Archive for the ‘Tête-à-Tête’ Category

Detlev Rohwedder Building History

Monday, September 4th, 2017

 

These days, the Detlev Rohwedder Building (Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus) in Berlin is the seat of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry). However, the building wore many hats over the years and played a significant role in German history. The enormous office complex is located in the Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. If bricks and stones could talk, these walls would have interesting stories to tell.

 

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named the Detlev Rohwedder Building. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2005. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Along the Leipziger Strasse, the exterior of the building is embellished with a famous wall mural, designed by Max Lingner. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/story-behind-max-lingner-wall-mural/ The mural was created during the post-WWII years when Berlin was divided and the building was located in the eastern section of Berlin. The wall mural is entitled “Building the Republic” and depicts East German excitement over the new social and political order.

How large is the Detlev Rohwedder Building?

The Detlev Rohwedder complex consists of five to seven storied buildings. At the time of its construction (1935 to 1936) it was the largest office complex in Europe. German architect, Ernst Sagebiel, designed the neoclassicist project. Sagebiel also reconstructed Tempelhof Airport on a similarly gigantic scale.  The Detlev Rohwedder building has as reinforced concrete skeleton and an exterior facing of limestone and travertine. The stone came from no fewer than 50 quarries. Even today, The Detlev Rohwedder Building remains one the largest office complexes in Berlin. It houses more than 2,100 offices, contains 4.25 miles of corridors, 17 staircases, four elevators and three paternoster lifts. The complex has two wings, an Ehrensaal (Hall of Honor) facing Wilhelmstrasse, two large inner courtyards and a facility management yard. The gross floor area totals more than 1,205,000 square feet with almost 603,000 square feet of useable space.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the Nazi Era

The Delev Rohwedder Building initially served as the headquarters of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry). Four thousand bureaucrats and their secretaries were employed within its walls. The building played a central role in the war effort during World War II.

Detlev Rohwedder Building During the East German Era

Miraculously, the building came through World War II with only minor damage. The exception was the Ehrenhalle (Hall of Honor). It underwent major expansion and remodeling to become a Stalinist-style Festsaal (Festival Hall). Until 1948, the building served as the headquarters for the Soviet military administration. From 1947 to 1949, the Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission (German Economic Commission) was located here. During that time, the building became known as the DWK-Building.

On 7 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded in the building’s Festival Hall. Later, the complex served the Council of Ministers of East Germany and became known as Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). It was in this building that East German head of state, Walter Ulbricht, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke/ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ insisted in June of 1961 that “no one has any intention of building a wall.” The statement was made only two months before construction of the Berlin Wall began. As a seat of governmental power, the House of Ministries was also at the center of the East German people’s uprising of 17 June 1953. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/east-german-uprising-of-17-june-1953/

Detlev Rohwedder Building since German Reunification

Following German Reunification on 3 October 1990, the building was used by the Berlin branches of the Bundesfinanzministerium (German Finance Ministry) and by the Federal Court of Auditors. The Treuhandanstalt, an agency charged with privatizing the East German economy, occupied other parts of the building  http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/Germanys-unite-through-Treuhandanstalt/

The building was renamed the Detlev Rohwedder Building in honor of Detlev Karsten Rohwedder, head of the Treuhandanstalt, following his assassination in 1991. In the course of the relocation of the German Government from Bonn to Berlin, the German Finance Ministry transferred its head office to Berlin. During subsequent reconstruction and renovation works the structure of the offices, stone facade and the mural by Max Lingner were preserved. Conference, press and visitor centers were redesigned and equipped with state-of-the-art conference technology.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com  Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

 

Story behind Max Lingner wall mural

Monday, August 28th, 2017

 

In 1950, Max Lingner (1888 to 1959), German painter and graphic artist, won a competition to create a 60-foot mural. Made out of Meissen porcelain tiles, the mural embellishes the exterior of a massive office complex on Wilhelmstrasse in central Berlin. When Lingner created the mural, the complex was known as the Haus der Ministerien (House of Ministries). During World War II, it was called the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry. Since 1991, it is referred to as the Detlev-Rohwedder-Haus (Detlev Rohwedder Building). http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/detlev-rohwedder-building-history/

