Archive for the ‘Tête-à-Tête’ Category

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.

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 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.



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 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.

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.

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, 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

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.

Café Kranzler with tenants Superdry and The Barn. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, April 2017.


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


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. 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.

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

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


Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

Monday, June 26th, 2017


The Soviet War Memorial (Ehrenmal) in Treptow Park is one of three Soviet war memorials erected in Berlin following World War II. They honor the roughly 80,000 soldiers of the Red Army who fell in the Battle of Berlin, the final major offensive in the European theatre and one of the largest battles of World War II.

In the last days of the war, between 6 April and 2 May 1945, the Red Army battled bitterly the remnants of the German Army, the old men of the Volkssturm (National Militia) and the Hitler Youth. During that battle, more than 70,000 people were killed. The dead included more than 22,000 Soviet soldiers, 20,000 German soldiers and 30,000 civilians. To commemorate their victory, the Soviets built three lavish war monuments in Berlin: One is located in the park of Berlin-Treptow, the other two are located in Berlin-Pankow and in Berlin-Tiergarten. All three serve not only as war memorials but also as war cemeteries.

The Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park was built between 1946 and 1949 on the site of a previous sports field. Some 5,000 soldiers of the Red Army found a final resting place in this enormous park.


Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Experiencing the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

After entering the War Memorial through a stone arch, the first monument the visitor comes upon is the statue of Mother Russia, a woman weeping for the loss of her sons. From there, a wide tree-lined path leads to two giant Soviet flags made of red granite. The granite and stones came from Hitler’s demolished New Reich Chancellery, designed by Albert Speer, and The New Reich Chancellery was badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin and completely dismantled by the Soviet occupation forces after World War II had ended. Statues of kneeling soldiers flank the granite flags.


Mother Russia statue, Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Mother Russia statue, Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.


Sixteen stone sarcophagi line the sides of the paths of the Soviet War Memorial. The paths lead to a giant statue in the center of a grassy rotunda. Each sarcophagus represents one of the Soviet Republics in existence at that time. The sarcophagi are decorated with military reliefs and engraved with some of Stalin’s quotes. The imposing statue in the center of the rotunda depicts a Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. According to Marshal Vasily Chuikov, Army Commander during the Battle of Stalingrad, the 40-foot statue commemorates the selfless act of Sergeant of Guards Nikolai Masalov.

Statue of Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Statue of Soviet soldier holding a German child in his arm while crushing a swastika at his feet with a sword. Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Masalov is said to have risked his life under heavy German fire to save a three-year-old German girl whose mother was killed. Although many Berliners voice doubt regarding the truthfulness of the story, it is nice to think that some people preserve their humanity, even when at war. What is definitely true is that Svetlana Kotikova served as the model for the German child. She was the daughter of Alexander Kotikov, the commander of Berlin’s Soviet sector who served in Berlin from 1946 on. During the Berlin Airlift, Kotikov represented the Soviets on the Allied Kommandatura. Commandant Frank L. Howley represented the United States. When Howley asked to be excused shortly before midnight on 16 June 1948 because he had a heavy scheduled the following day and left his Deputy in charge, Kotikov stomped out of the meeting and refused to participate in future meetings. The quadripartite governance of Berlin, in effect, came to an end because of his actions.

 Upkeep of Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park

Initially, the Russian government paid for the upkeep of the Soviet War Memorial. But as part of the Two Plus Four Treaty of 1990 and the German-Russian agreement on the upkeep of war graves in 1992, Germany agreed to assume the responsibility for maintenance and repair for all war memorials and military graves in the country.


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


Kindertransport Memorial in Berlin

Monday, June 19th, 2017


Kindertransport (children’s transport) is the German name for a rescue mission that began nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II. Through this effort about 10,000 mainly Jewish children were able to escape from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Danzig and the Polish city of Zvaszyn. Many of the children were the only members of their families who survived the Holocaust.

Kindertransport Rescue Mission efforts

After the terrible events of Kristallnacht on 9 November 1938, the British Parliament granted permission for Kindertransports to enter England. The first transports of 196 children left from the Friedrichstrasse rail station. Over the next ten months, ten thousand children travelled in this way through various railway stations in Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Leipzig, Hamburg, Danzig, Koenigsberg, Vienna and Prague, leaving their families behind.

