Friday, June 27, 2014


Except for the past 100 years or so, the Germans have had a long proud history. Prior to 1933, Germany was considered the most civilized country in Europe. Anybody can have a bad century, and needless to say, in the Twentieth Century, they had one. The Germans started (and lost) World War I, and World War II. They played a major role in the Cold War. Under the Kaiser, the Nazis and the East German Communist regimes, Germany was the epitome of evil. ____________________________________________________ As Margaret Thatcher said after losing to the Germans in 1990 World Cup soccer, the British national sport, "I shouldn't worry too much--we've beaten them twice this century at theirs. ____________________________________________________ Today, Germany has confronted its past. It has built many museums and memorials allowing visitors to examine all the gory details of Germany's notorious past, leaving no stone unturned. The museums associated with World War II and the Holocaust are free, to encourage as many people as possible to visit. The one innovation for which we can thank the prior regimes is the Autobahn where you can drive 100 MPH or faster without being arrested. ____________________________________________________ Since the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, the German government has invested billions in East Germany. In East Berlin today, property values are higher than in West Berlin. Beautiful architecture is intertwined with decaying Stalinist era buildings. Even those are expensive because of the large rooms and high ceilings. My wife, Dianne described Berlin's architecture as "futuristic". _____________________________________________________ We explored Berlin for several days. We weren't sure what to expect. We had heard about all the bad--the World Wars, the Wall, the secret police, and we wanted to see all this for ourselves. _____________________________________________________ For my bedtime reading, I brought along a copy of The Book Thief, by Markus Zurek, a story about a young girl raised in a small town in Nazi Germany who discovers her humanity in the midst of the Nazi storm. Her family takes in a young Jewish man and hides him in their basement for two years. The book was made into a movie and I highly recommend both the book and the movie. In most literature of that period, the central characters are the victims of Nazi terror. This book tells the story of ordinary Germans who, confronted with gangsters in their community, protest in their own ways. This book helped me to absorb the flavor of Germany, at least in 1939. ______________________________________________________ Until 1871, when Count Bismarck united the country, the 16 German states operated as separate entities, each with their own kings and royalty. They intermarried with the kings and queens of other European countries. The most powerful state was Prussia, of which Berlin was the capitol. Bismarck, the Chancellor, was a master of foreign policy and used his considerable diplomatic skills to preserve the balance of power in Europe in the late 1800's. ______________________________________________________ He fought wars with Austria and Denmark in which Prussia was able to gain territory and influence. France, under Napoleon III was Germany's arch-enemy, and the counter-balance, so to speak. France started the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and, of course, lost. Bismarck used this war to consolidate the various German states and duchies for defense against France. He also created a modern welfare state to gain the support of the lower class. Biismarck's most famous quote was, "Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made." ______________________________________________________ Around the same time, in 1872, in the U.S., the city of Bismarck in North Dakota was named after him by the Northern Pacific Railroad in an effort to attract German investment to a cow town in the middle of nowhere. There is no record that Count Bismarck was suitably impressed to the extent that he would send money to North Dakota. ____________________________________________________I____________________________________ In our free time in Berlin, we walked abound the ultra-modern shopping malls and cafes. They just opened the Bikini Mall (I had to see that!) next to the Berlin Zoo, and you can watch the monkeys from the mall. I saw nobody in bikinis at the mall. ___________________________________________________________________________________ The ubiquitous billboards with the likeness of Chancellor Angela Merkel are seen on many streets. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel where we stayed for the first three days is located on Potsdamer Platz, just East of where the Berlin Wall used to be. For years, this area was vacant no-man's land where Hitler had killed himself in his underground bunker. That was sealed off by the Russians. When they built the Wall, the East Germans also sealed off the subway stations with concrete. The subway trains continued to run under the Wall, but the "ghost stations" were inaccessible. When the Wall came down, the "ghost stations" were time capsules of an earlier era. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Today, Potsdamer Platz is the home of the Sony Center, a huge shopping mall built on several levels. Berlin is a very clean city and appears to be safe from crime. We sat in the plaza observing the people. We noted that many Germans don't look like what we Americans would consider "German". Indeed, a significant minority of Germans are of Middle Eastern origin, primarily from Turkey. After World War II, Germany didn't have enough workers for the cleanup and new construction. They recruited heavily in Turkey, the Turks liked it in Germany, and stayed long term. Many native Germans are uncomfortable with the large numbers of Middle Eastern Muslims. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Berlin is a city full of museums and parks. An enormous park called the Garden of the Beasts, across from what is now Embassy Row, had been the hunting grounds for German kings in the 17th and 18th Centuries. All the trees were burned or leveled during and after World War II. New trees were planted, and today it is a beautiful park again. The beasts are pretty much gone, however. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Berlin has the normal historical museums which one would expect in a world class city. The famous Pergamon Museum and the Jewish Museum are the two most visited. You can also see museums like the DDR Museum documenting life in the former East Germany, which most Germans would like to forget. The best known symbol of shoddy East German consumer goods is the much maligned Trabant automobile--you could smell it before it came around the corner. It was junk, but an East German would have to wait years to obtain a new one. We saw many Trabants--on exhibit, not on the street. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Berlin has architectural museums, museums devoted to Bauhaus, a Gay Museum, a (John F.) Kennedy Museum, a Museum of Musical Instruments, and numerous art galleries. They even have a Currywursst Museum.  More on that later.  One museum they forgot to include in tourist guides is the Beate Uhse Erotik Museum. On our last day in Berlin, we stayed at the Indigo Hotel, which happens to be around the corner from the Erotik Museum. Naturally, we had to go see what it was. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ BEATE UHSE EROTIK MUSEUM ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Beate Uhse (1919-2001) was Europe's answer to Hugh Hefner. The first floor of the museum is devoted to her life story. She was a bon vivant, married three times, the last time to a man much younger. She was a headstrong child with little or no bounds set by her parents. They freely discussed sexuality and contraception with their children. As a teenager, Beate took flying lessons and acquired a stunt pilot's license at age 18. She took a job at an aircraft factory where she met her first husband Hans-Jurgen Uhse. __________________________________________________________________________________________________ Shortly after their 1939 wedding, her husband was sent off to war. Beate accepted an offer from the Luftwaffe (German air force) to fly in an aircraft transport squadron. Their son was born in 1943, but she was allowed to continue flying and was promoted to captain. Her husband was killed in a plane crash, leaving Beate as a young widow with an infant son. She was very resourceful. In 1945, with Berlin surrounded by Allied forces, she commandeered a small plane and flew West where she, her son and the nanny were captured by British troops. Her career as a pilot ended there because members of the Luftwaffe were not allowed to fly. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________ After the war, she sold products door-to-door, meeting many housewives. She listened to their complaints about men getting them pregnant and taking no responsibility--no apartment, no money, no future. (No welfare either!). She started a mail order company and wrote a brochure about the "rhythm method" of contraception which sold thousands of copies. She expanded to selling condoms and books on "marital hygiene", married her second husband and had another son. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________ In 1962, she decided to go "big time" and opened a "specialty store for marital hygiene"--the first sex shop. As one can imagine, the store wasn't well received by the authorities although the items in the catalog and the store flew off the shelves. The police cracked down hundreds of times for selling items which served to "inflame and satisfy lustful desires in a manner contrary to decency and morality." She was ostracized by the book industry because of "moral concerns", and even the local tennis club refused to admit her. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________ When West Germany legalized pornography in 1976, Ms. Uhse had the respected brand name and an established mail order business. After that her company, Beate Uhse AG grew in leaps and bounds and went public in 1999. The public offering was over-subscribed because people wanted the stock certificates with scantily clad girls pictured on them. Today, the company employs over 1500 people and is active in 60 countries. Ms. Uhse authored a book called Sex Sells which summarizes her career. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The museum itself is kind of a letdown. For 16 Euros a couple (about $20), I guess we expected more. The erotic part exhibited drawings of Oriental sex and skimpy outfits, but if one is really expecting a rise, they should go to a real sex store (for free) rather than the museum. The museum exhibits a collection of 5000 historical artifacts (dildoes, etc.) from around the world. This was not on my bucket list, but now I can say I was there and probably won't go back. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ BERLIN WALL _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Ritz-Carlton, as I mentioned earlier, is located on Potsdamer Platz where a few sections of the Berlin Wall are still on display on the square nearby. Today, cobblestones on the street mark where the Wall stood--130 miles of cobblestones. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ As we all know, West Berliners often painted graffiti on the Wall. East Berliners did not because they were not allowed near the Wall. What West Germans didn't know was that the Wall stood a few feet inside East Berlin. This would allow the East Berliners to maintain the Wall without going (escaping?) into West Berlin. A graffito painter would have to step into East Berlin to paint on the Wall. The East Germans actually installed secret doors in the Wall, and occasionally, they would drag someone through the Wall into East Berlin. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Berlin Wall was built in 1961. During the night of August 13, 1961, with little warning, the East Germans strung 130 miles of barbed wire. Their government had become alarmed that too many people were leaving East Berlin--a severe brain drain for the German Democratic Republic, as the East was known. In the years before the Wall was built, 3.5 million East Germans had crossed over to West Berlin. Most were bright, ambitious young professional people and entrepreneurs. The East Germans had to take a drastic step to stem their loss of population. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ When the Wall was built, the West really didn't complain much because its construction signified that the Soviets had no plans to take over West Berlin. West Berliners could obtain permits to enter the East, although the procedure could take a week or two. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The East Germans actually constructed two walls separated by a 100 meter no-man's land--a death strip, if you will. Most people thought the Communists had planted land mines on that strip, and the East German government encouraged that rumor. That turned out to be untrue. West Berliners often threw their trash over the Wall, knowing that nobody would make them retrieve it. The East Germans built watch towers at regular intervals, each manned by two soldiers--snipers if you will. They would scan the death strip with orders to shoot anyone in there. The reason they had two soldiers in the cramped towers was that they would spy on each other in case one tried to escape. They were not nice people in the East German regime. I climbed the ladder into the watch tower, approximately 20 feet off the ground. It is claustrophobic, and there is no place to sit down. the soldiers served one hour shifts in the tower. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ STASI HEADQUARTERS _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The STASI, an acronym for the German words for "Ministry for State Security" was the East German secret police agency, and one of the most effective spy agencies in history. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ In the good ol' days of the German Democratic Republic (it was anything but that), the STASI kept everyone in line. In its heyday, an incredible 270,000 East Germans worked full or part time for STASI. If you include occasional informants, the figure could be as high as 2 million, according to a former STASI colonel. The population of the GDR in 1990 was only 16 million. Essentially, everybody spied on everybody else. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ An East German would never know if his friends or co-workers, or even a spouse were spying or informing on him. I'm sure the Russian KGB was proud that the Germans imitated them so well. In any event, the STASI surpassed even the KGB and the Nazi Gestapo in their information gathering bureaucracy. By comparison, the Nazi Gestapo employed only about 10,000 people on its payroll. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Today, the STASI headquarters is a museum, and we took a guided tour. We visited the office of Ernst Mielke who was the head of STASI for 32 years. He was a dedicated Communist who spent the Nazi years in the Soviet Union working for the KGB. During Stalin's Great Purges of the 1930's, Mielke prospered. When he returned to Germany after World War II, he applied the lessons he learned in Russia. In many cases, he out-Stalined Stalin himself. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Mielke was the consummate Communist apparatchik. His office was plain with 1960's style desks and furniture--nothing elaborate. He displayed no personal effects and no family photos. He didn't drink, smoke or carouse with women. He was interested only in amassing power, and he was very good at that. After the German reunification in 1990, Mielke was prosecuted and convicted of the murders of two policemen--in 1931. The documentation which sealed his conviction was found in his personal safe. He got 6 years in prison, but was freed early because of poor health. He died in 2000 at age 93. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The STASI museum contains a lot of James Bond stuff, which made us uneasy because we were looking at the bad guys. Besides the network of informants, STASI had cameras all over the place. Exibited were cameras in garden sprinkler cans, briefcases, wristwatches and barrels. Every apartment building had at least one tenant designated as a watchdog reporting to headquarters. They reported every relative or friend who stayed the night at another's apartment. They drilled tiny holes in the walls of apartments and hotel rooms so STASI agents could film the actions of the tenants. Mielke believed the best informants were those who had frequent contact with the public, like nurses, teachers, janitors and trolley conductors. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The STASI's foreign intelligence division was headed by the notorious Markus Wolf who was able to penetrate the highest levels of the West German government, bringing down the administration of Chancellor Willy Brandt. To achieve their aims, the STASI was not shy about using blackmail and psychological warfare. For example, they blackmailed ex-Nazis hiding in foreign countries to spy for them. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ On the main floor of the museum was a truck used to transport prisoners. It was painted to look like a bread truck. Inside it had tiny metal cells for the prisoners. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The STASI maintained close ties with the Soviet KGB which maintained liaison officers at every STASI office. The KGB building is a few blocks away, and we visited that also, but did not go inside. Back in 1989, Vladimir Putin was posted there. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ BRANDENBURG GATE _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The iconic Brandenburg Gate summarizes the stormy history of Germany and the Cold War as the most prominent symbol of the division between East and West. It wasn't constructed with that in mind. It was built in 1791 by King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia to symbolize peace. Atop the gate is the Quadriga, a chariot drawn by 4 horses driven by Victoria, the Roman goddess of victory. She is carrying the Prussian eagle and an iron cross with a wreath of oak leaves. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The gate has always been symbolic. In 1806, after Napoleon defeated the Prussians, he used the gate for a triumphal procession and removed the Quadriga to Paris. It was returned, of course, when Napoleon was defeated a few years later. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Next door to the gate, in Parisier Platz is the American Embassy, and it was comforting to us to see the American flag. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ MEMORIAL TO THE MURDERED JEWS OF EUROPE _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Down the street from the Brandenburg Gate is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, on a 4.7 acre site in the heart of Berlin. Built in 2004, it contains 2711 rectangular concrete slabs, known as stelae, arranged in a grid pattern in a sloping field. The stelae are approximately 8' X 3' and vary in height from a few inches to almost 16 feet. They were designed by the architect Peter Eisenman to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere. To me, it looks like a cemetery. Underground is an archive containing the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims, which were provided by the Israelis. We walked through the grid and were uninspired, although sad. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Over the next day or two, we visited the Wannsee Conference Museum and the Sachenshausen Concentration Camp (see below) and could see that he Germans are quite upfront about confronting the demons in their history. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ WANNSEE CONFERENCE MUSEUM _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The notorious Wannsee Conference was held in January, 1942, to decide the fate of the Jewish people in Europe. The discussions in the conference were addressed specifically to the destruction of the Jewish people. The official name of the museum is "The Memorial and Educational Site House of the Wannsee Conference"--at leasst that is the English translation. The museum today is essentially a Holocaust museum located in a beautiful, wooded, lakefront setting. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The conference was organized by Reinhard Heydrich, the head of Reich Security, who, ironically was assassinated by Czech partisans a few months later. Heydrich invited 15 high ranking Party and government leaders to assist him in carrying out his murderous policies which were already in full gear. The Nazi SS, for more than a year had been exterminating thousands of Jews and others in bloody massacres like Babi Yar near Kiev in the Ukraine. One "problem" the Germans had with that was the carnage was taking a toll on their own soldiers, affecting their mental health and morale. They needed a more efficient way of killing large numbers of people. The solution, if you will, was the organized deportation and mass murder of European Jews in the occupied areas of Poland and Eastern Europe. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The 15 senior officials included some key non-SS government leaders like the Secretaries of Foreign Ministry and Justice whose cooperation was needed for Heydrich's policies. The purpose of the meeting was to reveal the "Final Solution" to non-Nazi leaders to secure their cooperation in transporting the victims from all over Europe to extermination camps in Poland. There was a general consensus at the meeting--nobody objected. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Adolf Eichmann dutifully took notes at the meeting, but Heydrich insisted on personally reviewing the minutes prior to their distribution, changing much of the blunt language to euphemisms. Eichmann later related that the speeches and language used at the meeting was clear and blunt enough that there could be no misunderstanding of what was going on. We learned all of this when Eichmann was put on trial in Israel in 1961. Eichmann had prepared a chart which he presented at the beginning of the conference tallying the Jewish population of each European country--approximately 11 million. About half were in territory controlled by the Nazis. The resolution of the conference was simply to murder them all. To put that in perspective, that would be comparable to ordering the deaths of every man, woman and child in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ When the Germans surrendered in 1945, all the participants in the conference destroyed their copies of the minutes--except for one, a guy named Martin Luther, who left his copy in his safe at the foreign ministry and never got around to destroying it. The Allies found it and were able to use it in prosecuting these guys at the Nuremburg trials. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Luther was a furniture mover and interior decorator who so impressed Foreign Minister Ribbentrop that he was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister. He was in charge of persuading satellite countries to turn over their Jews; and he did his job efficiently. He also continued to work for Ribbentrop's wife, decorating their house. In 1944, he was passed over for the Foreign Minister job, apparently pissed somebody off, and wound up in Sachenshausen Concentration Camp (see below). He died May 13, 1945 of a heart attack--without an opportunity to empty his safe. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ What I found striking was that the participants in the Wannsee Conference were supposedly rational people from all walks of life--doctors, lawyers and engineers who had no ethical problem with murdering millions of people with bureaucratic efficiency, with the same emotion as ordering from a menu. Hannah Arendt described this as the "banality of evil", and I have to agree. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________ The exhibits on the walls of the museum are chilling. They chronicle the events and horrors surrounding the Holocaut. The museum reconstructed the room where the discussions took place, with the furniture and all. The Germans at the conference posed for group photos. When the meeting ended, they broke out the cognac. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ SACHENSHAUSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ No visit to Germany would be complete without a visit to a concentration camp. Sachenshausen (Literally "Saxon houses") was built in 1936 during the Berlin Olympics. It is located in Oranienburg, about 20 miles from Berlin where tourists were not likely to visit. It was intended to be used as a training center for concentration camp guards and a model for future camps, of which literally thousands were built all over Germany--outside most cities and towns. The camp has the usual stuff--gas chambers, crematorium, you don't want to know. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ We visited Barracks 38 and 39 which were reserved for Jews. It was unclear if these were the originals or re-creations. In any event, each of the wooden barracks would hold about 400 prisoners, and there were at least 50 empty foundations across the huge expanse of the camp where barracks had once stood. The prisoners slept on bunks on wooden planks. I would expect there were no mattresses on them. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Nearby is the camp prison which was solidly built of concrete. Since the whole camp was a prison, one could wonder why they needed a prison. It was used to punish anyone who broke the rules and to hold important prisoners arrested by the Gestapo. On the face of it, the prison appeared to be more comfortable than the wooden barracks, if that's possible. However, it was used for torture, beatings, interrogations and murder. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The prisoners were marked with different color triangles sewn on their striped uniforms--black for political dissidents, red for Communists, yellow Stars of David for Jews, pink for homosexuals and purple for Jehovah's Witnesses. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________ When the Soviets took over the camp in 1945 and after, they continued to use the camp for "enemies of the State" which could mean former Nazis and political dissidents. They erected memorials to the prisoners of the Nazis, but only for the Communist ones. Their photos of the era showed only those prisoners with red triangles. Forget about Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Gypsies, Gays, etc. The Nazis executed at least 30,000 Soviet POW's at the camp. The Soviets also killed thousands of prisoners. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ We walked across a huge open area where prisoners had to assemble two or three times a day for roll call. They were forced to stand outside for hours in rain or cold and often suffered frostbite. On the edge of this area was the gallows where public executions were held, perhaps for attempted escape--all prisoners had to watch. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ At its peak, the camp held as many as 45,000 prisoners. Between 1936 and 1945, approximately 200,000 prisoners passed through the camp, and most died. As concentration camps go, this one is smaller and not as well known as some of the more notorious ones, because the numbers were smaller. Nevertheless it was hell on Earth. Thousands died from murder, starvation, exhaustion, disease, etc. The camp was surrounded by an electrified fence and a 10 foot wall. Prisoners were forbidden to approach the fence, and the guards in the watchtowers were rewarded if they shot one. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Just outside the camp, the able bodied prisoners were marched to work at a brick factory operated by the SS under inhumane conditions. The large industrial companies AEG and Siemens also had plants there. The largest employer was the aircraft manufacturer Heinkel which used 6000-8000 (slave labor) prisoners to build their HE-177 bomber. Several of those planes crashed unexpectedly at Stalingrad, perhaps because of sabotage. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Nazis used prisoner-artisans to conduct a major counterfeiting operation in the camp, creating bogus American and British money in an effort to destroy their economies. Counterfeit British pound notes were dropped over England and were not found by the Bank of England. Today those phony notes, when found, are worth big money for their numismatic value. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ All I can say is that I walked through the camp and I was getting angry. I had to get out of there ASAP. General Eisenhower felt the same way when he liberated them. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ To his credit, General Eisenhower traveled to many camps and ordered extensive documentation--photographs and film of the camps and the appearance of the prisoners. He anticipated a time when Nazi atrocities might be denied. The U.S. Signal Corps recorded 80,000 feet of moving film along with still photographs of the atrocities. He ordered the German townspeople to come and visit the camps, view the corpses and see for themselves what happened there. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Eisenhower said, " I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in position to give first hand evidence of these things, if ever in the future there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda." Take that Mr. Ahmadinejad! "When I found the first camp like that I think I never was so angry in my life....I think people ought to know about such things. It explains something of my attitude toward the German war criminal. I believe he must be punished, and I will hold out for that forever." _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ As we know there are people today who cynically try to deny what took place, in the face of overwhelming documentation, and people and regimes who would do it again, given the opportunity. The German government today has been very open about presenting information about the Nazi atrocities, and to attract more visitors, all museums documenting the Nazi era are free admission. __________________________________________________________________ HUMBOLDT UNIVERSITY __________________________________________________________________ In East Berlin we visited the campus of prestigious Humboldt University, one of Europe's leading universities. It was founded in 1810 by the famous linguist and educator Wilhelm von Humboldt whose mission for the institution was to be the "mother of all modern universities". Indeed, it has strongly influenced other European and Western universities. _______________________________________________________________________________ Wilhelm's brother Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist and geographer, was one of the most famous men in Europe. He spent years in Cuba and Latin America discovering and cateloging species and documenting geographical wonders. Lots of things are named after him, like the Humboldt Current near South America, the Humboldt River in Nevada and Humboldt State University in Northern