Tag Archives: Berlin

Berlin, Alexanderplatz and East German Style

Alexanderplatz postcard

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

My travelling companions…

Berlin Beer

The remainder of the first day was mostly spent drinking beer the details of which I won’t bore you with but on the second day while the boys went off to do boy’s stuff Richard and I planned a walking tour of the city.  The third most visited city in Europe (31m) after London (80m) and then Paris (48m).

We were staying at a hotel in Alexanderplatz so our tour began right there.  Not the most thrilling place in the World I have to say, a large concrete public square and transport hub that was once a main square of the ex German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The place is vast and soulless, a sprawling mass of functional concrete, glass and steel.  It is completely without charm or anything remotely pleasing to the eye.  I have to take into consideration of course that only seventy-five years ago Berlin was practically a wasteland courtesy of the Soviet Red Army but there seems to have been a collective agreement in Germany not to build anything that could ever be accused of being attractive.

A block of abandoned flats awaiting demolition makes my point for me…

Alexanderplatz derelict flats

I contrast this with the reconstruction work in other European countries.  In Poland for example it seems to me have made a much better job of putting things back together in the major cities of Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw.  But for me France stands out in the matter of restoration as they took time and imagination to rebuild their ruined infrastructure.  Even earlier, after the siege of Paris in 1871 they built a grand city to replace the ruins of the Prussian bombardment and post 1945 they rebuilt towns and cities with style.  St Malo in Brittany stands out for me as a perfect example.

Trains, trams and cars all busily converge at Alexanderplatz and people hurry through past the homeless people in their temporary cardboard homes underneath a concrete railway bridge decorated with graffiti, there are no pavement bars and cafés because it simply isn’t an pleasing place to stop or linger.  It is stripped bare of vivacity, a cheerless place that lacks any sparkle, a rather dreary place to live I imagine.

Alexanderplatz World Clock

For anyone that does want to loiter there is the World Clock that tells the current time in nearly one hundred and fifty major cities from around the world and which in 2015 the German government declared to be a historical and culturally significant monument.  Really?  It isn’t the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye that’s for sure and Alexanderplatz is neither an elegant Spanish plaza or a cultured Italian piazza.

In the centre of Alexanderplatz I concede there is one very impressive structure, the Fernsehturm, a television tower, which at three hundred and seventy metres high is the tallest structure in Germany, and the third-tallest in the European Union two metres shorter than the Torreta de Guardamar in Spain and half a metre shorter than the Riga Radio and TV Tower in Latvia.  Once a symbol of Communist power it has now been adopted as a trademark of the unified city and enjoys National Monument status.

Alexanderplatz Tower

We found a busy restaurant and had an excellent breakfast even though we had to pay for the tea and coffee on top of the food bill and then without regret we slipped out of Alexanderplatz heading south.

Soon after we came across the Red Town Hall, a brutal building built in a style representing Teutonic muscle, German authority and Prussian power.  It was badly damaged during the Second World War but was quickly restored to original plans soon after by the East German regime.  I didn’t care for it I have to say.

At this point we were still in what was East Berlin and our plan, such as we had one was to make our way to what was once Check Point Charlie, where east met west and then cross to what was West Berlin and make our way steadily west towards the Reichstag building and the Tiergarten.

I hoped that Berlin might improve as we went along, after all it has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, just one less than London, one more than Rome (surprising) and two more than Paris which has only one.

Welcome to Berlin

Wroclaw, A Lucky Escape and A Museum

Following the coffee break we returned to the streets, walked through the Market Square and out the other side and at this point alarm bells started to ring because it soon became obvious to me that Kim was leading us directly towards the shopping arcades.  I knew the signs, I have seen them many times before, the sniff of the perfume, the glitter of the sparkly things catching the corner of the eye  and the smell of shoe leather.

For a while I fell behind after stopping to buy a doughnut from a shop with a long and patient queue but after the purchase I caught her up and queried this but was received an assurance that this was a complete coincidence – but I wasn’t entirely convinced. And as it turned out I had good reason not to be entirely convinced because suddenly we were outside the entrance to a modern shopping mall and the tractor beam that attracts women into shops was working on maximum draw power.

I had fallen for it again but I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to shop so while Kim, Margaret and Sue went inside Mike, Christine and I declined and returned to the streets and relieved to have got away with it to a delightful linear park which was built on the site of the old city walls, demolished in 1814 by Napoleon Bonaparte until we came to the Wroclaw Municipal Museum.

