Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

Strandbad Wannsee – still popular

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

Strandbad Wannsee has been a popular public swimming area in Berlin, Germany, for the past 100 years. It is located on the eastern shore of the River Havel, where the river forms a large bay, the Grosser Wannsee. Its broad, shallow beach is almost one mile long and is replenished annually with sand from the Baltic. Four historic two-story, clinkered buildings are arranged in a row parallel to the beach.

Strandbad Wannsee is one of the largest such inland lidos in Europe. It is run by the City of Berlin, and on a hot summer day, up to 30,000 visitors take advantage of this public beach. There is something for everyone: Strandkorb and deckchair rentals are available, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/distinctly-german-the-strandkorb/ a separate nude-bathing section is offered, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-skinny-on-nude-bathers-in-germany/ and a water slide, a playground for children and a park and promenade for the entire family are on hand.

 

Strandbad Wannsee as seen from the River Havel. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Strandbad Wannsee as seen from the River Havel. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

History of Strandbad Wannsee

Following Germany’s first unification in 1871 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/otto-von-bismarck-visionary-or-villain/, the City of Berlin experienced an unprecedented population growth. Existing housing could not absorb the sudden influx, so that inhabitants ended up packed into tiny flats like sardines, without much light or fresh air. As a result, residents sought escape in the great outdoors. But their yearning for sun and fresh air caused a new problem because the moral standards of the time demanded that men and women not bath within sight of each other.

In 1909, a public beach and swimming area – which eventually became the Strandbad Wannsee – was constructed at the River Havel. It was built with distinctly separate sections for men, women and families. The sections were separated by wooden fences, each containing tents that served as changing facilities. Changing stations were surrounded by yet another fence to discourage looky-loos.

After World War I, the City of Berlin took over Strandbad Wannsee. In 1924, the tents were replaced by thatched pavilions, and the sanitary facilities were improved. By then, the S-Bahn, Berlin’s elevated train system, had opened and made the area more accessible. During World War II, Strandbad Wannsee provided a welcome escape from the devastation in the city.

Pack your swimsuit … and off to Strandbad Wannsee

In 1951, eight-year-old Conny Froboess turned Strandbad Wannsee into a household word with her song Pack die Badehose ein … und nichts wie raus nach Wannsee (Pack your swimsuit … and off the Strandbad Wannsee). Conny was only two years older than I, and I envied her for being able to ride her bike, unsupervised, to the Wannsee lido. I only dreamt of such autonomy. The song, written by her father, became one of the great hits of that time.  To hear Conny Froboess, click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhZEba0SWNs

 

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.

Three Girls and a Boy in the Nude

Monday, January 15th, 2018

 

I am referring to the “Drei Maedchen und ein Knabe (three Girls and a Boy)” sculptures in Berlin, Germany, of course. In case you were thinking of the human body in the buff, keep in mind that, as the Germans like to say, God created the human body and McDonalds formed it. I neither agree nor disagree with that statement. I am just repeating what I heard. Anyway, unlike many human specimen, these four life-size bronze sculptures are perfectly proportioned. Is that because they never dined at McDonalds? Who knows.

These sculptures were created by German sculptor and stone cutter, Wilfried Fitzenreiter, and currently sit at the water’s edge along the Spree promenade, across from the Berlin Cathedral. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/Berliner-Dom-Transforms-Multiple-Times/ One girl looks down St. Wolfgang Street. The other three youths watch the hustle and bustle on the River Spree.

Three Girls and a Boy were once located at the Palasthotel

Originally, the four sculptures frolicked around the fountain of the Palasthotel, located at Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse 5, right behind the Berlin Cathedral. In those days, the hotel – despite being located in East Germany – was closed to East German guests because it showcased many western products. Western merchandise was rarely made available to the East German public. Instead, the East German government frequently hosted distinguished foreign guests at the Palasthotel, which accepted only western currency.

