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"Phantasie ist wichtiger als Wissen, denn Wissen ist begrenzt."
That quotation, from Albert Einstein, is printed on a small metal pocket card-carrier purchased at the fascinating Berles Trends and Gifts, on Mohrenstrase in Berlin. Einstein's words mean: 'Imagination is more important than knowledge, because knowledge is limited.' For a while, after 1913, Einstein was Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin.
The streets in the vicinity of the Hilton hotel (south of Unter Den Linden) are a shoppers' paradise - cafés, clothes stores and restaurants, all adjacent to Gendarmenmarkt, opposite the Deutscher Dom (1708) and the Konzerthaus (1821), both churches built for the Calvinists. We have arrived in Berlin on a Wednesday, after a journey from Leeds via Amsterdam, our plan to avoid crowds having gone awry! Our hotel is worth an entry on the website Tripadvisor, so this is done, here: Tripadvisor - Reviews
A group of Segway riders outside the Konzerthaus
One of our first strolls out from the hotel is to go across the River Spree and on to Museum Island to view the current DDR Exhibition.
The place is crowded. We enjoy a fascinating record of life after 1961 and before reunification in 1989. Here is a shiny Trabant, said to be built out of plastic and socialism! Meaning 'satellite' or 'companion' in German, the name Trabant was inspired by the Soviet Sputnik space satellite.
The DDR exhibits include many everyday artefacts from life under Erik Honecker, the German communist politician who, as the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party, led East Germany from 1971 until the weeks preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall.
According to Wikipedia, the Trabant car was produced for nearly 30 years with almost no changes; 3,096,099 Trabants were produced in total. In Western nations, the Trabant's shortcomings are written about for comedic effect. However, the Trabant has become trendy enough for collectors to import older models to the US and elsewhere, due to their low cost and the easing of import restrictions on antique vehicles.
A presence on the streets today is a variant, a glossy stretch Trabant:
Opposite the Dom (above) is an important site that has changed use. Originally the Berlin City Palace, the site is located at Schlossplatz, opposite the Lustgarten Park, where once stood the winter residence of the Kings of Prussia and the German Emperors. From 1973 to 1976, during the reign of Honecker, a large modernist building was built, the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), which occupied most of the site of the former Stadtschloss. Shortly before German reunification in October 1990, the Palast der Republik was found to be contaminated with asbestos. It was closed to the public. After reunification, the Berlin city government ordered the removal of the asbestos, a process which was completed by 2003. In November 2003, the German federal government decided to demolish the building and leave the area as parkland, pending a decision as to its ultimate future. Demolition started in February 2006 and was completed in 2008.
In 2013 work started on reconstruction. Already, a part of the exterior of the palace has been rebuilt. Completion is expected in 2018-19. Outside the present building site stands a public viewing tower, called the Humboldt Box.
We are met by an articulate gentleman who talks us through the exhibition of the current building work, including beautiful stone-carving preparation. Already (summer 2014) the building is six weeks ahead of schedule.
From the top of the Humboldt Box visitors have a clear view along Unter Den Linden (Under the Linden Trees, called Lime trees in Britain), past the Humboldt University (see picture below). By the 19th century, as Berlin grew and expanded westwards, Unter den Linden became the best-known and grandest street in Berlin. During the last days of World War II the remaining trees were destroyed or cut down for firewood. The present trees were replanted in the 1950s.
Bebelplatz (Bebel square) on Unter den Linden adjacent to Humboldt University, was designed by Frederick the Great, who became ruler of Germany in 1740. He was a great patron of the arts. Bebelplatz was first known as 'Frederick’s Forum', and later as 'Opernplatz' (Opera square). In 1947 it was named Bebelplatz after August Bebel, a leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the 19th century.
On May 10th, 1933, Bebelplatz was the site of the notorious Nazi book burning event, organized by Joseph Goebbels. More than 20,000 books written by Jews, Communists and others were destroyed there in a large pyre.
Since 1995, this event has been commemorated by a monument designed by the Israeli artist Micha Ulmann. The monument is a plastic transparent window set into the ground, through which you can see an empty library. 'Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen', said Heine. (Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people.)
The Adlon Hotel stands at the west end of Unter Den Linden, adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate. The original Hotel Adlon was one of the most famous hotels in Europe. Opened in 1907, Kaiser Wilhelm II was the first guest through its doors. Charlie Chaplin stayed at the Adlon for the Berlin premier of City Lights. Roosevelt stayed there, as did Mary Pickford, Horace Vanderbilt and Czar Nicolas of Russia. The building was largely destroyed in 1945 during the final days of World War II, though a small section continued operating until 1984. The current hotel is a new building, constructed in 1997 with a design inspired by the original. The original Adlon was built at a cost of 20 Million Gold Marks, two million of which were the majority of Adlon's personal fortune. The original hotel was the most modern in Germany with hot and cold running water, an on-site laundry, and its own power plant to generate electricity. The original Adlon boasted a huge lobby with enormous square marble columns, a restaurant, a cafe, a palm court, a ladies lounge, a library, a music room, a smoking room, a barber shop, a cigar shop, an interior garden with a Japanese-themed elephant fountain (still to be seen in the foyer of the present hotel), and numerous grand ballrooms.
After World War One and the abdication of the Kaiser, Lorenz Adlon remained a staunch monarchist. He never imagined normal traffic would pass through the Brandenburg Gate's central archway, which had been reserved for the Kaiser alone. Therefore, Herr Adlon never looked before crossing in front of it. Tragically, in 1918 this resulted in Adlon being hit by a car. Three years later, on April 7, 1921, he was again hit by a car - at exactly the same spot! This time the collision was fatal.
The Adlon hotel survived the bombing during World War Two. But shortly after the end of the war the Adlon caught fire. Like its near neighbour, the German Reichstag, the hotel remained a wreck during the socialist era, until the fall of the wall and reunification. In 1997, the hotel reopened, returning to its place as one of the world's best known luxury hotels.
We called in to the Adlon to enjoy afternoon tea. A pianist played Gershwin and Cole Porter on the balcony above the foyer. Below, adjacent to the famous elephant fountain, we enjoyed tea and cakes, and appreciated the air conditioning.
Pariser Platz, the area outside the Adlon, is an excellent spot to observe outdoor life on a summer afternoon, to view street bands and political speakers. But instead of departing through the Pariser Platz entrance, we walked through the interior of the Adlon, to leave by the southern entrance opposite the holocaust memorial at the rear of the hotel.
At the AltenationaleGalerie was the first large museum solo show of the sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti (1884–1916) showing around 100 works.
The sculptor, an artist who deserves to be better known, was the brother of the legendary Italian-born designer of the French Bugatti motorcars. Ten years after his death his car-making brother used the statue of a trained elephant, which Rembrandt had made for him to serve as letter-seal, as the radiator mascot for his most ambitious car, the Bugatti Royale.
We spent a morning at the Berlin Zoologischer Garten, the oldest zoo in Germany, which opened in 1844. Since then the zoo has grown to be one of the largest in the world. We lso strolled in the 520-acre Tiergarten, and spent several hours in the excellent Deutsches Technikmuseum (German Museum of Technology).