The first Kindertransport train to England left Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station on 30 November 1938. Most of the children on the train were from a Berlin Jewish orphanage that had been burned by the Nazis during Kristallnacht. Others were from Hamburg. The children arrived in Harwich two days later. They were allowed to take only one small suitcase, no valuables, and no more than ten marks in cash. Some children travelled with nothing more than a numbered tag on the front of their clothing and a tag with their name on the back.


The children arriving in England in a photo on an info board at Friedrichstrasse rail station. J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

The children arriving in England in a photo on an info board at Friedrichstrasse rail station. J. Elke Ertle, 2017,

The Kindertransports were organized by Jewish communities, Quakers and non-Jewish groups. The Gestapo supervised the children up to the Dutch-German border. Then Dutch volunteers helped them board ferries from Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam, to the British port of Harwich. Once in England, the children were housed in summer camps or taken in by foster families. The Committee for Refugees coordinated the arrangements. Private donations paid for them. The integration of the children into British society was a mixed success. Some children were successfully integrated. Others were exploited as servants or neglected.

While most of the Kindertransports headed to Great Britain, some went to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The transports continued until Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and World War II broke out.

Selection of children for the Kindertransport

Many individuals and organizations in Great Britain and the Netherlands were involved in the Kindertransport rescue mission. In Germany, a network of coordinators worked around the clock to prioritize children at risk. These included children with a parent in a concentration camp, teens threatened with deportation, children in Jewish orphanages and children whose parents were no longer able to sustain them.

Trains to Life – Trains to Death Memorial

Commemorating the Kindertransport, a close to life-size bronze sculpture Trains to Life – Trains to Death is located directly adjacent to Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse station. It depicts four boys and three girls. Five of the children look in one direction, two in the opposite way, reflecting the contrasting fates of the children. While many were deported to concentration camps, some were saved by the Kindertransport.


"Trains to Life - Trains to Death" Memorial by Frank Meisler at Berlin's Friedrichstrasse railway station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

“Trains to Life – Trains to Death” Memorial by Frank Meisler at Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse railway station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Israeli Architect and sculptor Frank Meisler created the “Trains to Life – Trains to Death” sculpture in 2008 and donated it to the city of Berlin. He himself had travelled with a 1939 children’s transport from Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse to England. He created three other sculptures along the children’s route to safety: The “Kindertransport – the departure” memorial in Danzig, Poland, the “Kindertransport – the arrival” sculpture at Liverpool Street Station in London and the “Channel of Life” memorial at Hoek van Holland, Rotterdam.


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


Schwerbelastungskoerper for Germania

Monday, June 12th, 2017


The Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin (heavy load-bearing body) is a colossal concrete cylinder from the Nazi era. It is the only remaining tangible relic of Adolf Hitler’s vision of transforming Berlin into Germania, the capital of the world. Since 2002, Berlin’s borough of Tempelhof owns this one-of-a-kind concrete tube. Open to the public, the Schwerbelastungskoerper is located on General-Pape-Strasse, not far from Tempelhof airport.

Two enormous structures to anchor Hitler’s Germania

In the summer of 1936, Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, handed Albert Speer, his chief architect, two postcard-sized sketches that were about 10 years old. The rough drafts outlined two monumental buildings that were to define Germania: the Great Arch and the Great Hall. The triumphal Great Arch was to honor the soldiers killed in World War I and to be three times as large as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Great Hall, a gigantic domed assembly hall, was to be Berlin’s most impressive building. It was to be so large that it would eclipse every structure in Berlin.

Why the Schwerbelastungskoeper was built

In March 1928, Albert Speer created Project no. 15: Soils tests to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support such large monuments. A test cube with 33-foot sides was to be constructed. In the end, it turned out to be a cylinder, close to 100 feet high with a 33-foot diameter underground and a 69-foot diameter above the surface. Between April and November 1941, almost 14,000 U.S. tons of concrete were poured at a cost of 400,000 Reichsmark.


Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Schwerbelastungskoerper in Berlin-Tempelhof, relic of the Nazi era. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

But because of the start of World War II, the Schwerbelastungskoerper remained unfinished. When the heavy load bearing capacity of the soil underneath was finally measured in 1948, the colossus had sunk 19.4 cm (7 inches) in a period of two and a half years. The maximum acceptable settling without additional stabilization of the ground prior to construction was 2 cm. In other words, without additional work, the Great Arch and the Great Hall could not have been built.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The Schwerbelastungskoerper below ground. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Fate of the Schwerbelastungskoerper

After the Second World War, plans to blow up the Schwerbelastungskoerper were discarded because of the dangers explosives might have presented to nearby train tracks and apartment buildings. For a while, the German Society for Soil Mechanics used the cylinder to perform various tests on site. But after 1983 the structure was no longer needed and the Schwerbelastungskoerper was abandoned. For a number of years, the cylinder was neglected, and the area around it became overgrown. Now it is open to visitors. From an adjacent observation platform, the visitor can even overlook the area that Hitler once envisioned as the heart of Germania.


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

Germania – Hitler’s Utopian Quest

Monday, June 5th, 2017


In 1937, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler assigned his chief architect, Albert Speer, the task of developing a plan for transforming Berlin into the “capital of the world.” Hitler envisioned a metropolis with monumental architecture that would rival those ancient Egypt, Babylon, Rome and Athens. He named this utopian dream Germania. The plan was so impressive that even the New York Times described the project as “perhaps the most ambitious planning scheme of the modern era.”

Speer’s model of the proposed Germania

Speer went to work and within a year presented Hitler with a model of his grand design. At the core of the model were two broad boulevards, which would run through the heart of Berlin: a north-south axis and an east-west axis. He called the three-mile long north-south boulevard Prachtstrasse (Street of Magnificence). In the north, the Prachtstrasse terminated in a Volkshalle (People’s Hall); its southern end terminated in a triumphal arch. In Speer’s design, the Volkshalle rose to a height in excess of 700 feet. Its dome was to be sixteen times larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The Hall would accommodate 180,000 people.


Model of Hitler's proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Model of Hitler’s proposed Germania. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Speer’s triumphal arch was close to 400 feet high so that Paris’ Arc de Triomphe would easily fit inside its opening. Oodles of proposed new civic and commercial buildings along the north/south axis would link these two massive monuments. Roads, would to be realigned, Berlin’s parks would be revamped and two new rail stations would replace three existing timeworn termini. Speer proposed that entire suburbs would to be constructed to provide modern housing so that over 200,000 Berliners could move out of the slums and into the heart of the city. Furthermore, a plethora of new administrative buildings and commercial developments would be constructed. To see a model of Hitler’s utopian metropolis visit Mythos Germany in the Gesundbrunnen subway station. For hours and fees contact

Did Germania come to pass?

Albert Speer designed many grand structures in and outside of Berlin. In Berlin, he completed the Olympic Stadium in 1936, Hermann Goering’s Air Ministry (Reichsluftfahrtministerium) in 1936 – the largest office building in the world at the time with over 4 miles of corridors – and Hitler’s new Reich Chancellery in 1938. But only a tiny fraction of Hitler’s grandiose plans for Germania ever came to pass before the project came to a halt on account of World War II. Today, only Speer’s almost 14,000 U.S. ton Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body) near the Airport Tempelhof still stands. It was built to determine whether Berlin’s sandy and swampy soil could support Germania’s large monuments.


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



Albert Speer Designed for Ruin Value

Monday, May 29th, 2017

Albert Speer (1905-1981) was Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Speer’s career skyrocketed after joining the Nazi Party in 1931. Blessed with strong architectural and organizational skills, he became a powerful man during the Nazi era, both in government and in politics. As part of Hitler’s inner circle, Albert Speer designed many well-known projects. Always on a grand scale, his projects included the Zeppelinfeld Stadium in Nuernberg, the Reich Chancellery and above all, Germania, Hitler’s utopian notion of transforming Berlin into the capital of the world.