The Palasthotel – part of the East German Interhotel chain – was also an important player in the Stasi surveillance of many foreigners who entered East Germany. For that reason, the hotel got the nickname “Stasi-Nest.” On an ongoing basis, Stasi officers monitored guests of “special-interest” here, using hidden cameras and microphones in corridors, elevators, reception areas and in selected rooms. Approximately 25 to 30 rooms were equipped accordingly and reserved for such special-interest guests. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/

Three Girls and a Boy moved to the Banks of the River Spree

In 2001, following German reunification, the Palasthotel was demolished because of asbestos contamination, and the four sculptures were temporarily stored. When the hotel was rebuilt in 2003, now part of the Radisson group, the fountain and the Three Girls and a Boy sculptures did not return. Instead, the foursome moved to their current location along the eastern bank of the River Spree in 2007. As an interesting aside, during demolition, a 550-pound American WWII bomb was found at a depth of 13 feet. The bomb had rested in the ground, undisturbed, for 55 years. It was defused on the spot.

Three Girls and a Boy (Drei Maedchen und ein Knabe) sculptures on the eastern shore of the River Spree. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Three Girls and a Boy (Drei Maedchen und ein Knabe) sculptures on the eastern shore of the River Spree. 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.

 

Else Ury- Life and Ghastly Death

Monday, January 8th, 2018

Else Ury, author of the famous Nesthaekchen series, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/nesthaekchen-popular-childrens-books/ was the daughter of a prosperous Jewish tobacco merchant and grew up in a bourgeois household during the German Empire. The family lived in an upper-class neighborhood in the Kantstrasse in Charlottenburg, just around the corner from where I grew up. Although, by the time my family rented one of those flats, they had long been divided into three or four small working-class apartments. In many ways, the Nesthaekchen series echoes Ms. Ury’s life in the Kantstrasse, where she penned the books. Despite having attended a prestigious high school, she did not pursue higher education because it wasn’t customary then for women to go after advanced degrees. Else Ury never married, became a tremendously successful writer of children’s books and lived with her parents until their deaths.

Else Ury during the Nazi years

When the Nazi party came into power, Else Ury’s writing career came to a sudden end. In 1935, she was barred from the Reichsschrifttumskammer (Reich Literature Chamber) and  forced to cease publishing because she could not prove Aryan heritage. Other members of her family had already been barred from practicing their professions. By 1939, Else Ury’s life in Germany had become untenable. Stripped of their possessions, Else and her mother were forced to leave their beautiful home and relocate to a Judenhaus (a ghetto house where Jews were awaiting deportation). Her mother passed away one year later. In 1943, Else Ury was deported to Auschwitz and gassed the day she arrived.

Else Ury and her most troublesome Nesthaekchen volume

During Else Ury’s lifetime, Nesthaekchen und der Weltkrieg (Nesthaekchen and the World War), the fourth volume of the series, was the most popular. The book refers to World War I. Following World War II, the Allied Control Board, in charge of determining which books were suitable for publishing, viewed her narratives as glorifications for Germany’s role in World War I and placed the book on the censorship list. The publisher subsequently pulled the volume from circulation, and it wasn’t reworked and republished for many years.

Else Ury Remembered

Until 1992, the general public knew little of Else Ury’s fate. That changed abruptly when Marianne Brentzel, another German author, reconstructed Ms. Ury’s life through photographs and letters. The work bore the shocking title, Nesthaekchen kommt ins KZ (Nesthaekchen is sent to the concentration camp). https://www.welt.de/geschichte/zweiter-weltkrieg/article112708668/Als-Deutsche-Nesthaekchens-Mutter-ermordeten.html In 2007, Brentzel published a biography of Else Ury entitled, Mir kann doch nichts geschehen (Nothing can happen to me). Now, the public became keenly aware of the fate of its once favorite author. Since then, a memorial plaque has been affixed to the façade of the apartment building in Kantstrasse 30 where Else Ury penned the series. In 1998, a shopping arcade was dedicated to her. The colonnade is located beneath the Stadtbahn – Berlin’s elevated train – between Bleibtreustrasse and Knesebeckstrasse, close to where Ury was raised. A Stolperstein (stumpling stone) http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlins-stolpersteine/ was installed in front of the former “Judenhaus,” in Solingerstrasse 10 to which Ury and her mother had been relocated in 1939. And the well-known memorial and educational site, Haus der Wannsee Konferenz, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlins-house-wannsee-conference/ hosted an exhibition that featured the life of Else Ury and included the suitcase she took to Auschwitz.

