Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

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 http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-reichstag-prominent-berlin-landmark/, the Brandenburg Gate http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlins-brandenburg-gate/, the Berlin Television Tower http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-television-tower/ and the Soviet War Memorial. In 2008, then US presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke in front of the monument. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/president-barack-obama-to-visit-berlin/

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. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Berlin’s Siegessaeule, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2017. www.walled-in-berlin.com

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. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/germania-hitlers-utopian-quest/ Speer’s plan was never realized, of course, but because of its relocation the Siegessaeule survived World War II with very little damage. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/albert-speer-designed-for-ruin-value/

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. www.walled-in-berlin.com

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

 

 

 

 

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Leierkastenmann of Yore

Monday, March 13th, 2017

 

“Dear Leierkastenmann, start from the top once more …” is the beginning of a sentimental tune about Berlin in the 18th and 19th centuries. Often cranked out on a barrel organ and recorded by Marlene Dietrich, Hildegard Knef, Walter Kollo, Claire Waldoff, Bully Buhlan and many others, the song evokes a yearning for simpler times. The German lyrics are:

Lieber Leierkastenmann,

Fang nochmal von vorne an.

Deine alten Melodien

Von der schoenen Stadt Berlin.

Stehst du unten auf dem Hof

Wird mir gleich ums Herz so doof.

Noch mal so’n junges Blut sein

Noch einmal im Tanz sich zaertlich dreh’n.

Lasst man Kinder, lasst man gut sein,

Uns’re Stadt Berlin ist doch so schoen.

What is a Leierkastenmann?

Leierkasten is the German word for street organ or barrel organ. Pins on a large barrel store the music. A person – usually a man – turning a crank to activate the music is called a Leierkastenmann. A woman is a Leierkastenfrau. The organs were designed to be small and mobile enough to be carried or rolled from street to street and courtyard to courtyard, where the Leierkastenmann would play his tune and hopefully collect some coins before moving on. Most of these street performers cranked barrel organs for a living, and most of these street organs had 20 or fewer pipes and weighed only a few pounds. Due to their small size, their barrels could only contain a few tunes of fixed length, which greatly limited the Leierkastenmann’s repertoire. Most of the tunes played were excerpts from operas, operettas and marches.

When was the Leierkasten popular?

Empress Maria Theresa of Austria was the first to authorize permits to crank a Leierkasten in public. Licenses went to invalids of the Seven-Years-War to help them make a living. In 1810, Prussia copied Austria and issued permits as well. Not every duly licensed Leiderkastenmann owned his own Leierkasten, however. Many rented the relatively expensive instruments from the manufacturer.

As the number of organ barrel operators increased steadily in the second half of the 19th century, Berlin became the leader of German Leierkasten manufacturing. Up to 3,000 licensed operators cranked a Leierkasten on a daily basis in Berlin alone. As these men moved through the city, residents opened their windows and threw a paper-wrapped five- or ten-Pfennig coin to the Leierkastenmann. I was a little girl in the 1950s and remember being allowed to throw a wrapped coin to the Leierkastenmann five stories below. I watched keenly as he spotted the change, doffed his hat and moved on.

In the 1950s, the popularity of the Leierkastenmann had already declined. The increase in automobiles made streets and public spaces noisy places. The noise drowned out the Leierkastenmann, and radio and record players filled the void. The exception was a well-known Leierkastenfrau (woman barrel organ player) by the name of Elsa Oehmigen, who continued to practice her trade throughout Germany until 1992. However, she rarely played in public places, but usually performed at private events.

Leierkastenmann of Today

The Leierkastenmann of yore does not exist anymore. Most current owners of a barrel organ are collectors or lovers of the instrument. In addition to a few antique barrel organs, there are many more modern street organs in existence. The latter do not operate on pinned barrels, but use perforated paper rolls (similar to player piano rolls) or sometimes even electronic systems.