 

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named "Detlev Rohwedder Building". Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Bundesfinanzministerium (Federal Finance Ministry) in Berlin. The building is named “Detlev Rohwedder Building”. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Why such a large mural was commissioned

The East German state was created  in 1949. At the time of the design competition, Germany was divided and the House of Ministries was located in the Soviet Occupation Zone. It had miraculously survived World War II and needed to be repurposed. First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Walter Ulbricht, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ and East German Prime Minister, Otto Grotewohl, tried to reinterpret the building’s Nazi architecture in accordance with the new socialist ideals of East Germany. They commissioned Max Lingner to create a large mural depicting contented citizens looking toward a bright future under communism.

Max Lingner tries to meet the challenge

Lingner’s original design was entitled, “Die Bedeutung des Friedens fuer die kulturelle Entwicklung der Menschheit und die Notwendigkeit des kaempferischen Einsatzes fuer ihn.” (The Importance of Peace for the Cultural Development of Humanity and the Need to Fight for it). https://www.museum-der-1000-orte.de/kunstwerke/kunstwerk/aufbau-der-republik He chose to portray several self-reliant, poised family groups filled with zest for a new and better life. But Otto Grotewohl had different ideas. He sought a mural with political undertones. He changed the name of the mural to Aufbau der Republik (Building the Republic). Lingner was asked to revise his design no fewer than five times to achieve these new objectives. In fact, Grotewohl, a hobby-painter, changed Lingner’s drafts several times himself.

As far as East Germany’s leadership was concerned, Max Lingner, who had lived and worked in Paris for many years, had adopted a style of drawing that was considered too frivolous and playful. His style was criticized as being “too French.” The final product bore little resemblance to Max Lingner’s original design. In fact, neither Lingner nor Grotewohl were ever really satisfied with the final “Aufbau der Republik” mural.

Elements of the Max Lingner Mural

In the “Aufbau der Republik” mural, everyone looks strong, healthy and happy to work toward a common cause. Young members of the FDJ (a youth movement in the former East Germany), musicians and young pioneers sing and dance in the streets. Officials in business attire, working class tradesmen, a farmer, an engineer and an intellectual work closely together in the new classless society.

 

Max Lingner's famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Max Lingner’s famous wall mural embellishing the Detlev Rohwedder Building in Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2002. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

It is all the more ironic, then, that only one year after installation of the Max Lingner mural, the House of Ministries became the focal point of the 1953 East German Uprising http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/east-german-uprising-of-17-june-1953/ when construction workers from a Stalinallee project (renamed Karl-Marx-Allee) http://walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/karl-marx-allee-post-wwii-flagship-project/ marched to the House of the Ministries to protest a 10% increase in performance quotas. When the peaceful march turned into a rebellion, Soviet tanks crushed it.

In 2000, Wolfgang Rueppel’s magnified photo of the 1953 protesters was laminated under glass and sunk into the floor in front of the Detlev Rohwedder Building, not far from the mural. Rather than happy, contented faces, the photograph shows angry and disappointed ones. Next to each other, mural and photo clearly reflect the conflict between socialist wishful thinking and social reality.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

“Alte Liebe” denotes more than affection

Monday, August 21st, 2017

 

Alte Liebe isn’t just a feeling of deep affection, passion or strong liking for a person. In Cuxhaven, Germany, the “Alte Liebe” is also a well-known two-story wooden pier and breakwater at the bank of the Elbe River. It was originally constructed in 1733 as a bulwark against the loss of coastal land into the Elbe and to secure the harbor. Over the years, the Alte Liebe has been renewed and improved several times. While the jetty rested on wooden poles in the olden days, concrete posts  have replaced them in modern times. Today, the Alte Liebe still serves as a dock for small ships and ferries that transport passengers to the islands of Neuwerk http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/neuwerk-worth-a-staycation/ and Helgoland and to the nearby seal banks in the Elbe estuary. In addition, the pier is a popular viewing platform where visitors observe the giant container ships navigate down the Elbe River.

