2013 0811 Berlin:
We got up at 5:00, had breakfast at 5:45, and were off the ship into our waiting Mercedes van at 6:30 for 2.5 hour trip into Berlin. Nice woman driver who lives near where ship was docked in Rostock, which is in the old East Germany. We met Carolyn Gammon, our wonderful tour guide, at Charlottenburg Palace.
Carolyn drew a circle in the sand to represent Germany, a line to represent the division of East and West, and a small circle for Berlin within East Germany. She gave us a history and context of where we were going and what we were to see.
Our first stop was outside the museum where Heinz Bergruen had lived above the fabulous art collection he had acquired and donated after returning here at end of war. Next we drove down a major avenue where the light posts are from the Nazi era and designed by Albert Speer. Speer had pled guilty at the war crimes trial, but said he knew nothing about the camps, which seems not possible. His daughter is “giving back” to deal with reconciliation.
We were too early to get into the Jewish Community Center. It’s on the site of old synagogue that was of Moorish design. We’ve seen this design before on this trip and Carolyn said it was based on nostalgia of old days in Spain per 1492 and a style that swept European synagogues. This synagogue was destroyed 11/9/38, Kristallnacht. At the end of the war, it was in ruins. It’s in an area of more liberal Jews now.
180,000 Jews in Berlin before war, 5,000 after. Many got out before holocaust. No one wanted to stay. Galinsky said if we all leave, Hitler would have won. So, many stayed or came back. Only a few hundred were left in E Germany, though. Was dying community before reunification. Carolyn talked about the immigration of Russian Jews so that now the community here is about 75% Russian. And there are 12 synagogues in Berlin.
We stopped in front of the Kempinki Hotel. The original Kempinski had delis in the area. They were driven out. A plaque on the side of the hotel tells their story.
Drove by the place of where the Jewish Agency had been pre- and post-war where people went to get permission to move to Palestine. And by some wooden doors where an orthodox synagogue is behind in the courtyard – Joachim Valley Street Synagogue.
Then a Berlin sculpture that remembers the two Berlins with its intertwining pieces that never touches each other.
Next stop KaDeWa, the Harrods of Berlin. Was Jewish owned and expropriated by the Nazis. Now Jewish owned again. Big metal gates in front depict Jews doing different crafts.
By a subway station nearby, there is a memorial with the names of all the major death camps and the inscription that is something like: Places of terror we should never forget. Then, close by, there is a “B” in stainless steel that is upside down. Seems that the Jewish metal workers who did the sign over Auschwitz that read "Arbeit macht frei" – “Work will set you free” – put the “B” upside down as an act of defiance.
Then there is the Victory Column to commemorate the1870 Franco Prussian war. Decor contains cannons captured from French. Bismarck statue there, too. This was when Prussia became a power and Germany was formed, which was then bigger than France, their enemy.
We then went to the courtyard behind the Dept. of Defense where the Valkyrie plotters were executed - 7/20/44. Then to a Serra sculpture and plaque commemorating “Action T4” which preceded the death camps where “deficient” people were taken from their houses to this site and executed later with families being told they had died of some disease.
Next stop was a segment of “the wall.” It was in an area where the ruins from the basement of the Gestapo HQ are right next to it, the Berlin Parliament across the street as is the building that housed the Air Ministry during the war. Those two buildings would have been in East Germany. There were two walls with a “death strip” between with trip wires, trenches, vicious dogs, and guard towers in order to shoot anyone in there. Saw monument later to an East German who had been shot in there and left to bleed to death. By this section of the wall is a museum that deals with all the perpetrators, not just the Nazis or SS or Gestapo.
Then to Checkpoint Charlie-only foreigners could cross here. Then had to go thru East German guards. Not very pleasant. No checkpoint at Brandenburg Gate as many Americans think. The gate itself was inside East Germany. At Checkpoint Charlie, hordes of people posing at the guard stand.
Long visit to the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. From the air, it looks like jagged broken line. You enter through an old Berlin building and get to the museum through a tunnel. About 2,000 years of German Jewish history is depicted here in the main galleries (which we did not visit). Paul Brody trumpet concert was going on with a huge crowd in a part called the Sukkot. We grabbed some lunch at the cafe.