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler's chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

Albert Speer (1905-1981) Adolf Hitler’s chief architect. Photo courtesy of Spartacus Educational.

Speer designed for “ruin value.” That meant that buildings had to be constructed in such a way that they would make aesthetically pleasing ruins. It would guarantee, his thinking was, that Nazi Germany ruins would remain symbols of greatness throughout history, akin to ancient Greek and Roman ruins.

Albert Speer’s Rise to Power

Albert Speer was a third generation architect from an upper-middle-class family. He met Hitler for the first time when the organizers of the 1933 Nuernberg Rally asked him to submit designs for the rally. Speer quickly became close to Hitler, which guaranteed him a steady stream of government commissions. Before long, he was the Party’s chief architect.

When Hitler asked Speer to build him a new Reich Chancellery in 1938, Speer’s design included a 480-foot Marble Gallery, almost twice as long as the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles. Damaged in the Battle of Berlin in 1945, the Reich Chancellery was eventually dismantled by the Soviets. They used the stone to build the Soviet War Memorial in Treptow Park. As Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer applied his organizational skills toward the end of the war to overcome serious war production losses due to Allied bombings. Under his direction, German war production continued to increase despite the bombings.

Albert Speer during the Nuernberg Trials

Following World War II, Albert Speer was tried at Nuernberg and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his war crimes and crimes against humanity. He served the full sentence, most of it in the Spandau Prison in former West Berlin. He was released in 1966. During his testimony, Speer accepted responsibility for the Nazi regime’s actions. However, he claimed to have been unaware of Nazi extermination activities. That assertion was proven to be false. He did, however, deliberately disobey Hitler’s orders when the dictator issued the Nero Decree in March of 1945. The Nero Decree demanded the destruction of infrastructure within Germany and all occupied territories to prevent their use by Allied forces.

What remained of Albert Speer’s “grand” designs

Little remains of Albert Speer’s designs, short of plans and photographs. In Berlin, only the Schwerbelastungskoerper (heavy load bearing body), not far from Tempelhof airport, still stands and is open to the public. The concrete cylinder was built in 1941/1942 to determine the feasibility of constructing giant buildings on Berlin’s sandy soil – envisioned for Germania – without additional stabilization. In Nuernberg, the partially demolished tribune of the Zeppelinfeld Stadium survived.


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

Siegessaeule – Berlin’s heftiest Lady

Monday, May 22nd, 2017


The Siegessaeule (victory column) is a prominent monument in Berlin, Germany. Including the sculpture on top, it measures 220 feet. A 285-step spiral staircase inside the column takes visitors to a viewing platform with spectacular views of the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Television Tower and the Soviet War Memorial. In 2008, then US presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke in front of the monument.

History of the Siegessaeule

The Siegessaeule was designed by Johann Heinrich Strack and constructed to commemorate the Prussian victory over the Danes. But by the time the column was inaugurated in 1873, Prussia had also won the so-called liberation wars with Austria and France. Therefore, the original plans for the column were revised, and the monument was elongated and crowned with a 25-foot statue of Victoria, the Goddess of Victory.

The Siegessaeule sits on a four-sided base of polished red granite, which is decorated with glass mosaics and large bronze panels depicting the Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France of the late 1900s. In 1945, the French removed those reliefs and took them to Paris in an effort to erase those memories. But in 1987, on the occasion of Berlin’s 750th anniversary, France returned the panels to be reinstalled. A circular portico tops the base of the monument and supports four (originally three) fluted columns.


Berlin's Siegessaeule, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

Berlin’s Siegessaeule, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017.

The Siegessaeule once stood in the Koenigsplatz (now Platz der Republik) in front of the Reichstag. In 1939, the Nazi government removed the monument to its current location in the Tiergarten, a large public park. Since each of the three columns already represented previous victories, Hitler had a fourth column added, anticipating his own impending victory. The relocation was part of a plan by Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, to transform Berlin into Germania, Hitler’s vision of a Berlin that is the capital of the world. Speer’s plan was never realized, of course, but because of its relocation the Siegessaeule survived World War II with very little damage.

