Germanophone Tourism (Part Two) – Nuremberg, Berlin, Cologne

Hello again! Here is another post in my continuing attempt to finish my trip through Europe – eventually I will prevail, but things have been pretty busy in Edinburgh these last few weeks (more about that in perhaps a month or so :P). So, for a go at the 24th-28th of July, here is my post on the rest of my time in Germany.

Nuremberg

I said goodbye to my lovely hosts in Munich early in the morning, and jumped on a train once more for the long haul up to Berlin, some 7 hours away. I decided that skipping right over the bulk of Germany was a bit of a raw deal, and so I planned a stop for a few hours in Nuremberg – home to the Holy Roman Empire’s parliaments and courts, some of the bloodiest witch trials in history, one of the earliest centres of Reformation and centre of the German Renaissance, and scene of the greatest rallies and the greatest Nazi trials. I would get a locker at the station, dump my heavy backpack, and venture out as I hadn’t done since York for a few hours before catching the late train onwards. I didn’t have a lot of a plan – my guidebook had just a little section on the city – but I figured I would take a walk through the medieval centre I presumed that it still had, maybe take a look at the castle, and then have a look at the museum about the trials. Seemed like a pretty enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

The first thing I noticed coming out of the station less than two hours later was a large gatehouse/fortificationy tower, and I knew this was a good start to a nice historic city. In fact, it turned out that most of the city was devastated during World War Two, and though the walls and the castle have been reconstructed, almost all of the city’s medieval and early modern construction is gone forever. I spent an enjoyable hour walking around what was left and what had replaced it, but I knew that my time was limited, so I planned a route to take in the major sights and still make it back for the 4:34 train. First up was the trial museum, some 2km away from the train station, adjoining the current prison and courthouse.

My view out of the train station: trams plus medieval towers - what more could you want?
My view out of the train station: trams plus medieval towers – what more could you want?

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A little reconstructed medieval street surrounded by reconstructed walls - a little carnivalesque and touristy in tone, but pretty accurate, free and not busy at all. It was a bit like Sovereign Hill - from the shops selling ‘authentic’ handicrafts to the dressed-up performers, but without the exorbitant ticket prices ;)
A little reconstructed medieval street surrounded by reconstructed walls – a little carnivalesque and touristy in tone, but pretty accurate, free and not busy at all. It was a bit like Sovereign Hill – from the shops selling ‘authentic’ handicrafts to the dressed-up performers, but without the exorbitant ticket prices 😉
Random free modern art interlude in the tourist office
Random free modern art interlude in the tourist office
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First look at the Nuremberg Courthouse and attached prison complex, now home to trials as well as the Nuremberg Trial Museum and the original courtroomFirst look at the Nuremberg Courthouse and attached prison complex, now home to trials as well as the Nuremberg Trial Museum and the original courtroom

The trial museum did not take a short amount of time. The first issue was having an audio guide included in the ticket (all the signs were in German, and the other languages would be heard) – this is automatically a bit slower than reading signs in English (or a lot slower that not being able to read signs in German!) plus I, of course, had to go through and listen to absolutely every audio point in the place, because I’m a massive nerd for things of this variety (or any variety really). But in my defense, it was also really interesting! The museum went through the lead up to and preparations for the trials, and then, mainly focusing on the most major trial in which 23 surviving Nazi leaders were tried simultaneously for one or more of war crimes, crimes against peace, conspiracy to engage in warfare and crimes against humanity by a panel of eight judges from Britain, USA, USSR and France, explained the processes and participants that lead to verdicts ranging from acquittal to death by hanging. It then went on to explain the successive smaller trials of lesser officials by US personnel, show the subsequent development of international prosecution (including prosecution of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and the establishment of the International Criminal Court in 2002). It was attractively and accessibly laid out, with floor diagrams showing where the different people sat, little displays on each of the defendants and judges, interactive computer displays and videos, and a wide range of information. In any event, I was so engrossed that I didn’t even check the time until I had spent four hours in there and had to run for my train to Berlin. A sterling success if I ever had one, though I will eternally regret not getting to the Castle, which is supposed to be amazing. Perhaps I will return in winter: Nuremberg’s Christmas Markets are world-famous.