"Orgel-Ebi" Eberhardt Franke in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Photo courtesy of berliner-kurier.de

“Orgel-Ebi” Eberhardt Franke in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Photo courtesy of berliner-kurier.de

Once a profession to make ends meet, the Leierkastenmann has become an icon. In 1987, German sculptor, Gerhard Thieme, memorialized the Leierkastenmann by creating a bronze sculpture, which now stands in the beer garden of the Café Reinhardt in the Berlin’s Nikolai Quarters.

 

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

 

 

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How Prussian Virtues Came About

Monday, January 16th, 2017

 

Prussian virtues (Preussische Tugenden) are behaviors of high moral standards that are said to once have been the hallmark of the inhabitants of Prussia. Some of these values are still attributed to the German people today. The list of Prussian virtues depends on the author but can be condensed to the core values of discipline, self-control, punctuality, thriftiness, service and hard work.

Brief History of Prussia

Between 1925 and 1947, Prussia was a state that centered in the area of today’s Germany, but with boundaries extending far beyond Germany’s current borders. The House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia and expanded its size with the help of an extremely well organized army. Initially, the Prussian capital was Koenigsberg. In 1701 Friedrich I (Frederick I) became the first King of Prussia and chose Berlin as the capital. In 1871, the German states united under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/otto-von-bismarck-visionary-or-villain/ Unification created a German Empire under Prussian leadership. In the aftermath of World War I, in 1918, the monarchy was abolished, and the Kingdom of Prussia became a republic, known as the Weimar Republic.  In 1933, the Nazi regime seized control of the Prussian government. Following World War II, Germany was divided into Allied occupation zones, and Prussia ceased to exist. On 25 February 1947, the Allied Control Council http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-erte/allied-control-council-governs-germany/ formally proclaimed the dissolution of Prussia.

Origin of Prussian Virtues

When Prussia became a kingdom under Friedrich I over 300 years ago, it was a poor state with fragmented territories. In 1713, his son, Friedrich Wilhelm I (Frederick William I) became King of Prussia. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/frederick-william-i-a-troubled-ruler/ Friedrich Wilhelm was known as the “Soldier King” because he made considerable reforms to the Prussian army’s training, tactics and conscription. He demanded discipline, efficiency and good work ethics from his soldiers. During the “Soldier King’s” reign, Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues became accepted concepts. Today’s interpretation of Prussian discipline tends to be one in which the soldier blindly follows orders. But under Friedrich Wilhelm’s reign, discipline was a two-way street. Soldiers and their superiors were subject to the same rigorous rules.

In civilian society, Prussian virtues were initially frowned upon. With time, however, they began to seep in, particularly in light of the fact that Prussia had risen from nothing to greatness based on its Prussian discipline and Prussian virtues.

Prussian Virtues today

Even though the state of Prussia doesn’t exist anymore, Prussian virtues have not totally disappeared. In 2001, the German government proclaimed a “Prussian year” with celebrations of its Prussian heritage. Tolerance, reform, selflessness and modesty were highlighted to point out that during Prussian rule Jewish citizens were emancipated, feudalism and serfdom were eliminated, immigration was encouraged, the arts and sciences were celebrated and education of the young was made available and mandatory. In my own family, Prussian orderliness, sense of duty, honesty, punctuality, thriftiness, hard work, restraint and dependability were always stressed and expected.

 

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

 

 

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Alexandrowka – Russian Colony in Potsdam

Monday, December 26th, 2016

 

The Russian colony Alexandrowka is located in the northern part of the city of Potsdam, not far from Berlin. Karlo Rossi, a Russian architect of Italian origin, designed the village in the 19th century. It resembles Glosovo in appearance, a settlement near Petersburg in Russia. In 1996, Alexandrowka was included UNESCO’s Potsdam World Heritage Site.

