Category Archives: Sights & Attractions

Schloss Charlottenburg – Aerial Footage

Schloss Charlottenburg Aerial View by Gil Holten

Photo: Still from The Castle of Charlottenburg by Gil Holten

My parents were in Berlin last week and top of their must-see list was the interior at Schloss Charlottenburg, built in 1699 as a summer palace for Sophie Charlotte, by her husband, Friedrich I, then Friedrich III, the Elector of Brandenburg.

We visited the Palace Gardens at Schloss Charlottenburg during their last visit in the summer of 2013 but unfortunately the palace itself was closed as I took them on a Monday.

Whilst searching for a documentary about Schloss Charlottenburg for my Sunday Documentary series I came across these videos of drone footage with great aerial views of the palace, the gardens and the Belvedere.

The Castle of Charlottenburg

Schloss Charlottenburg

DJI PHANTOM 2 // GOPRO BE // BERLIN CHARLOTTENBURG

Going Local Berlin – New App From visitBerlin

Going Local Berlin App from visitBerlin

Photo: © visitBerlin

Last week visitBerlin launched a new app, Going Local Berlin, full of hundreds of tips to help tourists and locals get the most out of the city.

“The new app offers personal tips from Berlin insiders”, says Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin. “Our goal is to provide new ideas for the increasing number of repeat visitors when exploring the city.  The digital guide will help visitors and Berliners alike to experience the city from whole new perspectives.”

Going Local Berlin - Screenshots from the app from visitBerlin

Photo: Screenshots from the Going Local Berlin app from visitBerlin

Menu items on the home screen allow users to choose between ‘Boroughs’, ‘Orientation’ and ‘Map’ to find the tips most relevant to their current position or requirements.

Going Local Berlin - Screenshots from the app from visitBerlin

Photo: Screenshots from the Going Local Berlin app from visitBerlin

Places in each borough are categorised as ‘Must See’, Hidden Places’, Food & Drinks’ or ‘Berlin Tourist Info’.  All the relevant details such as addresses and opening times are included for each entry to make visiting as simple as possible, as you can see in the above entry for the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide.

Going Local Berlin is available for iOS and Android free of charge in both German and English. Once you have downloaded the app you will need to download a data packet of approximately 125 MB but it’s then available to use offline.

More details about Going Local Berlin and links to the iOS and Android downloads for the app are available on the visitBerlin website.

Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime

A Visitor Watches the Video Installation at the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin

Recognising the intolerance of Hitler’s regime for same-sex couples and the violence gay men and women suffered during the Nazis’ reign, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime, designed by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, is a monument and art installation on the edge of the Tiergarten in Berlin.

The Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin

The resolution of the German Bundestag from 12 December 2003 regarding the creation of the monument states:

The Federal Republic of Germany shall erect a memorial in Berlin to the homosexuals persecuted under the National Socialist regime.

With this memorial, the Federal Republic of Germany intends
– to honour the victims of persecution and murder,
– to keep alive the memory of this injustice, and
– to create a lasting symbol of opposition to enmity, intolerance and the exclusion of gay men and lesbians.

The Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin

Echoing the style and construction of its well-known counterpart, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, found just across the road, the monument is formed of a large concrete block.  A window in the monument gives access to a screen showing a video on loop. When it was unveiled on 27 May 2008 the video installation was an endless kiss between two men.  This has video has since been replaced with a series of clips showing both gay men and gay women embracing following protests from the lesbian community.

Video Installation at the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin Video Installation at the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin Video Installation at the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin Video Installation at the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime in Berlin

Situated as it is in Berlin’s largest public park, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted Under the National Socialist Regime is accessible 24 hours a day all year round.

Bearpit Karaoke – Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark

Sean from Poland sings at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Sean from Poland sings House of the Rising Sun at Bearpit Karaoke

Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark or Bearpit Karaoke as it is commonly known has grown from an innovative busking idea into an internationally known regular entertainment event and Berlin guidebook staple.

