Archive for the ‘Berlin News’ Category

Palace of the Republic

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Berlin’s Palace of the Republic — Palast der Republik — was the seat of the legislature of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) from 1976 to 1990. Constructed between 1973 and 1976, the exterior of this cubic building was defined by its distinctive bronze mirrored windows and the interior by its unique multi-purpose concept.

House of the People

When the East German government decided to build the Palace of the Republic in the 70s, the country was hurting financially and could barely afford the construction. Nonetheless, East Germany built the most modern cultural building in all of Europe at the time. One part of the building housed the People’s Chamber, the legislature of the East German government. The other served a multitude of cultural purposes as the House of the People. Here citizens could visit art galleries, a theater, a bowling alley, a post office, a discotheque and thirteen restaurants. Cultural, political, academic, and social events at the Palace of the Republic included famous concerts and events, party congresses and even the state gala on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic in October 1989, which was attended by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. It is difficult to image nowadays that ordinary people would be allowed to be entertained within meters of government being conducted. I think it would be a security agent’s worst nightmare.

Former Stadtschloss

The Palace of the Republic was not the original building on this site however. The location had once been home to the former Berlin City Palace–Berliner Stadtschloss–an edifice dating back to the Prussian-era. In 1950, the East German government demolished this heavily World War II-damaged building to make room for the Palast der Republik. But just prior to German reunification in 1990, the modern monument to the people had to be closed to the public because of asbestos contamination. By 2003, the asbestos was declared removed, but soon more was found. It was then that the German parliament voted to demolish the Palace of the Republic altogether. The action ran against the opposition of many former East Germans, and what was to be constructed in its place became the subject of many heated debates.


Eventually, the German government decided to rebuild the Prussian-era Stadtschloss, not the Palace of the Republic. Its last vestiges were removed in 2008.

Construction of a new Stadtschloss began in 2013. It will be called the Humboldtforum house the Humboldt collection and gallery of non-European art. Three facades of the new palace will be exact replicas of the Prussian-era Stadtschloss, but the interior will be a modern one. Construction is in progress and is expected be completed in 2019.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of






Berlin’s Stolpersteine

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

Stolpersteine, often translated as “stumbling blocks”, are small, cobble-sized memorial stones that protrude from the pavement. The last time I visited my hometown of Berlin, I noticed that two such stones were embedded in the pavement in front of the building in which I once lived. The upper surface of each Stolperstein was fitted with a brass plate. The plate was engraved with an individual’s name, year of birth and death, and a few words about the person. I had never seen stones like these before and inquired about their meaning. To my surprise, there are thousands of them, and they are the work of one man.

Stolpersteine for the Danziger Familie - Berlin Charlottenburg, Suarezstrasse and Kuno-Fischer-Strasse, photo J. Elke Ertle © 2014

Stolpersteine for the Danziger Familie – Berlin Charlottenburg, Suarezstrasse and Kuno-Fischer-Strasse, photo J. Elke Ertle © 2014

Stolperstein Concept

The Berlin-born sculptor, Gunter Demnig, is said to have first conceived of the idea of creating Stolpersteine when he met a women near his Cologne studio. He said she was unaware that gypsies had once lived in the neighborhood. Demnig conjectured that concentration camp victims, who are frequently identified by numbers only, tend to lose their individuality as a result. To restore that identify he considered creating memorial stones with the victims’ names and identifying information. That was in the early 1990s. Since then, he has created many Stolpersteine to commemorate victims of the Holocaust. The vast majority of his stones commemorate Jewish Holocaust victims. But many are also dedicated to gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Blacks, military deserters, physically and mentally disabled individuals, and to those who opposed the Nazi party.

