Due to the way schedules worked out, and the fact it made no sense to go back to Washington for five nights and then turn around to head straight to Norway….combined with some client meetings in Germany I needed to take care of, I decided on spending six nights in Berlin. I can’t remember the last time I’ve spent six nights in one place that wasn’t for a work trip, so I was definitely looking forward to it!
…looking forward, that is, until I got to my hotel. Now, I’m not really a movie person, and I can probably count the number of movies I’ve seen in the last ten years on one hand, but I was about to very quickly get an introduction to the world of “movie people.” It seems I had arrived right in the middle of Berlinale, one of the biggest film festivals in the world. To make matters worse, apparently my hotel was one of the host hotels, and a huge chunk of the rooms were taken over as makeshift offices by various film studios:
I will give the hotel high marks for how they managed the huge crowds. Other than the lobby being a teeming mass of people from sunrise until midnight, the floors themselves were actually reasonably quiet. Despite half the rooms on my floor having their doors open all day to entertain visitors, the hotel had security posted at the elevator so the only people who could come to the rooms were those who were authorized. Given how big the event was, I was impressed how little impact it had on my stay. Except all the silk scarves in the executive lounge, it was fascinating listening to the conversations.
Right, so most days were filled with nonstop work, partly from my room and partly going on to meet with clients. However, I still had a lot of work to take care of back in the US, which meant working long hours into the evening. That did mean, however, sneaking out for long lunches to see things was totally possible. I’ll post the first couple here, then follow up with another post covering the next couple of days.
Having arrived on a weekend, I had a full day, and after several failures on previous trips I finally managed to book on the Tempelhof Airport tour. One pro tip: despite being sold out online for a couple of weeks, I witnessed several people arrive without tickets, and they were all accommodated. So even if it shows up not available online you might want to chance showing up well in advance and seeing about tickets. Standing at the meeting point outside the old general aviation terminal:
First stop was out on the apron, the first in the world where planes pulled up to the terminal under a covered roof so that passengers could board/deplane regardless of rain:
Main check-in and baggage hall. Supposedly the roof used to be twice as high, but after World War Two the victorious powered had it lowered. Why? Because, and I roughly quote our tour guide, “walking into such a grand hall with high ceilings would invoke visions of German might and power, and arms might inadvertently snap up into a Nazi salute.” Thus, it was lowered, to make it less grand after the war…
You just knew I’d find the VIP waiting room…
Under the checkin hall, a couple stories down, were lots of bomb shelter rooms. This one, apparently, after the war was re-purposed by Lufthansa as a storage room.
Inside many of the bomb shelters, painted on the wall, were passages from common German fairy tales. According to our guide, this was because people would often be sheltered here with complete strangers, and this would give them something common to talk about until the all clear signal was given.
Top floor of the airport was…a basketball court?! After the war, the airport was in the American Sector of Berlin, and the airport was split 50-50 between civilian use and US military base. The two sides were strictly separated, but the American side had a basketball court and other rec facilities added.
From there, we climbed more stairs to the roof of the building, looking down on the apron. Great view, although I could have down without the howling wind and the stinging rain:
Outside the airport, the Berlin Airlift Memorial:
Apparently, not everyone is a big fan of capitalism. …and, no thanks, too high in fat.
The next day, I made the trek way out to Lichtenberg deep in eastern Berlin to see the Stasi Museum, located in the former Stasi (secret police) headquarters building:
The main building in the complex is where the museum is housed. The whole complex was several dozen buildings, many of which have now been leased out to various companies and businesses.
In the entranceway of the museum was a statue of (I believe) Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Checka, predecessor to the KGB and FSB in Russia.
Behind the office of Eric Mielke (head of the Statsi’s) was a room where he could retire for small private meetings, or as you can see from the bed in the corner, a nap. Rumour was that he would often sleep here at night in the final days, fearing assassination attempts if he left the building.
Waiting room in the executive area of the Stasi headquarters building.
Boardroom where high ranking members of the Stasi held many of their meetings:
Interesting exhibit on “the use of scent differentiation to fight crime” – supposedly when they arrested people, they would place this cloth under the chair of the person being interrogated. Idea was that it would collect their “scent” and that when they had enough of these collected they might be able to predict future criminals. I kid you not…
The “red suitcase” where Mielke kept secret documents that reportedly could bring down Erich Honecker, the President of the GDR. The suitcase allegedly contained evidence of Honecker’s cooperation with the Nazis, although to this day German authorities deny that. Even in East Germany, the head of the secret police keeping a blackmail file on the President would have been….sketchy at best.
The receptionist’s telephone outside Mielke’s office.
Panoramic view of Mielke’s office, with his desk on the far side, a large table for meetings, and chairs around a table for what I assume were smaller meetings?
Transit bear in the U-Bahn station at Alexanderplatz. DC did donkeys and elephants several years back, and Berlin did bears. What other cities have done a collection of statues around the city?
World Clock outside at Alexanderplatz with the Berliner Fernsehturm in the background. I’ve never been up to the viewing gallery at the top, but it’s supposed to have amazing views of Berlin.
Loved this shot of the station at Alexanderplatz.
With that, the first couple of days were over. Many more things to see, which I’ll detail in the next blog!