 

One of 12 houses in Alexandrowka, a Russian Colony in Potsdam, near Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1213. www.walled-in-berlin.com

One of 12 houses in Alexandrowka, a Russian Colony in Potsdam, near Berlin. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1213. www.walled-in-berlin.com

History of the Alexandrowka Colony

Alexandrowka was built between 1826 and 1827. King Friedrich Wilhelm III who ruled Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars and the end of the Holy Roman Empire ordered construction of the colony. Historical and personal circumstances motivated him to create the colony.

In 1806 the French had invaded and defeated Prussia in the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt. In 1812 they had invaded Russia. This time, however, they were badly defeated themselves so that the great French dominion collapsed. Following the 1812 war, sixty-two Russian soldiers remained in Potsdam. From this group a choir was formed to entertain the Prussian troops. In 1825, Tsar Alexander I died, and King Friedrich Wilhelm III ordered the construction of Alexandrowka to memorialize his kinship and friendship with the Romanov family. He built the colony for the last twelve Russian singers of the former soldiers choir who were still living in Potsdam at the time. He named the village Alexandrowka after the Tsarina.

Construction of the Alexandrowka Houses

King Friedrich Wilhelm III had 12 one-and two-story wooden houses constructed on small homesteads. Military artisans, belonging to Prussian guard regiments, built the half-timbered houses (having walls with a timber frame and a brick or plaster filling) with semicircular logs, to make them look like log cabins. In Russia, the homes would have been covered with straw. In Prussia, a Holzverbretterung (timber cladding) was chosen, which was replaced with slate at the end of the 19th century. Each homestead consisted of a house with a balcony and a loggia. A loggia is a covered exterior corridor with an outer wall that is open to the elements and supported by a series of columns. Through a roofed gate the loggia was connected to a small stable building. Every house had a garden. Every household was given a cow. All houses were fully furnished.

 

Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia built the houses for twelve singers who belonged to a choir, made up of former Russian soldiers. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia built the houses for twelve singers who belonged to a choir, made up of former Russian soldiers. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

In 1827, the twelve singers and their families moved in. They neither purchased the properties, nor did they lease or mortgage them. Instead, each homestead was handed down to male descendants. In 1861, the last singer died. By 1927, only two families in Alexandrowka were direct descendants of the original Russian soldiers who had settled there. And in 2008, the last of these direct descendants died. His family name was Schischkoff.

Since the German reunification in 1990 most of the houses in the settlement are privately owned. Since 2005, the museum of Alexandrowka provides insight into the history and architecture of the log cabins and provides information on their construction method.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dutch Treat at the Dutch Quarter

Monday, December 19th, 2016

 

The Dutch Quarter (Hollaendisches Viertel) is a neighborhood in the city of Potsdam, about 15 miles southwest of Berlin. Its 134 three-story red brick houses with Dutch style gables were constructed between 1733 and 1740. Originally, all of the buildings had front yards, but the last garden gave way in 1928. Today, the Dutch Quarter in Potsdam is Europe’s greatest collection of Dutch-style houses outside of the Netherlands. Mittlestrasse no. 8, the Johann-Boumann-Haus, is open to the public and details the history of the Dutch Quarter.

 

The Dutch Quarter (Hollaendisches Viertel) in Potsdam near Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www. walled-in-berlin.com

The Dutch Quarter (Hollaendisches Viertel) in Potsdam near Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www. walled-in-berlin.com

History of the Dutch Quarter

Construction of the Dutch Quarter began during the reign of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, the “Soldier King.” To expand and upgrade the garrison town of Potsdam, Friedrich Wilhelm needed a large number of skilled craftsmen. Partial to the skillfulness of Dutch tradesman, he hoped to entice Dutch immigrants to Potsdam by offering them a home, freedom of conscience to follow their own beliefs in matters of religion and morality and the promise of plenty of work.

