Berlin, a city of many memorials
by Phyllis Steinberg
Berlin is a city busting with activity. There is a wealth of activities to enjoy from sophisticated theatre to classical opera and dozens of museums. The city has four large shopping complexes as well as numerous shopping centers along with smaller trend shops. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Berlin City Center near the Kurfurstendamm, a bustling area of shops and restaurants. The hotel is walking distance from KaDeWe, the largest department store in Europe.
I browsed the storeís sixth floor with its many gourmet food selections. The desserts and candy selections were mouth-watering and I quickly purchased several boxes of candy to take home for gifts. There were floors of designer collections, captivating me for hours as I browsed the latest fashions.
The Hamburger Bahnhof, New National Gallery and Martin-Gropius-Bau have additional art treasures from around the world. The Staatsoper Unter, Deutsche Oper and Komische Oper present outstanding programs of classical music and the Berlin Philharmonic provides more top-notch musical enjoyment.
Walking distance from the Crowne Plaza was the zoological garden, part of the Tiergarten that dates back to 1844. I enjoyed a number of attractions including a family of gorillas, the aquarium and giant pandas.
Berlin contains many memorials to the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, but you donít have to be Jewish to visit these important historical sites. In fact, most of the people visiting these sights are not Jewish. My tour guide was Chaja Boebel, of Milk and Honey Tours, a tour guide company in Berlin that specializes in Jewish heritage tours. Boebel escorted me to the Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe.
The Memorial is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. The Room of Names is especially memorable. Here the names and biographies of murdered and missing Jews from Europe are presented, first in German and then in English. It would take seven years, seven months and 27 days to hear all of the names. Plan on going early, so you can see this educational and informative Berlin Memorial. It is not recommended for children under 14. I saw people waiting in line with children and they were informed by museum guides that the Memorial is not suitable for children.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was designed by American architect, Peter Eisenman and is built in the vicinity of the Brandenburg Gate, another famous Berlin landmark. The memorial has 2,711 concrete stones, all of varying heights. The pavement beneath you is uneven and as you walk through the Memorial you feel as if you are lost in a giant maze. Perhaps the symbolism here is that is how the Jews of Europe felt during the Holocaust, as if they were lost in civilization. Below the concrete stones of the Memorial is an Education Center which traces the history of Jews in Europe and describes the events of the Holocaust, personalizing the lives of the families who lost their lives in this horrific event.
The next stop on my Milk and Honey Tour was the Jewish Museum Berlin.. The zagged outline of the outside of the building that was designed by American architect, Daniel Libeskind is just the beginning of an innovative exhibition of Jewish life throughout the centuries. The Museum presents 2,000 years of German Jewish history through many interactive exhibits. The exhibit, Shalekhet, by Menashe Kadishman, resembles faces in metal and visitors are invited to walk on the stones. Donít miss this innovative, interesting exhibit.
The Centrum Judaicum/New Synagogue in Berlin is also a museum. The structure is highlighted by a golden dome which was installed in 1991. You can purchase tickets and go up into the dome and enjoy a spectacular view of Berlin in all directions. The Moorish-style synagogue was inaugurated in 1866 and was protected from damage during the pogroms in 1938 but was damaged during a bomb raid in 1943. It reopened in 1995 as the Centrum Judaicum, museum and venue. The Reform synagogue seats 3,200 and is open for services on Friday evening and Saturday morning. The sanctuary is closed during the rest of the week, but the museum is open daily and focuses on Jewish history in Berlin.
The Bavarian Quarter in the area of Schoneberg, a residential area where many Jews lived prior to the Holocaust is worth a visit. My guide pointed out the street signs, which were part of a competition among artists for a Holocaust memorial. Throughout the city there are street signs. On one side it is written in German and the other in English. The signs reflect laws that Jews had to obey during the Holocaust. For example, Jews were only allowed to go grocery shopping between 4 and 5 p.m. These signs are a permanent reminder of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust for the people who live in Schoneberg today. As I walked through the area, my guide pointed out the remains of a synagogue that is situated in front of a grade school where children study about the Holocaust.
Visitors to Berlin will want to visit the exhibit at the Topography of Terror which opened in May 2010. The multi-million dollar exhibit is housed on the site of the former headquarters of the Secret State Police, the SS Reich leadership and the Security of the SS. The free exhibition focuses not on the victims of the Holocaust, but on the perpetrators. It is chilling reading the displays which account for war crimes and how the perpetrators of those crimes lived their lives after the war. There are many interesting displays including excerpts from the Adolph Eichman trial.
Direct flights to Berlin from Miami and New York are available on Air Berlin. The cost of the Air Berlin flight was significantly cheaper than competing airlines when I booked my flight and the Air Bus 330 was comfortable and the service excellent.
Photos by: Arvin Steinberg
For information on Topography of Terror, www.topographie.de
For information on Air Berlin, log on to: www.airberlin.com
For information on Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, log on to: www.stiftung-denkmal.de
For information on the Jewish Museum, jmberlin.de
For information on the Zoological Garden, log on to: www.zoo-berlin.de
For information on Crowne Plaza Berlin City Center, log on to: www.crowneplazaberlin.com
For information on KadeWe, log on to: Kadewe.de
For information on Centrum Judaicum/New Synagogue, log on to: www.cjudaicum.de
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