Friday, May 31, 2013

Wittenberg, Germany

The Streets of Wittenberg Looking towards All Saints Church
Wittenberg, Germany was holds historical importance due to its seat of the Elector of Saxony, but is probably more well known because of its ties to Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of the All Saints Church, also known as "The Castle Church" (or Schlosskirche).

The wooden doors where Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses were burned in 1760 and were replaced by bronze doors bearing the Latin text of the theses in 1858.
The Schlosskirche was seriously damaged by fire in 1760 during the 7 years war.  It was practically rebuilt and later restored.  When we visited, the Schlosskirche was being cleaned and restored.  From our observation, many of the old buildings in Europe are constantly being cleaned and restored and are often surrounded by scaffolding, which makes it tough to get a clean photo!

The Schlosskirche, currently in a phase of restoration
Wittenberg (pronounced Vittenberg) is about an hour and half southwest of Berlin.  The old city center consists of two small streets lined with old buildings, the old town square, the Schlosskirche and St. Mary's Church, where Luther often preached.  This was our first stop outside of Berlin, and it was like walking into the past.  We would experience this feeling several more times throughout our trip, until it almost became normal.

Streets of Wittenberg
St. Mary's Church (Stadtkirche) was built in the 14th century but has been altered since.  Reformers, Martin Luther and Johannes Bugenhagen preached here, and the first mass in German rather than Latin occurred here.  The Stadtkirche is considered the mother-church of the protestant reformation.

Stadtkirche from the side
The Stadtkirche faces a wall, about 15 ft away, making it nearly impossible to see the entire face of the building.

Inside the Statkirche
Unlike many other towns in Germany, the city center of Wittenberg was spared during WWII.  As the story goes, the Allied forces agreed not to bomb Wittenberg.  In actuality, it was an aircraft factory on the outskirts of Wittenberg staffed by political prisoners that the Allies didn't want to bomb.  Near the end of the war, American and British planes did bomb the factory.

Wittenberg City Hall
Wittenberg Town Square
After the war, Wittenberg was occupied by the Soviets and became part of East Germany.  It was ruled under the communist regime until the peaceful revolution in 1989.  It has been governed democratically since 1990.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Berlin: The Wall

The Berlin Wall may be the most iconic landmark in Berlin.  When the wall fell, cheers were heard throughout the world.  The Wall, erected overnight in 1961, was the physical division between West Berlin and East Germany.  It was also the symbolic boundary between democracy and communism during the Cold War.  For 28 years, it kept East Germans from fleeing to the west.

I never quite understood what that meant until visiting Germany.  Did the Berlin Wall divide the entire country into East and West?  The answer is "no."  After the war, Germany was divided into four zones occupied by each of the following: The United States, Great Britain, France and The Soviet Union.  The same was done with the capital city, Berlin.

East Side Gallery - Graffiti
 The major east vs. west division occurred when the Allied Powers combined their sectors of Germany into one, West Germany, in 1949.  The relationship between the Allied Powers and The Soviet Union had become strained based on political philosophies.  West vs. East was really democracy vs. communism.

Berlin Wall Memorial
Since Berlin was situated within East Germany, the sector of Berlin occupied by the Allied Powers was like an "island of democracy within communist East Germany."  Life in East and West Germany was very different and many people living in East Germany wanted out.  They began to flee to West Berlin, and though some were stopped, hundreds of thousands made it across the border.  They were housed for a short time and then flown to West Germany.

Berlin Wall Memorial
Piece of the Berlin Wall

East Germany was desperate to keep its citizens.  There were rumors for quite sometime that something would be done to tighten the border between East and West Berlin.  At this point, the border was very fluid.  Many Berliners crossed the border regularly for operas, plays and soccer games.  Approximately 60,000 Berliners crossed the border into West Berlin daily for better paying jobs.

On the night of August 12-13, 1961, everything changed.  Just past midnight soldiers and construction workers tore up streets and dug holes to place posts for the wall.  They put up barbed wire and cut the telephone lines between East and West Berlin.  Berliners awoke to shock the next morning.  Whichever side of the border they slept on that night, they were stuck on for decades.

East Side Gallery
The wall covered hundreds of miles and wrapped around the entirety of West Berlin, completely cutting West Berlin off from the rest of East Germany.  The barbed wire was soon replaced with a more permanent structure made out of concrete blocks.  Then in 1965, that was replaced with a concrete wall supported by steel girders.  The final version of the wall, built between 1975 and 1980, consisted of concrete slabs nearly 12 ft high with a smooth pipe running across the top to prevent people from scaling the wall.

East Side Gallery
In 1989, many East Germans were fleeing through Hungary.  When the East German government stopped travel to Hungary, the people began to flee through Czechoslovakia.  Eventually the East German government allowed people to leave provided that they would not return.  On October 18, 1989, longtime East German leader, Erich Honecker resigned and was replaced by Egon Krenz.  Demonstrations broke out all over East Germany.  The wave of refugees had increased with many people fleeing through Hungary via Czechoslovakia or though the West German Embassy in Prague.  On November 9th, Krenz decided to allow people to leave directly by crossing the border from East to West Germany, including West Berlin.  The gates of the wall were ordered to be opened.