Eagerly, Friedrich Wilhelm asked the Dutch designer/builder, Jan Bouman, to construct four blocks of red brick houses, reminiscent of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, the Dutch tradesmen did not arrive in the anticipated numbers so that many soldiers and their families, French and Prussian artists and travelling salesmen moved into the settlement instead. At some point, one third of the inhabitants were French.

Until 1878, the second battalion of the Prussian first Foot Guard Regiment was stationed in the Dutch Quarter. In 1906, the Hauptmann von Koepenick http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-captain-from-koepenick-ruse/ purchased his uniform in Mittelstrasse no. 3. from second-hand dealer Bertold Remlinter.

The Dutch Quarter in the 20th Century

The Dutch Quarter miraculously escaped major damage during World War II. Following the Second World War, the settlement became part of Soviet Occupation Zone. It was left to decay until the city council voted in the 1970s to begin restoration. Following German reunification in 1990, and with the help of the Dutch Monarchy, property owners, artists, conservationists and private investors, restoration took a major step forward and is completed by now.

The Dutch Quarter Today

Today, the Dutch Quarter’s picturesque mix of residential, small shops, galleries, artisan workshops, small backyard taverns, antique dealers, tempting restaurants and cozy cafés give it a unique charm that is popular with locals and tourists alike. The opportunity to Dutch Treat at the Dutch Quarter presents itself around every corner. Three times during the year, the Dutch Quarter celebrates: There is the tulip festival in April, the pottery market in September and the Dutch Christmas Market, called Sinterklaas.

 

The Dutch Quarter with its cozy taverns, small restaurants and cafes, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Dutch Quarter with its cozy taverns, small restaurants and cafes, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Locals and tourists enjoy the charm of the Dutch Quarter on a sunny afternoon, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Locals and tourists enjoy the charm of the Dutch Quarter on a sunny afternoon, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2013. 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

 

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Allied High Commission governs Germany

Monday, October 17th, 2016

 

The Allied High Commission (Alliierte Hohe Kommission) was a form of Allied military rule following World War II. It was established on 21 September 1949 by the three Western Allies (The United States, Great Britain and France) and superseded the Allied Control Council http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-control-council-governs-germany/.

Purpose of the Allied High Commission

The function of the Allied High Commission in Germany was to regulate and, if necessary, intervene in areas of military, economic, and foreign policy matters of the newly established Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany).

Creation of the Allied High Commission

On 9 May 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the four allies: The United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The four allies assumed responsibility for the government of Germany via the Allied Control Council. Each power occupied a specific zone of Germany. Berlin, located entirely within the Soviet Zone, was to be governed by an Allied Kommandatura http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/allied-kommandatura-governs-berlin/

The four Allies attempted to formulate a common administrative policy for Germany, but the divergent interests among the occupying powers made their efforts futile. In 1946, British forces agreed to an American proposal to merge their two zones to create a bizone for economic reasons. The bizone was established on 1 January 1947, and in June, a plan to include the French Zone was agreed upon. The Soviets blockaded West Berlin. In return, the Western powers counter-blockaded the Soviet zone and organized an airlift http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-airlift-an-unprecedented-feat/ to keep West Berlin supplied. The Soviet Union finally lifted the blockade in May 1949, but Berlin remained divided into three Western and one Eastern sectors until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, a German government was set up in the Western zones. In April 1949 the United States, Great Britain and France published a new occupation statute of Germany governing their respective zones. It guaranteed self-government to the new West German State, with certain restrictions. West Germany’s constitution went into effect in May 1949. In September, the Occupation Statute went into effect, and the Allied High Commission replaced the Allied Control Council in September 1949. https://www.bl.uk/britishlibrary/~/media/subjects images/government publications/pdfs/germany-allied-control-zone-government-publications.pdf

The High Commission took its seat at the Hotel Petersberg http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/hotel-petersberg-germanys-camp-david/and became active as of 21 September 1949. It ceased to function under the terms of the Treaties of Paris on 5 May 1955.