Stolperstein Locations

By May 1996, Demnig had laid the first 50 Stolpersteine in Berlin. Since then he has put down over 5,000 memorial stones in the city and more than 38,000 in over 800 cities and municipalities in Germany. In addition, he has installed memorial stones in twelve other European countries


Not everyone approves of Demnig’s concept. Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has objected to Stolpersteine because of their installation in the pavement where people walk. It feels like people are walking on the names of the dead, she says.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Hotel Adlon Part 2

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

To read about the history of Berlin’s Hotel Adlon from the time of the German Empire through World War II, visit Today’s post will bring the reader to the present-day.

Hotel Adlon during the Cold War

In the division of Berlin, the surviving wing of the Hotel Adlon ended up on the east side of the city. In 1952, the East German government demolished the damaged parts of the building along with all the other structures surrounding Pariser Platz. The one remaining Adlon wing was renovated in 1964 but closed to hotel guests in the 1970s. It remained in use until 1984 by providing housing to East German apprentices who were learning the hotel business. Then it was demolished as well.

Hotel Adlon reopens

The new Adlon reopened on 23 August 1997, seven years after German reunification. This new building occupied the original site plus some adjacent land. However, the new Hotel Adlon is not a replica of the old pre-WWII building. The new Hotel Adlon was constructed with lower ceilings and more floors to allow for additional rooms. Operated as Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin, two new wings have been added since reopening. One new wing opened in 2003 and is known as the Adlon Palais; the other opened in 2004 and is known as the Adlon Residenz. Presently, the Hotel Adlon offers 382 rooms including 78 suites. Its 5-room presidential suite includes top security, a personal butler, and limousine service.

The current Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin

The current Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin

Hedda Adlon’s wish

Hedda Adlon, widow of the last owner of the hotel, wrote her memoir in 1955. It is entitled, “Hotel Adlon” and was published in the German language. It has been republished many times, including in several English language versions. Hedda closed by saying “I want to rebuild the Hotel Adlon, but only when East and West are reunited again and only on the spot where it originally stood und where I spent the happiest time of my life: in the heart of Berlin at Unter den Linden 1.” At that time, no one dreamed that reunification would become a reality soon.

Hedda passed away more than 20 years before the Wall tumbled in 1989. Her wish came true with the exception that the address is now Unter den Linden 77, not Unter den Linden 1. That is because the grand boulevard was originally numbered starting at the Brandenburg Gate. In the East German era, it was renumbered, starting from the other end.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




Hotel Adlon Part 1

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

The palatial Hotel Adlon, located only steps east of the famous Brandenburg Gate in the heart of Berlin, Germany, has a fascinating history. Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) – Second German Television – aired a three-part family saga early last year about the hotel, its owners, and its guests (some fictional characters are also included). The series covers the period between the last German Empire and the Berlin Wall.

Hotel Adlon’s beginnings

In 1905, Lorenz Adlon, a successful wine merchant and coffee shop owner, purchased a prime piece of land in the heart of Berlin. The property was located next to the British Embassy in the Wilhelmstrasse and faced the French and American Embassies on Pariser Platz. Important government offices stood only blocks away. Lorenz Adlon chose this desirable location to build an opulent hotel. It opened on 23 October 1907. Its address was Unter den Linden 1. Hotel Adlon soon became one of Europe’s most renowned establishments.

Hotel Adlon’s famous guests

The Adlon quickly became the social center of Berlin. Inside, its accommodations were the most up-to-date in all of Germany at the time. The hotel offered hot and cold running water and had its own electricity-generating power plant. In the hotel’s early years, many of the rich and famous, including Emperor Willhem II, the Tsar of Russia, the Maharajah of Patiala, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Herbert Hoover, John D. Rockefeller, Enrico Caruso, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker, Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo frequented it.

Hotel Adlon, 1927(Bundesarchiv photo)

Hotel Adlon, 1926
(Bundesarchiv photo)

Hotel Adlon during World War II

But when Hitler came to power in 1933, the Adlon gradually lost its international clientele. It continued to operate throughout World War II, having added a bomb shelter and a brick wall to protect its guest from flying debris. During the final days of the Battle for Berlin, parts of the hotel were converted to a field hospital. However, on the night of 2 May 1945, after all fighting had ceased already, a fire engulfed the Hotel Adlon. Intoxicated Russian soldiers had started the fire in the hotel’s wine cellar. The inferno destroyed most of the building. Only one wing survived.

