Yesterday's mist has gone, replaced by drizzle. Still, it's not enough to put off a seasoned Berlin explorer. See you all later!

Kunsthaus Tacheles closed on September 4th 2012. The building remains - empty for now - but the site is currently being redeveloped.

After visiting the Fernsehturm, we take a tram to Hackescher Markt, then wander down Oranienburger Straße.

The Neue Synagoge (new synagogue) in Oranienburger Straße, designed by Eduard Knoblauch, was built between 1859 and 1866 and was the largest of Berlin's synagogues.

November 9th seems to have been a turning point many times in German history; as well as being the date the wall fell, it was the date Germany was proclaimed a republic in 1918, the date of the Nazi beer hall putsch in Munich and the date that this synagogue was set fire to in 1938 - Kristallnacht.



The Neue Synagoge



After the death on November 9th of Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath, shot in Paris by Herschel Grynszpan, the descendent of Jewish Poles, the Nazis launched a brutal attack on Jewish property throughout Germany. Jewish businesses were attacked, Jewish people were attacked an sent to concentration camps and synagogues were set on fire. The Neue Synagoge was one of the victims, though its status as a historic monument led to the fire brigade eventually extinguishing the fire. It continued in use until 1940, when it was seized by the Wehrmacht. It was heavily bombed in the Allied bombing raids of World War II, and much of the ruins were later demolished.

All that remains today is the front of the building, which was restored in the years after the fall of the Berlin wall. Part of it is in use as a synagogue again, the rest holds offices and an exhibition.

Further down the road, towards Friedrichstraße, is the Kunsthaus Tacheles. The building started life as the Friedrichstraßenpassage, a shopping arcade connecting Oranienburger Straße with Friedrichstraße, built to plans by Franz Ahrens between 1907 and 1908. Unusually for its time, the structure was made of reinforced concrete. It went bankrupt 6 months after opening and the building then went through a procession of owners - first Wolf Wertheim, then AEG, then the SS. After World War II, several East German organisations used it, before the building was partially demolished in 1980. Since 1990, it has been home to an artists' initiative calling itself Tacheles, a Yiddish word meaning 'goal' or 'puropose' used in German in the phrase "Tacheles reden" i.e. straight talk (a reference to - and reaction against - the way artists in the GDR had to conceal the meaning of their work).

There is music coming from the courtyard beyond the façade, accompanied by a general buzz of activity. Inside, to the the right of the large entrance portal, is a large corrugated metal shed-like structure, with music coming from a large loudspeaker cabinet, hanging by chains from the roof. A pair of sculptors are working on a giant metal head, the charged smell of welding sparks drifting across the shed on the night air.



A welder at Tacheles


A selection of smaller huts surround the courtyard. Right at the back, facing out into the darkness of an empty patch of scrubland, is a cabin lined with brightly coloured paintings. A man stands hunched outside, puffing on a cigarette. "Go on in, it's open" he says.

The man turns out to be an artist from New York City. His cabin seems to be part studio, part gallery and the two functions seem to blend together so that the whole thing is a work of art in itself. "That's exactly it," he says, "It's like an installation."

"They've been painting that again," he says, his attention turning towards the graffiti-covered wall of the buildings beyond the fence behind his cabin. "I don't know how they do it with the cops sitting there all the time." I peer through the fence to see if I can catch sight of them. "There's usually a car there somewhere, 24 hours a day" he adds.
"How do they get up there?" he continues, his attention turning back to the graffiti, "A roller, yeah, that'll be it...on a pole." He stares in wonder for a moment. Graffiti seems to appear in all sorts of places in Berlin, quite often high up on buildings. It's hard not to share his curiosity about how it gets there.

The conversation wanders back to his own painting techniques. "I used to use spray paint," he says, "terrible for the environment. I went back to markers and acrylic to save the planet."

Later in the day, the mist having mostly cleared, we head over to the TV tower (Fernsehturm).




The Fernsehturm floodlit


The Fernsehturm recently celebrated its 40th birthday, having been opened on October 3rd 1969. There had been a previous attempt to build a TV to the south-east, on the Müggelberge, but it was realised it would get in the way of flights arriving at Berlin Schönefeld airport. Instead, they incorporated it into plans for East Berlin's city centre, where it would impress the greatness of socialism on everyone through its domination of the city skyline. At 368 metres tall (365 before the comparatively recent installation of a new antenna), it certainly manages the domination part - it's hard to find a place in Berlin where it can't be seen...other than when it's misty.

