About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

31 August 2007

The Reichstag

The Reichstag is THE symbol of German unity, and in fact the rebuilding (after being bombed to smithereens in WW2) of the Reichstag to be the seat of a future German united government even before the wall was even started! It is also a symbol of a new wave of architecture, comprising of mainly glass, that has taken hold in Berlin.

The famous glass dome, built by UK architect Sir Norman Foster acts like a viewing platform and also hosts a small display of photos illustrating the history of the building. It is interesting to know that there were quite a number of votes that rejected the incorporation of East Germany into West Germany for instance!

There are other buildings around the Reichstag, serving various governmental functions. The Democracy building (serving as the national archive IIRC) is possibly the most striking of them all.

The house of the German Chancellor is also quite interesting, and forms an H, if seen from above.

28 August 2007

Arbeit Macht Frei

Or, loosely translated, "Work shall set you free" - quoted over the entrance of concentration camps. The Sachsenhausen concentration camp, was one of the first, and was built as a model concentration camp; and would end up influencing the structure and organisation of the Nazi concentration camps. Unlike other concentration camps, Sachsenhausen was built very close to major cities, and is in fact in the middle of the town of Oranienburg.

It is one thing to read about concentration camps, but seeing the hard reality on the ground is very sobering. First there is the scale: the large yards and the general size of the camp. Then there is the opposite: the small barracks, both the reality of the designed numbers and the actual numbers. And then there are all the features that made the brutality of the concentration camps famous: the medical wards and Station Z, where prisoners were executed, and then cremated.

But I also have a sense of grudging, I am not sure if this is the right word, wonder, for the design and implementation. The Nazi regime was simply very efficient, in both exploitation and in their brutality. For starters, the design of the camp: arranged in an equilateral triangle, with Tower A, the entrance to the camp in the center of one of the sides. The gate, also one of the highest points in the camp, had machine guns that could reach, theoretically, every point in the camp.

Concentration camps was not just about "purifying" the population. It was also about slavery and it was the prisoners from the camps who are largely responsible for fuelling the growth of the German economy, thus funding the Nazi war machine. And many of the companies that benefited from the concentration camp work force are still around, although I don't think that they still operate their old factories at Oranienburg.

Tower A

Former prisoner baraacks are marked, only a few reconstructed barracks remain

Inside a reconstructed barrack

A Neo-Nazi attack destroyed parts of the reconstructed barracks in the early 1990s

The East Germans built a memorial in the 1960s

The camp has an even darker history than some other concentration camps. The Soviets used this part of the camp (which is incidentally outside the triangle) as part of their own camp, mainly for being minor Nazi figures, but also for being political opponents etc. There is a mass grave behind the camp of prisoners who died while under soviet captivity.

The execution trench ... enough said

Station Z Memorial

Knut and Friends

Knut, for those not in the know, is a baby polar bear, and the highlight of the Berlin Zoo - one of the top zoos in the world. There are actually two zoos in Berlin, something that is not mentioned in most information guides to Berlin. I only found out about it, thanks to Fabian, when I met up with him on Thursday evening.

The city zoo is more compact, and features all the heavy weight attractions: lions, tigers, elephants, polar bears, brown bears, hippos, and many more. Some of the animals are quite good at pulling crowds, like the Panda, whose antics with the bamboo shoots drew large crowds.

A Springbok

Interesting backgrounds ... these are bisons

No idea what the architecture of the Giraffe pen has to do with the giraffes

The gorillas are also a famous feature of the zoo

The lionesses

The Tierpark (the other zoo) is spread over a massive area, and I did not actually go through the whole place because of its size. It probably has more animals (both zoos seem to have the main highlights). However, unlike the city zoo, which has one animal exhibition after another, the tierpark is a more spread out affair, with lots of trees and gardens between the various animal pens. It is a much nicer place to visit, IMO.

Both zoos have polar bears, the Tierpark photos just came out a lot better

A tiger pacing around

The irony of camels in a lush green field, surrounded by water

The park is littered with statues and fountains and places to have picnics etc. Some sculptures are a bit more interesting.

The park has a much larger collection of reptiles. The city zoo does have an aquarium, but it requires an additional ticket.

In the end, I would much rather go see them in the wild. While zoos do offer the luxury of seeing a larger variety of animals, it is just not the same as seeing them in the wild. They somehow seem to loose their magnificence. Which one to go to: if you want to see Knut, there is no option. Otherwise, go to the Tierpark.

Soviet War Memorials

The Soviets suffered one of the highest casualties in WW2, and they were one of the major forces in defeating the Nazis. In many parts of Germany, the soviets built war memorials to commemorate the fallen soldiers. I have been two such memorials in Berlin - the first near the Brandenburg Gate is quite simple, and to the point. It is flanked by two tanks, two artillery canons and features a small museum behind it.

There is much larger soviet war memorial in the former East Berlin, which can only be described in the superlative: grand, massive, majestic. It is a much more complex memorial, and is in fact the burial grounds for about 5000 soviet soldiers killed in the Battle of Berlin. I find it complex, not only because of it size, but also because of the artwork and design. First there is the kneeling woman, probably symbolising the prayers, then the kneeling soldiers at the symbolic gate, and the main feature of a heroic soldier carrying a child. This is a commemoration of fallen heroes, and nothing less. It is highly decorative and very intricately detailed, unlike many other soviet memorials I have seen, notably from the Statue park in Budapest.

But then there are the side panels on either side of the graves, which feature quotes from Stalin and images telling, it seems the story of the war, and how everyone in the country played their part. This is more rough, more common, and in stark contrast to the hero.