Saturday, March 21, 2009

Berlin: Final Friday - Checking Out Checkpoint Charlie.

On Friday morning we took Ellie to kindergarten (German preschool) and then dropped Casey off at the team bus for his roadtrip. Britt then dropped Katie and me off at the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse, where Checkpoint Charlie, the site of the only legal crossing point for members of the Allied forces between East Germany and West Germany, remains for all to remember The Cold War. From 22 September 1961, Checkpoint Charlie was where allied border guards registered members of the American, British, and French armed forces before they entered East Berlin.

Nowhere else is the division of east and west more visible than at Checkpoint Charlie. Here, a single wall cut through an entire city. And it was here that the people of The United States of America bore testimony, in impressive fashion, to their unconditional commitment to fundamental values such as human rights, democracy and freedom. Over the 28 years of its existence, Checkpoint Charlie was visited by many statesmen, giving the people hope that their wish for freedom and peace would be fulfilled. Can you even imagine what it would be like if your government put up a wall around a relatively small area of your city and told you that you couldn't leave? And if you attempted to leave, it was likely you'd be killed?

Today, a piece by the artist Frank Thiel commemorates the special history of this former border crossing. The artist's light box shows two larger-than-life portraits. A young American and a young "Soviet" soldier look out on the former territory of the other.

We walked through the streets through an outdoor museum of sorts. Since this year, in November, will mark 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, much is being prepared to commemorate this anniversary and remind people all over the world of the end of an era.

We continued on down the street, slightly past the Checkpoint Charlie museum and surroundings and found yet another outdoor gallery, erected temporarily for the 30th anniversary, called Topography of Terror. As if we hadn't read and experienced enough at Sachsenhausen, Katie and I spent another 45 minutes reading yet more about the concentration camps and the Nazis' involvement in the genocide of 6 million people. We learned a little more about how the Gestapo, SS, and Third Reich were all connected. The museum stands on the ground where the combined security office of all three branches of authority stood on Wilhelm-and-Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse.

Friday was a chilly morning and Katie finally gave in and bought a scarf from her new Turkish friend. We decided he looked like George Clooney. Thanks to Turkish George, she was much warmer. Oh and, much more fashionable!

Thanks to my Alias-skills (and a little help from a flirtatious German guard at Checkpoint Charlie), we found a large section of the Berlin Wall, which has remained virtually intact.

The Berlin Wall literally divided families and neighbors. Its construction violently disrupted people's everyday lives, particularly on Bernauer Strasse. The wall was erected almost down the middle of this street, separating longtime friends and neighbors, forcing them to yell across a wall to their neighbor on the other side.

On our Monday bus tour, we learned that Berlin is a relatively young city in European terms, only around 750 years old. Since then, it has been associated with the symbol of the bear.
Apparently, though there are a few theories, no one really knows where the symbol came from. But, the Bear stands proud as the city's symbol and mascot, and appears on its flag. All over the city one can find painted bears like this one. They are literally everywhere!

Walking up Friedrichstrasse, a popular shopping thoroughfare, we stopped at the Berlin Mini dealership. Katie has decided a Mini will be her next vehicle of choice.

After all that walking, we caught a taxi home, arriving home at about 5:30pm to a very excited Ellie. She'd missed us all day! About an hour later, we walked down the Ku-damm with Harley to Vapiano's (a really great Italian place) to pick up dinner. We ended our evening relaxing at home with Britt, eating a delicious meal, and watching The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants from iTunes. Fun flick. I'd never seen it.

Yet another great day in Berlin!

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