A Cold War Sunday

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Berlin

I started my travels today by riding out to the Berlin Wall memorial, which is the longest bit of surviving wall. Getting slightly cocky with the transport system now, I took the U1 from in front of the hotel, swapped to the U6 heading north at Halleschers Tor, then off at Naturkundemuseum for the start of a 10 minute walk to the wall. I then messed this up by walking entirely the wrong way from the U-bahn for 5 minutes, which is about the time it take google maps to re-orient itself when exiting from underground.

Part of the original, preserved Berlin Wall on Bernauer Str.

Despite this mishap I got there just after the visitor centre and other bits opened, but already it was surprisingly busy give how quiet the surrounding streets were. I wasn’t sure what to expect; would it be boring? would it be a theme park? In fact it turned out to be neither, and actually quite moving. There were memorials to the large number of people killed trying to escape to the West and boards of explaining which apartments had once stood there and who had lived in them before they were demolished to make way for the border strip.

A poignant reminder of the human cost of the wall

This particular section of the wall ran right through a church, so it was simply dynamited and built the wall through the graveyard and everything. There’s an austere ultra-modern ‘reconciliation church’ on the site, but I couldn’t look beyond the atrium because this being a Sunday, services were in progress. The memorial consists of about 1.4km of grassed border strip with scattered sections of wall still still in place and poles marking the line of the wall where it was missing.

Inside the Reconciliation church at the Berlin Wall Musem.

A visitor centre with an open viewing tower stands opposite a preserved section of wall complete with ‘killing zone’ and watchtower so you can see how it must have once been, and it’s all free (bargain!). Back on the ground there was also a great view down one of the cobbled streets towards the TV tower that could have been taken 40 years ago if it wasn’t for the newer cars. The Trabant tour of Berlin also showed up at this point, so there was lots of frantic posing with Tarbbies by tourists. I just snapped one of the least garishly-painted ones for the record.

Back in the DDR? A Trabant at the Berlin Wall Memorial.

Upon leaving the wall I walked a much shorter, direct route back to Naturkundemuseum and rode the U-6 down to Kochstraße, the closest stop to Checkpoint Charlie. No google maps needed this time, just a short stroll along Friedrichstraße towards the throngs of people and there it was.

The much-reproduced sign at Checkpoint Charlie.
The sentry box at Checkpoint Charlie. On the other side are some very unlikely-looking American soldiers posing for photographs with the tourists.

Well, frankly there is not a lot to see apart from a sentry box and some very un-American looking Germans in G.I. uniforms posing for a few Euros for photographs with tourists. Of which there were hundreds and hundreds. And tour buses passing by on both sides of a fairly narrow street every few seconds… it was chaos. This definitely falls into the category of ‘worth seeing, but not worth going to see’. I escaped into a cafe for a coffee and a waffle and a sit down. Yes it was overpriced, but worth it for a window seat to observe the madness in comfort and quiet.

Time for a latte and waffle overlooking the tourist madness of Checkpoint Charlie.

By this time it was pushing towards dinner but it was still very sunny, so I strolled back to the U-6 and kept going down the line to Tempelhof station. This is near one of the main entrances to Temeplhofer Field, the former airfield replaced by Tegel (the one I flew into).

Looking out along the old runway at Tempelhof Airfield.

It’s also the airfield of the Berlin Airlift and thus keeping this morning’s Cold War theme going. When they closed Tempelhof down in 2008 they didn’t immediately demolish the famous 1930’s curved and canopied terminal or start building on the field itself, and hence Berliners have adopted it as a park. It’s pretty brilliant as the runways and taxiways are all intact and it is now used for dog walking, bike riding, kite flying, Segway scooting, rollerblading and kiteboarding.

Kiteboarding at Tempelhof, yo!

Unfortunately I couldn’t get close to the terminal building itself due to security fencing, but apparently it’s going to be used by businesses and as  an exhibition hall in the future.Anyway, I had my lunchtime sandwiches that I’d bought from the supermarket, so sat in the sunshine and had my dinner on the field and watched the world walk, cycle, skate and bark by.