Some of the exhibits
Some of the exhibits
The actual courtroom - still in use and substantially altered since, but still cool! The bad guys sat on the right :D
The actual courtroom – still in use and substantially altered since, but still cool! The bad guys sat on the right 😀

Berlin

I had two days in Berlin, and having long ago exhausted my appetites for generic amazing museums of world history and art (though Berlin has some very fine ones) I decided to spend them on 20th-century history: one day on the Nazis and one on the German Democratic Republic (DDR), a legacy of the post-WWII multinational occupation of Germany. Berlin is naturally extremely well-placed to deal with these things, being the capital of Nazi Germany and a divided city during the Cold War (most of the country was divided down the middle between Western occupation – Britain, USA and France – and Russian, but Berlin, though squarely in the middle of Russian-occupied territory, was itself divided, so that over time as the DDR became more Communist and more cut off, a little island of capitalist West Germany existed in the midst of East Germany. But more on that later). I was pretty excited, especially after visiting the tourist office and vastly expanding the already large list of monuments, museums and exhibitions to visit.

As I already mentioned, Berlin was the Nazi capital – home to not only the Reichstag (which I stumbled upon by accident trying to find an overland route to an interchange around a closed station on my late-night arrival, complete with a crowd of rained-on people watching a film about the reformation of the unified German parliament across the water with a mildy distracting light show) where the Nazi party was elected, gradually increasing their power by legal means, and then intimidated the members with paramilitants to pass the emergency act and give Hitler alone supreme sovereign power; but also the SS and Gestapo HQs, the site of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide, the Brandenberg Gate, and various memorials to victims of the Holocaust. I visited all these places on my first day.

The Brandenburg Gate was a symbol of German imperial power that the Nazis were very much in favour of, and it served as the glorious entrance to the capital city area of the Third Reich. Later it became the most monumental gatehouse running between East and West Germany - the most Nazi (far-right) part of the city became the Communist (far-left) part.
The Brandenburg Gate was a symbol of German imperial power that the Nazis were very much in favour of, and it served as the glorious entrance to the capital city area of the Third Reich. Later it became the most monumental gatehouse running between East and West Germany – the most Nazi (far-right) part of the city became the Communist (far-left) part.
The Reichstag fell into disuse after WWII, since the capital of West Germany moved to Bonn. When Germany was reunified, it was chosen to house the parliament, refurbished and an enormous glass dome was added.
The Reichstag fell into disuse after WWII, since the capital of West Germany moved to Bonn. When Germany was reunified, it was chosen to house the parliament, refurbished and an enormous glass dome was added.

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a vast complex of tombstone-like pillars of heights ranging from 20 to 250-odd centimetres with an incredible underground exhibition on the Holocaust, including family stories, letters written from the camps, and camp profiles. This is a must-visit.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a vast complex of tombstone-like pillars of heights ranging from 20 to 250-odd centimetres with an incredible underground exhibition on the Holocaust, including family stories, letters written from the camps, and camp profiles. This is a must-visit.
The nearby monument to persecuted homosexuals. Nearly 50,000 men were prosecuted for homosexuality during the Third Reich, most of whom were imprisoned, some being deported to concentration camps to face hard labour and starvation, and others were castrated. Female homosexuality was not prosecuted except in occupied Austria. The laws remained in force without amendment in both West Germany and the DDR until 1969 (Australia made homosexuality legal in 1994).
The nearby monument to persecuted homosexuals. Nearly 50,000 men were prosecuted for homosexuality during the Third Reich, most of whom were imprisoned, some being deported to concentration camps to face hard labour and starvation, and others were castrated. Female homosexuality was not prosecuted except in occupied Austria. The laws remained in force without amendment in both West Germany and the DDR until 1969 (Australia made homosexuality legal in 1994. That’s right – we took longer than both the Communist and the occupied post-Nazi states).
Hitler’s Bunker (the site of), surrounded by surprisingly inoffensive Communist flats (my first sight of East Berlin)
Hitler’s Bunker (the site of), surrounded by surprisingly inoffensive Communist flats (my first sight of East Berlin)
The site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters, behind a surviving section of the Berlin Wall. Two kinds of terror in one place make it the perfect place for a museum called the Topography of Terror, which takes apart the Nazi strategies for social control and use of terror to gain political power from their very earliest stages to taking power in the 1930s to expanding across Europe during World War Two. Another extremely powerful and fascinating museum (and free!)
The site of the SS and Gestapo headquarters, behind a surviving section of the Berlin Wall. Two kinds of terror in one place make it the perfect place for a museum called the Topography of Terror, which takes apart the Nazi strategies for social control and use of terror to gain political power from their very earliest stages to taking power in the 1930s to expanding across Europe during World War Two. Another extremely powerful and fascinating museum (and free!)