Joe Hatchiban at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Joe Hatchiban at Bearpit Karaoke

It all started in 2009 when Joe Hatchiban (real name Gareth Lennon) rode around Berlin with some friends and a Karaoke machine.  One of the places they stopped was Mauerpark and the Bearpit Karaoke was born.

Rest assured the name Bearpit Karaoake isn’t a reference to the ferocity of the crowd but rather the stone amphitheatre in the former death strip at Mauerpark that hosts it.  In fact the crowd will always find some reason, whether it is a note perfect performance or an enthusiastic but tone deaf rendition, or maybe the singer’s obvious enthusiasm or shyness, to give very vocal support to those with the balls to perform.

For the thousands of people, tourists and Berliners alike, drawn to the regular Sunday flea market, Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, across the park, the Karaoke provides entertainment and a respite from the haggling hordes.

The crowd at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

If you’re lucky enough to find a spot on the steps of a sunny Sunday, you can rest your feet and enjoy a cold beer, whilst a parade of plucky would-be entertainers takes to the stage to belt out their favourite songs.

Irena from Italy sings at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Irena from Italy sings at Bearpit Karaoke

A singer at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

A singer performs Wish You Were Here at Bearpit Karaoke

Diana from Chicago sings at Bearpit Karaoke

Diana from Chicago sings at Bearpit Karaoke

On an unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday in the last weekend in September Steffi and I joined the gathered crowd and spent an hour or two enjoying the show.

Berlin Bearpit Karaoke – Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark

This being Berlin, sooner or later one of the local nut jobs gets on the stage looking for some attention, not wanting to sing but rather to detract from those people who have been patiently waiting their turn.

Joe, though, has seen it all before and finds a way to bring the attention back to the singers.  In fact, his rapport with those who put themselves out there is one of the charms of the event. Each, is introduced by name with a little info about where they’re from and what they are doing in Berlin.

The Sonntags Karaoke in Mauerpark is funded by donations and so Joe walks around the crowd from time to time with a tin collecting money.  There have been some difficulties in the past due to the availability of permits and increasing costs so it’s important that you give a little something if you enjoy the show and want it to continue.

There are a few enterprising individuals who have spotted the opportunity to make a few Euros from such a captive audience.  A couple of guys walk around the Bearpit selling beer – all I can say is that they must have ridiculously strong arms to carry the crates around for hours like they do.

Another set of enterprising Berliners collect the empty bottles to cash in for the Pfand – for those not familiar with the German system an 8c deposit is paid on each beer bottle to encourage recycling.

The added bonus of this is that one of the council’s potential issues with the continuation of the Karaoke is a perceived rubbish problem.  This along with Joe’s constant encouragement to the crowd to take any other items away with them ensures the area is kept relatively tidy.

A performer at Bearpit Karaoke (Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark)

Weather and permits allowing, Joe Hatchiban is at the Mauerpark with his Karaoke machine Sundays from 15:00 but best to check the Sonntags Karaoke im Mauerpark Facebook page to avoid a wasted trip.  Bearpit Karaoke really is a uniquely Berlin thing (as far as I’m aware) so whether you’re visiting the city for a weekend or are a permanent resident it is something you should experience at least once – whether you should sing or not, well that is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Tag der Deutschen Einheit (The Day of German Unity)

Die Wölbung der Hände (La voûte des mains in the original French) at the former inner German border near Helmstedt

3 October 2014 marks the 24th anniversary of the re-unification of Germany, celebrated each year with a public holiday for Tag der Deutschen Einheit (The Day of German Unity).

Ask any non-German when the country was reunified and they will probably tell you 1989.  The images beamed around the world on 9 November 1989 of cars queuing at border crossing points and Germans celebrating on top of or attacking the wall with pick-axes are burned into the memories of many but East Germany didn’t cease to exist overnight.

There were of course many bureaucratic and organisational differences between East and West Germany – the two countries didn’t only have opposing political ideologies.  Preparations for the reunification of the country took some time so it wasn’t until 3 October 1990 that Germany was made whole again.

