Sunday, 13 November 2011

Berlin Architecture Miscellany

It was a lovely bright day today, and as my Beloved is away in England at the moment, I took my bike and my camera for a cycle around Berlin.

Here are a few of my snaps (click for bigger):

Berliner Dom

Altes Museum

Altes Museum

Alte Nationalgalerie

Schloß Charlottenburg

Schloß Charlottenburg

Gipsformerei der Staatlichen Museen

Bellevue Palace

Schloß Charlottenburg



Neues Museum


Mausoleum, Schloß Charlottenburg 

Spandau St Nikolaikirche

S-Bahnhof Bornholmer Straße
And as the sun sets over the Fernsehturm, it is onto a train and back home.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Autumn Colours

I love this time of the year, when the trees explode in a last-minute pyrotechnic display of colours before the monochrome months of Winter set in.

Here are some photos taken around Berlin and Liepnizsee (click for bigger):

Saturday, 29 October 2011

The 1936 Summer Olympic Village

The decision to hold the Summer Olympics of 1936 in Berlin had already been made by the IOC before Hitler's National Socialists came to power. However, as you might have guessed, Hitler and his thugs coshed the Olympic ideals on the head and stole the event for their own propaganda purposes. Here was surely a showcase for the physical supremacy and sporting prowess of the German race - or so the party line went. And so the games opened with the first ever Olympic torch relay from Olympia in Greece to the Berlin Olympic Village, carried by athletes chosen for their Aryan looks. Ironically, what most people remember about the 1936 games nowadays is the astounding performance by the black American track and field athlete Jesse Owens (four gold medals).

The 1936 Olympic Stadium is still very much in use - though extensively rebuilt and modernised - particularly as the home ground for Hertha Berlin football club. What is less well known is that the remains of the 130-acre Olympic Village (Olympiches Dorf) can still be seen. We made a journey out to the far Western edge of Berlin to photograph what has survived of it.

One building still intact is das Hindenburghaus, which was a Gemeinschaftshaus (or Community Centre) for the athletes and other visitors. It was named after Field Marshall, and second president of the Weimar Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, who was patron of the Berlin Olympic Games until his death in August 1934. You might also know that he had made Hitler Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, and signed the Enabling Act of  March 1933 which effectively gave Hitler carte blanche to run the country all by himself.

The Hindenburg House - main entrance
The two storey building with two long wings around a courtyard used to contain training rooms, administrative space, two chapels, a large ballroom, and, in the entrance foyer, a TV room. The TV room might come as a surprise to learn about, but in fact the Berlin Olympics were the first ever televised sporting event in World History. Private TV ownership was pretty minimal at the time, but 17 other TV salons were set up around Berlin where people could go to watch broadcast events live.

The Hindenburg House
Another place where athletes could go to chill out are the swimming baths:
Outside the Swimming Baths, with 'historical footbath' (so the sign says)

They don't look like they have been used in a long while, though there are apparently plans to renovate them and have people swimming there once more.

Swimming Baths at the Olympic Village
The Sports Hall is also intact though derelict, next to a 400-metre racing track, where the athletes could train:
Another large surviving building is the Speisehaus der Nationen or 'The Nations' Eating House', where at one time 40 separate seating-areas provided food for the athletes and visitors. One of the rooms has been decked out to show how it would have looked for the Italian delegation:

Italian Bistro
The building is otherwise all boarded up and in a state of decay, but with its stepped terraces and sweeping arc of concrete and steel you can appreciate how modern and innovative it must have been when it was first erected.

After the games and during the war, the Speisehaus was redeployed as a military hospital and filled with beds.

Das Speisehaus der Nationen
Around the back of the Speisehaus are a number of interestingly corroded metal doors, behind which vehicles were parked in garages:

Garage Doors at the Olympic Village

Some of the living quarters for the athletes ('Sportlerunterkunft') survive. There were originally 136 buildings like these, each given a name of a town in Germany.

Athletes' Living Quarters
Each of these buildings once contained 13 bedrooms, with two athletes per room, showers and WCs, central heating, and a day room. There were always two stewards on duty in each house who spoke the native language of the athletes housed there.

