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Unter den Linden, picturesquely named for the linden trees that have historically
been planted along it, is a wide boulevard that would have to be considered Berlin’s
most prestigious stretch of road. Several of Berlin’s most historical buildings are
located on this road, and it was heavily used by Prussian and German royalty during
the years of Prussian and German royalty. It began life in the 16th Century as a
bridle path from the Stadtschloss (city palace) to Elector John George of
Brandenburg’s favorite hunting ground to the west, a forested area known as the
Tiergarten. It was widened into a boulevard and planted with linden trees
in the 17th Century.
The east end of Unter den Linden begins where a street called Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse
crosses the Kupfergraben branch of the Spree and abruptly changes its name. The
first historical building appears immediately on the right, a pinkish building from
1730 that was once an armory, but which is now the main building of the
Deutsches Historisches Museum
(German Historical Museum). We didn’t visit this museum, as our energy was lacking
by this time, but we continued westward.
We noticed at this time that none of the rumored linden trees were to be found
along this stretch of road. This was nice in that it allowed for good views of
the buildings, but also not so nice, as the stormy weather of a couple of days
earlier had transformed into a heat wave, and the weather would have been made
more bearable by the presence of some shady trees.
Deutsches Historisches Museum and Spree River
Statues, Deutsches Historisches Museum
Continuing westward, we passed by some of the buildings of
a school I for one had never heard of. On looking into it afterward,
I found it to have a remarkable history, however. It was founded in 1810 by
Wilhelm von Humboldt (brother of geographer Alexander) with the name University
of Berlin, a name that was changed a few times before arriving at the current
Humboldt name. The list of people who have been associated with the school in
one capacity or another is beyond impressive, including names like Otto von
Bismarck, Albert Einstein, Heinrich Hertz and his nephew Gustav, Karl Marx,
Friedrich Engels, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Hermann
von Helmholtz, Felix Mendelssohn, Max Planck, Arthur Schopenhauer and Erwin
Schrödinger, among many others.
During the years of Nazi and Communist power, dissent was strongly discouraged
among the school’s faculty and student body, and many were deported or imprisoned;
some simply disappeared. In 1948 the
Free University of Berlin was established in
West Berlin as an alternative. Humboldt University, much more tolerant of diverse
viewpoints since reunification, now has about 33,000 students.
On the south side of Unter den Linden, we noticed another building with the school’s
name across its top, and a large open area in front of it. This building is one
of the University's library buildings, and the open area is known as
Bebelplatz. It was formerly known as Opernplatz, and in 1933 it
was the location of a famous Nazi-hosted burning of books taken from the University
library, featuring guest speaker Joseph Goebbels. There is apparently a memorial
consisting of a window into an underground chamber of empty bookshelves. We didn’t
see this memorial, as we were on the wrong side of the street and unaware of its
existence. We continued west.
University Library Building
Just past Humboldt University we couldn’t help but notice a 44-foot-high
equestrian statue in the middle of the street. This is a statue of Frederick
the Great (Frederick II), King of Prussia from 1740-1786. It’s made of
bronze and was completed in 1851. A lower tier of the statue shows life-sized
depictions of some of Frederick’s most accomplished generals. More discussion
of Frederick will appear on a future web page.
The Frederick statue marks the beginning of the actual linden trees on Unter
den Linden. Their presence makes photography difficult, unless one wants photos
of linden trees. But we did appreciate the shade, and we found a place to eat
lunch, which we also appreciated. It had already been a busy day, and it was
now past 3 PM – we were starting to wilt and needed refueling.
Eventually the linden trees ended and Unter den Linden dumped us out into a big open
area. This area is called Pariser Platz, a name bestowed in 1814 in celebration of the
defeat of Napoleon (temporary, as it turned out) and the occupation of France’s
capital. The most famous landmark on Pariser Platz is the Brandenburg Gate
(Brandenburger Tor), which occupies its western boundary. The Brandenburg Gate
was completed in 1791 as a symbol of peace under King Frederick William II. Perched
atop the gate is a chariot-equipped goddess, represented over the years as either
Peace or Victory, depending on who was doing the representing.