 

Alte Liebe (Old Love) in Cuxhaven, Germany. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Alte Liebe (Old Love) in Cuxhaven, Germany. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Four Legends surrounding the Alte Liebe

There are at least four folktales surrounding the Alte Liebe. http://www.cuxhaven-seiten.de/alte_liebe/alte_liebe.htm According to German author, Gorch Fock, an old sailing ship by the name of Olivia used to serve as a dock prior to the construction of the Alte Liebe. The pier’s name changed over time from “Olivia” to “‘Olive” to “o Leev” and finally to the high German “Alte Liebe.”

According to another story, the French sailing ship Olive ran aground on this spot in the 18th century. Its hull first served as an anchor bridge, but when it broke apart, a rampart was formed from the wreckage. Common parlance turned the ship’s name Olive into Alte Liebe.

Another legend has it that three old ships sank in this spot in 1733. One of the ships was called Die Liebe (The Love). To create a protective bulwark from the wreckage, wooden posts were used to surround the three ships, and the spaces were filled with rocks. According to this story the three ships became the foundation of the Alte Liebe.

The last explanation is the most romantic one. It is based on the ill-fated love between a Cuxhaven sailor and his sweetheart. According to the saga, Lorenz and Else were in love since their youth. Their parents did not allow them to marry for many years. After 15 long years of waiting for permission to marry, both mothers finally agreed to the marriage. A few months later, Lorenz had to go back to sea for six months. On the day of his expected return, Else went to the beach to watch for his ship. Finally, Lorenz appeared at the bow and waved. Suddenly, a strong gust washed him overboard. Out of despair, Else threw herself into the sea. In her memory, the pier is called “Old Love.”

 

Alte Liebe (Old Love) viewing platform. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Alte Liebe (Old Love) viewing platform. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

Berlin’s House of the Wannsee Conference

Monday, August 14th, 2017

The stately House of the Wannsee Conference – Haus der Wannsee-Konferenz – overlooks the Havel River in the quiet suburb of Berlin-Wannsee. However, the palatial country estate has a sinister past. In January of 1942, an infamous meeting was held in its dining room with fifteen high-ranking representatives of Nazi ministries and the SS (Schutzstaffel – Protection Squadron) in attendance. They discussed details of the planned “final solution to the Jewish question.

 

House of the Wannsee Conference, since 1992 a memorial and educational site. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

House of the Wannsee Conference, since 1992 a memorial and educational site. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Final solution to the Jewish question

The Final Solution to the Jewish Question (Endloesung der Judenfrage) was a Nazi plan to systematically exterminate the Jews during World War II. At the time of the Wannsee Conference, the decision to exterminate the Jews in German-occupied Europe had already been made. The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss collaboration between agencies. A secondary goal was to arrive at definitions of who was Jewish, who was of mixed race, and who should be spared. At the Wannsee Conference it was decided that persons of mixed race of the first degree (with two Jewish grandparents) would be treated as Jews. This would not apply if they were married to a non-Jew and had children by that marriage. Such persons would be sterilized. Persons of mixed race of the second degree (with one Jewish grandparent) would be treated as Germans unless they were married to Jews.

History of the House of the Wannsee Conference

Originally referred to as Villa Minoux or Villa Wannsee, the estate is now known as “House of the Wannsee Conference.” The spacious mansion was built in 1914 by German factory owner Ernst Marlier. Six years later, Marlier sold the house to Friedrich Minoux, a German industrialist and financier. When Minoux was convicted of fraud and went to jail in 1941, he sold the estate at market price to a foundation that was controlled by the SS. https://www.visitberlin.de/en/house-wannsee-conference The SS used the villa as a conference center and guesthouse and held the Wannsee Conference in its walls in 1942.  In 1943, the Third Reich Security Main Office purchased the residence. Following WWII, the villa served various functions until 1992, when it was turned into a memorial and educational site on occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference. https://www.scrapbookpages.com/EasternGermany/Wannsee/History.html