East Side Gallery
Though the wall is considered to have fallen on November 9th, it was not fully demolished on that date.  People came to the wall with sledgehammers and hammers to chip parts of the wall as souvenirs.  Bulldozers removed parts of the wall to reestablish old roads and create new crossings.  Soon West Germans and West Berliners were allowed to freely cross the border into East Germany.  The official dismantling of the wall by East German military began on June 13, 1990 and lasted until November 1991.  On July 1, 1990, East Germany adopted the currency of the West and border patrol officially ceased.  Only a few small sections of the wall were left as memorials.  Today, the East Side Gallery is the longest stretch still standing.

The East Side Gallery has become a canvas for artists from all over the world.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Berlin: Alexanderplatz and Museuminsel

A few days ago as I was scrolling through Facebook noticing all of the places that my friends were currently traveling, I thought "why don't I ever get to do anything like that?"  Then I realized that I was sitting in a flat in Berlin, and that within the last week I had traveled to Wittenberg, Nuremberg, Linz, Vienna, Brno and Prague among others.  Seriously? I had the "why don't I ever get to do anything like that?" thought?

Maybe it was the sandy beaches, oceans and warm weather in the photos that I was looking at that made me a bit jealous, but alas, I'm back home in Jupiter, FL (and I have no reason to EVER be jealous of anyone who has to drive more than 10 minutes to get to the beach).

My husband has been working in Berlin for two months so he was ready to take me out to see the sites of the city as soon as I arrived.  I, however, needed a nap after getting basically zero sleep on the plane. After my nap, we headed out to Alexanderplatz (note that the photos I will be posting were taken over several days).  This post, and the ones to follow, is a diversion from my normal posts, but I feel like this is the best way to share my photos.

Alexanderplatz is located in the central Mitte district of Berlin.  According to Wikipedia, the Fernsehturm (TV tower) is the second tallest structure in Europe.

Looking towards Alexanderplatz from the old City Hall Building
The Fernsehturm (taken from Klosterstrasse)
Notice the crane on the left in the first photo (above).  The cranes became a theme of our trip because so much of the area is under construction, not only in Berlin but throughout Germany, Austria and The Czech Republic.  Cranes are often a large part of the skyline.  Because of the war and the many political changes overtime in Berlin, much of the city was destroyed and is currently in a phase of rebuilding.  The Berlin Palace, originally built in the 15th century, was demolished in the 1950's after being heavily damaged in WWII.  It is currently being rebuilt.  The Berliner Schloss is expected to be completed within the decade.  The photos below show the construction on the Berliner Schloss with the Berliner Dom in the background.

Berliner Dom
I found the above photo of the Berliner Dom to be kind of funny (note that the crane is actually in front of the dome, not touching it).

Construction on the Berliner Palace in the Foreground
In the next photo, more construction next to the palace.  Also notice the above ground water pipes that can be seen throughout some areas of Berlin.

Construction is a Common Sight in Berlin
Continuing onto Museum Island.

Exhibit: Resistance and The Public Sphere
The exhibit shown in the photo on the left, Resistance and The Public Sphere, can be found in the Lustgarten in front of the Altes Museum.  The Lustgarten was often the site of public demonstrations and speeches.  This exhibit explains many of the demonstrations held in the Lustgarten from 1933-1945, including: The Attack on Propaganda, Jewish Resistance, The Red Opera, The Boycott of Jewish Businesses, the demonstration of unity between the social democrats and communists which was itself an act of resistance, censorship and Prestige through Culture.
Interior of St. Mary's Church

Europe is home to many beautiful, old churches.  This is the interior of St. Mary's Church on Neptunbrunnen Plaza.  St. Mary's Church is believed to have been built in the 13th Century.  Buildings that old don't exist in America, and it's amazing to see the detail in the old churches.


The Neptunbrunnen was built in 1891 and was originally in the Schlossplatz at the Former Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace).  In the center is the Roman god Neptune.  The four women surrounding him represent the four main rivers of Prussia.

The Neptunbrunnen was removed from it's original home when the Stadtschloss was demolished in 1951 and was placed in it's new home in 1969, after being restored.

Berlin Bears, like the one in the photo below can be found throughout the city.

Berlin Bear
The Fountain of International Friendship was part of the remodeling process in Berlin and was dedicated in 1970.  It was created by artists belonging to Walter Womacka and is listed as a protected historical site, though I had trouble finding information on its significance.

The Fountain of Friendship

Somedays, The Fountain of International Friendship is surrounded by merchants, mostly from Africa and the Caribbean Islands trying to sell items to the many tourists in the area.
Look for more posts to come.  I have many more photos to share!