 

Memorial plaque affixed to the facade of Kantstrasse 30 in Berlin, where Else Ury penned Nesthaekchen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Memorial plaque affixed to the facade of Kantstrasse 30 in Berlin, where Else Ury penned Nesthaekchen. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

My recollections of the Nesthaekchen Series

I never knew that Else Ury was Jewish or that she had been gassed in Auschwitz until my eye fell on the memorial plaque on a visit to Berlin. That was in 2017. The Nesthaekchen books were my all-time favorite reading during my early teens. What made the series so special to me was the fact that Nesthaekchen’s childhood played out in my own neighborhood. I fully expected to see her walk down my street one day. Although I wasn’t born until after World War II and did not grow up among the privileged, I completely identified with Annemarie Braun and envisioned my life to play out exactly like hers when I grew up. To my delight I learned that reprints of the series are still available.

 

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.

 

 

Nesthaekchen – Once Popular Children’s Books

Monday, December 11th, 2017

 

Nesthaekchen is a German term for the baby of the family. Else Ury (1877 – 1943) wrote close to forty books for children of all ages, including her immensely popular 10-volume Nesthaekchen series. The series was published between 1918 and 1925 during the days of the Weimar Republic (between the end of the German Empire in 1918 and the beginning of Nazi Germany in 1933.

In her Nesthaekchen series, Else Ury describes the adventures of Annemarie Braun – the baby of the Braun family – from childhood to old age. Ms. Ury was not only one of the most productive female German writers of her time, she was also one of the most successful. Millions bought her books, heard them read on the radio, attended her receptions and read her newspaper columns. As a child, I received one Nesthaekchen volume for Christmas and another for my birthday until I owned them all. In other words, it took me years before I had read the entire series. Still, I have the fondest memories of reading those books, curled up on the couch and deeply engrossed in Annemarie Braun’s life.

Volume 5 of the Nesthaekchen series by Else Ury - Nesthaekchen's Backfischzeit (Nesthaekchen's Teen Years) - Photo J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Volume 5 of the Nesthaekchen series by Else Ury – Nesthaekchen’s Backfischzeit (Nesthaekchen’s Teen Years) – Photo J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Nesthaekchen series continues to be re-published. Since 1945, with every new release, the stories were modernized so that today’s editions contain only 70 to 80% of Else Ury’s original text. During her lifetime, more than one million Nesthaekchen books were printed, and over seven million have been printed to date.

Synopsis of the Nesthaekchen Series

The Nesthaekchen series follows Annemarie Braun, the youngest of three children in the family, from age of 6 to grandmotherhood. Her father is a physician. Her mother is a homemaker. The family, which includes Annemarie’s parents, her two older brothers, a cook, a maid, a nanny, the family dog and a canary, lives in an upper-class neighborhood of Berlin. During WWI, Dr. Braun is dispatched to France as a medical officer while her mother is trapped in England, having missed the last departure for Germany. In 1923, Annemarie marries a young doctor, Rudolf Hartenstein, and raises a family of her own. Her youngest daughter, Ursel, marries the son of a coffee plantation owner, moves to Brazil and makes Nesthaekchen a grandmother with all its joys and hardships.

 

To read about Else Ury’s life and untimely death, click http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/else-ury-life-and-ghastly-death/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.

 

Marlene Dietrich – Bisexual Femme Fatale

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Marlene Dietrich was one of the few German actresses and singers to achieve International fame. Born Marie Magdalene Dietrich in 1901, she started contracting her two first names to form “Marlene” when she was only eleven years old. Her mother, Josephine, came from an affluent Berlin family, and her father was a police lieutenant who died when Marlene was only ten.

