Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Dome

Both Saturday and Sunday I walked past the Reichstag. I would have liked to climb the dome inside Germany’s parliament house (since 1990) and Hitler’s headquarters during the Third Reich, but you need to either book ahead, or wait in line and show your passport. I was unorganised for both options so sadly the outside had to suffice but it was cool to see it!

Rachelle and I (Rachelle is on the tour with me) walked on to find Checkooint Charlie. On our way, we wandered through the maze-like Jewish Memorial, 2600 blocks of varying sizes. Apparently there wasn’t any significance to the number of blocks, as it was created as a reflective memorial rather than more information to absorb. It was quite peaceful and reflective.

Checkpoint Charlie hosts a fantastic museum which explains escape attempts and the history behind the wall. I struggle to absorb information but hopefully its all in there somewhere!! Apparently after the war in 1945, the four allied leaders (including Stalin and Churchill, plus the US and French political leaders) met together to discuss how  Berlin would be governed. I thought that was interesting considering the frustration Stalin’s choices must have caused the other governments. It seems John F Kennedy was particuarly passionate about the destruction of the wall andvthe reunificatIion of Berlin, but didn’t think war was the best method to accomplish it. In the 60’s he made a bold statement: “I am a Berliner”. USA will stand with Berlin until it is reestsblished. 

(This is where the wall stood)

The US troops stood guard on the West Side of the Berlin Wall, and Russians on the East. Checkpoint Charlie had multiple stages to slowly work through and was only passable by government officials. At one point the Russsians, in a show of power, demanded the Americans to show their passports before passing through. Obviously the Americans didn’t like this and eventuslly the tension esculated to both parties rolling up tanks to the checkpoint and staring each other down! If either party shooted, WWIII would have broken out (and taken war history complexity to a whole new level!) 
To use the words of Americab propganda: “solider… why are you in Berlin? To show the Berliners, your allies, and the communists the best soliders in our army. To protect US lives and property; to help the est Berlin Police; to keep law and order; to fight like hell, if neccesary, for US rights and a free Berlin.”

Later on in the day I visited the DDR museum, which showcases what life was like for East Berlin and behind the Iron Curtain. The apartments available (if you could get one; only about one-third did. Another one-third lived in semi-demolished bombed houses from the war) all looked the same. Somecsupplies, like toilet paper, were hard to get, and when it did come in the shopkeepers kept items behindvthe counter for family and friends, or until they could exchange it for a favour. Because people had money to burn (especially towards the end), and the people hankered for Western products the government created an expensive shop of “premium quality” (not that it sold the Western products people wanted, but it did sell fancy stuff so people went along with it because they could). You could mail order products, but it was very slow and unreliably in stock. To encourage families having children, the government provided (unsure if they paid for it or just created it) day care. At daycare children were in a strict schedule all together. Everyone had potty time together and nobody could leave until the last was finished! The communistic thinking was intense righht from day care, and continued into school and all of socirty. 

Everybody needed to participate in a sport to raise country morale, fitness, and teamwork and harmony. Overall, East Berlin did better than West Berlin in the Summer and Winter olympics! I guess it paid off. It seemed the Soviet Union felt the need to create a culture, andI think they supported and encouraged important factors to a culture.  But it also seemed they were trying too hard, and imposing WHAT the culture had to be. It had to be athletic, working, and proper (apparently they couldn’t squash the nude beaches though!) It didn’t leave a lot of room for varience within the aspects they encouraged. Sure they organised dances and encouraged music artists, but all music played had to come from an East German label, for example
Overall it started me thinking about the power and control governments have, and freedom of speech, and trend setters. I don’t really have a conclusion, but I think it makes me more aware of whether the government imposes its choice on us, or whether we actually get to choose. Also whether the social media gives an impression of the majority, which might not actually be the majority. It also showed the need to think for myself and stick to my thoughts even if it isn’t “happy and I love this”. Sometimes things will not be the way I want it to be, and I can think it’s not right, and I need to find a way to stick to my opinions without complaining all the time either. It also reminded me to be thankful for thecamazing opportunities I have as an Australian, and just what humanity is capable of overcoming.

In between these two museums, we sat down to eat a traditional West Berlin currywurst, a fried and cooked saussage with a thick tomato sauce (think pasta sauce) and a shake of curry on top. It was delicious!! 

The other thing I did was visit the Berlin Dome. It is beautiful on the outside and majestic on the inside. Before I entered the main room, the heavy wooden doors had me asking, why? Why do we need so much opulance in a Church? And then I stepped inside. Oh. My. Word. Honeestly felt overwhelmed. I sat down for several minutes to take it all in, and felt like I needed to tiptoe around the Church. Then the organ music started playing! The grandness just magnified. Natural light, gold paint and tiles,  and deep red paintings and carpet, a massive wooden organ… it was incredibly majestic. 

Here you can see sculptures of Luther and Calvin. Although they had different opinions within the reformation, four reformers stand here as honoured reformers, along with four ‘patrons’ of the reformation. Paintings of the gospel disciples were depicted on the roofs of the corner sections.

I climbed up (heart pounding I’ll admit!) and walked around the outside of the dome too, which sported a lovely view of the city and the tallest building of Germany, the East Berlin TV Tower.
That afternoon I also walked past the East Wall Gallery where lots of streef art expressed their view on the past and the ideals we need to stsnd forctoday, like peace and diversity. 

Dinner was at a fantastic authentic restaurant with an enthusuastic waiter originally from France – he was not impressed to serve me a sprite not a beer but he made sure I appreciated his magnominousity. Haha! Schnitzel with roasted potato and a very tasty mushroom sauce.

There is so much to take in, a lot is going in one ear and out the other, or it feels that way. I’m trying to only worry about what is interesting and important to me, and remember I can always google for refresher courses. All in all, I really enjoyed not seeing WWII history like I half expected to see, but rather old churches and buildings, funky artwork, and cold war history. Thecnext morning we left for Poland – stay tuned for some gorgeous countryside!


6 thoughts on “Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Dome

  1. What a great summary, Jess. Berlin certainly has a lot of interesting history to take in. Looks like your really “squeezing the orange dry”, as my Granny would say, and learning heaps.

  2. Wow Jess I have learnt so much from this blog …history was not my thing st school and I have been selective on what I have remembered since!
    Looking forward to Poland xx

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