Die Wölbung der Hände (La voûte des mains in the original French) at the former inner German border near Helmstedt Former Inner German Border (Ehemalige innerdeutsche Grenze) SignErected at the site of the former inner German border at Helmstedt, the statue Die Wölbung der Hände (The Curvature of the Hands) or La voûte des mains, the title given to the piece by its creator José Castell, is one of the ways the German people have commemorated this important day.

Recognising the significance of the date, entry to the wonderful Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) is free on 3 October.

Reunification has on the whole been very successful and Germany is once more the economic powerhouse of Europe but even after 24 years there are still some obvious differences between the former East and West.

This graphic representation from Berliner Zeitung of the 2013 German Parliamentary Election (Bundestagswahl 2013) results in Berlin shows there are still political differences.

German Parliamentary Elections 2013 (Bundestagswahl) Results Map

Photo: B.Z.-Grafik

Commander Chris Hadfield, looking down on Berlin from the International Space Station observed the differences in the street lights between East and West – the yellow glow in the East is produced by Sodium-vapour lamps, the white in the West from mainly Fluorescent bulbs.

The East West Divide in Berlin Lights As Seen From the International Space Station

Photo: Commander Chris Hadfield

And it would seem that Ronny was a much more popular name in the East, as this illustration of the frequency of the name in every 10,000 Facebook users shows.

German Facebook Users Named Ronny

Photo: Zeit Online

There are plenty more interesting (and sometimes amusing) differences (auf Deutsch) in the article Das Geteilte Land on Zeit Online.

The official celebrations of Tag der Deutchen Einheit in Berlin centre around the Brandenburg Gate but perhaps more appropriately people all over the city will be enjoying the public holiday in their own way, celebrating their day of freedom from work.

Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin

Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin 001

Honouring the Soviet soldiers who died in the Second World War was obviously of huge importance to Joseph Stalin – in Berlin alone there are 4 memorials, one of which is the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide (Das Sowjetische Ehrenmal in der Schönholzer Heide).  It may not be as centrally located as the Soviet War Memorial on Strasse des 17 Juni or as jaw-droppingly vast as the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park but it is an impressive monument to the fallen soldiers nonetheless.

Plans to construct the Soviet war memorials in Berlin were conceived soon after the end of the war and a group of Soviet architects – Konstantin A. Soloviev, M. Belarnzew, WD Koroljew – and the sculptor Ivan G. Perschudtschew were given the task of creating the memorial in Schönholz.

Construction of the memorial and cemetery – 13,200 of the approximately 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin are buried here – took place between May 1947 and November 1949 over an area of around 27,500 m2.

Names on Plaque at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin

Set in the walls flanking the memorial are 100 plaques bearing the name, rank and year of birth of each of the 2647 soldiers it was possible to identify.

When I first made the journey to Schönholz in the North Berlin district of Pankow the memorial was closed for renovations – metal fences barred access to the grounds but I resolved to return.

The memorial was closed between early 2011 and August 2013 during which time 10.35 million Euros was spent cleaning, renovating and installing new security systems.

I returned to the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide on a sunny afternoon soon after it reopened on the 13 August 2013.

Pillar at Entrance to Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Entrance to Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin 002

The entrance is flanked by two granite pillars topped with a bronze sculpture of an eternal flame and bearing a wreath.  From here, an avenue of lime trees leads to the memorial grounds.

German Inscription at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Russian Inscription at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Bronze Relief of Soldier and Grieving Parents at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Bronze Relief of Soldier at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Bronze Relief of Female Soldier at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Military Insignia at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin

I paused at the red granite gatehouses bearing bronze reliefs depicting victorious soldiers and the soviet people grieving the loss of loved ones, along with the insignia of the Soviet military branches.

Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin 004 Obelisk at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Mausoleum at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Mother Russia at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin

Having walked the length of the grounds to the focal points of the memorial, the Statue of Mother Russia and the 33.5m high Obelisk, I sat on the steps to enjoy the peace and quiet.