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This is an indicator of one of the creepiest things I found in this museum: I had no idea that Hitler’s takeover as a dictator had actual public support, even though I knew he was elected to Chancellor democratically. This indicates that people were sick of democracy, they were sure that it wasn’t working, and they wanted the future of the country taken out of their voting hands. Though this vote was done under pressure as the Reichstag was surrounded by SS soldiers, it represented to a large extent the will of the majority.
This is an indicator of one of the creepiest things I found in this museum: I had no idea that Hitler’s takeover as a dictator had actual public support, even though I knew he was elected to Chancellor democratically. This indicates that people were sick of democracy, they were sure that it wasn’t working, and they wanted the future of the country taken out of their voting hands. Though this vote was done under pressure as the Reichstag was surrounded by SS soldiers, it represented to a large extent the will of the majority. Reading the bottom quote may be difficult: the key point is, “The parliamentary system has capitulated to the new Germany.”
Hitler = Germany’s Beatles
Hitler = Germany’s Beatles

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Some fun Nazi propaganda. All true! The Nazis did provide economic success, and produced housing developments, Volkswagens and the Autobahn. But what they didn’t tell people was that developing the economy was preparation for war.
Some fun Nazi propaganda. All true! The Nazis did provide economic success, and produced housing developments, Volkswagens and the Autobahn. But what they didn’t tell people was that developing the economy was preparation for war.
Bonus: the crazy film and light show from the first night.
Bonus: the crazy film and light show from the first night.

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Bonus 2: a lovely stroll through the enormous Tiergarten
Bonus 2: a lovely stroll through the enormous Tiergarten

The following day I devoted to finding out more about the DDR, of which I had essentially no idea. First up was the private (and thus not free *shakes fist at sky*) DDR Museum, located in an underground complex by the river. The displays were rather different than the previous day’s museums – less signs and wordy quotes and more artefacts, interactive displays and original DDR cars you could climb into and drive around a video game track. It was very busy and there was something of a carnivalesque atmosphere as people wound through the various sections, opening hidden displays behind doors and in drawers, enjoying seeing and often touching real things from the communist era, and laughing uproariously (just me?) at the many great jokes included in the exhibits. For your delectation, the sum total of notes I took on the DDR Museum: ‘Hilarious DDR Jokes’.

The president visits a factory in the DDR. The foreman sheepishly confesses that nearly five per cent of the products have failed to meet quality standards. The president replies, worried, “This is terrible news! Five per cent will not be enough to satisfy domestic demand!”

Quote from Vladimir Lenin: “There will never be a revolution in Germany. The Germans will only storm a railway station if they have first bought a platform ticket.”

Jokes about the very rubbish, very plastic and very hard to attain Trabant car: 

– How do you double the value of a Trabi? Fill up the petrol tank!

– A Trabi owner asks the petrol station attendant for two windscreen wipers for his car. The attendant replies, “That seems like a good deal to me.”