Also read about the post World War II history of the Hotel Adlon at


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Berlin’s Museum Island

Thursday, January 9th, 2014


Berlin’s Museum Island – Museumsinsel – is one of the city’s most visited attractions. Smack in the center of the German capital, it is located in the northern half of an island in the Spree River. In fact, Museum Island occupies the site of Berlin’s former sister city, Coelln. In 1307 Berlin and Coelln merged into a single town and retained only the name of the former. Today, Museum Island forms a complex of five internationally known museums. During World War II, close to 70% of the museum buildings were destroyed. Following the war, the Allies removed some of the collections. The remainder was split between East and West Berlin. Restoration and modernization of the five museums began following German reunification. In 1999, Museum Island was designed a UNESCO National Heritage site.

Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum on Berlin's Museum Island

Pergamon Altar at the Pergamon Museum on Berlin’s Museum Island

Together the five museums on Berlin’s Museum Island cover 6,000 years of culture and history. Artifacts stretch from civilizations of the Ancient Egyptians and the Ancient Middle East to Greek and Roman Antiquity. On exhibit is also Christian and Islamic art of the Middle Ages and European art of the 19th century. The museums house the following treasures:

— Altes Museum (Old Museum) – Greek and Roman art objects on the first floor. Exhibitions held on the second floor.

— Neues Museum (New Museum) – archaeological objects and Egyptian and Etruscan sculptures. They include the bust of Queen Nefertiti.

— Alte Nationalgallerie (Old National Gallery) – 19th century paintings. Upon completion of the restoration program, it is anticipated that the gallery’s painting collection will be moved to the Bode Museum.

— Bode Museum – sculpture collections and late Antique and Byzantine art.

— Pergamon Museum – ancient architecture. It houses a collection of Greek and Babylonian antiquities, including the 6th century BC Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the 2nd century BC Pergamon Altar, and the 2nd century AD Roman Market Gate of Miletus.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Potsdamer Platz Part 2

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Potsdamer Platz following World War II

Following World War II, Berlin was divided into four sectors. Three of them–the American, British and Soviet occupation sectors–converged at the Potsdamer Platz. That geographic oddity resulted in the Potsdamer Platz becoming a center for black market activities. Since black market trading was illegal, the convergence of three sectors meant that one had to walk only a few feet to cross sector boundaries and could conduct black market activities before drawing much attention.

Potsdamer Platz in October 1945

Potsdamer Platz in October 1945

Potsdamer Platz following construction of the Berlin Wall

In August 1961, the Berlin Wall went up. It divided the bustling Potsdamer Platz into two halves. What had been a busy intersection became a desolate wasteland. Since the S-Bahn (elevated train) traveled briefly through East Berlin on its route from one part of West Berlin to another, the Potsdamer Platz station, located in the eastern sector, was closed off and patrolled by armed guards. Trains ran through the station without shopping. The corresponding U-Bahn (subway) route was closed entirely. After the remaining bomb-damaged buildings on both sides of the Wall were cleared away, only two structures remained standing: Weinhaus Huth and the Hotel Esplanade.

Weinhaus Huth at the Potsdamer Platz

The wine merchant Christian Huth acquired the land in 1877, built his villa and started a wine business. His grandson Willy Huth erected the current building on the same spot thirty-five years later. Weinhaus Huth survived World War II virtually undamaged and became known as “the last house on the Potsdamer Platz.” The reason it survived was its steel construction. The ultra-modern construction method was chosen so that the heavy wine bottles could be stored on the building’s second and third floors.

For forty-five years, Weinhaus Huth stood alone at the Potsdamer Platz, next to the remains of the Hotel Esplanade. Both were in the British sector close to the Berlin Wall. Following the death of Willy Huth in 1967, his widow sold the land and buildings to the City of Berlin.

