Posts Tagged ‘Berlin sight’

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

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