As I sat there waiting for the moment I could take a photo looking back to the entrance without people in it, I watched as a woman lifted her toddler onto the plinth of the statue of Mother Russia, where the child proceeded to beat the cast bronze.

The same woman then dropped the cigarette she had been smoking and crushed it on the ground under her foot, where she left it.

Whilst I was still shaking my head at her lack of respect, a couple arrived with their dog, off its lead, running around on the grass above the bodies of the Russian soldiers.

Mother Russia and Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin

Thankfully, my visit and my faith in human nature were rescued by another visitor and what turned out to be a magic Berlin moment.  As I sat there an elderly gentleman approached me and asked if I speak Russian.

When I explained that I don’t, Wolfgang introduced himself in German and went on to tell me about his personal connection to the memorial.

Wolfgang had fought during the war and spent the 4 years from 1945 to 1949 in a Russian prison in Volta outside Moscow as a Prisoner of War.  He lives 30 minutes walk from the War Memorial and visits often to say thank you to the dead soldiers there who gave their lives to end the war.  He came empty handed on the day I met him but he explained that he often brings flowers from his garden.

Wolfgang then told me a little of his life after the war living in East Berlin with his wife and 2 children.

We discussed the peacefulness of the memorial, the horror and stupidity of war and the uniqueness of Berlin – ‘ich liebe Berlin’, Wolfgang told me often.

Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin 003 Eternal Flame at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin Flowers at Soviet Memorial in Schönholzer Heide in Berlin

I can’t promise you’ll meet Wolfgang if you visit the Soviet War Memorial in Schönholzer Heide but there are plenty of symbolic touches in the monument and grounds that will lead to the contemplation of the human cost of the war and the Soviet army’s losses in the Battle of Berlin in particular.

Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg – Berlin’s other TV Tower

Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg a TV and radio tower near Wannsee

It seems that I have a thing for TV and radio transmission towers – I fell in love with the Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz when I first came to Berlin and now I’m also a little bit obsessed with the Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg.

At 212 metres it is significantly shorter than the Fernsehturm but situated as it is on the top of a hill it is visible from a considerable distance.  If you’ve been to Wannsee you will most likely have seen its red and white antenna on the horizon, crowning through the trees of the Düppeler Forst.

Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg, a TV and radio tower as seen from Wannsee

In operation since 18 July 1964, it is owned by Deutsche Funkturm GmbH a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG and transmits television, analogue and digital radio signals.

Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg a TV and radio tower near Wannsee

I first noticed the Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg when I watched the sunset over Wannsee from a small beach on the Havelchaussee.  Steffi helped me locate the ‘mysterious tower’ and on a sunny May day last year I decided to get up close and personal, having already visited the Glienicker Brücke and the former DDR exclave in West Berlin, Klein Glienicke.

Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg a TV and radio tower near Wannsee

At the foot of the steps leading to the tower from the conveniently located Schäferberg bus stop, is a granite memorial to the Communist Party Chairman Johann Schehr and three other members, Rudolf Schwarz, Eugen Karl Schönhaar and Erich Steinfurth, victims of the Gestapo in 1934.

A memorial to Johann Schehr, Rudolf Schwarz, Eugen Karl Schönhaar and Erich Steinfurth, victims of the Gestapo in 1934, near the Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg, a TV and radio tower near Wannsee

A memorial to Johann Schehr, Rudolf Schwarz, Eugen Karl Schönhaar and Erich Steinfurth, victims of the Gestapo in 1934, near the Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg, a TV and radio tower near Wannsee

They were shot in the back ‘whilst attempting to flee’ in retaliation for the shooting of the Gestapo informer, Alfred Kattner at the hands of the Communists.

To reach the Fernmeldeturm Berlin-Schäferberg take the S1 / S7 / RE1 / RE7 to S-Bahnhof Wannsee and from there the bus 316 to Schäferberg, which is in Fare Zone (Tarifbereich) B.

Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin)

The Collegienhaus - the Old Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

Like Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart (Museum of Contemporary Art), I visited the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin) with my first Museum Pass in 2010 and was determined to go back during my Berlin Museum Marathon in February this year.

