After many recommendations, today I decide to go over to the Reichstag Building, where the Bundestag, or Parliament, meets. In 1991, the Bundestag decided it was time for a change (I can totally relate), so they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly. . .um, Berlin, that is. It’s located in the Spreebogen area, not far from the Mitte (we’ve talked about this area).
I have to confess that I did something unusual this morning; I kinda, sorta planned. Wait, don’t panic, it’s not like I planned what activities to do, six-months in advance. I went online this morning to check out how to get there and to make sure it was open, what with it being the holiday season. I noticed a “reserve your tickets online” link and decided I could plan 3-hours in advance. I entered the requested information and a few minutes later I received an E-mail confirmation letter which I printed out.
When I arrive, hundreds of people are scattered in the snow-covered field in front of the gorgeous building (Yup, it finally stopped raining long enough to snow! But the sun came out and it’s beautiful) I walk right up to the security door and pull out my letter and my ID as instructed. I’m then pointed to the X-Ray machines (the airport kind, not the emergency room kind). I later learned that if I hadn’t reserved my entry, I would have needed to show up first thing in the morning and hope; or come 3-4 days in advance to get a reservation.
We’re escorted in groups to a large elevator and shoved inside like sardines (okay, they’re really nice, but it’s a tight fit). Thirty-seconds later, we exit the elevator and are directed to a counter where we pick up audio tour kits and are sent on our way.
The Reichstag is a dome in which I walk up ramps which lead around the perimeter of the inside, giving 360-degree views of the city. The audio tour points out important buildings and landmarks along the way and explains the history and significance of each. The view is beautiful, what I can see of it. You see, that beautiful snowfall may have cleared the skies, but it sure did block the windows. The only side I can clearly see out of is the one the sun is glaring off of and has melted the snow. On all the others, people crane their necks and duck down to try to see through tiny holes in the snow-covered windows. I’m reminded of growing up in Michigan and, after a particularly heavy snowfall, being late for work or school and trying to drive while peeking through a two-inch round hole on the bottom of the windshield which the defroster has cleared. Still, the view – what I can see of it – is gorgeous, and the audio tour is informative and interesting. I’m even able to look down and, through the glass roof below, see the seats where the Bundestag meets.
Even in Germany, the rule holds true; what goes up, must come down. After enjoying the open dome at the very top which lets hot air out of the room where parliament meets (really, not kidding here), I walk down the ramp enjoying the continuation of the audio tour. At the bottom, there’s a display to walk around which tells the history of the German Parliament. There’s also a restaurant which I’ve heard good things about, but decide to move on to check out some museums.
Realizing at the last-minute that it’s Monday, so three out of the five of the museums at Museum Island are closed (you can read about them here), I ask the man at the information desk what recommendations he has. He suggests the Topography of Terror (wow, sounds like a fun time).
He prints out a basic map and points me out the door. I begin walking what info. guy says will be twenty-minutes. It’s a beautiful, sunny, crisp winter-day and everyone seems generally happier. They’re smiling and walking with a kick in their step. Then again, I’m in a tourist area near Tor Brandenburg (the Brandenburg Gate) so perhaps it’s just that everyone here is on vacation.
I pass a memorial to those killed while trying to escape East Germany; history is very much alive in Berlin. Before long, I’m lost. . .again. I ask a man for directions and he points down the street and says it’s twenty-minutes away.
“What?” I say. “The other man told me it was a twenty-minute walk and I’ve already walked at least that!” Yup, I’m that girl; the one who asks for directions and then tells you you’re wrong (I’ve sufficiently punished myself and will make every attempt not to do this again).
I continue on as directed and end up happy for my misadventure. I’m walking through history. This street, Wilhelmstraße, is where many of Hitler’s officers lived, many of the head offices of the National Socialist Party were here, as well as the New Reich Chancellery. Buried below is the location of Hitler’s bunker, where he and his wife, Eva Braun, committed suicide. It’s where evil died.
Before too long, I come to the Topography of Terror. Between 1933 and 1945, the central institutions of Nazi persecution and terror – the Secret State Police Office with its own “house prison,” the leadership of the SS and, during the Second World War, the Reich Security Main Office – were located on the present-day grounds of the “Topography of Terror” right across from two major historical sites. One is a large piece of the Berlin Wall and the other is the headquarters of the SS, the headquarters of the National Socialist (Nazi) party.
The museum consists mainly of displays telling the stories of the various groups of victims. There are displays about the Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jews, fighters and many more. It also tells the stories of the persecutors – how they came to be in their position and what happened to them after the war. It’s a somber, yet important place to visit.
After finishing, I realize I’m not far from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum which means one thing, I know where the bus is that will get me back to the flat. I walk the ten minutes there and wait for the bus. When I arrive at the bus stop for the flat, I walk past the local Cheech and Chong Bar (read about my first visit here). Well, I don’t exactly walk past as I stop in to check to see if my new friend Peter is there.
I open the door, wait for the smoke to spill out , and find Peter dumping his money into the slot machine again.
“Hallo Peter,” I greet him.
“Aah, Hallo! You’re still here!”
“Yes, I’m still here,” I say.
I order up a beer and Peter begins to tell me more of his stories. He tells me that during the two-years he lived in Houston, a woman he had dated a year earlier showed up at his door with a three-month old baby boy (do the math). He says that she told him she was going to California and he should not worry. He wonders where his son might be but, he says, “I didn’t know her last name so I cannot find him anyway.” He then pulls out some photos of himself as an idealistic twenty-year old working at the lumber mill in Houston.
I tell Peter how I’ve enjoyed talking to him and hearing his stories. These connections are why I travel.
Tomorrow – The Good, The Bad, and the Dankeschöns