From our vantage point on top of the dome, the Brandenburg gate, one of the most famous landmarks in all of Germany, was no more than a stone’s throw away from the Reichstag. Getting there would have been quick if not for the river of people flowing in the opposite direction having seen the gate and are going to the Reichstag. The obvious trick then was to find the flow going in our direction and of course there was one too.
Once we were there, it seemed there was not that much to do. We walked up to it. We walked under it. And then we joined the throngs of happy snappers with their selfie sticks taking photos of the gate. I should state here that I do not have a selfie stick and unlikely will ever own one. I find it hard enough taking selfies of any kind with the reverse angle of the camera. To do that with an extended pole sticking three feet in front of me, all my photos would be just rubbish. In fact, I would be lucky to capture myself in it.
Moving on, most of time spent at the gate was on waiting for the right moment when there was less than a hundred people in your shot. And then running into an empty space, posing for like the a nanosecond before someone else walks right past the front of you. This was almost a sheer impossibility. And then for the other half of the time we were there, we were helping the other anti-selfie stick users take photos of them and of course, vice versa. I, for a few brief moments whilst waiting, wondered how many of us appreciate the history and significance of the gate.
For one, in the early days, only royalty was allowed to walk through the central arch. Commoners had to walk through the other arches. Then in 1806, Napoleon actually took more than a fleeting fancy of the statue at the top, the Quadriga. He thought as conquerors are wont to do, “That would look simply splendid in my living room” and so he ordered it removed and the whole thing fedexed to Paris until his defeat in 1814. And then throughout much of post war Germany, the gate was actually cordoned off by the Berlin Wall. I attach a photo below from Wikipedia which shows the gate back then. Remarkably, it has survived its tumultuous history for as long as it has and since then has become known as a symbol of peace and unity. It quite rightly deserves its standing today, more so than some monuments that I know.
All that thinking got my appetite going and after the early start this morning, we decided we needed to stop for a bite. Despite being on Unter den Linden, we chose the most German sounding bistro we could find called Dressler and went it for lunch. The waitress initially brought us the breakfast menu but after indicating that we were quite ready for lunch, the more formidable menu was produced wherein the wife ordered the choucroute garni (Smoked pork, sausage, pork belly, Sauerkraut, onion puree) whilst I went in heavy with a deer steak. As with most things on Unter den Linden, my wallet was much lighter after lunch but we were at least refueled and ready to tackle the rest of the afternoon.
And we would have launched straight into another long walk if I had not gotten distracted by the cutest shop I had seen in all of Berlin, the Ampelmann shop. This shop is all about Berlin’s pedestrian crossing symbol, Ampelmännchen. Believe it or not, the crossing man was designed in 1961 by traffic psychologist Karl Peglau who wished to reduce the incidences of road accidents. At that time, it was the first of its kind in the world. I was so taken away with this shop, I went away with my little souvenir green Ampelmann (although you could get the red one too). So, do expect to see him pop up in one or two of my photos.
After that little happy retail experience, and a short walk later, we were at the Holocaust Memorial to the Jews. Spread across an undulating expanse as large as a park, are two thousand seven hundred and eleven, uniformly shaped slabs or or “stelae” of varying height.
Concrete gray in colour, this very abstract looking memorial certainly makes interesting photos. We wandered aimlessly through its structures, bumping into other visitors doing the same, feeling like you are in a maze and yet you are not. I felt the significance of the memorial and tried to understand the designer, Peter Eisenman’s, intent.
However, it felt like there was something missing. Some focal point that you expect. Looking like a cemetery, it is an open plain in a large square. I do not know if we missed something but as it is open with no entry point, I did not see a plaque with words about the memorial. I read that there is an underground attachment with names of all the Jews of the Holocaust but we did not come across this. I guess maybe the memorial needs no explanation and anyone who visits it must surely know about it. Walking back out, one thing was for certain, it certainly felt somber and somehow illogical. Harking perhaps to that time in history when logic and reason was lost in ideology.