Marlene Dietrich was known for her androgynous film roles and her bisexuality. She successfully marketed her “exotic” looks, although I always perceived her as severe and unapproachable rather than exotic. Her trade marks were her low and sensual voice, long and slender legs, top hats and tails and men’s tailored suits. She often performed the first part of a show in a body-sculpted dress and changed to top hat and tails for the second half of the performance. Dietrich’s vocal range was actually rather limited. She was a contralto.

The Career of Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) had an unusually long career, which started in Berlin and Vienna in the 1920s when Dietrich acted on stage and in silent films. Her performance as Lola in The Blue Angel (1930) brought her International fame. Joseph von Sternberg directed that motion picture and created the life-long image of Dietrich as a glamorous and mysterious femme fatale by using light and shadow to their optimal effect. In The Blue Angel, Dietrich played a seductive cabaret singer who causes the downfall of a schoolmaster.

The same year, Marlene Dietrich left Germany for Hollywood and successfully starred in several other movies directed by von Sternberg. In the late 1930s, Dietrich, who openly opposed the Nazi regime, created a fund together with Billy Wilder and others to help Jews and dissidents escape from Germany. In 1937, she even put her entire salary earned for the filming of Knight Without Armor ($450,000) into escrow to help refugees. In 1939, she became an American citizen and renounced her German citizenship. In 1944 and 1945, she performed for Allied troops in Algeria, Italy, Great Britain and France during USO tours and even went into Germany with Generals James M. Gavin and George S. Patton. During those last war years, Marlene Dietrich recorded Lili Marleen, which had been previously popularized by Lale Andersen. To hear Dietrich sing Lili Marleen, click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cF9j815xrI.

Marlene Dietrich received several honors from the United States, France, Belgium and Israel for her work in improving morale at the front during the war. Although she still made occasional films following World War II, Dietrich spent most of the 1950s to the 1970s touring the world as a live entertainer.

 

Marlene Dietrich in 1951 at age 50. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Marlene Dietrich in 1951 at age 50. www.walled-in-berlin.com

In her sixties and seventies, the health of Marlene Dietrich deteriorated. She became increasingly dependent on painkillers and alcohol. A fall in 1973 injured her left thigh. A year later she fractured her right leg. Dietrich’s career ended in 1975, when she fell off the stage and broke her thigh during a performance in Sydney, Australia. She subsequently withdrew to her apartment in Paris and spent the final eleven years of her life bedridden and alone.

The Private Life of Marlene Dietrich

Unlike her professional persona, which was carefully crafted, Marlene Dietrich’s personal life was largely kept out of the public eye. In 1924, she married film producer Rudolf Sieber and had a daughter with him. Although the couple stayed together for only 5 years, they never divorced. Dietrich, who was bisexual, had a reputation of romancing her co-stars as well as other prominent figures. Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo, John Wayne, Edith Piaf, Yul Brunner, Errol Flynn, George Bernard Shaw, John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart and others are said to have been among her conquests. Her husband knew of her affairs, accepted them and had a long-time lover himself.

 

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.

 

Claire Waldoff – Quintessential Ur-Berliner

Monday, November 13th, 2017

 

Often referred to as an Ur-Berliner (the epitome of a Berliner), Claire Waldoff (1884-1957) was one of Berlin’s most popular cabaret singers and entertainers during the 1910s and 1920s. She sang in the straight-down-to-the-point Berlinisch – the Berlin dialect – known to combine heart with unabashed bluntness. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlinisch-dialect-of-the-berliner In reality, Claire Waldoff wasn’t from Berlin at all. She arrived in the city when she was in her early twenties and took to Berlin like a fly to flypaper. You might say, she became a Berliner to the core.

