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October 19, 2011

POTD: The Brezhnev / Honecker kiss on the Berlin Wall

Brezhnev and Honecker kissing on the Berlin Wall

This one of the more amusing panels you will see at the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery. It is a reproduction of a Berlin Wall graffiti painting titled “My God, help me to survive this deadly love” that depicts an actual kiss that took place between Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker in 1979:

A quick peck on the cheek was a typical greeting among communist leaders in Eastern Europe, but Honecker apparently took it to extremes, provoking the ire of General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last communist leader of Poland. In a 2005 interview, Jaruzelski claimed that one of the most unpleasant parts of his job was kissing Honecker, due to his “disgusting way of kissing”.

September 18, 2011

POTD: Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

This is the lower level of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, the main railway station in Berlin. I visited this train station in December 2009, when my family and I were taking a train from Berlin to Prague as part of our Central Europe itinerary. Although it may not seem like it from the photo, the train station was actually quite crowded (we had apparently just arrived super-early for our train) with Berliners headed to various points in Europe to enjoy their weekends in the country or the all inclusive ski holidays for families they had booked.

I’m a huge fan of train travel, especially if it is an alternative to flying or driving somewhere. There is no invasive security, and trains themselves are usually much more comfortable, with larger seats and ample room to walk around the train car. Our train trip from Berlin to Prague took us only 4.5 hours. The scenery on the way was incredibly beautiful; we passed through the Erzgebirge mountains, which were dotted with small villages perched on the banks of an alpine river. In addition, the dining car was well-stocked with German beers, so the 4.5 hours passed quickly, and before we knew it, we had arrived at Praha hlavní nádraží, Prague’s main railway station. It was a cold and snowy that afternoon in Prague, the exact opposite of my previous trip there in July 2005, when it was gloriously sunny and warm. The winter weather, however, seems more true to the character of the city, and somehow makes the beef with cream and dumplings taste that much better.

November 29, 2010

POTD: The Reichstag in Berlin

soviet soldier on Reichstag

Currently home to the German Bundestag, the Reichstag building has played a major role in Germany’s tumultuous 20th-century history. Construction of the building was completed in 1894 and it housed Germany’s parliament until 1933, when it caught fire. The fire was blamed on Communists, and Hitler used the fire as an excuse to suspend civil liberties in Germany and imprison thousands of Communists. The building was further damaged by Allied bombing raids during World War II and was one of the primary targets of Soviet artillery during the Battle of Berlin.

soviet soldier on Reichstag

A victorious Soviet soldier waves the Soviet flag atop the Reichstag following the Battle of Berlin.

The Reichstag was rarely used during the Cold War, as the the West German parliament assembled in the the capital city of Bonn, away from West Berlin, in accordance with the Quadripartite Agreement on Berlin. Following German Reunification in 1990, it was decided that the capital of reunited Germany would be Berlin and the parliament would once again assemble in the Reichstag. Reconstruction of the building was completed in April 1999.

On a lighter note, the Reichstag also has a cafe/restaurant on its roof (Käfer Restaurant) which featured excellent panoramic views and a breakfast which I believe should be served everywhere: Weisswurstfrühstück. This particular breakfast consists of white sausage (veal and bacon), pretzels with various sauces, and wheat beer. Beer, sausage, and pretzels for breakfast? I’m going to start looking for flights to Berlin (OK, or Bavaria, where this breakfast hails from) just for that!

November 23, 2010

POTD: Checkpoint Charlie Sign

checkpoint charlie

checkpoint charlie

This is a copy of the famous sign that once stood at Checkpoint Charlie, a border crossing between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. The checkpoint remained in use until October 1990, when Germany was reunified. Checkpoint Charlie remains a major tourist destination, however, and a replica of the Allied checkpoint guardhouse was erected at the original site.

I visited Berlin for the first time in December 2009 and would highly recommend a trip there if you are interested in Cold War history. Despite the cold weather, I loved visiting during the winter. Flights to Berlin are relatively cheap at that time, and you can always warm up with some glühwein or jagertee.

October 31, 2010

POTD: A perfect lunch in Berlin

During one of our family holidays to Europe we visited a Christmas market in Berlin and dined on sausage and beer in the freezing cold temperatures.

October 22, 2010

POTD: Döner kebab

doner kebab

doner kebab

The German national dish ;). This was from a small fast food restaurant in Berlin and was absolutely delicious.

May 24, 2010

Berlin: The Berlin Wall East Side Gallery

Along the banks of the River Spree runs a 1.3km long section of the wall that divided East and West Berlin for 28 years. This particular part of the wall, the longest stretch still standing, is now home to the East Side Gallery, which hosts over 100 paintings by artists from all over the world. Originally begun in 1990, the paintings eventually fell victim to graffiti, vandalism, and overall neglect. Many of them were recently renovated, however, in time for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

GDR Leader Erich Honecker kissing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev: “Dear God, help me survive this deadly love.”

More photos here.

May 4, 2010

Berlin: Führerbunker (Hitler’s bunker)

Life recently released a set of never-before-published images of the Führerbunker taken shortly after the fall of Berlin. They are worth perusing if you have an interest in World War II history.

I visited Berlin a few months ago, back in December 2009. Incredibly, this was my first visit to Germany. How foolish of me not to visit when I lived in London; it’s truly a lovely city. My primary interest, of course, is in the various World War II and Cold War sites that are scattered throughout the city. On one cold morning I found myself wandering through several side streets, family in tow, looking for the location of the Führerbunker, where Hitler spent the final weeks of his life watching helplessly as the Soviet forces encircled Berlin.

And this is what remains of the Führerbunker:

A rather nondescript location, it’s hard to imagine that under this small patch of grass surrounded by parking lots and apartment buildings is where the disgusting reign of the Third Reich, a dictatorship that terrorized and killed millions across Europe and North Africa, finally came to an end on April 30, 1945 when Hitler killed himself.

After the war, Soviet forces tried to destroy the bunker but their attempts met with minimal success. During the Cold War, the site was a no-man’s land on the East German controlled side of the Berlin Wall. Parts of the bunker were further destroyed and filled with rubble in the 1980s and 1990s when the government began constructing the apartment buildings that now dominate the area. Fearful that the site would become a shrine for neo-Nazis, the German government neglected to mark the location of the bunker until 2006 when the government installed a sign that you can see in the above pictures.

More photos here.

January 13, 2010

Central Eurotrip 2009/10

Photos from my family trip to Berlin, Prague, and Vienna on December 24, 2009 – January 3, 2010.