Monday, August 15, 2011


Our final stop on our first pass through Berlin was the place I had been most looking forward to seeing: the Brandenburg Gate and the former site of the Berlin Wall.  Again, we were amazed by the number of Germans out having a good time.  We saw the Brandenburg Gate again on our second pass through Berlin, but during the daytime. I am so glad we saw this at night, with the sharp, almost glowing outline of the Gate set against the deep azure velvet of the night sky, and the suprisingly quiet yet still party-like atmosphere created by young people walking around and sitting together.  It was truly magical.

Compare those night shots to this daytime photo from our second visit to Berlin

When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, the Gate, which was just inside the Wall in East Berlin, was closed. President Kennedy visited this gate in 1963 before giving his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech at another location in the city.  For that visit, the Soviets hung red flags across the gate to prevent Kennedy from seeing into the Eastern sector.  It was at this spot in June 1987 that Reagan boldly spoke the famous words, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Over the next two years, one event led to another, and in November of 1989, the Wall was torn down, but by East and West German citizens, not by the Russian government. Thousands gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate (see an interesting news story here), and on December 22 the Gate itself was reopened. 

Photo from Wikipedia
In 1989 I was 29 years old, a mother of three young children, and living in Redlands.  I remember well the events of that extraordinary week.  Now almost twenty-two years later, it is wonderful to be part of the institutional memory of such a historic shift in world politics.

There are several other interesting things in the immediate vicinity of the Gate, including the Reichstag Building just a block away. From 1894 until it was severely damaged by an arsonist's fire in 1933 it was the seat of the German Parliament. It was partially rebuilt in the 1960s, but without its cupola.  After the reunification of Germany, it was determined that the capital would be re-established in Berlin, and plans were made to gut and remodel the Reichstag for use as the parliament building.

Before construction began, however, environmental architect Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude received permission to wrap the Reichstag in over 100,000 square meters of aluminum-coated polypropylene and 15 kilometers of rope.  The project took two weeks, was on display for two weeks (during which an estimated 5 million visitors saw it), and then was removed.  See the wrapping process here:

Christo claimed that this and other "wrapping projects" were for aesthetics only and did not have any deep, hidden meaning.  However, one can not overlook the symbolism this project must have had for the suppressed and then freed East Germans.  One art critic called it "revelation through concealment."

When the building was finally reconstructed, it included a beautiful transparent cupola where the masonry dome had once been:

Dusk on our first Berlin visit

Daytime photo taken on our second visit to Berlin

Visitors can walk a spriral ramp inside this dome and see both beautiful views of the city and the workings of the German Parliament below, symbolic of the now "transparent" German government.

On the street between the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag is a double line running through the pavement that shows the former location of the Wall.

On our second visit to Berlin we saw these two brick lines in several other locations in the city, a tangible reminder of what once was and hopefully will never be again.

Last Saturday, August 13th, was the 50th anniversary of the building of the Wall.  (See a BBC article and video about the anniversary here.) Walking down beautiful Unter den Linden Street, which leads through the Brandenburg Gate, it is impossible to envision that ugly blockade there.

A road sign near the Gate shows just how much has changed since Hitler was in power:

Besides the Kennedy Museum, I found the bottom sign interesting, translated to read: "Memorial for the Persecuted Homosexuals during the Nazi Era.")
After all of that monumental history, I found this photograph in the hotel restaurant where we ate breakfast the next morning almost comical:

Bob and Bryce Canyon
Next: Remaining pieces of the Wall


  1. We all know that the Germans have a fascination with the American West, especially the deserts, as we do with their history. Very nice summary. Also meaningful to hear the Reagan speech in conjunction with our recent trip to Russia.

  2. Love the first and last pictures. The first looks like a postcard, the last looks like typical tacky motel art(the picture of course, not Bob).

  3. The most moving image of 1989 for me was Rostropovich playing the cello, surrounded by the rubble of the just-demolished Berlin Wall.

  4. You should watch the Wim Wenders movie "Wings of Desire" and its sequel "Far Away So Close". One was made before the wall came down, the second after.

  5. We just watched "Wings of Desire" last week on Andrew's recommendation and loved seeing Berlin in all its lack of glory before the wall came down. We'll have to see the second one now!