California. Humboldt University is named after both Humboldts, and built statues of both on the campus. _____________________________________________________________________________ The university boasts 29 Nobel Prize winners. Its professors included philosopher Friedrich Hegel (don't ask me to explain his writings), Albert Einstein and Max Planck. among the famous alums are Marx and Engels as well as poet Heinrich Heine, Otto von Bismarck, George Kennan and even the African-American W.E.B. duBois. _____________________________________________________________________________ The main square of the campus was the site of the infamous Nazi book burning on May 10, 1933. The object was to destroy books by "degenerates" and opponents of the regime. A "degenerate" book might include any book in which a Jewish character is portrayed in a favorable light. No books in the university library were burned at that time. ______________________________________________________________________________ A monument at the site includes a prophetic quote by Heine in 1820, "That was only a prelude, when they burn books, they ultimately burn people." ______________________________________________________________________________ During the Cold War, students there protested Communist influence. Bad idea! The Soviet secret police arrested the protesters and gave them 25 years at hard labor. Needless to say, there weren't a lot of student protests after that. ______________________________________________________________________________ After the German reunification in 1990, the university was radically restructured. All professors had to re-apply for their positions. There was no longer much demand for lectures on Marxist-Leninist thought. Since that time Humboldt University has regained much of its former prestige. Today it is a public university with more than 33,000 students. The tuition is about $350 per year. _________________________________________________________________________________ VICTORY COLUMN ____________________________________________________ The iconic Victory Column, approximately 250 feet high, was built in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory over Denmark. By the time it was completed in 1873, the Prussians had more victories to commemorate--the Austro-Prussian War over Austria and the Franco-Prussian War over France. The monument stands in the center of a traffic circle at a major intersection in Berlin. From there, the Bandrenburg Gate is visible in the distance. ________________________________________________________ It was originally built with 3 huge blocks of sandstone, decorated with the cannons captured from the aforementioned wars. A fourth block of sandstone was added by the Nazis in 1939 in anticipation of their great victories. They also relocated the monument to its present location. It used to be in front of the Reichstag (parliament building). Perhaps the Nazis should have waited awhile. After World War II, the French wanted to dynamite it, but they were vetoed by the Americans and British. They did succeed in removing the relief decoration which reminded Germans of their victories over the French, especially that in 1871. All the tourist buses stop here. __________________________________________________________ POTSDAM CONFERENCE MUSEUM ____________________________________________________________ We drove out to the boonies to Potsdam, a leafy suburb with large expensive houses and palaces. We left the Berlin city limits over the infamous bridge where spies and prisoners were exchanged during the Cold War when it was a border crossing. The Potsdam Conference of 1945 was held shortly after the German surrender, and there was some concern about finding a suitable location. Everything of note in Berlin had been destroyed. Potsdam didn't have anything of military value, so it was largely untouched by Allied bombs. _________________________________________________________ The conference was held at Cecilienhof, the palatial home of Crown Prince Wilhelm between July 17 and August 2, 1945. The Allied powers: the U.S., the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union (but not France) participated. The U.S. was represented by new president Harry Truman, the U.K. by Winston Churchill, and also Clement Attlee who became prime minister during the conference when the 1945 general election was decided. The Soviets were represented by dictator Joseph Stalin. Also present were their various aides. ___________________________________________________________ The museum was educational for students of European politics. Exhibits featured numerous photos of the heads of state and explanations of the objectives of the conference. The room layouts and furniture are in place as they were in 1945. ___________________________________________________________ The Potsdam Conference was the follow up to the Yalta Conerence held 5 months earlier. During that time, the relationships between the leaders changed significantly. President Roosevelt died. Germany surrendered. Churchill was defeated in the 1945 election. The Soviets occupied much of Central and Eastern Europe with boots on the ground--and they weren't about to leave. Of the heads of state, only Stalin was still standing. He arrived late--word was that he