 

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

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Hotel Petersberg – Germany’s Camp David

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

The stately Hotel Petersberg is located on a mountaintop by the same name in Germany’s Siebengebirge across the river from the city of Bonn. It was the German equivalent of Camp David prior to Germany’s reunification. The hotel, with a long and colorful history, is open to the public. Since 1990 the 5-Star hotel is operated by the Steigenberger chain under the name “Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg.” Although still owned by the government, nowadays it rarely serves as Germany’s Bundesgaestehaus (Federal Guesthouse).

Aerial view of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg complex. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Aerial view of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg complex. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Pre-World War II History of Hotel Petersberg

Joseph Ludwig Mertens, a Cologne merchant, purchased the picturesque mountaintop area in 1834 and constructed his summer residence on the Petersberg. In 1892, following Mertens’ death, the brothers Paul and Joseph Nelles aquired the property, upgraded it and turned it into an elegant hotel. Among the first dignitaries to stay at the now stylish hotel were Prussian empress Victoria and Swedish Queen Sophie. But despite the noble clientele, the hotel proved unprofitable. And in 1912, Ferdinand Muelhens, owner of the 4711 Eau de Cologne company, acquired it at a foreclosure sale. Following extensive improvements he reopened it as a spa hotel two years later. Although by then financially successful, the hotel was forced to close its doors when World War I broke out and remained closed for the next six years. Following additional remodelling in the 1920s the hotel reopened once more, only to close again at the beginning of World War II.

Post-World-War II History of Hotel Petersberg

In 1945, American Forces confiscated the hotel on the Petersberg and turned it into troop quarters. Shortly thereafter, they handed it to the British Royal Engineers who, in turn, relinquished it to Belgian occupying forces to serve as a recuperation center.

In 1949, following another remodel to accommodate 340 offices, the Allied High Commision (Allierte Hohe Kommission) moved in. It was here that the Petersberg Agreement (Petersberger Abkommen) was signed on 22 November 1949. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/petersberg-agreement/This was a treaty between the occupying forces of the United States, Great Britain, France and the Federal Republic of Germany, a the first major step toward West German sovereignty. In June 1952, the Allied High Commission moved to another location. The property reverted to its owners, the Muelhens family, who turned the buildings into a hotel once again to be operated by the Breidenbacher Hof, a luxory hotel in Duesseldorf. Since 1954, the hotel bears the name “Hotel Petersberg.”

Recent History of Hotel Petersberg

In 1954 the German Federal government rented the newly remodelled Hotel Petersberg to serve as a guesthouse for visiting dignitaries, which included Etheopian emperor Haile Selassi and British Queen Elizabeth II. Still unprofitable, the hotel closed again in 1969 and slowly deteriorated until 1973 when Soviet Union’s leader, Leonid Brezhnev, requested to stay at the Hotel Petersberg. Despite a partial restoration to host the Soviet head of state, the hotel soon closed again.

Current use of the Hotel Petersberg

The German Federal Government needed a place in which to host visiting dignitaries. The close proximity of Hotel Petersberg to Bonn, the post-war capital, and its idyllic and secure setting helped to make it the top choice. And in 1979, the German Federal government purchased the 270-acre piece of real estate for 18.5 million Deutsche Marks. After spending an additional 137 million Marks on extensive reconstruction, the Hotel Petersberg reopened in 1990. This time, the Steigenberger hotel chain became the operators. Over the next ten years, most heads of state with diplomatic relations to Germany have stayed at the Hotel Petersberg.

Inside the rotunda of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg. www.walled-in-berlin.com

Inside the rotunda of the Steigenberger Grand Hotel Petersberg. www.walled-in-berlin.com

In 1999, following German reunification, government offices moved from Bonn to Berlin, and the Hotel Petersberg was now too far away to continue to serve as a Bundesgaestehaus. Although the German government occasionally still rents it for its guests, Schloss Meseberg, 40 miles north of Berlin, has become Germany’s official guesthouse.

