Sunday, October 22, 2017

Running a few steps into Berlin's dark history

I had spent a couple of days in Berlin 20 years ago with Agn├Ęs when we were expecting Greg but didn't grasp much of Berlin's 20th century dark history, between the fascist regime and the cold war. The wall had already fallen a few years before, maybe I was too young to see the big deal it was. Or maybe the local population was still coping with the event, wondering what was next for them. Indeed, when we see how our democracies are particularly challenged this year, and the return of some of these vile ideas such as nationalism, separatism or even, in our own backyard in the US, a wall to keep certain population at bay, one can wonder where we are going and what social progress means nowadays.

I. Tuesday - Tiergarten

I was in Berlin to speak at an IBM conference last week and had not much time to run and explore anyway but, upon landing after a red-eye flight from Newark on Tuesday, I could squeeze a short 10K run for a mini tour of the central Tiergarten Park, a quick look at the touristic attraction which the Brandenburg Gate has become, before walking from my hotel to the conference center. A quick tour but already a good sightseeing opportunity (warning, lots of pictures for a virtual visit!).

Charlottenburg Gate on the June 17 Street, and the Landwehr Canal:





 Grosser Stern

 Tiergarten Park


 The famous Brandburg Gate:

 Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
 The Saudi Arabia embassy, one of the many near Tiergarten:
 Landwehr Canal:

 The Berlin aquarium:


 And the zoo:
 Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (kept as damaged by WWII bombings, yet flanked by the new concrete-base church on each side):











I rarely go for such short training workout now, but I was stunned by how much soreness was left in my legs after the 50-mile Championships 2 days before so 6.2 miles already felt long on this run.

Here is the Relive.cc flyover (click on the image or the link).


II. Thursday - A Berlin Wall half-marathon

On Thursday evening we had a gala dinner but it was pretty much over by 9 pm so I went for a run at 10 pm, without daylight obviously. This time I wanted to see the remains of the wall and it was actually an interesting night to run as the city was celebrating a Festival of Lights which certainly put a special spin on certain monuments, see for yourself!












From Alexanderplatz, I veered toward the Spree river and the Wall Museum which is at the end of a 1-kilometer long preserved section of the wall.



What is up is actually only one of the elements of the overall wall, just the 12-feet high concrete wall on the Western Berlin side. What is missing to really take in the whole scaring dimension of this separation between the two world, is the 400-yard wide no man's land made of barbed wires, mesh fencing, signal fencing, dogs, barricades, beds of nails, automatic riffles, watchtowers, bunkers and hundreds of armed guards ready to open fire. Only rabbits could safely play and live in that horrific strip of land encircling Western Berlin.

The wall was much longer than this section, 156 kilometers total which is almost 100 miles; that could make for a catchy 100-mile souvenir race on day...

The remaining section is called East Side Gallery but some locals would rather describe it at Disneyland as the wall is now shown with paints on the Eastern side which is quite the inverse of the paintings and graffiti which used to be on the West side instead during the Cold War.




Here are a few of these new paintings as I ran along the wall by night.






From there, I followed the double line made of cobblestones, a convoluted line across the city showing where the wall was.


A subtle way to remember these decades of tragic history, similar to this other one, a collection of brass-plated cobblestones highlighting locations where Jews lived before being deported and executed in concentration camps (official website, Washington Post article). So far, 61,000 plates have been placed in 1,200 locations throughout Europe, still so far from the 6 million Jews who were exterminated during WWII.

Here is the Relive.cc flyover (click on the image or the link):
 And the Strava activity/map:

I didn't have time to visit museums on this tumulted period of Berlin, or neighborhoods further East which better represent the architecture of Eastern Germany so these 2 runs were just a few steps in that history, there is so much more to discover to embrace the depth of these tragedies. I hope to visit again, with more time...

Maybe to run the famous Berlin Marathon as well, whose blue line/trace was still visible a few weeks later?

 Kilometer-42 mark, almost done!

And a few more souvenirs of Berlin:

One of the many United Buddy Bears:
Another wall museum near Checkpoint Charlie:


And the famous Eastern Germany car, the Trabant:

Oh, and can't resist sharing this purely French artifact, a break Citroen DS:

Last but not least, the brand new Brooks Levitate shoe even made it to Berlin!!