The statue of Victoria at the top of the monument was designed by Friedrich Drake and weighs 38 tons. Berliners affectionately call her Goldelse (Golden Lizzy) or the “heftiest lady in Berlin.” Five major roads cut through the Tiergarten and intersect at an immense roundabout that is known as Grosser Stern (Great Star). The Siegessaeule stands in the middle of this roundabout and is accessible to pedestrians through four tunnels.

The "Goldelse" on top of the Siegessaeule. Photo © J. Elke Ertle.

The “Goldelse” on top of the Siegessaeule. Photo © J. Elke Ertle.

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





Paternity for Euro Sign Disputed

Monday, May 15th, 2017


The euro sign is “€.” Since 12 December 1996, this symbol is the currency sign used for the euro, the official currency of the Eurozone in the European Union. But who created that symbol? Following the European Commission’s announcement that the “€” was the winner in a currency sign design contest, a controversy arose. Two different camps claim paternity for the euro sign: An unnamed team of four experts and the graphic designer, Arthur Eisenmenger, former chief designer of the European Economic Commission.

The euro sign denoting the official currency of the Eurozone in the European Union. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.

The euro sign denoting the official currency of the Eurozone in the European Union. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.

Potential Father of the Euro Sign # 1

According to the European Commission, thirty-two proposals for the euro sign were submitted as part of a design competition. Ten of the submittals were selected and presented to the public by way of a survey. Jacque Santer, then president of the European Commission, and Yves Thibault de Silguy, commissioner in charge of the euro, picked the winning design from the public’s top two favorites during an internal meeting. The € was the winner, a design supposedly created by a team of four experts whose identities have never been revealed.

When the adopted euro sign was presented to the public, Jacques Santer explained that the inspiration for the € symbol came from the Greek letter epsilon, alluding to the cradle of European civilization. What’s more, the Greek letter epsilon looks very similar to the letter “E” in English, and the letter “E” happens to be the first letter of the word “Europe.” Therefore, the euro sign symbolizes both the cradle of European civilization and Europe itself. Santer further explained that the parallel lines crossing the euro sign stand for stability of the euro.

Potential Father of the Euro Sign # 2

“Rubbish,” said Arthur Eisenmenger to Jacques Santer’s assertion. Eisenmenger, who supervised the development of the European Union flag and the “CE” symbol for European consumer goods quality control, claims that it was he who designed the euro sign. He said he came up with the idea just before he retired in 1974, long before the European Commission created a design contest. At the time he created the design, he was thinking of a generic logo for Europe, not a sign that stood for currency, Eisenmenger said. After all, he came up with the design twenty-two years before the euro became the currency of the Eurozone.

Following creation of the symbol, Eisenmenger said he sent his design to the European Commission in Brussels, but never heard back. The years passed. Then, in 1997, Eisenmenger turned on his television and, to his surprise, saw Jacque Santer present the world with the “new” euro sign. Santer explained in the broadcast that the sign fulfilled the competition criteria of creating a symbol of Europe, which was easy to write and recognize and was aesthetically pleasing. There was no mention of Eisenmenger as the creator of the euro sign.

Julien Bozzola, a French illustrator, who worked with Eisenmenger for thirteen years until the mid-70s, is also convinced that the euro sign would have been the creation of his former colleague. According to Bozzola, Eisenmenger was frequently working on various design versions of the letter “E” because his last name began with an E. Arthur Eisenmenger died in 2002 at age 87 without ever having been officially connected with the creation of the euro sign.

How the Euro Sign was chosen

One thing sounds odd in the case. To this day, the European Commission has considered the design process internal and does not disclose the information regarding the designer(s) of the euro sign. Although the names of the designers of the euro banknotes and coins are known, the names of the design contestants for the euro sign are kept secret. Some have conjectured that the Belgian graphic designer, Alain Billiet, might have created the winning design, but the assumption has never been confirmed. Jean-Pierre Malivoir, responsible for promoting the public image of the euro, said that it was impossible to say who designed the euro sign. He claims it was a team of graphic artists.

Will the real father of the Euro sign, the €, please stand up?


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