Libeskind had a concept of voids, which is carried out spatially within the various axes of the building. Very moving altogether. Consider a space that is narrow, dark, about three stories in height, and only a slit of light at the top – a void to represent being in a cattle car going to a camp. Then a room with 10,000 metal disks all with holes in them representing mouth, nose, eyes…adults and children. All strewn on the floor of a long, oddly shaped room, again three stories high. See poem draft at end of this posting.
Outside all the Jewish sites are a police presence. And you go through security like at an airport to get into the Jewish Museum or the New Synagogue. Carolyn says the Mossad trains the German security officers.
Of course, a chocolate stop at the world’s biggest chocolate shop: Fassbender & Rausch. Big chocolate sculptures of many of the sites of Berlin.
Went to the site of the book burning of 5/10/38, a square with the Royal Library, a Catholic church, and Humboldt University. Plaque on the square has a quote from 1820 that says something like: If you burn books, you’ll end up burning people. Prescient.
Went to the site of oldest synagogue. 2/27/43 last Jews scooped up to holding camps on Rosenstrasse (the street where this synagogue was), 10,000 that day. 2,000 were “privileged” since they were married to non Jews. Their wives all came out and protested their being taken away to the death camps. After confrontations, the 2,000 were released. This was soon after Germany had lost 90,000 soldiers in St. Petersburg and the war was becoming unpopular at home. Nothing was done here to commemorate the site or rebuild the old synagogue until East Germany wanted to impress the US with the idea of getting recognized as a country. So, they got an East German artist, Ingebeorg Hunzinger, to do a memorial to the women’s protest (1984).
What was the old Jewish quarter was really like the Lower East Side in NYC, a cheap place for immigrants to live. It attracted Chassidic, Yiddish-speaking people. Saw the house of the first female rabbi, 1935, from school run by Leo Baeck. Practiced until 1942 when deported Theresienstadt for two years. Then to Auschwitz and murdered.
On the street, there are Brass stumbling blocks in places where Jews lived. They personalize the 6M. Here lived ... yr born, yr deported then saying murdered. All over Europe now. 30,000 of them.
Next the site of the Jewish old people's home. It was turned into holding camp. 55,000 went thru here to the camps. And the old Jewish cemetery. Ivy covered, the 1,500 bodies buried here now are war dead from nearby bombing, all non-Jews. All the Jews were taken out by the Nazis. There is a replacement headstone for Moses Mendelsohn who had been buried here.
We went to the New Synagogue built in 1866. It was saved during crystal night by the police chief but later destroyed by errant allied bombs. Now, only part of it has been rebuilt in 1995. Moorish design. Not orthodox not reform.
Drove by the RR station, Chancellery, Reichstag and to the Brandenburg Gate, which was behind the wall in East Germany. 1791 built to enter city for royals. Napoleon took chariot off top. Prussians restored it. Nazis used it for propaganda. Gate only thing left standing after war in this area.
Final stop was a new Holocaust memorial of 2,000 pieces. NY artist. Graves? People? Shtetls? And the pieces are of different heights which you cannot see cannot see until inside.
It was now 4:00 and we hugged Carolyn goodbye. She was outstanding and a joy to be with. Our driver took us the 2.5 hours back to the ship. Got there at 6:30. Did some stuff in our suite. Had dinner at 7:30. And tomorrow is the only day “at sea.” So, it’s a day of rest.
We wondered how we’d feel being in Germany and in Berlin. I think we were alright with it altogether mostly by the way Carolyn did our tour, what she said, and how she said it. I never felt out of place. It was interesting, moving, and a good thing to do to see firsthand all this history and the Holocaust.
We do owe it all to Carolyn, a Canadian who has lived here for 21 years, married with a son. L.D. Brodsky recommended her and we are in his debt for this. She's the best. And being with Carol and Ken West though all this was a treat. They are wonderful companions, new friends. Faces
Faces are piled all over the floor,
ten thousand faces, metal
faces, thick round disk faces, terror
in eyes, mouths. Depersonalized
adult, children faces personalized
by the sheer number of faces.
when you walk over them
is the clank
of freight cars
as Jews head to their deaths,
then silence in this void of memory. In the Jewish Museum, Berlin