The construction of the ball-like part of the tower means that a cross appears when the sun hits it, something which led to it being called "the pope's revenge" due to communism's dislike of religion. The tower was officially nicknamed Telespargel (tele-asparagus) by the East German government, one of several attempts to increase public affection for it (another was the writing of a children's song about it).

As well as an observation deck, there's a revolving restaurant up there, where you can watch the city smoothly glide by:




The revolving restaurant in the Fernsehturm


The cakes are particularly good, as I hope this monstrous slice of Käse-Sahne-Torte will demonstrate:




A slice of Käse-Sahne Torte


Though most of the ruins of the Berliner Stadtschloß were destroyed in the 1950s, a small piece was preserved. Not only that, it was included in the Staatsratsgebäude, the building of the East German State Council.




The 'Karl Liebknecht Portal' on the Staatsratsgebäude


The balcony of that portal was where, on November 9th 1918, Karl Liebknecht proclaimed a "free socialist socialist republic" in Germany; it didn't end up leading to its establishment and he and fellow communist Rosa Luxemburg were murdered in January 1919 for their part in a communist revolt in earlier that month.
He and Rosa Luxemburg were seen very much as socialist heroes in the GDR. The street on the northern side of Schloßplatz was named after Liebknecht, while Luxemburg had both a street and a square named after her just a little further north from here.

They also put this memorial in one of the niches on the northern side of the Neuer Marstall building:




Karl Liebknecht memorial


The text on it says "On November 9th 1918, Karl Liebknecht proclaims the free socialist republic". You'll see quite a lot of imagery like this, showing the ordinary people as something strong and often larger than life, in East Berlin's socialist monuments, though the fact that Liebknecht seems to be flying superman-style here isn't intentional!

The Staatsratsgebäude is now home to the European School of Management and Technology.

I've always been fascinated Berlin's urban wastelands, areas made empty and not yet re-filled for one reason or another. When I was a child, I used to go to a park by the canal near where I lived, which had an area of rough ground at the back of it, beyond a fence. The earth there was dry and cracked, with unfamiliar plants growing in it. To me, it was the moon: what must have been an area of ugly waste ground to an adult was a place of wonder from my child's perspective. The derelict houses further towards the canal, surrounded by their overgrown gardens, were equally fascinating. Here were places which, it seemed, humanity had forgotten; they were my little secret.

I think the same feeling, that there are secrets to be uncovered, is one of the things which draws me to Berlin, a place where history often seems to be very much on the surface, sometimes neatly preserved, sometimes left ignored and forlorn and sometimes being churned over by by diggers and bulldozers.




The Temporäre Kunsthalle


A spectre is haunting Schloßplatz - the spectre of communism. More specifically, the spectre of the Palast der Republik (palace of the republic), a building which was home to the Volkskammer, the East German legislative chamber, along with a large hall (for concerts and other events), a theatre, numerous restaurants and cafés and a bowling alley. It stood here on the Schloßplatz (best translated as palace square) - called Marx-Engels Platz in the GDR days - between 1976 and 2008, though demolition began 10 years earlier, with the removal of asbestos inside, along with all the interior fittings; its shell then stood empty until 2006, when it was finally decided to demolish it completely.

The building in the picture isn't the Palast der Republik and yet anyone not looking too closely could be forgiven for thinking it is. The building is the Temporäre Kunsthalle, best translated as temporary art gallery (though a Kunsthalle is specifically a kind of gallery that has no collection of its own, used for mounting temporary exhibitions...so, this one's a temporary gallery for temporary exhibitions). It's been clad like the Palast der Republik by artist Bettina Pousttchi, who calls the work Echo. It highlights a feeling among some Berliners that the East German past is being swept under the carpet too quickly. After the Palast's demolition, the words "Die DDR hat's nie gegeben" (the GDR never existed) were graffitied on the remnants of its foundations facing the Spree, as if their writer felt that the demolition was an attempt to remove the GDR from history completely.




The Berliner Dom


At the moment, the area has just been grassed over. Eventually, the area will be occupied by a replica of the royal palace - the Berliner Stadtschloss - which stood here before it was demolished in 1950. The claim made at the time was that it was in too bad a state to be repaired, having been hit by bombs in World War II, but the drive by the Soviets, in whose sector it stood, to create a socialist city centre free of such symbols of Prussian militarism seems to have been the overriding factor in its demolition. Some therefore see the demolition of the Palast der Republik as history repeating itself and suspect more political motives, as the "DDR hat's nie gegeben" graffiti highlights.

More information about the Palast der Republik can be found on this website, while information about the Schloss (and the history of Schloßplatz in general) can be found in German here.