Claire Waldoff’s Rise and Fall

Born as Clara Wortmann in Gelsenkirchen, a town in the northern part of Germany’s industrial area, Waldoff was the eleventh child in a family of 16. She wanted to become a physician, but the family didn’t have the money to pay for her studies. As an alternative, she she chose singing and acting. In 1906, Claire Waldoff visited Berlin and was immediately captivated by the city’s cosmopoletan style and temperament. Initially, she played in some minor roles until she landed a singing engagement at a nightclub, called Roland von Berlin. That was in 1908. In a dress bought on credit, flaming red hair, gravelly voice, one eyebrow mockingly raised, cursing and smoking cigarettes on stage, she became a star overnight. Her friends included many prominent artists, such as Marlene Dietrich, with whom she performed on stage.

Audiences loved Claire Waldoff. She usually wore a simple blouse along with a tie and slacks. One of her famous songs was Ach Jott, Wat Sind Die Maenner Dumm (Oh, God, How Stupid Men Are). For a first recording on Gramophone, click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3keVMxe71U

After coming to power in 1933, the Nazis quickly banned Claire Waldoff’s appearances because many of her composers and lyricists were Jewish. Besides, they considered her songs too suggestive. It was also no secret that Waldoff lived and operated a gay-lesbian-salon with her long-time lesbian partner, Olga “Olly” von Roeder. Following World War II, Claire Waldoff lost all of her savings in the West German monetary reform of 1948 and was forced to live on a meager pension, provided by the City of Berlin.

Claire Waldoff Remembered

A monument, created by Reinhard Jacob, and located in front of the Friedrichstadt-Palast immortalizes Berlin’s sassy cabaret singer. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/friedrichstadt-palast-berlins-top-revue-theater/

Claire Waldoff monument, located in front of the Friedrichstadt-Palast, Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Claire Waldoff monument, located in front of the Friedrichstadt-Palast, Berlin. 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.

 

Friedrichstadt-Palast – Berlin’s Top Revue Theater

Monday, November 6th, 2017

 

With 700,000 visitors annually and a seating capacity of 1,895, the Friedrichstadt-Palast is by far the most popular theater in Berlin and the largest and most modern show place in Europe. Located in Berlin’s central district of Mitte, it is also the last large historic landmark structure dating back to former East Germany. Today, major galas and events take place here, whiche include the Berlinale and the German Film Awards. Celebrities, such as Mikhail Gorbatchev, George Bush Sr., Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel, have attended events in its walls. Marlene Dietrich, Udo Juergens and Liza Minnelli have performed on its stage.

The Checkered Past of the Friedrichstadt-Palast

The theater’s history goes back to the 19th century. In 1867, it opened as a market hall near Schiffbauerdamm, approximately 650 feet from its current site. For economic reasons, the venue closed again seven months later. Over the next fifty years, the building served as a food depot, a replenishment center for the Prussian Army, a circus arena and a nightclub. In 1919, following World War I, it re-opened as Grosses Schauspielhaus under the direction of theater genius Max Reinhardt. Revues by Erik Charell set the pace for the Roaring Twenties.  During the Nazi era, the theater was renamed Theater des Volkes (Theater of the People). In 1945, it was seriously damaged during repeated air attacks and eventually abandoned and taken over by the City of Berlin. In 1949, the city renamed the theater Friedrichstadtpalast (no hyphen). Due to structural problems, the building had to be closed in 1980 and demolished the following year.

Today’s Friedrichstadt-Palast

The current Friedrichstadt-Palast was rebuilt at Friedrichstrasse 107 and opened in 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-day-the-berlin-wall-fell/ Since then, it has not only retained but broadened its reputation as a revue theatre that offers some of the most spectacular shows and technical marvels in reunified Germany.

Vestibule of the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. walled-in-berlin.com

Vestibule of the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. walled-in-berlin.com

Venues at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

The Friedrichstadt-Palast offers diverse programming from children’s shows and guest performances to festival galas. It specializes in complex shows that incorporate cutting-edge lighting and stage technology, over a hundred performers, and stylized acrobatic numbers. A ballet company, a show-band and a children and youth ensemble are in permanent residence. The ballet company includes 60 dancers from 26 countries worldwide. Its show band includes 16 musicians. And the children and youth ensemble consists of 250 Berlin children ranging from ages 6 to 16.

