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Checkpoints of View and Walling One’s Self Off

21 Nov

On our first proper day of exploring we ended up seeking out two of the most famous and popular landmarks of Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and a stretch of the Berlin Wall which were to give us contrasting views on tastefulness.

First off was Checkpoint Charlie, which despite us hearing that it was a tourist trap ended up being fairly close to our random wanderings and so became the first proper notable bit of the city we saw.   It was a tasteless little thing that didn’t deserve a photo, so here’s the sign instead.

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For those of you interested, you can see the checkpoint in front of the McDonald’s, two German guys are dressed up in army uniforms waving flags and charging money for photos.  I don’t know what I expected but I was taken aback by the tasteless commercialisation of it, there was a museum just beyond that looked really interesting but the experience would have been sullied by coming back out and being greeted once again by the tacky nature of the scene.

From reading the museums website it is definitely worth a look and something I will seek out next time I am that way on, at the time though it was so at odds with the crudeness we had seen that we had to move on and it was a good thing we did for five minutes walk around the way, we found a 200m piece of the Berlin Wall and that was really something.  This is the outdoor portion of the Topography of Terror museum (more of which in the next post).

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I remember as an eight year old watching people on the news celebrate by climbing on a wall and I didn’t understand it’s significance for many years but that memory has always stayed with me and so seeing the wall in real life, I expected something more imposing, something that would loom over me and invoke a physical response.  Even visualising the barbed wire that would have been on top and accounting for the TV adding ten pounds, it seemed so commonplace, which is not understate the actual impressiveness of being there and touching it.

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It seems incomprehensible that something like this could have erected, especially when in today’s global society when a quick Skype call would at least render communications possible between friends and family but that it happened less than sixty years ago is still disconcerting.  Naturally later in the day we saw some bits of the wall in other places and men touting for photo business which really does bring down the gravitas of what is a major attraction for serious-minded people.

The day was about to get more emotionally charged as we made our way towards the indoor exhibits of the museum but I’ll save that for another day…

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Demolished and abandoned piers from the main driveway to the Gestapo headquarters, which was left after the clearing of the site (1957 – 63), with remnants of the metal fittings. All the transports of prisoners to the Gestapo ‘house prison’ passed through this east-gate.

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36 Comments

Posted by on 21/11/2015 in History, Travel

 

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36 responses to “Checkpoints of View and Walling One’s Self Off

  1. clarepooley33

    21/11/2015 at 16:38

    The tackiness of Checkpoint Charlie really surprises me. I just wouldn’t have thought that Berliners would be like that.
    I don’t think the wall had to be tall or wide it just had to ‘be’. The guards and the razor-wire and the mines and the fact that everyone was being watched all the time was a big enough deterrent to anyone wanting to go westwards. It was a physical presence, a symbol of the USSR’s and East Germany’s power and the ordinary people were weak and brow-beaten. It was supposedly built to keep the Westerners out but in fact it was to keep the Easterners in. Those amazing news items from the end of 1989 are still so clear in my memory too. One by one the eastern powers were toppled – it was so exciting – and horrifying too when we watched the execution of the Romanian president and his wife. Since then borders have changed, battles have been fought, there has been genocide and other atrocities…

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    • Ste J

      21/11/2015 at 18:27

      There always seems to be an excuse to have wars sadly…

      You are of course right, with all the other defences around the wall it would have been a heck of a lot more terrifying and daunting, I just expected the wall to be something more. Yet take away not only the extra defences, the context and the fear and it is just a simple wall that symbolises so much.

      Checkpoint Charlie isn’t much at all, I expected something a bit cheesy but not that. People were looking but apart from a few tourists most people were moving on pretty quickly.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • clarepooley33

        21/11/2015 at 22:51

        I think it all looks so much smaller and insignificant now because it is in the middle of a bustling thoroughfare with shoppers and McDONALDS!!! next to it. When there was nothing but searchlights and guards and fear there it seemed bigger.

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        • Ste J

          22/11/2015 at 15:11

          it is hard to imagine it as it was, even when we went to the wall in it’s quiet home off the road, it was still something I couldn’t really envision. I have been looking at old footage and documentaries to give me more of an idea. I’m becoming a bit of a wall junkie now.

          Liked by 1 person

           
  2. shadowoperator

    21/11/2015 at 19:28

    Thanks for the photos again. I guess were I in Germany, I would be tempted to take in some musical venues, as the country is famous for its music (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc I don’t mention Wagner not only because of his proto-Nazi stance, but because I don’t like his music, but plenty of people are able to separate his talent from his politics, and so he’s there too). Or what about plays? Do you understand any German?

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    • Ste J

      22/11/2015 at 15:22

      I understand little German, next time I plan a trip I will at least do my best to learn some language and research, although I am sure I can find some bloggers who wouldn’t mind having a giggle at my badly worded emails in their native language. Having preparation time would also aid in seeing what was on. Are you familiar with The Proms? All through the summer orchestral music is played around the Uk, from classical to a mixture of more contemporary mixes as well, it’s a lovely soundtrack to the summer even if I jus catch most of it on the radio and TV.