Hotel Esplanade at the Potsdamer Platz

Hotel Esplanade went from being one of Berlin’s most luxurious hotels to a bombed-out shell that stood alongside the Berlin Wall at the Potsdamer Platz. Built in 1907, it included the famous Kaisersaal (emperor’s hall) where Emperor Wilhelm II hosted exclusive Herrenabende (men’s evenings). In the “Golden Twenties”, the Esplanade held popular afternoon dances. Well-known movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo visited here.

In the last years of World War II, bombs destroyed ninety percent of the famous hotel. Only the Kaisersaal, the breakfast hall, the stairwell, and the washrooms survived. After the war they were restored, and the Esplanade became a popular nightclub. During the 1950s, it hosted elaborate balls, and scenes of the movie, Cabaret, were filmed here. My father, a professional photographer, photographed many of the events at the hotel.

Also visit to read about the history of the Potsdamer Platz prior to World War II.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




Potsdamer Platz – Part 1

Monday, October 28th, 2013

The Potsdamer Platz (Potsdam Square) is a well-known public square in the heart of Berlin, Germany. It is located about 1 km south of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (German Parliament building). The square grew from a five-cornered traffic knot along a 19th century trading route to one of the liveliest traffic intersections and public squares in Europe. World War II bombs laid waste to 80% of its buildings. During the Cold War that followed, the Berlin Wall ran through the middle of the square, turning it into a no man’s land. But since German reunification in 1990, the Potsdamer Platz has been the site of avant-garde redevelopment projects and is busier than ever.

Potsdamer Platz in the Beginning

Starting in the mid-19th century, Berlin was growing at a tremendous rate. After the city constructed the Potsdam rail station in 1838 and became the capital of the new German Empire in 1871, this five-cornered intersection turned into an important plaza. With a population of 4.4 million, Berlin had become the third largest city in the world, right after London and New York.

Potsdamer Platz in the 1920s and 1930s

By the 1920s and 1930s, the Potsdamer Platz was the busiest traffic center in all of Europe. Five of Berlin’s most hectic streets met here in a star-shaped intersection. Huge hotels and department stores, theatres, dance halls and clubs, cafes, restaurants and bars, beer and wine houses, and hundreds of small shops had sprung up all around the square. Some had acquired an international reputation.

Potsdamer Platz in the mid 1920s

Potsdamer Platz in the mid 1920s

Potsdamer Platz during WWII

As was true of most of the buildings located in the center of Berlin, air raids devastated most of the structures that were built around the Potsdamer Platz. The three most destructive raids occurred during the final years of World War II – in November 1943 and in February 1945.

Watch for the second article in this sequence which talks about the Potsdamer Platz following World War II.

Visit to read about the Potsdamer Platz following World War II.



For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.



Stadtschloss Berlin Reconstruction

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Following years of heated debates, the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction is ready to start. On June 12, 2013, German President Joachim Gauck laid the foundation stone for the 590 million euro project.

The Stadtschloss Berlin (Berlin City Place) was a royal and imperial palace in the city’s center. Originally built in the 15th century as a fort to guard the crossing of the River Spree, the castle stood on Fishers’ Island, now known as Museum Island. Throughout the intervening centuries its face continued to change until the famous architect Andreas Schlueter finalized its appearance in the middle of the 18th century.

Stadtschloss Berlin ca. 1920

Stadtschloss Berlin ca. 1920

The Stadtschloss Berlin served as the residence to various Electors of Brandenburg and to the Hohenzollern Kings of Prussia. Following the demise of the German Empire in 1918, the palace was turned into a museum. Badly damaged during Allied bombings in World War II, it ended up in the eastern sector of the city. In 1950, East German leaders decided to demolish rather than to repair it. More than a decade later, East Germany built a new Staatsrat building (Council of State) on part of the site and added the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic) in the 1970s. When the Palast der Republik, a large modern building, was found to be contaminated with asbestos shortly before German reunification in 1990, it was closed to the public. Following unification the new Federal government of the united Germany demolished the building and left the area a parkland, pending a decision on its ultimate future.

