For us, Berlin was like a 4-day history lesson in the rain. The history of the wall, Germany, Judaism, and my mom. As always we managed to squeeze some shopping in as well at the KaDeWe.
The largest shopping warehouse in all of Europe, the KaDeWe is, needless to say, enormous! You go in and feel as if you were in a regular Macy’s or mall. There’s no massive open space, no “look how big we are”, no “wow this is huge”. The wow factor at first comes from how much you can buy. Everything is perfectly organised by brand: a counter for the big brands and walls organizes by shelf for the smaller ones. As we went farther and farther into the KaDeWe, we got so lost; there is counter after counter, people rushing around, things to look at. Here you realize how huge it really is! The sheer amount of stuff to buy overwhelms you; it reminded me of the US. And this was just the first floor, beauty and cosmetics. The 6th floor, the famous food floor, was unbelievable. As my father said, it has to be seen to be believed. We spent, or got stuck, for almost 4 hours and probably didn’t even see it all. Every flavor of truffle, fudge, or praline, shelves of tea, food stalls for every cuisine, and an entire wall for salt: salt from the Himalayas, perfectly normal salt, crushed, flavored, and spiced. You can get everything from the €1500 bottle of champagne to prepackaged Uncle Ben’s rice. And so, our first night in berlin was spent amidst snacking and slurping.
The agenda for the next day was a bit more diverse; we visited the Brandenburger Tor, Reichstag, and saw many more embassies and government buildings. Germany’s Bundestag, or equivalent of Congress, meets in the Reichstag, a beautiful old building with a lot of history. This stands close to the Kanzleramt, the equivalent of a very new White House. However, Chancellor Angela Markel does not live here, which I can understand; the building is huge and not very appealing.
This museum is amazing! Expecting a quick run-through, we spent almost 4 hours inside. The architect, Daniel Libeskine, played a big role. He really thought about the meaning and symbolism; the three axies in the beginning have the floor curve upwards, the Holocaust ends in a dead end with the Holocaust Tower, the Continuity Axis goes on forever and ever, and the Axis of Exile ends in a garden. There was a lot of symbolic art and empty space. We went down the Holocaust Axis, then the Continuity Axis and since this went on for about 3 1/2 hours, we didn’t get to the Axis of Exile. Once down the Continuity Axis, we learned not only about history, but really what Judaism is about. The meaning of certain things like education, the religion and what the Torah says, certain celebrations and what they mean, modern Judaism and more… A must-see; it’s a museum you can always go to again.
The Mauer Gedänkstätte, or Wall Memorial, was a very interesting thing to see. There was a small museum, but the things to see, the exhibit, was outside. We walked by the wall, in the death strip, and read the memorials. How a city could just be split amazes me. Berlin was completely surrounded in East Germany, the West side was a little island of freedom. After losing about 1/6 of their population to immigration, the Soviet Union just started building a wall on their side, which escalated to signal wires, mines, a Schiessbefehl, or shooting-order for the guards, and a strip of land highly illuminated for that purpose. They not only built a wall, but constantly perfected it for its use; the overkill is what bothers me. There will always be people who want freedom and find ways to get it.
This memorial dedicated to the murdered Jews of Europe, consists of a field of around 2,700 blank steles, or concrete blocks. The ground curves up and down and the tops are crooked and vary in height. I think the architect had the field be so blank because what happened was so unimaginable, that we shouldn’t try to imagine it. There is a memorial underground, consisting of a historical timeline, written documents, family biographies, and memorials around the world. Audrey did not see it, as the memorial was recommended for kids 14 and up.
The remembrance of history is a big part of Berlin. There is really a presence of the history that everyone lives with and appreciates in Berlin. Many houses have plaques stating who lived there and what role they had in history. There are also Stolpersteine, gold stones in the sidewalk that tell of people who lived there and got deported. Of course, the wall is a large part of the city; there are signs and plaques explaining who is commemorated by different landmarks. I think it’s great that the city sees importance in these things and also act upon it, to make sure they’re never forgotten.
Finally, Berlin has also been interesting for my mom, who was born there and also visited her father frequently while growing up. We visited the old apartment and even ate at the Greek restaurant on the corner that, as it said on the menu, has been serving great food for over 40 years! Berlin is a great city where we really enjoyed walking down memory lane, even in the rain.