Free Exhibit at the House of the Wannsee Conference

In 2006, a permanent exhibit opened on the ground floor of the villa, entitled, “The Wannsee Conference and the genocide of the European Jews.” It is free to the public. Although the Wannsee Conference is the central focus of the exhibition, there are many documents on display about the history of Jewish persecution, anti-Semitism and racism in the 1920s, Third Reich propaganda posters and leaflets and photos and books about Jewish ghettos. The exhibition was one of the best I have visited in a long time. The estate is small enough to allow for full absorption of the information provided. Given current events around the world, the visitor cannot help but wonder what humankind has or has not learned during the past 75 years.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

 

Neuwerk Worth a Staycation

Monday, August 7th, 2017

 

Neuwerk is a small, inhabited island in the North Sea, about 9 miles northwest of Cuxhaven and 75 miles northwest of Hamburg. It is only about 1.5 square miles in size. As of spring 2017, 33 residents plus 2 children and their teacher make their permanent home there. However, over the course of the summer more than 120,000 guests visit Neuwerk and up to 2,000 may do so on a given day. Still, peace and tranquility abound.

Politically, the island belongs to the city-state of Hamburg. In 1990, it became part of the Nationalpark Hamburgisches Wattenmeer, (Hamburg Wadden Sea National Park), and in 2011 the entire area was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Neuwerk is a captivating spot for nature lovers as well as those who relish off-the-beaten-path experiences.

How to get to Neuwerk

There are a number of ways to reach the island. A fun way is to cross the wetlands on foot (called wattwandern in German) or on horseback. In either case, the tide must be low. Departure points are Cuxhaven-Duhnen and Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg. A marked path guides the hiker through the Wadden Sea http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allure-of-the-wadden-sea/ on this 3 to 3.5-hour trek one-way. Wetland hiking is best during the summer months because during other times of the year, icy winds and water can turn such outings into Kneipp expeditions, and those are best left to the extremely hardy. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/kneipp-cold-water-cure/.

 

Wattwandern (wetland hiking) along a marked route from Neuwerk to Cuxhaven-Duhnen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Wattwandern (wetland hiking) along a marked route from Neuwerk to Cuxhaven-Duhnen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

An alternative to wetland hiking is a Wattwagenfahrt (horse-drawn carriage ride). Also only available during low tide, the rides use same marked route through the Wadden Sea. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wattwagenfahrt-endless-discovery/ A Wattwagenfahrt takes 1 to 1.25 hours each way and is probably the most scenic way of reaching the island.

The least cumbersome way to visit Neuwerk is by ferry. Between April and October, the MS Flipper transports passengers almost daily to and from the island. Unlike crossing the wetlands on foot, horseback or Wattwagen, a ferry ride requires high tide. Check the tidetable. Ferry boat excursions take 1.5 to 2 hours each way.

To allow for sufficient time to explore the island, visitors often decide to walk one way and return by ferry or Wattwagen.

Neuwerk is an important habitat for birds

Neuwerk and the surrounding wetlands are an important habitat for breeding and resting birds. For millions of migratory birds, the Wadden Sea provides the sustenance for the flight north in spring and for the flight south in fall. The island is an ideal nursery for many bird species. Starting in May, various species breed in the vegetated interior of the island and in the salt marches surrounding it. The nearby, uninhabited islands of Scharhoern and Nigehoern, are bird sanctuaries. While Scharhoern can be visited as part of a tour or by prior arrangement with the warden, Nigehoern is off limits to visitors.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com. Walled-In is my story of growing up in Berlin during the Cold War.

Wattwagenfahrt – endless discovery

Monday, July 31st, 2017

 

A Wattwagenfahrt (horse-drawn carriage ride in the Wadden Sea) is an eerily romantic and definitely unforgettable experience! Along the 280-mile stretch of German coastline, the seawater recedes for an incredible nine miles during ebb tide and exposes vast tidal flats in the process. We wanted to see this rare vestige of unspoiled nature and signed up for a Wattwagenfahrt. We started in Cuxhaven-Duhnen and headed for the tiny island of Neuwerk, about 7.5 miles into the North Sea.