Today, many of the buildings are totally derelict:

Ruined athletes' accomodation at the Olympic Village
One building that thankfully has been restored is the one where Jesse Owens lived:

The Meissen House: Jesse Owens' Accomodation

Inside you can see how it looked at the time, all very cramped and Spartan;

Jesse Owens' shared room.
We can bang on about how racist the National Socialist regime was, but it is worth remembering that he was housed here together with white athletes, and could use the same restaurant as them and go into bars and clubs in Berlin and travel on public transport unhindered. This is in contrast with back home in the USA, where there was strict segregation between black and white Americans, especially in Alabama where Owens was born and lived. The Nazis did indeed view non-Aryans as inferior species, but at least Owens wasn't Jewish or Slavic. Not that foreign visitors to the Olympic Games would have been aware of the Nazi's despicable ideas about race: prior to the event all the 'Juden Verboten' signs and anti-Bolshevik posters were removed from the city in a campign by Propaganda Minister Goebbels to show the modern, dynamic, acceptable face of National Socialism to the world.

I am reminded in part of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, where political and religious persecution was played down to almost non-existent in the media, and whole shanty towns were bulldozed and people evicted in order to give Beijing the appearance of a clean city. Curiously, the son of Hitler's favourite architect, Albert Speer Junior, was commissioned to design the overall access plan for the Beijing Olympic stadium. Things that make you go hmmm.

After the war, the Olympic Village grounds became part of the Soviet Sector and later East Germany. The Soviets built an enormous army barracks across the road from the Olympic Village, and housed the families of the married soldiers in rows of vast Plattenbau high-rises built amongst the remains of the athletes' huts.

Soviet High-rise Flats at the Olympic Village

These were only abandoned after reunification and the departure of Russian soldiers in the 1990's, but the buildings have quickly become ruined:

Who knows what will come of these buildings, or the remains of the Olympic Village itself. The German authorities probably find themselves in a dilemma: on the one hand, this is a historic site that deserves to be preserved, but on the other it resurrects the phantoms of a terrible time in German and World history. At the moment, the area is fenced off with barbed wire but is accessible to the public (during the Spring and Summer up until October 31st - cost 1€ entrance fee). You can even go on guided tours around the site and inside the buildings, but I doubt if you will find mention of the Olympic Village in many tourist guide books or coach tours. With so much more demanding renovation projects taking money out of Berlin's coffers, I don't think that much will be spared to do anything other than make sure the Olympic Village buildings don't become a danger to the public. But we'll see.

If you want to visit the Olympishes Dorf for yourself, then take a red RE2 out to Elstal Bahnhof, where you can get a bus (the 663) up the hill (or walk - it isn't too far) to the Eulenspiegelsiedlung. That's not the stop signed Olympishes Dorf, but the Eulenspiegel housing estate which is right next to the one and only entrance to the Olympic Village area. You will know you are at the right spot when you see the bronze statue of Till Eulenspiegel himself

Till Eulenspiegel - with owl and mirror, naturally.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Roller-skating Cow Sugar

Early morning. Cup of espresso in a cafe at Gesundbrunnen. Sachet of sugar. What do you associate this scenario with? Oh yes, happy roller-skating cows of course! Wahnsinn!

Maybe Baby

What would you do if you suspected you might be pregnant (German: Schwanger)? Apparently, in Germany anyway, one option would be to go to the railway station and get a pregnancy kit from the automatic dispensing machine. That's what is being advertised here in any case:

Shwanger? Then put your coins in the machine down the Bahnhof and get a pregnancy testing kit.

Now, I don't think a railway snack dispenser would be my first port of call in such a situation. Not unless I felt a bit peckish for a Twix as well. Or maybe I'd got bored waiting for a train and thought, 'I know, I think I'll just test to see if I am pregnant before the S2 to Alexanderplatz gets in.'

Interestingly, the Maybe Baby pregnancy tests are stacked just next to the BillyBoy condoms, and at 8€ a pop for the test compared to 3€ for condoms I think the Selecta people are implying it would have been better value for money to have used the Johnnies in the first place. Considering how many times I have pumped in 80 cents for a packet of Nic Nocs (crispy coated peanuts) only to have them not drop down into the dispenser, 8€ is quite a risk. Not quite the same level of risk as unprotected sex of course.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


Goldelse, atop the Siegessäule, is looking resplendent in the Autumnal sunlight today!


Friday, 21 October 2011

Berlin Festival of Lights 2011

It's that lovely time of the year when the trees explode into a last minute display of colour before the long cold Winter sets in. It is also the time of festivals of light around the World, and particularly the one in Berlin.

Here are a few photos I took from this year's event (as usual, click for bigger):

Brandenburger Tor

The Fernsehturm

KaDeWe department store


Unter den Linden