Heated debates arose. Some citizens advocated for the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction. Others suggested that the exterior baroque facades be rebuilt, but a modern interior added. Some advocated the retention of the Palast der Republik to preserve its historical significance. Others argued for a public park. Lobby groups formed, and finally, after two decades of passionate debates, the Stadtschloss Berlin will return to the heart of Berlin.

A key figure in the debates has been a businessman from Hamburg, Wilhelm von Boddien. He founded and heads the Association Berliner Schloss. Upon project completion in 2019 the Stadtschloss Berlin reconstruction will house a modern museum containing collections of African and other non-European art.


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




Berlin has Water to Spare

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Berlin has water to spare. Wouldn’t we like to be able to say that of Southern California? There are several reasons for Berlin’s abundance of water: To start with, the water table of the German capital lies only a few feet below the surface in some instances. We can’t duplicate that. But there is one aspect we can try to emulate: Berlin is using far less water today than it did twenty years ago. According to Stefan Natz, representative of the Berlin Waterworks, total water consumption during 2011 and 2012 combined was less than that in 1989!

Natz explained that, water consumption has dropped greatly in Berlin after inefficient industrial firms closed their doors following reunification in 1989. But the credit also goes to the manufactures, which have made appliances more efficient. And finally, consumers deserve a large part of the credit. They use far less water to shower and wash now than they did twenty years ago. (see Annette Koegel –

Ironically, there is also a downside to the decrease in water use. The reduction of water consumption has allowed the groundwater table to rise. About 50 public buildings in Berlin are now threatened by water trying to invade their basements. The most prominent among them is the Rote Rathaus (red city hall). Not only is the Rote Rathaus one of Berlin’s historic landmarks, but constructed between 1861 and 1869 and clad in red clinker bricks, it is also the seat of Berlin’s city government.

constructed in 1861 to 1869

Rotes Rathaus near the Alexanderplatz

Berlin has water to spare. Wouldn’t it be nice if those of us in Southern California could say the same?


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.




50th Anniversary of JFK in Berlin

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Yesterday, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of JFK in Berlin, Germany. Fifty years ago, on June 26, 1963, US President John F. Kennedy declared, “Ich bin ein Berliner” in front of West Berlin’s city hall. A crowd of 450,000 wanted to hug him, kiss him, keep him, adopt him. JFK delivered his speech during the height of the Cold War. I was standing among those people and will always remember the synergy that connected us. Never before or after this event did I experience a similar moment during which people of all ages and economic status melt together like that. Students, seniors, blue-collar workers, professionals, men and women, young and old pressed shoulder to shoulder in one big patchwork.

US President John F. Kennedy, Berlin's Mayor Willy Brandt, and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer - Photo © J. Elke Ertle

US President John F. Kennedy, Berlin’s Mayor Willy Brandt, and German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer
in Berlin during Kennedy visit in 1963
Photo © J. Elke Ertle

Many years later, a myth popped up. In the ensuring years, it gathered speed. The myth was that John F. Kennedy had said he was a doughnut when he said, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Born a Berliner, let me assure you that there is no truth to this myth. Although a Berliner can also be a jelly-filled doughnut, anyone born and raised in Berlin considers him- or herself a Berliner. The same thing would be true of a native of the city of Hamburg. He would be considered a Hamburger, and that would not mean a patty of ground meat between the two halves of a bun, slathered with relish and ketchup. I don’t believe there was one person among the 450,000 in front of city hall who even fleetingly thought “doughnut!”


For a sneak peek at the first 20+ pages of my memoir, Walled-In: A West Berlin Girl’s Journey to Freedom, click “Download a free excerpt” on the home page of Walled-In is a story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.