It looks like we’ll be plunged into a more drastic coronavirus lockdown soon, it might be some time before we get to walk through Berlin again. Luckily, over a recent weekend we made use of a couple of days when it wasn’t grey or raining to potter about the city. One walk took us all the way to Berlin Messe, a convention centre where the Berlin Wine Festival was being held – yes, there was an ulterior motive for getting out of the house.
To be fair, we walked around 12km through the Tiergarten and along the River Spree into the far western part of Berlin to reach the wine festival. We felt we’d earned a free glass (or two) of wine. Which might explain why we came away with twelve bottles of Austrian chardonnay – a sentence my younger self would have been shocked to hear coming out of my mouth. Given the turn of events, stockpiling Austrian chardonnay doesn’t seem so crazy now.
The Tiergarten starts just after the Brandenburg Gate, that symbol of Prussian power and of a divided Germany. Walking through the park from here, with a small diversion to the Reichstag, explores major events of 19th and 20th century Prussian and German history. To the side of the Reichstag is a tranquil garden commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, while on the banks of the Spree just behind here is a memorial to those killed escaping across the Berlin Wall.
A striking memorial to the horrors of war, Der Rufer, is close to the Reichstag. A figure roars out a warning, but are we listening? At its base is a line from Italian Renaissance poet, Petrarch: “I wander through the world and cry ‘Peace, Peace, Peace.’” It’s meant as a reminder to be alert to the dangers of such madness happening again. It reminded me of a Rotterdam memorial. A man looks pensively into the sky – from where death and destruction rained down on the city in 1940.
That warning seems apt as you pass the monumental memorial to the Soviet Red Army, a short walk away. It stands as a triumphant statement of Russian victory over Nazi Germany, but behind the memorial is a mass grave of thousands of Russian soldiers who died in the Battle for Berlin. In the distance is another symbol of Prussian military triumphalism, the Victory Column. Commissioned in 1864, it celebrates a victory over Denmark which enlarged Prussian possessions in Schleswig.
By the time the Victory Column was finished in 1873 Prussia had also defeated Austria and France, leading the way for German unification under the Prussian monarchy. The architects of which are commemorated nearby. The most aggressively impressive of three statues is of Otto von Bismarck. Atlas holds the world at his feet, while Germania stamps her foot on the neck of a subdued lion. Subtle it is not. Either side of Bismarck are statues to two other Prussian military men, Roon and Moltke.
The history lesson continued after we left the Tiergarten and entered Moabit. Here on the unassuming Levetzowstrasse is a poignant memorial to the Holocaust. The site was formerly one of the largest synagogues in Berlin, the memorial consists of a railway goods car that was used to transport Jews to the death camps in Poland. There’s also a statue of huddled people waiting to get into the car. A metal sculpture details Berlin’s synagogues prior to the rise of National Socialism.
On one of the granite figures a prominent ‘Z’ can be seen. This is a references to Zyklon B, a cyanide-based gas used to murder more than a million people in the gas chambers of the Holocaust. It’s a shocking and sobering sight. We definitely needed a glass of wine, so crossed the Spree and the Landwehr Canal to the Deutsche Opera where a U Bahn was waiting to takes us the last leg of our journey.