 1933 and was only fully restored, with the addition of the glass dome on top, and used to house the German Parliament again in 1999. The Glass dome is open to the public, for a fee, and is well worth it.
Just outside the visitors’ entrance for the glass dome is quite a simple but powerful memorial. What looks like a row of upright slate slabs is used to mark the death of 96 members of the German Parliament at the hands of the National Socialists. Sadly today you could easily miss these. The memorial once had a prominent position in front of the Reichstag, but it is now all but obscured by the ticket/security office.
When crossing the street towards the Brandenburg Gate look out for the line of bricks embedded in the tarmac. This marks the line of the wall, and stretches through the length of the wall where it no longer exists. Walking between the Reichstag and Check Point Charlie, you will cross it a number of times, a simple, but poignant reminder of a once divided city.
The longest standing section of the Berlin Wall stands between what is now the Ministry of Finance and an open-air exhibition space, called Topography of Terror. It was from the buildings that once stood on this ground that the SS and the Gestapo orchestrated their activities. Initially planned for destruction (it was in fact left derelict for years), it has been transformed into a monument and education centre documenting the atrocities of the organisation that once worked here.
So if you have two hours in Berlin to spare, I can recommend a walk between the Reichtstag Building and Check Point Charlie. For me, it was somehow appropriate to be seeing these places on what was a drab and dreary morning. Looking into the now excavated cellars where prisoners were tortured and executed is disturbing, a bit macabre even.
At some places, such as the car park over what was the final bunker, I did not feel like lingering, or even taking photographs. But as disturbing as some of these places are, walking between them helped me understand the contested geography of this city, then and now.