 

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

 

 

 

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Berlin – A Biker’s Paradise

Monday, August 8th, 2016

 

Exploring the 800-year-old city of Berlin on two wheels should be on every biker’s bucket-list. Love to bike? With 650 miles of bike paths and 710 bicycles per 1000 residents, Berlin is incredibly bike-friendly. In fact, bikers account for close to 20% of the total traffic in the city. That is no real surprise because automobile parking is so difficult to come by in the city, that biking is a popular alternative.

What makes Berlin a biker’s paradise?

First of all, most of the city is flat. Secondly, Berlin has a highly developed bicycling infrastructure with bike lanes on roads, mandatory bicycle paths, plenty of bike parking, off-road bicycle routes, shared bus lanes, combined pedestrian/bike paths and marked bikes lanes on sidewalks. There are even dedicated Fahrradstrassen (bicycle streets) where bikes have priority, and vehicles are limited to 30km/hour (18 miles/hour). Don’t want to bike the entire distance to your destination? No problem. With the purchase of a bike ticket, bikers are allowed to carry their cycles on the S- and U-Bahn trains, trams and busses.

Bikes parked along the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin's main train station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Bikes parked along the Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s main train station. Photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

 

Bike Rentals

Berlin is a biker’s paradise because bikes may be rented at rental stations throughout the city. Many of the stations are located in the heart of the city near Friedrichstrasse, Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Zoologischer Garten. All you need to do is decide what you want to see. At http://www.visitberlin.de/en/experience/sport-metropolis/bicycle-tours/ you may choose from 56 guided tours. But if you prefer to explore the city on your own, visit https://www.komoot.de/ for maps to plan your own tour. Finally, the German railway company, Deutsche Bahn, offers  rental bikes. Available at major intersections in the central part of the city, these bikes may be rent for just just €1 for 30 minutes and €9 for the day. The program is called “Call A Bike” and is offered in conjunction with train tickets. For details go to https://www.callabike-interaktiv.de

Popular Bike routes through and from Berlin

One of the most popular bike paths, the Mauerweg (Wall trail), traces the ex-frontier between east and west Berlin. Or you may opt to ride along the runways of the former Tempelhof airport or of the controversial and not yet completed Berlin Brandenburg International Airport. (http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-brandenburg-airport-boondoggle/ and http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/berlin-brandenburg-airport-project-from-hell/) The choice is yours. There are even several long-distance bike paths that start in Berlin: the Berlin-Copenhagen route, the Berlin-Usedom route and the Berlin-Leipzig route. Or try the Berlin section of the European Route R1. Whatever you decide, you have come to a biker’s paradise when you visit Berlin.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Four Faces of the Neue Wache Memorial

Monday, July 4th, 2016

 

The Neue Wache (New Guardhouse) in Berlin is located on the boulevard Unter den Linden between Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) and Humboldt University. Since 1993, the Neue Wache is a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. However, during its 200-year history, it had four distinct faces. The building’s interior has seen even more configurations during that time.

History of the Neue Wache

In 1818, on the occasion of Germany’s victory in the Wars of Liberation against Napoleon, King Friedrich Wilhelm III ordered the construction of the Neue Wache. Originally, it was erected as a guardhouse for the Prussian royal family and a monument to the victims of the anti-Napoleonic wars. For the next 100 years the Royal Guard was stationed at the Neue Wache. It was the Neue Wache to which Wilhelm Voigt, the bogus “Captain from Koepenick,” took the mayor and the city treasurer of Koepenick in 1906 while impersonating a captain in the Regiment of Foot Guards. http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/the-captain-from-koepenick-ruse/

One hundred years later, in 1918, the German monarchy abdicated and the Neue Wache was converted into a memorial for the victims of World War I. During World War II the building was severely damaged by bombs.