The Zinc facade of the Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Museum is housed in a combination of the Collegienhaus (Old Building), the former Superior Court of Justice for the Kurmark Brandenburg, and the striking and more instantly recognisable zinc façade of the Libeskind Building.

The new building, opened in 2001, is accessible only through a staircase from the Old Building, which it zig-zags away from and the walls are cut through by the irregular shapes of the windows and a series of voids.

A view out of an opening in The Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

A cross shaped opening in The Libeskind Building of the Jewish Museum Berlin

In  2000 Daniel Libeskind said that the museum voids refer to:

that which can never be exhibited when it comes to Jewish Berlin history: Humanity reduced to ashes.

The installation Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishnman consists of more than 10,000 iron faces, representing the innocent victims of war and violence, that cover the floor of the Memory Void.

Shalekhet (Fallen Leaves) by Israeli artist Menashe Kadishnman in the Memory Void of the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Axis of the Holocaust leads to a heavy door that opens into another of the building’s voids, The Holocaust Tower.  As with all of the voids the walls are bare concrete and the tower is neither air conditioned nor heated.  Natural light enters through a space at the top of the tower.  The combination of these environmental factors creates a peaceful, if slightly disconcerting, atmosphere.

Inside The Holocaust Tower at the end of the Axis of the Holocaust at the Jewish Museum Berlin

At the end of the Axis of Emigration, is the Garden of Exile, a series of 49 concrete stelae, taller than those of the Memorial To The Murdered Jews of Europe, but similarly arranged in a regular pattern on sloping ground.  Here, the stelae are filled with earth and trees grow from them.  The same disorienting effect results.

The Garden of Exile at the end of The Axis of Emigration at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Axis of Continuity leads to a staircase and the exhibition space above, where the permanent exhibits present two millennia of German Jewish History.

Paintings on display as part of the permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Silver on display as part of the permanent exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin

Yellow fabric with Jewish Stars by Geitel & Co at Jewish Museum Berlin

Inevitably some of the most notable and heartbreaking exhibits are holocaust related.  The museum has the following explanation of the yellow star:

Beginning in September 1941, all Jews were required to wear a yellow star: “Jews six years of age and older are prohibited from appearing in public without a Jewish star…It is to be worn visibly on the left side of the breast, firmly sewn to the clothing.”

The stars were manufactured by the Berlin flag maker Geitel & Co.  Great lengths of cloth were stored on the premises of the Gestapo-controlled “National Union of Jews in Germany”.  For a processing fee of 10 pfennig, the Jews had to purchase the yellow star and sew it to their clothing.

For more information about the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Jewish Museum Berlin), including opening hours and prices see their website.

Punk Statues in Wilmersdorf

Ludmila Seefried-Matejková - Sleeping - a punk statue outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in Berlin

When I first came across a statue of a punk on a roundabout in Kreuzberg I was sure it was one of a kind.  But when I posted about it, two of my Twitter followers, Christophe Robin and sprng got in touch to say that there are similar statues outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf.

The three bronze sculptures on the corner of Hohenzollerndamm and Brienner Strasse are by the same artist – Ludmila Seefried-Matejková.

Schlafende (Sleeping – pictured above) is a punk girl lying with her head resting on her outstretched arm, her jacket pulled up to hide her face – is she upset? Is she hungover? Or is she merely being practical and blocking out the sun so she can get some sleep?

Walkman is a casting of the same statue that I found in Kreuzberg – a punk with a green T-shirt looking proud or possibly defiant.

Ludmila Seefried-Matejková - Walkman - a punk statue outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in Berlin

The third sculpture, closest to the Bürgeramt, is the most puzzling.  The title Gedanken eines Mimen (Thoughts of a mime) suggests the man is a mime artist but his bare chest and tight cap made me think of a swimmer when I first saw him.

Ludmila Seefried-Matejková - Gedanken eines Mimen - a statue outside the Bürgeramt Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in Berlin

Berlin is a city of surprises and is littered with public art – who knows, there may even be more punks somewhere else.