Current Show at the Friedrichstadt-Palast – THE ONE

The shows at the Friedrichstadt-Palast tend to be suitable for international audiences. Currently playing is THE ONE, a Las Vegas-style revue featuring song, dance, special effects and acrobatics. The show does not have an explicit narrative. Instead, it leads the viewer on a dreamlike journey through time in search of the person that means everything to us – THE ONE.

THE ONE grand show playing at the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. walled-in-berlin.com

THE ONE grand show currently playing at the Friedrichstadt-Palast. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. 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.

 

Hagen Koch marked off the Berlin Wall

Monday, October 30th, 2017

 

Hagen Koch, just 21 years old at the time, was a little known, yet important, player in the construction of the Berlin Wall. It was Koch who researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin. And it was Koch who painted the white line that would mark off the border. Hagen Koch walked 30 miles in a single day in August of 1961 of, hunched over to paint that line. Once finished, construction of the Berlin Wall began.

 

Hagen Koch researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin and then, in August of 1961, painted the white line that demarcated that border. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Hagen Koch researched the exact location of the boundary between East and West Berlin and then, in August of 1961, painted the white line that demarcated that border. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

How did the Berlin Wall come about?

Since earliest times, man built walls to keep others out. However, the Berlin Wall was a rare example of a wall built to keep people in. It was constructed to keep East Germans from defecting to the West because between 1949 (the creation of East Germany) and 1961 (the construction of the Berlin Wall) over two million East Germans had done just that. They had left East Germany and fled to the West. For years, East German leader Walter Ulbricht http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/image-challenged-walter-ulbricht/ pleaded with the Soviets to let him close the border to put an end to the workforce drain. By August 1961, the Soviets agreed, and Ulbricht proceeded with his plan.

Berliners awoke on 13 August 1961, a beautiful Sunday morning, to find Operation Rose (Ulbricht’s code name for the construction of the Berlin Wall) in full swing. By the wee hours of the morning, most of the border between East and West Berlin was already primitively closed. Barbed wire and concrete posts severed streets. The underground and elevated trains terminated at the border. Armed soldiers stood guard. Within a few days, a block-and-mortar wall replaced the barbed wire fence. The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years. It split the city and separated families and friends. It became a symbol of the Cold War.

Hagen Koch’s Rise to Fame

Having graduated a technical draftsman, Hagen Koch joined the Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security) – better known as Stasi – as a cartographer. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ Upon joining the Stasi in 1960, Koch made a speech, which quickly propelled him up the Stasi ladder. In his speech, Hagen Koch denounced “American imperialism” and emphasized his pride in East German socialism. Upon hearing Koch talk, Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, remarked, “He’s the man of our future.” http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ Soon thereafter, Hagen Koch was promoted to Head of Cartography.

Hagen Koch’s transformation

One hundred percent committed to East German-style socialism at the beginning of his career, Hagen Koch’s conviction began to fade when the Stasi insisted that he divorce his wife on account of her ties to the West. His commitment to East German ideology took a further plunge when Hagen’s father lost his job for protesting the expulsion of his Dutch father, Hagen’s grandfather.

After having fulfilled his service requirement, Koch left the Stasi in 1985. Four years later, the Berlin Wall fell. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-day-the-berlin-wall-fell/ Thereafter, Hagen Koch began to talk openly about his part in creating the hated barrier. He had had a change of heart in the preceding years relative to East Germany’s political system. In 1990, Koch became Cultural Heritage Officer at East Germany’s Institute for the Preservation of Historical Monuments and was appointed Minister of Culture, responsible for the demolition of the Wall. After German reunification the same year, http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/germanys-unite-through-treuhandanstalt/ Hagen Koch began creating an extensive Wall Archive at his home and welcomed visitors to view his collection. Visiting dignitaries included the Queen of Sweden and the artist Christo. Over time, Koch turned self-styled chronicler of the Wall and became a sought-after speaker. As part of a Historical Witness Project, the Wende Museum in Los Angeles, California, invited Hagen Koch to tell his story. Click http://www.wendemuseum.org/participate/historical-witness-hagen-koch to watch the interview.