had a heart attack a few days before. ____________________________________________________________ Although the Missouri farmer Truman was inexperienced in foreign affairs and perceived as naive in comparison to the worldly and aristocratic Roosevelt, he brought in a common man's perspective of events and human behavior that apparently eluded Roosevelt. In sharp contrast to Roosevelt; Truman, like Churchill, immediately distrusted Stalin and Soviet intentions in Eastern Europe. At the Yalta Conference, Stalin had agreed with the U.S. and Britain on almost everything. At Potsdam, Truman had the courage to take note of Soviet actions and not their words, and he spoke out against Soviet aggressive expansionism. He reversed U.S. policy and confronted the Soviets in the beginning of what is now called the Cold War. _____________________________________________________________________ The goals of the conference, at least with regard to Germany and Austria were to divide the two countries into 4 occupation zones--U.S., Britain, France and the Soviet Union. The cities of Berlin and Vienna were also divided into 4 occupation zones. The conference altered the borders of Germany and Poland. They ordered the destruction of German factories which could be used for military purposes. Instead of heavy industrial products, the Germans would be limited to the manufacture and export of agricultural products, beer, toys, textiles, etc. The parties agreed to the prosecution of German war criminals. ___________________________________________________________________ The conference essentially established the order in Europe as we know it today, although it took the end of the Cold War to really accomplish those aims, i.e., democratic states in Eastern Europe. _____________________________________________________________ SANSSOUCI _____________________________________________________________ The other important attraction in Potsdam is Sanssouci, the 18th Century summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. Sanssouci means "without a care" in French. It was considered to be Frederick's place for relaxation away from the political intrigue and centers of power in Berlin. UNESCO designated it as a World Heritage Site. French influence (Versailles) is evident in the construction and decor. ____________________________________________________________ We found the Rococo style palace to be, like other European palaces, extravagant, although somewhat smaller than Versailles. We learned much about the King's court. For example, no women were allowed in the palace, especially Frederick's wife, Elizabeth Christine of Brunswick Bevern, a Protestant relative of the Austrian Habsburgs. He had little in common with her and resented the political arranged marriage. She had her own palace in Berlin, and Frederick saw her once a year--to celebrate their anniversary? Not surprisingly, they had no kids. His "mistresses" were all male. He hung around with the French philosopher Voltaire who lived in Sanssouci for several years. When they broke up, Voltaire was accused of anonymously writing the book, The Private Life of the King of Prussia which described a parade of male lovers. Frederick never admitted nor denied the assertions of the book. ____________________________________________________________ So why did they call him Frederick the Great? He was a great military leader who acquired territory connecting the various parts of Prussia which previously had been scattered, unconnected states. He defeated Austria and Poland in wars and participated in the partition of Poland, adding the province of Silisia to Prussian territory. He considered the Poles inferior and treated them the way Americans treated the Indians. The Poles, as one can imagine, were not enamored of him. ______________________________________________________________ Frederick reformed and modernized the Prussian civil service, making it serve the people. He reformed the court system, allowing non-nobles to become judges and senior bureaucrats. Under his administration, the Prussian justice system was considered fair and efficient. He promoted religious tolerance. He stablized the currency. The Germans are noted for their efficiency, and much of that is the legacy of Frederick the Great. ______________________________________________________________

Berlin wouldn't be Berlin without a mention of street food.  The most popular street food in Berlin is currywurst.  The US has hot dogs--Berlin has currywurst.  To me, the wurst was the worst!  Berliners eat 70 million of these each year.   I tried it, but I'll stick to Chicago hot dogs with mustard, not ketchup.  It's probably an acquired taste. 

The dish consists of German knackwurst (pork sausage) deep fried, cut into pieces and topped with tomato sauce (curry ketchup) and curry powder, served  on a roll.  It is usually served with fries covered with mayo (not ketchup).   This stuff is a relatively recent phenomenon in Germany.  It was invented by Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949 and she served it at her fast food stand for many years.  Today, Berlin has hundreds of these food stands.  They even have a museum, the Deutsches Currywurst Museum.  near Checkpoint Charlie.  I didn't like the stuff enough to visit.