Monday, 12 November 2012

A Day in East Berlin: Alexanderplatz

My days don’t vary much but they sure seem to fly by. Walter doesn’t usually feel like a lot of work but I think he takes up more of my time than I realise. It’s thus rather difficult to get out of the house and go sightseeing, since most days I feel more inclined to use my spare time to nap or relax, but it would be really foolish to have come all this way and do nothing! When we’re really lucky David is able to come with us for a bit, which is a really great treat. It’s a lot of extra help for me, of course, and Walter loves spending time with his daddy.

Our first big family outing was to the Alexanderplatz area in Mitte. This area is in former East Berlin and our day was comprised of viewing history old & new. It began with us getting horribly lost at the Alexanderplatz U-Bahn Station, since it is a big zoo of stores, eateries, tram tracks, buskers, and a considerable amount of vehicle traffic on the surrounding streets. We tried to orientate ourselves using my map of the area, but a lot of the street names weren’t on it because they seemed to belong to Alexanderplatz alone – finding the intersection of Alexanderstraße & Alexanderstraße was not really helpful! When we finally did figure out which way to go, we ended up on the wrong side of the street and had to walk all the way back just to find a crossing. Needless to say it was a rather frustrating start!

The Ferhnsehturm, which is almost useful as a landmark
Once we were on the correct street, heading the right way, on the side of the street we needed to be on, things got a lot easier. Our first stop was the Franziskaner Kirche, a medieval church that was destroyed by a landmine during WWII and then left as a ruin by the communists. It is a beautiful ruin, and much nicer to look at than the Ferhnsehturm (one of the communist new builds):

You can just see the Ferhnsehturm through the windows

From the medieval church it was only a quick walk to the last remaining piece of Berlin’s original medieval wall:

Just in case you were wondering what existed beyond the medieval wall!
The next stop on the itinerary was Nikolaiviertel, which formed part of the medieval core of the city and which was almost completely destroyed during WWII, only to be rebuilt during the GDR era by the communists. The first place we found upon entering the square was a miniature bookshop, complete with museum of miniature books. So of course we had to stop for a browse, and we ended up buying a very small, very detailed, figurine of an owl who is perched on a miniature alchemy book. It complements our horn owl from Braemore.

 We stopped briefly to look at the outside of Nikolaikirche, a restored medieval church, but didn’t feel like paying the entrance fee to see the interior (although it is restored to its medieval colour scheme). From there we pressed on to lunch, which we had outdoors at a little cafe. The food was good but plain, and the service was appalling, but the view was very pretty. It did remind me that I should almost always stick to my guidebook for restaurant recommendations when I’m hungry & in an unknown area (something I learned during our trip to the US, as the meals we had at guide-recommended places were almost always the best).

It would be wrong to cage live bears

At least our lackluster lunch had a charming setting
After lunch we went on a tour of Knoblauch House. It is an 18th Century merchant’s house, built in neo-classical style, and offers visitors a brief tour of period rooms and a little of the family’s history. That in itself was enough to interest us, but the added draw is that it is one of the few buildings in Nikolaiviertel which avoided being razed to the ground during the war. The three of us really enjoyed looking around the collection of art, furniture, and books, and the museum staff seemed to enjoy looking at Walter! It took some negotiating to get in with him, actually, as it is an upper-floor museum and we couldn’t take his pushchair up the stairs (fine by us) but with the language barrier were having difficulties communicating that we just wanted to know where to stash it during our visit. Patience and a polite manner are very essential in these situations, I’m finding. 

Sharing their love of books at Knoblauch House
 When we finished with Nikolaiviertel we meandered in the direction of the DDR Museum, stopping first to see the Neptunbrunnen, which I was pleased to see was in full fountainous flow, and the Marienkirche, Berlin’s oldest parish church. My guidebook said that there was a free organ recital at the church each Saturday afternoon, but apparently a year after publication they decided to start charging for the pleasure and thus we couldn’t get in to tour the church as we didn’t want to pay to hear the music (David hates organs). I want to go back there as it still preserves some of its medieval history.

Our last stop of the day was the DDR Museum. For cost reasons we need to be selective in how many museums we go to on our day out, and so I was hoping that we made the right choice. Within seconds of entering we knew that we had – it’s an interactive museum dedicated to most aspects of life in East Berlin during the DDR period. Highlights for us were the Trabi car (you could ‘drive’ it and the trunk even had in it the sorts of things you’d normally find in a trunk) and the replica of your average DDR apartment, where you could snoop through all the cupboards and shelves. It really is like going back in time, and a lot of the things in the museum were just similar to what we remembered from growing up in the 80s. It’s also well laid out, as it begins with all the fun kitsch and then ends on a more sombre note of propaganda and military, lest one take the Cold War period too lightly. Walter didn’t enjoy it as much as David & I did, but he managed to keep himself relatively settled until we’d seen the bulk of the museum.

Enjoying a moment with his Trabi

Checking out a cell in a GDR prison -- Walter turned informant to secure their release

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