All the while I was sitting there were some big, black clouds on the horizon, and with rain forecast for the afternoon, I headed back to the U-bahn towards the German Museum of Technology (Deutsches Technikmuseum) for my choice of wet afternoon indoors. Getting there would have been a simple run up the U-6 and on to the U-1 towards home again, but due to a misreading of google maps I ended up getting off the U-6 at Hallesches Tor, rather than switching to the U-1 and exiting one stop further on at Möckernbrücke, and hence had to walk. With my customary skill in picking the wrong exit, the U-bahn had dumped me out into the middle of an expanse of bare soil that  appeared to be some sort of park seemingly under renovation. This circular plaza turned out to be Mehringplatz and was completely surrounded by tall-ish apartments which further messed up my sense of direction no end. I am thinking of taking an actual compass next trip, just to fill in the five minutes of dead time until Google maps catches up with whatever random, and inevitably wrong, direction I start walking in. Once I had broken free from the plaza’s circularity it became apparent that I had volunteered myself for yet another slightly longer walk than intended. Having spent the entire morning more-or-less on my feet already, (have I mentioned how big a disused airport is yet?), by this point I was starting to notice my legs. Also the walk seemed to go through areas that appeared to be a lot less salubrious than I’d been used to up to now, with a lot of litter and graffiti and a generally run-down feel to things.

The U-bahn crosses the Landwehr canal alongside the Tempelhofer Ufer outside the German Museum of Technology.

Somewhat annoyingly it was now beautifully sunny again, which left me muttering imprecations towards the oh-so-confident German weather forecaster on the telly who was ‘forcing’ me to spend the afternoon indoors!

The German Museum of Technology, complete with Berlin Airlift DC3 on the roof.

Anyway, despite these quibbles I got there eventually with no harm done. The museum turned out to be unmistakeable with a Douglas DC3 aeroplane perched on the roof. It was also bloody huge. After paying a very reasonable €8 entrance fee, I was first sidetracked by the computing gallery right next to the desk. Obviously they bigged-up the 1930’s German contribution to computing no end whilst paying lip service to Bletchley Park and Turing (though Babbage was well regarded). But soon tiring of this busman’s holiday I made my way to one of the collections that had drawn me here; the camera gallery. No matter how much you quibble about computing, you cannot deny the German contribution to photography and cameras. Leica, Contax, Rollieflex, Zeiss, Agfa… and they had all of them here in spades. Most of the time it was completely silent and I had the entire floor to myself, which was a bit worrying as I kept wondering if everyone had left and they had shut the museum! Despite that, this was a happy hour I can tell you.

Now that’s what I call a camera! A reproduction ultra-large format camera. It is about 5 metres long – I forget how large the film plates it uses are.

From cameras and film I headed on to to the road transport gallery, which I frankly found a bit sparse. To get there you have to pass through several engine sheds, chock full of steam trains, so if trans are your thing, then they have a lot of trains you can prod and clamber all over. But back to automobiles; there’s no doubting the Germans make a lot of cars, so it was disappointing to find only a handful of examples of their automotive labour, and nothing really interesting or unusual. Yes I expected an old Beetle, but come on, where’s the first Beetle with Ferdinand Porsche standing over it, or Hitler’s open-topped Beetle, or some other historically significant Beetle? And much as I love the E-Type Jaguar, why was one here in the German museum of Technology? After the automotive disappointment I wandered into a special exhibition on the history of computer networking. This turned out to be nerd bliss, with lots and lots of stuff I had completely forgotten about.

By this time my legs were really aching. There had one heavy downpour during the afternoon, typically when I was crossing from one vast building to another, but the forecast steady rain hadn’t really materialised. Typically, I also pretty much missed a rally of Mercedes-Benz owners at the side of the building, and the stragglers were just leaving as I was.

A line of watering cans decorate the wall of a building opposite the German Technology Museum.

There were many more interesting cars in that than there were in the museum! Heading home I didn’t retrace my steps to the station of the blasted plaza, but got straight on at Möckernbrücke and rode back to my ‘home’ station. Whilst I was travelling back a guy previously engrossed in ‘Die Welt’ suddenly looked up and asked me a question in rapid-fire German that I guessed was the equivalent of ‘have we passed X yet?’. I apologised and said I didn’t know (in English!) but I guess we must have, because he immediately got out at the next stop and jumped on the waiting train heading the other way. Anyway, I got back to the hotel and downloaded the pictures from today’s jaunt, then headed straight back out to the Italian restaurant in the square opposite for some tea. I held up one finger to the waiter and said ‘ein bitte’ whereupon he led me to a table and immediately handed me the English menu! How does that work then, because there’s obviously no fooling him! Ah well at least I restored some European unity that evening as I sat supping Berlin beer and eating pizza.

Doing my bit for Anglo-German-Italian unity (it was a pizza restaurant).
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