What a Wattwagen looks like

A Wattwagen is a horse-drawn carriage that has been outfitted with leaf springs so that the body of the coach perches high above the vehicle’s wheels. The reason for the raised suspension is that the expedition will take us through tidal gullies, called Priele. Contrary to popular belief, the Wadden Sea Read: Allure of the Wadden Sea does not recede and refill evenly during low and high tides. A vein-like network of gullies cuts through the surface of the wetland. These tidal creeks can be just a few inches deep at low tide and grow into rivers as the tide returns, which can happen within minutes. Negotiating the gullies, the horses frequently end up in the water up to their bellies. That means the floor of the coach also gets wet. To minimize this problem, the leaf springs raise the coach and hopefully keep it from becoming immersed in water.

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

A Wattwagen with leaf springs to elevate the coach floor. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Our fascinating Wattwagenfahrt

We signed up with the Wattwagenfahrt operator, the “Wattenpost,” operated by Jan Bruett. This family business has been in continuous operation since 1880 when the German Emperor Wilhelm I charged Christian Bruett with the task of delivering the mail to the island of Neuwerk. To this day, the Bruett family continues to deliver the mail on a weekly basis. You might say we felt in good hands.

Each Wattwagen has the capacity of loading nine people (8 passengers and the coachman). Our coachman was actually a woman, Claudia, who possessed a keen sense of humor. The expedition began with ladders being readied for the boarding process since the seating area is so high off the ground. After everyone was seated and wrapped in warm blankets, our convoy of about 10 Wattwagen slowly crossed the dike, the dunes and the beach and then entered the mudflats of the Wadden Sea. Tufts of birch tree twigs stuck in the ocean floor marked the route. The tide was low and the sun was shining. The horses broke into a trot. Soon, we were joined by another expedition coming from nearby Cuxhaven-Sahlenburg. Together we made the 1.5-hour trek to Neuwerk.  Read: Neuwerk Worth a Staycation Although it was early May, the temperatures were outright frosty. A robust wind blew from the east, and some of the gusts managed to penetrate our carefully layered clothing. We looked and felt a bit like early pioneers making our way to the New World.

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Wattwagenfahrt from Duhnen to Neuwerk. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The island of Neuwerk beckoned in the distance. Before us lay the great expanse of wetland, serrated here and there by small and large priels. Sea birds above the ground, small sea life below the ground. Every once in a while we passed a safety cage propped on a giant pole. These cages serve as safe havens for people who misjudged the speed of the incoming tide while crossing the mud flats on foot. Looking to our right, the superstructures of giant container ships slowly moved down the nearby Elbe River towards Hamburg. In this fast-paced life, a Wattwagenfahrt is a truly peaceful and bewitching experience. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat and recommend it to anyone for their bucket list.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

 

Allure of the Wadden Sea

Monday, July 24th, 2017

 

Whether you call it Wadden Sea in English, Wattenmeer in German, Waddenzee in Dutch or Vadehavet in Danish, what takes place twice each day within this 310-mile stretch along the coastline of the North Sea is nothing short of spectacular. I am referring to the coastal intertidal belt that encompasses an area of almost 4,000 square miles. Twice each day, the North Sea rises to its highest level (high tide), covering the intertidal zone; and twice each day, the sea level falls to its lowest level (low tide), revealing the intertidal zone. Each day, land appears and then disappears again.

The Wadden Sea near Cuxhaven at low tide. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Wadden Sea near Cuxhaven at low tide. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Where are the Wadden Sea National Parks?

The Wadden Sea National Parks are located along the German Bight of the North Sea and include the wetlands of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. In 1986, UNESCO declared the Wadden Sea a biosphere reserve. The area stretches from Den Helder in the Netherlands, past the Elbe and Weser river estuaries of Germany, to Skallingen in Denmark. Divided from each other by only administrative borders, the parks form a single ecological entity. The landscape of the Wadden Sea was formed by storm tides in the 10th to the 14th centuries, which carried away the land behind the coastal dunes. The small remaining islands within the Wadden Sea are remnants of former coastal dunes. Winds, waves and the tides continually reshape the landscape with constant pressure from every angle.

