I left Vilnius and flew via Copenhagen to Berlin. If the Vilnius airport is a dingy Soviet relic, then the Copenhagen airport is a glitzy shopping mall with airport gates. I arrived in Berlin as the Berlin Marathon had roads tied up and traffic snarled. I took the bus and U Bahn to my hotel, located in the former East Berlin.
For someone of my age, Berlin has great historical connections. There is, of course, the Nazi Berlin. I was to visit World War II era air raid bunkers and Sachsenhausen concentration camp while in Berlin. There is, of course, Cold War Berlin. I was to visit the renovated Reichstag and cross many times over the cobblestone line that shows the location of the Wall. And for me, there is Dietrich Bonhoeffer Berlin. I read the Eric Metaxas biography of Bonhoeffer the summer before I left and I wanted to see something of the physical world of this philosopher and theologian who died at the hands of the Nazis.
My first day in Berlin I competed with huge crowds around the Brandenburg Gate as the Marathon runners came in. I visited the Willi Brandt center near the Reichstag/Bundestag. Brandt was Chancellor during the first rapprochement with the East. The center is a museum of his life and politics. I bought a chunk of the Wall at the center.
The Underground Berlin tour forbade pictures, so I can show only in words what it was like inside a Berlin air raid bunker. Only Aryans need try to get in; people had to show their documents allowing them to enter the shelter. Once inside, they had to stay until the air raid was over. It was stifling hot. Most people wore all their clothes, since their apartments were left unattended in the dark. Phosphorescent paint on the walls allowed the people inside the bunker to find their way around when the electricity was cut during the raid.
That afternoon I went to the Topography of Terror timeline, on the site of the former Gestapo Headquarters on Prinz Albrecht Strasse, now destroyed. It was very well done, and very chilling. The exhibit is partially outdoors, and one of the few remaining stretches of the Wall runs through the site. At this site, the Wall went down the street. On the Western side, there was an art museum. On the Eastern side, there was, and is, the former Air Ministry buildings, now the Ministry of Finance. Goring built the Air Ministry and somehow it survived the war.
The Dom is the Protestant cathedral located near the Reichstag. Kaiser Wilhelm, ever trying to emulate his cousins in Britain, tried to create something like Westminster Abbey in this church. I went on a tour, and also went to a service that evening. There were Prussian kings entombed in the crypt. At the service, the music was transcendent. I can’t comment on the preaching since I don’t speak German but I did hear “angst” a lot. People got up and left during the service. No plates were passed; there were discrete little velvet bags in the back, and not many people put more than a few coins in them. This is not surprising since the Catholic and Protestant churches in Germany get Government subsidies.
This sign is roughly translated, “Bigshots and Reichstag members only on this staircase.” The sign is old, since the Reichstag hasn’t been in existence since the end of World War II. But its presence might say a lot about why church attendance in Germany has fallen so drastically, and also about the pretensions of this particular church before World War I.