 

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.

 

 

 

Stasi Museum in former Stasi HQ

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

 

The Stasi Museum in Berlin, Germany, is located in House 1 of the vast headquarter complex of the former East German Ministerium fuer STAatsSIcherheit (Ministry for State Security), generally known as the “STASI.” Parts of the award-winning movie, The Lives of Others, were filmed here. The 1.1 million square-foot complex consists of 33 buildings, which housed offices, a travel agency, a hair salon, shops, a supermarket a movie theater and several cafeterias during Stasi days.

 

Model of Stasi Headquarters on exhibit the Stasi Museum. House 1 is located near the center of the photo. A covered canopy shelters the entrance from view. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Model of Stasi Headquarters on exhibit at the Stasi Museum. House 1 is located near the center of the photo. A covered canopy shelters the entrance from view. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

History of House 1 inside the Stasi headquarters

The Stasi headquarter complex was erected in 1960-1961. House 1 became the heart of the Stasi and housed the offices of Erich Mielke, Minister for State Security from 1957 to 1989. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/erich-mielke-master-of-fear/ At the height of Mielke’s power in the early 1980s, the Stasi employed nearly 100,000 secret agents and many more informers. There was nearly one informer for every 6.5 citizens.

The Stasi Museum – a Memorial Site

On 15 January 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, demonstrators occupied the Stasi headquarters. After extensive renovations, House 1 reopened in 2012. The first and third floors of the building host a series of exhibitions about survivors of the East German regime, methods of surveillance and propaganda. The second floor contains the former offices of Erich Mielke, which are preserved in their original condition. Exhibitions document the genesis, evolution and activities of the Stasi. They also chronicle the storming and occupation of House 1 and the subsequent establishment of the research center and memorial site.

 

Erich Mielke's desk on the second floor of the Stasi Museum. Mielke used the different telephones to speak directly with important people and representatives of institutions in the GDR and the Soviet Union. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Erich Mielke’s desk on the second floor of the Stasi Museum. Mielke used the different telephones to speak directly with important people and representatives of institutions in the GDR and the Soviet Union. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017, www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

About the Stasi Museum’s Exhibitions

In House 1 of the former Stasi headquarters, visitors will discover how the Stasi operated. Everyday items are on display that its agents used to conduct their undercover work. The exhibitions explain how informants were recruited, how citizens were controlled, and how the far-reaching surveillance impacted their lives. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-stasi-and-how-it-worked/ Numerous, often unique, items such as special cameras, listening devices, burglar’s tools and devices for the clandestine opening of letters are on display.

 

This one tops is all: Battery-operated listening device built into a living room door. This family did not learn until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Stasi had watched them for 17 years. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

This one tops it all: Battery-operated listening device built into a living room door. This family did not learn until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the Stasi had watched them for 17 years. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Even patches of fabric, used by the Stasi to catch opponents of the regime, are shown in their glass jars. As you may recall from The Lives of Others,  Stasi dogs tracked down anti-communists after sniffing cloths impregnated with the suspect’s sweat. According to the Stasi manual, “The subject must remain sitting for at least 10 minutes if a reliable sample is to be obtained.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/why-berlin-cannot-forget-the-stasi-2002600.html The only things removed from the Stasi Museum are the Stasi files. They are still being catalogued. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/reassembling-shredded-stasi-files/

The Stasi Museum offers Guided Tours

Guided tours in English are available on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 3 pm. There is no additional charge for the tours aside from the purchased ticket, and no booking is required. Since Berlin’s borough of Lichtenberg, where the Stasi Museum is located, would like to see the buildings repurposed and the current government is talking modernization of the building, you may want to consider visiting the Stasi Museum sooner rather than later.

 

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.