The Museum is housed in a former Palace of the Hohenzollern Prussian Royal Family and has been restored to something of its former grandeur since being mostly destroyed in the fighting of 1945.

The Prussian Kings and the German Emperors rather liked Breslau (Wroclaw), spent some considerable time there and had monuments of themselves erected in prominent places to record the fact like these two of Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II…

This one was at a place called Partisan Hill a once elegant recreational area with a grandiose crescent-shaped structure like something that might be found in Baden-Baden or Bath but is now sadly neglected, forlorn and forgotten with crumbling masonry and cracked pavements, a once gleaming construction littered with smashed bottles and spray can squiggles and the only hope is that it stays standing long enough until someone restores it.

By the time the monarchy was abolished in 1918 the German Kaiser had quite a few royal palaces to choose from.  In Berlin he had the City Palace which was badly damaged by Allied bombing and despite the protests of West Germany demolished by the German Democratic Republic in 1950.  In the city of Posen (now Polish Poznań) he had the Imperial Castle, which during World-War-Two became Hitler’s residence in Poland and in Potsdam he had the New Palace, which was used as a Museum and was looted and badly damaged by Russian troops in the Red Army invasion and nearby Cecilienhof Palace which was used as the venue for the Potsdam Conference where Breslau eventually became Wroclaw.

Germany and Russia were always pinching each other’s treasure and all this thieving was a two-way thing and among the Red Army troops who entered Berlin in 1945 were experts sent to establish “trophy commissions.”

Their official mission was to look for Russian cultural property stolen by the Nazis when they had invaded the Soviet Union a few years earlier but Red Army officers widened their brief and started removing the large art collections and treasures from anywhere in Europe that had been stored in bunkers and railway depots during the war and transported them home in retaliation for the looting places like the Grand Palace at Peterhof in St. Petersburg and other museums by the Nazis a few years earlier.

In 1992, after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the German and Russian governments made an agreement of cultural cooperation and both countries are now bogged down in the process of returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners but inevitably a lot of these items have found their way into private collections and are difficult to track down.

In addition to the stately palaces in Berlin, Breslau (Wroclaw), Posen (Poznań) and Potsdam the Kaiser also had a nice summer holiday palace called the Achilleion on the Greek island of Corfu which I visited a few years ago and is now an up-market casino that was used as a location for the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

Four Palaces and a summer home might sound extravagant but compare that to the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos, who has seven palaces in mainland Spain and a summer home on the island of Majorca.

There were no temporary exhibitions today to slow us down so we went straight ahead into the permanent museum display ‘1000 years of Wroclaw’ which starts on the ground floor at around the year 1000 and ascends through three floors and two extensive wings right up to the present day.

We quickly passed through the first two hundred years or so but the pace slowed down through the medieval armoury section because I do admit fascination with those early weapons of mass destruction and through into the seventeenth century.

Then we crawled through one of my favourite periods of European history, the eighteenth century and took our time too through the nineteenth and the period of German unification and Prussian expansion and here in the Yellow Living Room I unearthed my favourite fact about the Palace for it was here in 1813 that King Frederic William III made the Proclamation of the Iron Cross as a war medal.

We spent most time however on the top floor in the twentieth century with exhibits and photographs from the two world wars, the siege of Breslau, the expulsion of the German population, the communist era and then modern-day Wroclaw.

An hour in the Museum was just about right and then we left and returned to the Market Square to meet up with the shoppers at the appointed time and place.

You might like to check out this website all about Wroclaw…

http://wroclawuncut.com/2017/01/31/city-museum-discover-the-history-of-wroclaw/

Age of Innocence – 1958, The Cod Wars With Iceland

Ross Tiger Grimsby Fishing Heritage Museum

Ross Tiger” by Grimsby Artist Carl Paul – www.carlpaulfinearts.co.uk

In 1958 Britain went to war – this time with Iceland.  The First Cod War lasted from 1st September until 12th November 1958 and began in response to a new Icelandic law that tripled the Icelandic fishery zone from four nautical miles to twelve to protect its own fishing industry.

The British Government declared that their trawlers would fish under protection from Royal Navy warships in three areas, out of the Westfjords, north of Horn and to the southeast of Iceland.  All in all, twenty British trawlers, four warships and a supply vessel operated inside the newly declared zones.  This was a bad tempered little spat that involved trawler net cutting, mid ocean ramming incidents and collisions.  It was also a bit of an uneven contest because in all fifty-three British warships took part in the operations against seven Icelandic patrol vessels and a single Catalina flying boat.