Flora and fauna of the Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea is the largest unbroken system of intertidal sand and tidal flats on our planet. Geologically, it is an extremely young area. Its unique landscape hosts habitats found nowhere else in the world. Up to 6.1 million birds have been present at the same time, and an average of 10-12 million pass through the area each year. The salt marches host 2,300 species of flora and fauna. The marine and brackish areas hosts an additional 2,700 species as well as 30 species of breeding birds http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1314. The wetlands are home to creatures of all sizes ranging from the smallest, like worms and crabs of all sorts, to seals and dolphins that have re-colonized the area in large numbers. Hundreds of thousands of gulls, terns, ducks and geese use the Wadden Sea as a stopover, a wintering or a breeding site.

A typical inhabitant of the Wadden Sea is the Wattwurm (lugworm), which lives in a U-shaped tube beneath the surface. Their casts produce unique patterns in the sand. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

A typical inhabitant of the Wadden Sea is the Wattwurm (lugworm), which lives in a U-shaped tube beneath the surface. Their casts produce unique patterns in the sand. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2014. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

From the shore, the Wadden Sea looks flat and almost uninteresting, but once you get away from the shore, you’ll find yourself in another world. It feels a bit like having left planet earth and travelling in a parallel universe. Much of the wetlands can be explored on foot or by horse-drawn carriage. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/wattwagenfahrt-endless-discovery/

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Battle of Berlin Ended WWII

Monday, July 17th, 2017

 

The Battle of Berlin was the last major European battle fought during World War II. It pretty much ended the war, but at a huge human cost. It was primarily fought between the Soviet and the German armies. Altogether, nearly 200,000 soldiers died during the last three weeks of World War Two, almost as many as the United States lost during the entire war. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/berlin_01.shtml

Seelower Hoehen – preceding the Battle of Berlin

The Red Army considered Seelower Hoehen (Seelow Heights) – a region located about 56 miles east of Berlin – the “Gates to Berlin.” Soviet leaders speculated that breaking German positions at Seelower Hoehen would clear the path to the capital. To that end, on 15 April 1945, Russian forces launched one of the most powerful artillery barrages in history. After three days, the German Army was all but crushed, and mainly old men and the Hitler Youth were left to defend the area. German resolve to continue to fight was largely due to fear of Russian retributions. On 19 April 1945, the Red Army defeated the German forces once and for all and advanced on the capital.

The Battle of Berlin

The road to Berlin now lay open. By 20 April 1045, the Soviets began to bomb the city, and within a few days, the Red Army had completely surrounded Berlin. The Soviets completely outnumbered the Germans in terms of men and equipment.  Once they entered Berlin, the fighting became fierce. The city was taken street by street and building by building. Casualties on both sides were high. Over a three-week period, the Red Army fired more than two million artillery shells into the already devastated capital, a city that had been continuously bombed by British and American aircraft since 1943. The total tonnage of ordnance fired by the Russians during the Battle of Berlin exceeded the tonnage of all allied bombing of the city during the rest of the war.

Why did the Russians fight so hard for Berlin?

A generally accepted explanation is that Joseph Stalin, Premier of the Soviet Union, was desperate to get to Berlin before the Americans did. Why? Stalin wanted to seize the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut, a German nuclear research center in the southwestern part of Berlin. Stalin knew of the American atomic nuclear program and also knew that the Russian nuclear program – Operation Borodino – was lagging behind. It was Stalin’s hope that Soviet scientists would find information at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut that could advance the Russian program. As it turned out, Soviet scientists discovered three tons of uranium oxide at the institute, which facilitated the work on their first nuclear weapon.

Where was Hitler during the Battle of Berlin?