 

 

Berliner Dom Transforms Multiple Times

Monday, October 9th, 2017

 

The Protestant Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral) is located on Museum Island in the heart of Berlin, alongside the River Spree. It is Berlin’s largest church and a frequent venue for concerts and readings. The massive dome that soars above the main nave has become a well-known landmark in the city’s historic center. Despite the name, the Berlin Cathedral is not an actual cathedral since the church is not the seat of a bishop. Instead, it has the status of a parish church. During the Hohenzollern dynasty (rulers of Prussia) and during the reign of the German Emperors, the Berliner Dom was the court’s church.

 

Tops of Berliner Dom, two spires and Television Tower. Photo © Gundi Seifert, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Tops of Berliner Dom, two spires and Television Tower. Photo © Gundi Seifert, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

History of the Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom has a long history. It started as a modest Roman Catholic church in the 15th century, became a Protestant place of worship, was elevated to the status of supreme parish church and survived several demolitions and reconstructions.

FIRST CHURCH – In 1451, Prince-Elector Friedrich II (Irontooth) of Brandenburg moved into the newly erected Stadtschloss (City Place) on the southern part of Museums Island. Read: Berlin’s Museum Island The Stadtschloss included a Catholic chapel. In 1454, Friedrich II elevated that chapel to a Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church.

SECOND CHURCH -Friedrich II wanted a freestanding church, and in 1465 he had one constructed on the present site, across from the Stadtschloss. Read: Stadtschloss Berlin Reconstruction The new church was an unpretentious building. Following the Reformation, it became a Lutheran church and also served the Hohenzollern family as their court church.

THIRD CHURCH – In 1747, that second church was completely demolished and replaced by a Baroque building. Then, between 1820 and 1822, the Baroque church was remodeled into a neo-classical edifice.

FOURTH AND PRESENT CHURCH – In 1894, Emperor Wilhelm II ordered demolition of the neo-classical building and the construction of the much bigger, present-day cathedral to ensure that the Protestant Berliner Dom compared favorably to the Catholic St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Construction of the current structure was completed in 1905. https://www.visitberlin.de/en/berlin-cathedral

War Damage and Reconstruction of the Berliner Dom

In 1944, toward the end of World War II, a firebomb hit the Berliner Dom and severely damaged the dome itself and much of the structure. Following the division of Germany and Berlin, the Cathedral was located in East Berlin. Despite plans to raze the church, East German government officials had a temporary roof installed to protect what remained of the church’s interior. In 1975, they ordered the demolition of the cathedral’s northern wing. It had survived the war intact but had to go because it housed the Denkmalskirche, a Memorial Church and Hall of Honor for the Hohenzollern dynasty. At the same time, as many crosses as possible were removed from the cathedral. Fortunately, however, the East German government decided to reconstruct the remainder of the church in simplified form.

By 1984, five years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, restoration of the interior began. Following reunification work continued, and in 1993, the Berliner Dom reopened. The cathedral was consecrated for the second time in 1996 while restoration work continued until 2002.

What not to miss when visiting the Berliner Dom

The Berliner Dom is considerable more ornate than most Protestant churches. Aside from an abundance of marble columns and gilded ornaments, the cathedral’s dome, pipe organ, Imperial Stairwell and crypt are particularly worth seeing.

The DOME of the Berlin Cathedral reaches a height of 322 feet. The outer structure was rebuilt with a simplified cupola and spires. The dome is intricately decorated with mosaics, created by Anton von Werner.

The cathedral’s richly decorated IMPERIAL STAIRWELL was already used by the German Emperor. After climbing 267 steps to the viewing gallery, visitors are rewarded with splendid views of the entire interior of the Berliner Dom and of central Berlin.

From 1545 on, the royal family of Hohenzollern used the church as the family burial place. The Hohenzollern CRYPT contains nearly 94 coffins, sarcophagi and burial monuments from four centuries. https://www.berlin.de/en/attractions-and-sights/3559744-3104052-berlin-cathedral.en.htmlBerlin Cathedral The only Hohenzollern ruler not buried here is Kaiser Wilhelm II, who abdicated in 1918, at the end of the First World War.

The reconstructed PIPE ORGAN has more than 7,000 pipes and was originally built by Wilhelm Sauer in 1905.

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.