A grillwalker



These contraptions are a fairly common sight in central Berlin. Its makers call it a grillwalker and it's - as you might have guessed - a portable barbecue, designed for cooking Bratwurst. I can't help thinking the combination of its 15.5kg weight and the heat of the barbecue must make it tiring to walk round with, but it's certainly a novel way of bringing food to the masses. There's a website for them, if you're really curious.

These bronze sculptures (entitled Drei Mädchen und ein Knabe - three girls and a boy), by Wilfried Fitzenreiter, used to sit around the fountain of the Palast Hotel, which stood on the corner of Karl Liebknecht Straße.




Statues, Berliner Dom in background


The hotel was demolished in 2001 and the sculptures were moved to their current location on the eastern bank of the river Spree in 2007.

The building behind them is the Berliner Dom (officially called the Oberpfarr- und Domkirche zu Berlin, the Berlin supreme parish and cathedral church), by Julius Raschdorff, completed in 1905, though slightly altered in its post war rebuilding. Perhaps I'll say a bit more about it later - its history is yet another interesting part of the story of this area of Berlin.

While I stood there looking at the sculptures, a seemingly constant procession of tourists came past to have their pictures taken with them. I have to admit they have something very lifelike about them. You could easily imagine that they were just sat relaxing by a pool somewhere...perhaps even enjoying an ice cream...




A statue enjoying an ice cream


The café mentioned in this article has now closed - there are other cafés in the Hackesche Höfe, or you could try Barcomi's Deli in the Sophie-Gips-Höfe, on the other side of Sophienstraße.

Going to the TV tower in the morning was a good idea in theory; on stepping out of Alexanderplatz station, it was obvious that it wouldn't be such a great idea in practise.



The Fernsehturm shrouded in mist



A mist had descended, shrouding the top of the tower in grey. Not so great for the view.

So, with my small tour party of friends and family in tow, I set off for the Hackesche Höfe to find somewhere to get a late breakfast.

The Café Aedes came up trumps, with this rather nice platter of cheese, cold meats, bread and jam.



A breakfast platter



It's quite common in Germany to have Aufschnitt like this for breakfast (and indeed at other times of day too). I think it makes a nice (and deceptively filling) start to the day.

The Hackesche Höfe take their name from the nearby Hackescher Markt, named after Hans Christoph Friedrich Graf von Hacke, a Prussian general who, as town major, oversaw much of the building work in the surrounding area in the mid 1700s, the square gaining the name Hackescher Markt in 1751. The Höfe are a series of interconnecting courtyards (Hof being the German word for courtyard) opened in 1906, the largest complex of its kind, according to their website (in German). It was made a listed building by the East German authorities in 1977, but time was still allowed to take its toll on the buildings and it wasn't until 1995 that work began on a full restoration.
It's well worth a wander through them, as they're home to many interesting shops and restaurants, plus a cinema and a theatre. The ceramic façades of Hof I by architect August Endell are particularly noteworthy:




Details in Hof 1


Hof 1 seen from Hof 2



There's also a small piece of Ostalgie (nostalgia for East Germany) hiding away in Hof V:




The window display of the Ampelmann shop



This is the East German Ampelmännchen, the little man from East Germany's traffic lights. This particular one is a decorative lamp for homes, rather than a traffic signal, though! I'll try and get a picture of him and his red "don't cross" counterpart when I get a chance (most of the time, when I'm stood looking at them, it's because I want to cross the road rather than take a photo!). They were designed by traffic psychologist Karl Peglau in 1961 as part of an effort to reduce the number of traffic accidents. They were created to make them easily visible and easily identifiable, hence features like the hat, which provides a larger illuminated area. After German unification, they started being taken down, to be replaced with West German pedestrian signals. Markus Heckhausen, an industrial designer from Tübingen, noticed this and decided to start producing lamps from them; they became a cult item and now, all manner of different Ampelmann items available from his company. The Ampelmännchen are now safe from eviction from their homes on the pedestrian crossings of the former GDR (apart from on major roads, where traffic directives apparently rule that only the western kind can be used) and occasionally appear on crossings in the west too.

Moving on to Hackescher Markt, it was obvious that Berlin is getting prepared for Christmas:




Christmas toilet paper


This red and green toilet paper is being sold with the advice that "It'll be festive everywhere at your place". A nice way of making things more comfortable when grumpy relatives tell you where to stick your Christmas decorations, at any rate...

The S-Bahn station by Johannes Vollmer (opened 1882) is worth a look for its ornate brickwork, even if this picture doesn't show it off to best effect:




Hackescher Markt


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