Cut off from the reality of the fighting above, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, was holding out in his underground bunker beneath the Chancellery. On 30 April, he committed suicide together with his mistress Eva Braun. They had married only hours before. Their bodies were partially burned in the rubble outside the bunker.

The End of the Battle of Berlin

On 2 May 1945, Germany surrendered. A Russian infantry soldier, Sergeant Shcherbina, raised the Red Flag on the top of the Reichstag http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-reichstag-prominent-berlin-landmark. The war was over. The final count was:

 

82,000 Russians killed during the battles of Seelower Hoehen and Berlin,

275,000 Russians wounded or missing in action,

2,000 Russian tanks destroyed,

2,100 Russian artillery pieces destroyed.

100,000 Germans killed,

200,000 Germans wounded,

480,000 Germans captured,

the City of Berlin reduced to rubble,

100,000 German women raped.

http://www.military-history.us/2015/05/the-battle-of-berlin-16-april-2-may-1945/

 

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Berlin’s Café Kranzler in name only

Monday, July 10th, 2017

For most of 175 years, Berlin’s Café Kranzler was a legendary confectionery, an institution, a place to see and be seen. Berliners revere coffee houses, particularly if the sun is out and sidewalk seating is available. Already back in 1845 they maintained, “A coffee house is part of our social wellbeing, to complement our social life.” Their love affair with cafés continues to this day.

Café Kranzler survived two world wars, the Nazi era, several owners and a changing clientele. But in 2000, it closed its doors forever. Only its landmark red and white awning survives, being on the cultural heritage register.

Café Kranzler’s predecessor

In 1825, the Viennese confectioner Johann Georg Kranzler opened his first modest pastry shop/café on Friedrichstrasse at the corner of Behrenstrasse in the central district of Mitte. The establishment took off, and Mr. Kranzler was able to enlarge his café nine years later, to include the entire first and the second floors of the building.

Café Kranzler – parent house

In 1833, Johann Georg Kranzler closed his original pastry shop and purchased a building right on Berlin’s famous boulevard, Unter den Linden No. 25 at the corner of Friedrichstrasse. Here he opened a café and named it Café Kranzler. It sported a sun terrace and an ice cream parlor. He served Viennese specialty coffees and pastries as well as Russian ice cream. Within a short time, the café became THE meeting place for Berlin’s literary society and bourgeoisie. Here one could meet, discuss and debate. Café Kranzler was the first café in Berlin to place small tables and chairs in the sidewalk and to offer a smokers’ room. The establishment quickly gained the reputation of being one of the city’s finest cafés.

Following Mr. Kranzler’s death in 1866, his heirs sold the café to the Hotel-Betriebs-Aktiengesellschaft. But Café Kranzler’s name and fame continued to live on until the building was completely destroyed on 7 May 1944 during an air raid. The café never re-opened at the Unter den Linden location. Instead, its new permanent home became the already established branch location on Kurfuerstendamm at the corner of Joachimstaler Strasse, near the Zoo station.

 

Former Café Kranzler at Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse after having been completely destroyed by British and American air raids. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-J31402, 1945. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Former Café Kranzler at Unter den Linden and Friedrichstrasse after having been completely destroyed by British and American air raids. Photo courtesy of Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-J31402, 1945. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Café Kranzler – branch location

In 1932, the Café Kranzler branch on Kurfuerstendamm had opened under the name of Restaurant and Konditorei Kranzler (Restaurant and Patisserie Kranzler), operated by Kempinski Hotels. In 1945, during the Battle of Berlin it, too, was completely destroyed, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-battle-of-berlin-ended-wwii/ and the café did not open its doors again until 1951, long after Berlin’s division.

At the time of the reopening, the café was housed in a one-story structure (ground floor plus an upper story), which was replaced in 1957/1958 with a two-story building (ground floor plus two upper stories) and a rotunda at the top. The rotunda had a red and white striped awning, which became an easily recognizable landmark. After the second re-opening in 1958, Café Kranzler quickly became a magnet for tourists and socialites and grew into something akin to an institution in West Berlin. It was the Kranzler that I knew and loved in the 1960s. Despite being spread over three floors, until the end of 1999, its guests preferred to sit in the sidewalk and watch the world go by.