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      • shadowoperator

        22/11/2015 at 16:17

        I’ve heard of The Proms, yes. To an understandably (I think) popular-culture overloaded American mind, the word “prom” calls to mind teenaged girls in ugly poofy dresses and teenaged pimply boys in their first tuxedos. I take in a good bit of classical music at night while I’m crocheting, since we have an excellent public radio station in Boston area, and I also watch operas on my computer when I get the chance, meanings when I’m not doing something else like crocheting, because I don’t just like to listen, the acting part is important to me too. But I guess I always have felt that going to another country includes hearing or seeing some of the musical or living creative art of that country. Well, in France, I saw a light show at Les Invalides, I refused to go to a bullfight in Spain out of principles humanitarian (though I could have) and in England I saw “Godspell” on stage. I was just wondering what Germany offered to you in particular, and whether you opted in or out of that invite.

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        • Ste J

          24/11/2015 at 17:59

          That sort of prom is becoming prevalent over here now, it’s all a bit cringe worthy. YouTube is great for classical music but I do like to listen to Radio Three as well it’s good that there is such a passionate listenership (which I hope is a word). The main reason we plumped for Berlin was it was cheap and we needed somewhere last minute. Had I been planning ahead I don’t think Berlin would have been too high up on my list but once we got there, the history was the thing that demanded our attention and rightly so. next time I think there will be research and I will definitely make sure I get into place that call me to them.

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  3. Lyn

    21/11/2015 at 23:04

    Just seeing the McDonald’s sign would be enough to make me avoid it. Sadly, “tasteless commercialisation” raises it’s ugly head everywhere 😦

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    • Ste J

      22/11/2015 at 15:08

      That bit of the city was just shops and such but the McDonald’s fits the checkpoint well. At least the other places I visited were more in keeping with the atmosphere you would expect.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  4. cricketmuse

    22/11/2015 at 00:04

    When I visited Berlin in 1977 I felt the lingering oppression as I neared the wall site. I felt so grateful to be an American, to have such amazing freedoms.

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    • Ste J

      22/11/2015 at 15:28

      To be free is something we take for granted, especially these days with all our tech, the wall must have been so effective as a reminder of what the GDR had lost under the Russians.

      Liked by 1 person

       
      • cricketmuse

        22/11/2015 at 16:23

        At one point on the trip we stopped in a village for lunch. Next to the gasthaus was a field and beyond the field were watchtowers and soldiers. I was told the village had been literally divided in half after the war. The simple barbed wire fence served as that marker. The watchtowers loomed in the distance. I cried for the villagers separated from their freedom and loved ones.

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        • Ste J

          24/11/2015 at 17:46

          It is truly something impossible to contemplate, seeing your loved ones across the barbed wire with no way to have a hug. The world seemed crazy then but now…

          Liked by 1 person

           
  5. Love, Life and Whatever

    22/11/2015 at 04:58

    Wow magnificent….sort of déjà vu must have been for you apart from historical perspective places like these beam with stories untold.

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    • Ste J

      22/11/2015 at 15:31

      There are some amazing stories of escapes over the wall and such that really are amazing and the ideas it conjured up…well it would be a great excuse to travel and soak up the atmosphere for research purposes. At least places like the wall are a reminder to never forget our mistakes.

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  6. Theanne aka magnoliamoonpie

    22/11/2015 at 14:47

    Sadly, the reality is that human beings will try to make money using anything that can be used. From what little I’ve read of history and from what I’ve observed during my lifetime…this has always been true. When you go to a place expecting to feel the significance and emotion of a previous time and discover it’s now all about making money (or indifference) it can be a real kick in the solar plexus.

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    • Ste J

      22/11/2015 at 15:16

      Trip Advisor told us that it was a tourist trap so we weren’t expecting much but yes the mercenary nature of humans in search of money can be misplaced in the extreme, to put it politely. The part of the Berlin wall we went to was part of a museum attraction in a peaceful setting and it is good that nobody tried to make any money from that…

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  7. Maniparna Sengupta Majumder

    22/11/2015 at 21:05

    Charging money for clicking pictures is not something that sounds good…anyway..

    It’s hard to put the pieces of history together when we see it live, like the Berlin Wall. I too think it as something very imposing..so many stories we have read about the Berlin wall..

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 18:07

      It’s great to experience these places but it always seems less impressive than the imagination we conjure up. I’m glad I went and experienced it, I think had they still left the watchtowers and barbed wire etc up, then it would have been easier to see how imposing it was.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  8. aliceatwonderland

    23/11/2015 at 14:51

    Wow, those are some impressive photos. Also impressive is that you actually went to Berlin. I don’t really have the money for travel but even if I did I would probably go to Disney World, where you can go to Epcot Center and have fun in the Americanized versions of various countries. Come to think of it – maybe going to the actual countries is a bit like that too?

