Back to Berlin v2

Monday 11 to Monday 18 September

We finally had a decent drive, from Poznań in Poland to Berlin and arrived before Hayden and Andrea had finished work for the day, so we called into Templehofer Feld to stretch our legs.

Templehofer Feld is the site of the old Berlin Templehof Airport which operated from 1923 until its closure in 2008. In the 1930s the Nazis began a massive reconstruction of it. A canopy style roof was extended over the years so that at one stage it was amongst the largest buildings on earth, with the world’s smallest duty-free shop.

The name of the airport reflects its original use as Knight’s Templar land in medieval Berlin. It was later used by Prussian and then German forces as a parade ground.

Templehof is well known for its Cold War Operation Vittles when the Allies airlifted 4,500 tons of food, coal and other essential supplies into Berlin between 26 June 1948 and 30 September 1949. During that time American engineers built two new runways.

As part of the airlift operation Colonel Gail Seymour “Hal” Halvorsen gained fame as the Berlin Candy Bomber or Uncle Wiggly Wings when he started dropping candy for the children. Other pilots joined in and soon candy and handkerchief parachutes were being boxed up in the USA as the candy drop continued. Hal continued his candy drops in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Japan, Guam, and Iraq over the next 25 years.

After its closure, there were plans to create housing on the Templehof site, however in a referendum in 2014 Berlin’s citizens voted to keep it a public park. Being so large, it is windswept – ideal for flying kites and wind surfing (on wheels). The long runways (1.8km) are perfect for skateboarding, in-line skating and bicycling or unicycling and there are three fenced-in dog runs as well as an urban gardening section. It is a fantastic urban park.

Much to Hayden and Andrea’s disappointment, we did very little in Berlin over the week. It was great to have a comfortable bed in a comfortable apartment, to share shopping and cooking and reflect on our wonderful journey. Of course, just spending time with them was a bonus for us.

We took a walk in nearby Volkspark Friedrichshain and managed some domestic duties like having the car washed.

We also met Hayden and Andrea for lunch, near where they both work. And we had a wonderful Italian meal a short walk from home.

There were however a couple of sightseeing options.

Our first was to visit The Wall Museum. This is a 1316m long remnant of the Berlin Wall which has been decorated by artists from all over the world. It runs alongside the River Spree, in the hinterland mauer which was the border to West Berlin. Artwork is typically controversial, where many artists express their opinions on the impact of a divided world.

The Wall Museum sits beside the Oberbaumbrücke Oberbaum Bridge which is a double decker bridge crossing the River Spree from Friedrichshain (was East Berlin) to Kreuzberg (was West Berlin). It is now an important symbol of Berlin’s unity. The U-bahn runs on the upper deck of the bridge. The brick Gothic bridge opened in 1896, in time for the Great Industrial Exposition of Berlin.

Our second visit was to the Deutscher Bundestag and the Soviet War Memorial in the Tiergarten.

The Deutscher Bundestag is the national parliament of the Federal Republic of Germany, that sits in the Reichstag building. Hayden arranged for us to visit the dome of the building, which is free but a labourious process. You start by completing a form, where you can select three optional dates and times to visit and provide your details. If that is acceptable you will get an email which will direct you to complete details of each person – name, address, passport details.

There is rather strict security control to enter the building, with a lot of queuing and proceeding through locked doors.

But the difficulties were rewarded with an amazing view over the city.

The Reichstag was originally opened in 1894 and housed the Imperial Diet until 1933 when it was severely damaged by fire.

The building was renovated in the 1960s and used occasionally for representative meetings and some events. After German reunification it was reconstructed with some respect for historical events. It was completed in 1999. A glass dome was incorporated into the design as a gesture of the original 1894 copula.

There are spiral walkways both up and down inside the dome. The dome is said to symbolise that the people are above the government, emphasising the importance of the democratic government.

Inside the dome is a mirrored cone, made of louvers that open or close to direct light but block direct sunlight into the debating chamber which sits underneath.

We wandered into the Tiergarten to see the Sowjetische Ehrenmale Soviet War Memorial. It was built to commemorate the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin in April and May 1945. Although it was erected in what became the English sector of Berlin, Soviet soldiers stood watch over the memorial during the Cold War.

It has been a trip down memory lane, revisiting Berlin.

I was there in 1971 with a housemate, Bernadette. We had taken a week off work at the Marconi Company in Chelmsford, and hitchhiked to Berlin. We spent one day touring West Berlin in beautiful sunshine. We crossed CheckPoint Charlie the next day to tour East Berlin – and it rained. It seemed so appropriate that we were in East Berlin on a gloomy day.

I returned to Berlin with Bruce and Denis in 1972. Since we were camping in a Volkswagen van, we were often in the supermarkets, stocking up. There was a vast contrast between the west, where shelves were stacked high, and the east where the majority of shelves were empty. We ate lunch at the Rathaus (town hall) in East Berlin – the cost was less than $1.

I wonder what happened to that statue of Lenin?