– What do you call an accident between three Trabis? A Tupperware party!

– Why do Trabis have heated windows? To keep your hands warm while you push!

School canteen joke: We offer all diners an excellent range of options; you eat it or you leave it

AMAZING.

But seriously, the DDR Museum was a lot of fun, and worth being the only private museum I went to in Berlin. The interactive and innovative displays kept me interested for several hours, and I came out feeling as if I learned a lot about daily life in the DDR, from the cookie-cutter apartments to the industrial development, from the geography to the food shortages, from the hilarious sense of humour to the enormous number of people going on nude holidays.

Interesting ideas on social control - this public transport ticket machine would issue tickets when you pulled the handle, regardless of whether you paid any money or not. The last three coins inserted were visible on the side, to guilt people into paying!
Interesting ideas on social control – this public transport ticket machine would issue tickets when you pulled the handle, regardless of whether you paid any money or not. The last three coins inserted were visible on the side, to guilt people into paying!
A touch-and-feel display, where you could feel real coffee and compare it with the bastardised version sold in the DDR
A touch-and-feel display, where you could feel real coffee and compare it with the bastardised version sold in the DDR
Aerial view of a typical apartment...
Aerial view of a typical apartment…
And the change in facilities within these apartments over the final two decades of the DDR (after they had already ruled for 36 years, of course)
And the change in facilities within these apartments over the final two decades of the DDR (after they had already ruled for 36 years, of course)
Me being interrogated - the reason I have my hands on my head is that there were two circles and if you did this you could hear an interrogation! It also makes for a cool photo :P
Me being interrogated – the reason I have my hands on my head is that there were two circles and if you did this you could hear an interrogation! It also makes for a cool photo 😛
A graphic representation of how the DDR stamped out religion, mostly Protestants, who were the most outspoken opponents of the regime
A graphic representation of how the DDR stamped out religion, mostly Protestants, who were the most outspoken opponents of the regime
Some of the products produced in the DDR - one of the world’s most productive economies at the time, and the second-largest to Russia in the Soviet bloc - that were rarely, if ever, released to the domestic market. There were several tiers of shops, offering basic goods at low prices in some and luxury goods at exorbitant prices in others.
Some of the products produced in the DDR – one of the world’s most productive economies at the time, and the second-largest to Russia in the Soviet bloc – that were rarely, if ever, released to the domestic market. There were several tiers of shops, offering basic goods at low prices in some and luxury goods at exorbitant prices in others.

Next up was a walk along the East Side Gallery, the largest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall, now a 1.2km street art gallery, with hundreds of large murals spread across it.

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On my way from there to an outdoor exhibition on the Berlin Wall, I stumbled upon a train station exhibition in NurembergerstraBe on how the rail system worked when Berlin was divided, and lines would run between different countries that people wanted to get between but weren’t allowed to! It was awesome! It had explanations of the reasons why the stations were closed off, showed pictures of various security measures and the deserted stations, and told stories of daring escapes and violence from the DDR.

A map of Berlin’s train stations, with blocked-up and thenceforth disused stations that presented potential underground routes from East to West highlighted. When travelling, West Berlin trains would regularly through East Berlin, would slow down but not stop at dimly-lit, heavily-guarded stations which came to be called ‘ghost stations’. The sections of railway in East Berlin were badly maintained - four trains derailed between ghost stations in 1983 alone
A map of Berlin’s train stations, with blocked-up and thenceforth disused stations that presented potential underground routes from East to West highlighted. When travelling, West Berlin trains would regularly through East Berlin, would slow down but not stop at dimly-lit, heavily-guarded stations which came to be called ‘ghost stations’. The sections of railway in East Berlin were badly maintained – four trains derailed between ghost stations in 1983 alone
An eerie shot of the empty station I now stood in when it was a ghost station
An eerie shot of the empty station I now stood in when it was a ghost station