    I remember seeing the Alamo up close a while back. I’d studied such exciting Texas history, then I see this major landmark and it has been cut down into a tiny little place with a gift shop dwarfed by surrounding hotels. Remember the Alamo?

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 18:20

      It’s been rare for travelling in the last couple of years but it was good to do that. I hope the Epcot Center isn’t run by Fox as their news is hilarious with stuff outside America, I don’t know if they actually have any researchers or fact checkers but I now wish to go to this place and enjoy the Americanised nature of things.

      There is always a gift shop, I would never buy commercialised crap unless it was amusing of course, like a postcard of David Hasselhoff in a fake Mexican moustache. There is little sense of atmosphere with all the people and companies leaching off the tourist.

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      • aliceatwonderland

        30/11/2015 at 13:51

        I would like a picture of Hasselhoff in a fake mustache. Have you seen his music video? Or where he plays Jekyll and Hyde in the musical “Jekyll and Hyde.”? No, seriously, he does, and the bits I’ve seen make my stomach hurt from huge bursts of laughter. I have a link to a post featuring this if you missed it.

        I’m not sure if Epcot is run by Fox News, although the Disney company, as much as I like Disney, is run by lies. Only their lies generally try to sanitize stuff, whereas Fox tries to make evil out of everything, even Santa (who is white, by the way.)

        I’ve actually seen people put up pictures of a sad Mickey with the French flag over it on Facebook. Cue “It’s a small world after all.”

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        • Ste J

          30/11/2015 at 20:19

          I do try and watch The Hoff’s music videos at least twice a year, just in case one day they save my life and they are that ridiculous that one day that may just end up happening. I love his mad eyed stare.

          I reserve my right to be mean to Disney until I see what the new Star Wars is like, I didn’t see many people with the Mali flag on their profile photos the week before but then again, if you aren’t the same skin colour of Santa (and Jesus of course!) then it doesn’t seem to count, it seems.

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          • aliceatwonderland

            30/11/2015 at 20:53

            Oh I love Disney yet am often mean to them (see any of my Disney movie reviews). I am also very uncertain of the new Star Wars movies because not just Disney but director J.J. Abrams already made awful Star Trek movies – I mean AWFUL.

            Yes, it is thanks to Fox News that I know that Santa and Jesus are white (despite one being clearly fictional and the other being born in the Middle East). And yes we show our support (with colors!) for France, but won’t even let Syrian refugees in cause gross they could be terrorists (unlike the many white, Christian American terrorists already here) but I digress – I think I wrote another post lol.

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  9. macjam47

    24/11/2015 at 01:02

    Wow! What a fascinating post. The Berlin wall existed most of my life. When it came down it was monumental.

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 17:44

      It’s strange to try and imagine the impact the fall had on those affected, I will be stopping at that museum I mentioned next time for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

       
  10. Sherri

    24/11/2015 at 13:03

    What a fascinating insight into Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. I felt your disappointment of the commercialism and fully understandable. It’s funny how memories such as yours of the people climbing on the wall play out when as adults, we get to visit the actual place. Everything seems so much smaller and less significant. That is chilling about the entrance to the ‘house prison’ through the east-gate…those fallen piers as a sombre reminder of what once took place there. And as you say, all this, not really that long ago…and how indeed modern communication would make something like the Berlin Wall so inconsequential. Unless all internet was banned too…the mind boggles. Great post, very thought-provoking…thank you.

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    • Ste J

      24/11/2015 at 18:12

      There is plenty more sombreness in my next post, it holds a lot of history does that site. I always thinking of World War II as being so long ago but it really wasn’t that long ago. It pleases me that such a barrier has come down, although we do need to put a new selective barrier up against Daesh these days.

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  11. RoSy

    28/11/2015 at 05:34

    What an impact something like the fall of the wall makes when you actually see it in person or catch the history of it live as it happens or by visiting the “props” left behind.

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    • Ste J

      28/11/2015 at 19:33

      I’m glad there is something left,to remind us of past times, something tangible to touch and form a connection with, it makes the savage destruction of historical monuments by certain groups all the more unpalatable…

      Liked by 1 person

       
  12. readinpleasure

    01/12/2015 at 17:07

    I guess we humans like to cash in on any given situation though I would have thought such a situation would happen only in our parts of the world.

    Anyway, I also watched the crumbling of the Berlin Wall (so to speak) on TV years ago, though much older and all the history lessons in school suddenly made sense to me in a very poignant way. 🙂

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    • Ste J

      02/12/2015 at 15:42

      It is difficult to imagine the impact on these families until you see them reuniting, rediscovering, they are as beautiful and happy as they are sad and harrowing. It is proof that barriers will always fall, no matter how long they last human will erodes them.

      Like

       

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