“The world’s too small for walls”
-unknown; etched on the Berlin Wall
Good Lord it’s already spring and embarrassingly enough, I have not yet finished blogging about our wintertime trip to Germany. As some of you may be aware, after the first of this year I unknowingly dropped into kind of a dark hole that drained a lot of my time and energy, but I can now gladly confirm my re-entry into a more balanced and fulfilling existence. Now that happy days are here again, I’ve got more time to do one of my favorite things: write. As I mulled over how to get back on task, part of me was wondering if I should just skip the rest of the untold winter break story and move on to more timely topics. But I simply could not ignore feelings of a nagging pull backward as I sat down at my laptop. Unfinished business usually results in more of the same and I don’t like to roll like that, so thanks in advance for returning along with me to Deutschland to close the proverbial loop.
Back again to chilly Berlin and our AirBnB on the Leipziger Strasse. Regrettably, our time in the German capital had all too rapidly come to an end. We packed our bags, tidied up our AirBnB and reluctantly began readying the rental car for the drive to Hamburg. As I double checked the unit upon our departure for any stray forgotten personals, I felt sorry to leave after spending so little time in this city of intrigue, and was already looking forward to visiting again (next time most definitely during the summer months). To start ourselves off, we chose Checkpoint Charlie, the site of the former Berlin Wall to spend our last sightseeing hours before the drive ahead.
Without rewriting the already extensive history of the end of World War II by journalists far more expert than I, Germany became occupied by the Allied Forces of the Soviet Union, the United States, the UK and France in 1945. In 1949, East Germany officially became the communist state of GDR. For the next 10 years, millions of Germans fled from East Germany to the west side, and in 1961 the GDR government began construction on the Berlin Wall (Die Mauer in German) to help stop the migration. Although the border between East and West Germany spanned hundreds of miles, Die Mauer in Berlin acted as a working symbol of the entire border along the two countries, containing crossing points monitored by armed guards and military personnel- who by the way were under strict orders to shoot and kill any defector. Checkpoint Charlie refers to one of Berlin’s most famous crossing points either by foot or car for foreigners and members of the Allied Forces. We were eager to see this site, and our visit to the site of Checkpoint Charlie brought us to several points of interest.
First stop: the actual site of the former US Army checkpoint. Guys dressed in vintage US Army gear and holding American flags help authenticate the scene. As it was just a few days after Christmas, a large tree sporting flag ornaments from all countries also added fresh meaning to the site. Several tourists and passersby stopped to chat with the “guards”, who seemed to enjoy their responsibilities despite the winter weather.
Next, we headed northwest across the intersection to visit Yadegar Asisi’s 360° Panorama of the Berlin Wall. Asisi, born in Vienna to Persian parents in 1955, has been creating the world’s largest panoramas since 2003. Other works include panoramas of The Amazon (in Hanover Germany), The Great Barrier Reef (in Rouen Germany), and The Titanic (in Leipzig, Germany). Die Mauer panorama has been open to the visitors of Berlin in a rotunda built especially for the exhibit since 2012.
Although its fairly dark inside the rotunda, one can’t help but be impressed by the exhibit. The viewer’s vantage point is that of an observer looking over the wall from the west side. The lifelike immersion into visuals on both sides of the wall is accompanied by sound documentation, containing clips of speeches, film audio and public appearances made between 1948 and 1989. At one point, the famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech of President John F. Kennedy can clearly be heard amongst a variety of other sounds. Viewers can walk all the way around the ground floor of the exhibit, and can also climb a flight of stairs up to a large balcony in order to get a clearer picture of what may lie on the other side of the wall. The life-like scenes of west German neighborhoods illustrate a stark contrast between the relative straightforward lifestyle of the west against the cold, draconian life of the east. This detailed panorama successfully delivers a realistic glimpse of what it might have been like to visit the site of the actual wall almost thirty years ago before November 9, 1989, when Die Mauer finally came down and reunified all Germans and their beloved country.
Upon exiting the Yadegar Asisi Panorama, we trotted across the intersection to the east to stop by Black Box Cold War, a free exhibit consisting of a photo gallery accompanied by large blocks of text that explain the global links between the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis, and the Berlin Wall. Once we completed a quick tour of the site, we again crossed the street to check out the colorful Die Mauermuseum shop to see if there was any memento worth bringing home. The shop was literally filled with attractive merchandise depicting all sorts of images connected to the history and visitor experience of Berlin’s Wall. We saw actual framed pieces of the Die Mauer, photos of JFK, miniature checkpoint signage, logo keychains….just about everything about the wall besides das Küchenwaschbecken (kitchen sink) 🙂
As we walked the city streets through the cold wind to the car, we exchanged thoughts on our Berlin experience. While each of us had a favorite site of interest, we all agreed that we had barely touched the surface and a return visit was definitely in order. And although we reluctantly buckled ourselves into our seats and slowly drove west toward the autobahn, regret quickly turned into excitement as we headed toward our final vacation destination. With the beautiful city of Hamburg and fun-filled family gatherings now only a mere 3 hours away, we watched as the distant sun begin to sink down toward the horizon in the miles ahead, and contentedly moved our adventure onward.
©2019 Lisa Ihnken, All Rights Reserved