Wednesday, April 27, 2005


But just for one day. Hi all. Every year around Easter I’m visiting with my wife and kid my mother-in-law and brother-in-law in the Polish city of Wroclaw. Since my company is a member of the German-based commercial group MHK and this feted its 25-year anniversary in Berlin last Saturday, April 16th, we decided "om het nuttige met het aangename te verenigen" – to combine the useful with the agreeable – as they say over here in Belgoland. So we off to Berlin.

The obligatory meeting with the group’s 2004 financial roundup and strategy talks was mostly what business meetings without clear-cut objectives are: lots of blah-blah-blah and yawning. However, I did not regret the 200-kloms detour for, a.) I got to collect my year’s bonus, hoorah, and b.) we took the opportunity to do a little sightseeing in Berlin, which had changed an awful lot since I was last there on a drab late autumn day in 1989, only months before the Wall came down. Not gonna make this a long thread, but I got some pics and info to share with you:

Reichstag Building in Berlin
The first one is a photo of the Reichstag, the German Capitol so to say. This monumental piece of late 19th Century architecture has a troubled history. After its completion in 1894 it was officially designated as the place where the German people’s representatives should gather. It being still the time of Wilhelm I and Bismarck, these parlementarians had precious little power. Only in 1916, when unrest among the population resulted in the Kaiser’s authority eroding, was the inscription "Dem Deutschen Volke" (For the German People) added. In the twenties however the Reichstag did start to function in a truly democratic way – but not for long. Months after Hitler came to power, in early 1933, the Plenary Hall was set on fire – allegedly by a young Dutch Communist, Marinus Van Der Lubbe, but in reality by the Nazis themselves. They used the turmoil in the wake of the event to force through oppressive legislation, such as the Reichstagbrandverordnung and the Ermaechtigungsgesetz, bills which essentially suspended the legislative role of any parliamentary body. In short, they killed Parliament and allowed the Fuehrer to rule by decree. All in all a monstrous course of events. For those fools who liken 9/11 and the ensuing Patriot Act to the Fire in the Reichstag and the Nazi laws killing off democracy I recommend studying German history from 1933 to 1945. Maybe they also can check out whether Hitler sought for, and obtained, a Resolution 1441-like permission from the League of Nations to liberate Czechoslowakia and Poland.

Anyway, from 1933 on the building was mostly an empty charred hulk, although when the Russians entered Berlin in late April 1945 they seemed for some reason to regard it as a symbol of National Socialism, for they threw lots of troops against it – and the tenacious defense by Waffen SS units may have strengthened them in their conviction. Some of you may recall the famous photos of Russian soldiers hoisting the Soviet flag on top of the Reichstag (at the very moment this happened, there was still fierce fighting in the building’s basement).

During the Cold War, as West Germany (the Bundesrepublik) had its Bundestag (parliament) in Bonn whereas East Germany (the Deutsche Demokratische Republik) had its Volkskammer first in makeshift quarters, then from 1976 in the Palast Der Republik, there was little use for the Reichstag. That changed in 1990 with the reunification of East and West Germany, and the parliamentarians of both republics once again took seat in the imposing building. Under the guidance of the British architect Sir Norman Foster important transformations took place - in fact only the outer walls remained as before. He provided light for the Plenary Hall through an ingenuous system of mirrors placed in the gigantic glass and stell dome replacing the original dome. The renovation would cost 600 million DM (think in excess of 300 million US$). This is a really good link with marvellous photos.

Berlins FernsehturmThe second pic shows the impressive Television Tower, or Fernsehturm in German, as it rises 365m high over Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. It was commissioned in 1969 (building started in August 1965) and meant as a showcase of East-German ingenuity and building and engineering competency. The 250m high concrete shaft weighs 26,000 tons and carries the 4,800 ton heavy ball, which houses a.o. a rotating restaurant (360° every ½ hour). The aerial carrier on top of the "Kugel" weighs another 245 tons. A lift takes you up in 38 seconds. The Fernsehtower is Berlins tallest building, that’s something you can use in a quiz. Good links here and especially here.

And last but not least, a remnant of the division which once existed between East and West Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie. In 1961 the then DDR Head of State Walter Ulbricht ordered the building of the infamous Wall dividing East and West Berlin since for some reason the marvellous living conditions in the East were not at all appreciated by the spoiled East German workers. On August 13, 1961 the Wall was a fact, and from that moment on tourists from abroad, diplomats and military personnel of the Western Powers were only allowed to enter East Berlin via the crossing point at Berlins Friedrichstrasse. It was named Charlie because there was already a Checkpoint Bravo at Dreilinden and a Checkpoint Alpha at Helmstedt. Checkpoint Charlie was removed on June 22, 1990. The former Allied guardhouses are now located in the Allied Museum. The shack you see in the middle is in fact a copy of the American guardhouse, erected on the original place on August 13, 2000. Checkpoint Charlie 101 here.Checkpoint Charlie - a copy at least

Got an iPod, Michael? If not, and you want one, for the love of God don't buy one in The Netherlands!