Monday marked our first full day in Berlin. After a long day of travelling on Sunday, we were excited to finally see the city of Berlin and all that it has to offer. We met bright and early at nine to meet our amazing tour guide, Stevie, and our uber-cool bus driver Mike. Stevie has been living in Berlin since she was 19 and has had an impressive diplomatic career. Mike served in the German army and still actively participates by providing training and being part of the reserve. We boarded the bus and were on our way. One of the first monuments that we passed was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a Protestant church that was built in the 1890s, but was heavily damaged by WWII bombings in 1943. The church was not rebuilt, but a new church with a more modern design was built next to the ruins. The next major site was the Berlin Victory Column. The column is topped with a golden statue of Victoria, the goddess of Victory, and was erected to celebrate the Prussian military victories. In 2008, Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in front of 200,000 people at the Victory Column. As we kept driving, Stevie pointed out the Fernsehturm, a 368 meter tall television tower that is the tallest tower in Germany and the second tallest tower in the European Union. Our first official stop was the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a series of 105 murals painted onto the the Berlin Wall by artists from around the world. One of the most famous murals is one by Dmitri Vrubel which depicts Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing.
After taking pictures on both sides of the wall, we headed over to the Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical monument built after the Batavian Revolution in the 18th century. The Brandenburg gate is located in the same square as the U.S. Embassy and the Adlon Hotel. The Adlon Hotel is also the hotel where Michael Jackson held his son Prince Michael II over the balcony.
We then visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which consists of 2,711 concrete blocks that are arranged on a sloping platform. There is also an underground exhibit lists the names of 3,000 Jewish Holocaust victims.
We passed through Checkpoint Charlie which served as a checkpoint between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Close to Checkpoint Charlie is Potsdamer Platz, a square that houses the Mall of Berlin which contains three floors and three hundred stores. We passed the Topography of Terror which contained some of the main offices of the SS and now serves as a museum that showcases the inner workings of the Nazi regime. After grabbing bagels for lunch, we began the walking portion of our tour and walked over to the Neue Wache Memorial, or New Guardhouse in English. The Neue Wache serves as the Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Victims of War and Dictatorship and contains a replica of the statue of a Mother with her Dead Son by Kathe Kollwitz.
The monument is right by Museum Island, a series of five museums in close proximity of each other near the Berlin Cathedral. We concluded the day’s tour with a brief walkthrough of Museum Island which contains the Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode Museum, and the Pergamon Museum. (Fun fact: Museum Island is near Angela Merkel’s home!) By the end of the day, we were all exhausted, but extatic to explore the city in more depth over the next few days.