In 2000, in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall, all that changed. Café Kranzler had to close its doors for the third time because the city implemented massive redevelopment plans for the area. In 2001, it re-opened as Neues Kranzler Eck, part of a shopping center and operated by the clothier Gerry Weber. The fashion designer occupied the ground and upper floors, and Café Kranzler was limited to the use of the rotunda. In fact, the café became something of an afterthought. It could only be accessed via a staircase inside the clothing store or via an elevator at the end of a long hall. Gone were the days as well of enjoying a coffee in the sidewalk while people-watching. The sidewalk was now off limits to Kranzler guests. It was a café during the day and a bar at night https://www.welt.de/print-welt/article504686/Mit-dem-Cafe-Kranzler-verabschiedet-sich-auch-das-alte-West-Berlin.html

But more changes were to come. In 2016, The British fashion label Superdry replaced Gerry Weber on the first two floors. The spiral staircase leading to the rotunda was re-opened, and The Barn, a specialty coffee roasting firm, now occupies the rotunda of the once legendary Café Kranzler. The world-class relic is gone and exists in name only.

 

Café Kranzler with tenants Superdry and The Barn. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, April 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Café Kranzler with tenants Superdry and The Barn. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, April 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

For readers who are familiar with Café Kranzler, wasn’t there a time in the 70s when Café Zuntz occupied one of the floors? If you remember anything about that, please share it with me.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Bremer Stadtmusikanten Story

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

The Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Town Musicians of Bremen) might well be the city’s best-known logo. The four animal “musicians” standing on each other’s backs are based on an old folktale recorded by the Brothers Grimm. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/brothers-grimm-fairy-tales-and-more/. A 6.5-foot bronze statue on the west side of Bremen’s city hall, right next to the Ratskeller (Town Hall Cellar), depicts the Bremer Stadtmusikanten: A donkey forms the base of the pyramid. A dog stands on the donkey’s back. A cat towers on top of a dog and a rooster perches on top of a cat.

 

Statue of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Town musicians of Bremen) in front of Bremen's city hall. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Statue of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten (Town musicians of Bremen) in front of Bremen’s city hall. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Rubbing the front hoofs of the donkey is said to make a wish come true. Apparently, many visitors gave it a try because the donkey’s hoofs gleam in the sunlight.

Synopsis of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten folktale

Once upon a time, four domestic animals – a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster – reached their sunset years. In the mind of their masters, each had outlived his usefulness. The donkey was too old to carry the sacks of flour to the mill; the dog lacked the stamina to hunt; the cat couldn’t catch mice anymore and the rooster was slated for the soup pot. Each of the creatures had served its master faithfully for many years and was now being treated poorly because it got old. Dreaming of a fulfilling life, each leaves his home for a life, independent of his master. By a twist of fate the four animals happen upon each other on their way to freedom and agree to walk to Bremen together to become town musicians.

On their way to their new life in the big city, they have to rest for the night. The four prospective town musicians spot a lighted cottage and hope for a place to sleep. The cottage belongs to a band of robbers who are just about to enjoy a table full of ill-gotten delicacies. Standing on each other’s backs and hoping to secure some food for their efforts, the Bremer Stadtmusikanten make music to the best of their abilities. The donkey brays, the dog barks, the cat meows, and the rooster crows. Terrified by the strange sounds, the robbers abandon the cottage. The animals settle in, enjoy a good meal and live happily ever after in the cottage.

Interestingly enough, in Grimm’s folktale the four Bremer Stadtmusikanten never actually arrive in Bremen. They stay in the cottage in the woods. But the story is so intimately connected with the City of Bremen that its citizens have adopted it.

Statue of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten

The Bremer Tourist Bureau commissioned German sculptor Gerhard Marcks to create a sculpture of the Bremer Stadtmusikanten. In 1951, Marcks gave his creation to the City of Bremen on loan. Only two years later, the city purchased the sculpture for 20,000 Deutsche Mark.

 

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com