Following the division of Germany in 1945, the Neue Wache was located in the Soviet sector of the divided city. In 1960, the East German government transformed the restored building into a memorial to the victims of fascism and militarism. It housed an eternal flame in a cube above the remains of an unknown concentration camp prisoner and an unknown fallen soldier. A Soviet honor guard stood watch and marched in front of the memorial.

Change of the Soviet Honor Guard in front of Neue Wache - photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1990, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Change of the Soviet Honor Guard in front of Neue Wache – photo © J. Elke Ertle, 1990, www.walled-in-berlin.com

The Neue Wache Today

In 1993, the Reunified Germany turned the Neue Wache into its main monument for the commemoration of the victims of war and tyranny. The building now houses Kaethe Kollwitz’s sculpture “Mother and her Dead Son.” An open, circular skylight provides the only light and leaves the sculpture in the center exposed to wind and weather. An underground room still houses the remains of the unknown soldier and soil from battlefields and concentration camps.

Kaethe Kollwitz sculpture "Mother and her Dead Son" inside the Neue Wache, Berlin - photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Kaethe Kollwitz sculpture “Mother and her Dead Son” inside the Neue Wache, Berlin – photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2016, www.walled-in-berlin.com

Who was the artist Kaethe Kollwitz?

Kaethe Kollwitz, a well-known German artist, was born in eastern Prussia in 1867. With the outbreak of the First World War, her sons Hans and Peter volunteered for service. Peter was killed just months into the conflict and Kollwitz never recovered from the loss. Several of her sculptures, including “Mother and her Dead Son” were inspired by Peter’s untimely 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cold War Checkpoint Charlie – Part 1

Monday, April 4th, 2016

For almost three decades – from 1961 to 1990 – Checkpoint Charlie was an important border crossing point between East and West Berlin. It was located in the Friedrichstrasse, near Zimmerstrasse, on the western side of the border. Along with Glienicker Bruecke (Glienicke Bridge) Checkpoint Charlie was the most prominent border crossing point during the Cold War.

Checkpoint Charlie’s Function

Checkpoint Charlie was a sentry post of the Western Allies and the main demarcation point between Western-occupied West Berlin and Soviet-occupied East Berlin. Its main function was to register and brief Allied military personnel prior to entering the eastern sector. It was also the only point where diplomats, journalists and foreign tourists could cross into Berlin’s Soviet sector. Germans were prohibited from using this checkpoint. Checkpoint Charlie could be passed by foot or by car. Any visit to the eastern sector required a one-day visa and the exchange of a specified amount of West German Marks for East German Marks. The exchange rate was set at 1:1 even though the official rate of exchange was 4:1.

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Warning to anyone about to venture into the eastern sector of Berlin, photo © J. Elke Ertle, 2015

Where did Checkpoint Charlie get its name?

The name “Charlie” came from the letter C in the NATO phonetic alphabet. There were two other Allied checkpoints in Germany: Checkpoint Bravo at Drewitz-Dreilinden (the border between East Germany and West Berlin) and Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt-Marienborn (the border between West Germany and East Germany).

Checkpoint Charlie operated for 29 years

During most of that time, the western side of Checkpoint Charlie consisted of nothing more than a tiny wooden shack and a few sandbags. In the 1980s, the original guardhouse was replaced by a larger metal structure. But it, too, was modest compared to the East German checkpoint. The unassuming appearance of the western side was intentional. With this simple shack, the Western Allies tried to convey that they did not consider the Berlin Wall to be a legitimate border. The East German side of Checkpoint Charlie, on the other hand, included guard towers, cement barriers and a building where the inspection of vehicles and passengers took place. Searches included heat scans to detect fugitives. To read about Checkpoint Charlie’s role in the East/West showdown in October 1961 and the current location of the old guardhouse, please visit http://www.walled-in-berlin.com/j-elke-ertle/cold-war-checkpoint-charlie-part-2/

 

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

 

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