Read the full story…

Poland (Wroclaw), The Historical Museum and a German Heritage

Historical Museum Wroclaw Poland

And so we turned our backs on the Anonymous Pedestrians and made our way back towards the centre, crossed the old city moat and turned left towards the Historical Museum of Wroclaw.

Our plans so far had worked out just perfectly, yesterday when the sun had shined we had stayed outside for our sightseeing and today which was overcast and chilly we were going to spend inside and undercover.

We only had time for one museum today and I knew that Kim certainly wouldn’t have the patience for two so we choose the Historical Museum rather than the National Museum and the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice for two good reasons. Firstly neither of us really gets a big thrill from looking at paintings and sculptures and secondly because today on a Sunday the Historical Museum had free admission and the National Museum did not. No need for a debate, No contest!

The Museum is housed in a former Palace of the Hohenzollern Prussian Royal Family and has been restored to something of its former grandeur since being mostly destroyed in the fighting of 1945. The Prussian Kings and the German Emperors rather liked Breslau (Wroclaw), spent some considerable time there and had monuments of themselves erected in prominent places to record the fact like these two of Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II:

Kaiser Wilhelm I

Kaiser Wilhelm II

By the time the monarchy was abolished in 1918, including this one, the German Kaiser had quite a few royal palaces to choose from.  In Berlin he had the City Palace which was badly damaged by Allied bombing and despite the protests of West Germany demolished by the German Democratic Republic in 1950.  In the city of Posen (now Polish Poznań) he had the Imperial Castle, which during World-War-Two became Hitler’s residence in Poland and in Potsdam he had the New Palace which was looted and badly damaged by Russian troops in the Red Army invasion.

Germany and Russia were always pinching each others treasure and all this thieving was a two way thing and among the Red Army troops who entered Berlin in 1945 were experts sent to establish “trophy commissions.”  Their official mission was to look for Russian cultural property stolen by the Nazis when they had invaded the Soviet Union a few years earlier but Red Army officers started removing the large art collections and treasures that had been stored in bunkers and railway depots during the war and transported them home presumably in retaliation for the looting places like the Grand Palace at Peterhof in St. Petersburg by the Nazis a few years earlier.

In 1992, after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the German and Russian governments made an agreement of cultural cooperation and both countries are bogged down in the process of returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners but inevitably a lot of these items have found there way into private collections and are difficult to track down.

In addition to the stately palaces in Berlin, Breslau (Wroclaw), Posen (Poznań) and Potsdam the Kaiser also had a nice summer holiday palace called the Achilleion on the Greek island of Corfu which I visited a few years ago and is now an up-market casino that was used as a location for the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’  in 1981.  Four Palaces and a summer home might sound extravagant but compare that to the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos, who has seven palaces in mainland Spain and a summer home on the island of Majorca.

There were no temporary exhibitions today to slow us down so we went straight ahead into the permanent museum display ‘1000 years of Wroclaw’ which starts on the ground floor at around the year 1000 and ascends through three floors and two extensive wings right up to the present day.

We quickly passed through the first two hundred years or so because much to Kim’s relief I am not especially interested in that period of history but I slowed the pace down through the medieval armoury section because I do admit fascination with those early weapons of mass destruction and through into the seventeenth century.

Then we crawled through one of my favourite periods of European history, the eighteenth century, and took our time too through the nineteenth and the period of German unification and Prussian expansion and here in the Yellow Living Room I unearthed my favourite fact about the Palace for it was here in 1813 that King Frederic William III made the Proclamation of the Iron Cross as a war medal.

We spent most time however on the top floor in the twentieth century with exhibits and photographs from the two world wars, the siege of Breslau, the expulsion of the German population, the communist era and then modern day Wroclaw.

It took about an hour and a half to walk through all the rooms which is about the upper limit of Kim’s museum patience and then before leaving and taking a short stroll in the Imperial gardens we stopped for a coffee in the massive basement café where we were the only customers this lunch time.

It was still cold and grey outside and the air smelt ominously of winter so we pulled our jackets tight and tightened our scarves and returned to the streets for the remainder of the afternoon.

Wroclaw Poland Street Art

A rather striking sculpture on the wall of the Hansel (Hansel and Gretal) house and the guide book says this about it:

“Hansel (house) features several bas-reliefs by local artist Eugeniusz Get-Stankiewicz, including a self-portrait. Get-Stankiewicz is a bit of a local legend and commonly regarded as one of the key movers in 1960s Polish counter-culture. Since 1995 the Hansel house has also doubled as his studio, which he rents from the city for a token one groszy coin per month.”