In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Pariser Platz became a prestigious location,
and was surrounded by foreign embassies, the city’s finest hotel and a number of expensive
offices and apartments. But then Adolf Hitler happened, and as with the rest of Berlin,
everything changed for Pariser Platz. First, Allied forces bombed the daylights out of
it, flattening pretty much everything in the area (except for the Brandenburg Gate, which
somehow survived mostly intact). Then the area, which was just inside the post-war
Soviet-controlled sector of the city, was cleared and turned into a zone where it was
most advisable to not be, as anyone appearing in it was subject to being shot. The Berlin
Wall went up just on the other side of the Gate, and the area became the physical
manifestation of the Iron Curtain.
But in 1987, just on the other side of the wall on the other side of the Gate, Ronald Reagan gave his "tear down this
wall" speech, and by 1990 this is exactly what happened. There was a great deal
of media coverage centered on the Brandenburg Gate area as the Berlin Wall went
away. With Berlin (and Germany) reunified, it was determined that Pariser Platz should
be returned to its former glory, and construction began. American and French embassies
were established in prominent locations on the Platz, and the luxurious
was rebuilt in the style of the original (Michael Jackson famously dangled his son Blanket
from a balcony in 2002, to the universal horror of the American media). A Frank Gehry
designed building (currently occupied by the DZ Bank) was built, and a museum devoted
to the Kennedy family was opened (JFK’s 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech made him a
local hero). There is even a Starbucks.
From Pariser Platz we passed through the Brandenburg Gate into West Berlin
(nobody shot at us) and walked northward through a corner of the Tiergarten
so we could see the home of the German Parliament, the
The Parliament, or Bundestag, makes use of a number of buildings, but
holds their general meetings in the Reichstag. The Reichstag building was
constructed from 1884 to 1894, its completion date falling during the reign
of Kaiser Wilhelm II, who didn’t much care for parliamentary democracy.
Nevertheless, the Parliament (then called the Reichstag) inhabited the
building for the remainder of the Kaiser’s reign, which ended with his
abdication in 1918. In 1916, the words Dem Deutschen Volke (to the
German People) were added to the front of the building, and the Parliament
continued to meet in the building through the years of the post World War I
Weimar Republic, until 1933. At this time the building was badly damaged
by a fire of suspicious origin, a fire used by the newly-in-power Nazis as
a pretext to crack down on German communists (though evidence of any
involvement by them was lacking).
The building wasn’t used as a government meeting place again for many
years. Hitler didn’t have any use for a parliament, and during the years
of a divided Germany, the East German government met in East Berlin and the
West German government met in Bonn, in the far west of Germany, on the
Rhine River. After reunification and some heated discussion, it was
decided to move the new government back to Berlin, and repair work was
begun on the Reichstag building, which still bore scars from the 1933 fire,
World War II and decades of neglect. The renovated building opened for
business in 1999, sporting a brand-new glass dome.
We were interested in looking inside the building, and possibly visiting
the dome, which has twin spiral walkways and a magnificent view of Berlin.
However, for some reason the building was closed to visitors when we
arrived, so we were only able to view it from the outside. A good place
for doing this is the large grassy area in front of the building, an area
called the Platz der Republik. It’s also a good place for sitting
and resting your feet, which was Nella’s chosen activity. Connie and I
walked around on the grass and took pictures of the building, noticing
that there were people walking around inside the dome, on its walkways.
We figured they were either VIPs or people who got there before the
entrance was closed.
After we’d had our fill of the Reichstag, we found an U-Bahn station and
returned to our hotel. It was warm in the room, due to the lack of air
conditioning, so we turned on the room’s fan. And we rested, as we were
planning to return to the Museumsinsel the next morning, for a visit to
the Pergamon Museum.
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