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Some of the security precautions to avoid people escaping from East Berlin through the tunnels. Even the guards were locked into the concrete pillboxes during duty so that they would not be tempted to escape (not until the late 80s were there plans to allow guards to exit the pillboxes in an emergency). Those who did manage to get out after the first few weeks after closing had to take serious risks coupled with ingenious plans. One man smuggled his children and wife into the railway tunnel while he was working in maintenance, hid them overnight in an alcove off the tracks while the station was closed to movement, and escaped with them the following day.
Some of the security precautions to avoid people escaping from East Berlin through the tunnels. Even the guards were locked into the concrete pillboxes during duty so that they would not be tempted to escape (not until the late 80s were there plans to allow guards to exit the pillboxes in an emergency). Those who did manage to get out after the first few weeks after closing had to take serious risks coupled with ingenious plans. One man smuggled his children and wife into the railway tunnel while he was working in maintenance, hid them overnight in an alcove off the tracks while the station was closed to movement, and escaped with them the following day.

After this, I exited the station, to find myself right at the beginning of the exhibition, which stretched for several kilometres from the station, the vertex of a corner of the Berlin Wall that angled steeply away in both directions. (This is why it was such a popular point for escape – if you could get in, almost any exit would put you in the West). Almost all of the wall here has been demolished, but it is still incredibly poignant because this is the only place in Berlin where the ‘death strip’ is still visible. You see, the ‘Berlin Wall’ started out in 1961 as just one wall, but that was way too easy to breach. They experimented with a lot of different incarnations, but the end result was two walls, anti-tank barriers, guard towers, floodlights, barbed wire, and a huge empty band of fine sand, which both meant that people were really easy to see and that you could always see where they had been. Thousands of people attempted to escape across it, and over 130 people were shot and killed. The walk, now a long green path with tall rusty poles marking the location of the wall as visible to the West (the flat grey with round top we’re all familiar with) and with information and audio points scattered throughout. I learned about the houses that backed onto the Wall at the beginning, where people jumped from upper floors into the West; about the church that literally stood in the death strip and was closed to the 90% of its congregation that lived in the West, before being demolished in the late 80s, when the state was showing signs of cracks, people began attempting escapes again, and its obstruction of the nearby guardhouses’ view; and the many people that escaped, were caught, or were killed. The visitor centre also shows films every hour about life behind the Wall and about the Wall’s origins – why it only came about in 1961, for instance, and not before; and how the Wall is not just around Berlin, but also along the whole enormous border with West Germany in the western DDR. This exhibition is amazing and well worth getting into.

The death strip
The death strip
Everyone who died in the death strips
Everyone who died in the death strips
Foundation of one of the original BernauerstraBe buildings - they were first evacuated, then bricked up. In 1965 the backs of the buildings were demolished, leaving the facades. When the wall was expanded in 1980, they too were demolished.
Foundation of one of the original BernauerstraBe buildings – they were first evacuated, then bricked up. In 1965 the backs of the buildings were demolished, leaving the facades. When the wall was expanded in 1980, they too were demolished.
Bonus: Trabi World, where you can hire or ride in a genuine DDR Trabant!
Bonus: Trabi World, where you can hire or ride in a genuine DDR Trabant!

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Bonus 2: Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous entrance into the West, in use before the borders were closed, and after for official immigrants. There is also an open-air wall museum across the road which explains the process of division of Germany after WWII, which was a bit neglected. Not enough Churchill before here.
Bonus 2: Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous entrance into the West, in use before the borders were closed, and after for official immigrants. There is also an open-air wall museum across the road which explains the process of division of Germany after WWII, which was a bit neglected. Not enough Churchill before here.

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Bonus 3: Not actually Berlin anymore, but it’s such a long train ride to Belgium and I stopped in Cologne for such a short time that it doesn’t really deserve its own subheading. Here’s Cologne Cathedral and a schnitzel calzone.
Bonus 3: Not actually Berlin anymore, but it’s such a long train ride to Belgium and I stopped in Cologne for such a short time that it doesn’t really deserve its own subheading. Here’s Cologne Cathedral and a schnitzel calzone.

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