Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ost und West

We spent the day in our neighbourhood today - Prenzlauer Berg, experiencing more than enough for us to think about, enjoy and understand, for one sunny Sunday in Berlin.

We started off easily enough in a very relaxed mode, heading up one block on Oderberger Strasse to the Sunday Flohmarkt (fleamarket) am Mauerpark, one of the busiest and biggest markets in Berlin. It apparently attracts crowds of up to 40,000 and I'm sure there were that many there today; such a lovely Spring Sunday.

It's a HUGE market - very little hand crafted stuff but acres of vintage anything and everything (unfortunately I had a few unnerving thoughts seeing those piles of old fur coats and hats and shoes - wondering where they came from!). 

We now know where our landlord must have picked up the treasures furnishing our apartment. All this stuff would have been filling those E. Berlin apartments - stuck in their pre-war and Soviet era time warp, right up until the 90s - now of course it is very cool, retro and desirable.

There was great food and music too. We stopped for quite a while to listen to this talented trio - from NEW ZEALAND.

This is their third year busking in the streets of Berlin.

Walking outside of Mauerpark which incidentally used to be where a section of the Berlin wall was constructed, about opposite where Charity Children were performing, we walk out on to Bernauer Strasse - where some of the most desperate and pitiful scenes were played out as the wall was built in 1961 right through to its eventual destruction in 1989.

I took the pic below when we were on the West Berlin side of the wall on Bernauer Strasse way back in 1975.  My original (slide) photo is quite good. This is a very crappy copy I made at the last minute (I won't say how).  I took this photo of Ida Siekmann's memorial on the Western side of the wall at number 48 Bernauer Strasse.  On the 13 August 1961 the houses fronting Bernauer Strasse in the Soviet sector of Berlin had their doors locked and lower floor windows bricked the total barricade between East and West Berlin got underway. Ida was a 59 year old woman who lived on the third floor at number 48.  On the 22 August 1961 she attempted to jump from her 3rd floor window to safety (and freedom) to the street below. Unfortunately there were no firemen with safety nets waiting for her on that day - so she died.

Today this section of Bernauer Strasse between Schwedter Strasse and Garten Strasse has plenty of reminders of this horrific phase of its recent history.  We took a long time reading, observing and reflecting on all the materials, memorials, documentation and art works that now line this street that formed the so called "death row" between the fortified walls that comprised the old Berlin wall.

There's nothing left standing of the wall that was here now, but this section in the pic below is a reconstruction of it - using original wall panels.  Most of the terrible old wall has been crushed and reused for all the road construction needed to rebuild Berlin once the wall came down.

The memorials, installations etc are extensive - covering 6-7 blocks. The one below is a memorial to the many people who died trying to escape from East Berlin across the wall at Bernauer Strauss. There are quite a few young children - and there are even people who died in escape attempts in 1989, just months before the wall came down!

I took this photo below in 1975 from an observation deck on the West side of the wall on Bernauer Strasse. This is a terrible copy of my quite good original (I must get the original copied properly!).  I still remember feeling very disturbed looking down onto "death row", the armed guards and the desolate streets of East Berlin.

A new observation tower has been built; I don't know if it is in exactly the same position as the one in 1975 - but we climbed it and got this view into the old East Berlin sector today. The old "death row" is now an expansive grassed area where all the memorial installations are placed.

The pic below of the intersection with Acker Strasse shows a section of the wall and a guard tower that has been reconstructed as part of the memorial.

We'd been concentrating quite intently and walking for ages - we are quite affected by all of this - so it was well after 2.30pm before we stopped for lunch and then a walk back to our favourite Berlin beer garden, Prater Garten on Kastanienallee.

Our moods lifted in the company of many of the young families of the Prenzlauer Berg enjoying Prater, and a jug of this rather sweet malty schwartz(?) beer and these wonderful pretzels.

We walked some more after this to the so called heart of the 'burg, around Kollwitzplatz.  Kollwitz Strasse has been named after the German artist Kathe Kollwitz who lived here (but whose home was destroyed by WW2 bombing). It was in this area that the first meetings of the very brave East Berlin dissidents were held in the early 1980s.

It was great fun walking around on this sunny Sunday afternoon - the streets were filled with people sitting at sidewalk cafes and bars and there were hundreds of families filling the many parks and playgrounds - one on almost every block.

I took the pic below because it shows a very decrepit old building, obviously ready for its new Berlin makeover, but the bottom floor of it already is filled with a vegan cafe, a vintage clothing store and a little independent clothing shop...typical of this area!

The playgrounds are very different to ours in Canberra - they look very Rudolf Steiner with all natural materials - no metal or plastic equipment, with soft sand bases and lots of scope for imaginative play. This little playground had rabbits in little wooden hutches that the children could feed (with organic lettuce of course).  There were lots of these little playgrounds around the 'burg - all designed around the same principles. I was really impressed with them.

We came to the Wasserturm, one of the district's main landmarks. This circular water tower constructed in the middle of the 19th century, provided running water for the first time in Germany. During the war the Nazis used it as a prison and torture chamber. These days the tower has been converted into apartments. 

Opposite the tower is the Synagogue Rykestrasse that was badly damaged during Kristallnacht in 1938. It was renovated in 1953 - and was the only working synagogue in the old East Berlin.

This is the most spectacular cherry tree we've seen in flower this Spring.

And a great view down Rykestrasse to the water tower and the old Soviet era icon - the TV Tower in the far distance in Alexanderplatz.

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