Living Underground in West Berlin
Berlin is a city that has always fascinated me in a way few other cities have: I’ve always thought that history can teach us so much about the way we humans have adapted to our world at different stages of our evolution, and during the 20th
century Berlin held centre stage.
My posts on Berlin so far have covered places connected with its historical core, World War II and East Berlin, but very little about the former West Berlin – and so I thought it was about time to rectify that, and so I’m starting off at a museum in Kurfurstendamm, West Berlin’s most famous street.
The Story of Berlin is a privately run attraction which promotes itself as an interactive museum, with 23 rooms describing the history of Berlin. The emphasis is on multimedia technology, and although there were parts of it that I quite enjoyed, I have to say that I was mostly underwhelmed – so why am I bothering to write about it you might wonder.
The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church - Berlin's Memorial to Peace
In its attempt to atone for the horrors inflicted on the world by the Nazis, Berlin has gone out of its way to confront its past with monuments of what it sees as reconciliation. For example, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
covers an area in the centre of the city which was used by the Nazi war machine, but it would be easy to forget that the German people also suffered from the horrors of war. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Breitscheidplatz goes some way towards rectifying that by remembering what Berliners had to endure too, but it also acts as a memorial to peace for everyone.
THE OLD CHURCH
The memorial actually consists of two churches, and it’s only natural that I start with the original one that was built in memory of Kaiser Wilhelm I. The foundation stone was laid four years after he died on what would have been his 94th birthday (22nd March 1891). This monumental church had a spire that rose to a height of 113m (371ft) and was able to accommodate a congregation of 2,000 people. It also boasted an entrance with some superb mosaics that made a connection between the ‘throne and the altar’.
On the night of 23rd November 1943 allied air raids caused extensive damage to the landmark church including the spire. A post-war assessment of the ruins led to a decision to keep what was left as a symbol of peace, but it took several attempts before the final plan was accepted by the people of Berlin. Initially, it was suggested that what was left of the spire should be torn down, but Berliners saw it as the ‘Heart of Berlin’ and so a compromise was reached where its height was reduced to 71m (233ft), prompting Berliners to call it “Der Hohle Zahn”, meaning The Hollow Tooth
For someone who didn’t even like sport, it might seem somewhat surprising that Adolf Hitler was able to stage one of the most successful, albeit controversial, games in Olympic history; they were so successful in fact, that the format has been followed in much the same way ever since.
The background to the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games in many ways goes back to WWI, and the Langemarck Hall at the Olympic Stadium is a telling reminder of how Hitler had never forgotten his time in the trenches.
Langemarck was a WWI battlefield in Belgian Flanders and somewhere I visited several years ago. The war cemetery there holds 44,000 German soldiers including many inexperienced young men.
When the stadium, and the Langemarck Hall, was constructed in 1936, Hitler was known to turn to a few confidants to proclaim that there would be “Revenge for Langemarck”.