Berlin photos

All of the following photos were taken in Berlin between January 1 and 5, 2005.  This was a trip I'd wanted to make for a while, and I was able to shoehorn it in between semesters at Capital.  I took my mom and good friend Matt Studer.

Landing in Germany

We arrived at Munich's modern airport for a two-hour layover on the way to Berlin, and...

already my mom was ready to get away from us.  (It's gonna be a long trip, lady.)  Personally, I was thrilled to be out in the chill weather and to start practicing my German.  Matt (below) was practicing looking German.

Schloss Charlottenburg

This was the first thing we did in the city, the next day.  I prefer to visit real cities and immerse myself in places where real life is being conducted by real people.  But I realized it was necessary to fit in a visit to a big old castle, so on our first day we chose to visit Schloss Charlottenburg.  It's in the western part of the city and I figured we could stop by one of the famous shopping districts afterward, the Kurfürstendam.  Also, I wanted Mom and Matt to learn how the trains worked.  The entire rest of the time we were in Berlin, she wanted to take taxis and Matt let me do all the wayfinding.

The classic smirk.  I gotta work on this.  (FYI, there was a big sale on Adidas stuff before leaving Columbus, which I think I subconsciously thought would help me fit in.)

A big guy on a big horse.

These guys are all afraid of getting stomped on by the big horse.

Museum for Natural History

This was a pretty interesting visit.  I have always liked science museums and feel like they get short shrift.  (From tourists as well as society.  The coat check woman told Matt to keep his jacket on because it was kalt upstairs.  I learned a new verb, anlassen!)  Anyway, Matt and I decided to go off and visit this museum to see what they had on display.  The main attraction was the biggest complete dinosaur skeleton in the world.  They had about ten total, including archaeopteryx, which we never did manage to find.  Tragically, there are no dinosaur collections on this site because we did not take any pictures of them.

I see the family resemblance, don't you?

A lot of the museum was musty old animals, shot by rich Germans on vacation, mounted in too-dark settings to save energy.  That was nice and surreal, I thought.  But it got better.

Next we discovered the room with the giant banner whose inscription translated literally as, "Be my godparent.  Now!"  (I think it better translates as "Sponsor me.  Now!")  This was a room that explained that the German Natural History Museum, which was the greatest natural history museum in the world, had a collection of 45 million things, most of which they could not afford to put on display.  As our frozen breath hung in the air before us, we looked around at examples of the collection that they had not been able to display.  (The irony was, of course, that these particular examples were on display.)  Each item in the room had a fake price tag on it.  Some of the price tags showed the name of a donor and an amount.

Look out!!!  It's an underfunded monitor lizard!

OK, we left the begging-for-euro room and started to get to the creepy part.  It practically says, "Rats and why they are disgusting."  Note, this is your warning of grosser stuff to come.

But truly the oddest thing about this museum, and what made it totally worth the three euro, was its preservation exhibit, which was awesome.

You see, Germans are a very methodical people.  We have long known of their penchant for anatomical experimentation.  And now the greatest natural history museum in the world was going to unveil one of its secrets: the secret of making animals look like animals.  Yes, the nature museum would pull back the curtain and reveal its animal display technique...

literally.  Do I really have to translate?  Basically it says, "We get the beautiful live squirrel, we kill it, and we skin it up.  Then we get some cotton wads and stuff it back together."

The whole exhibit was full of straightforward questions like, "How do you kill it without getting it all bloody?" (you gas it) and "Where do you get those really natural-looking eyes?" (you paint them by hand and you keep them over here in this cabinet with a thousand other creepy animal eyes).  Here was the logo for the part of the exhibit:

It sort of translates as "Twice as nice.  From clay model to artful animal body."

This one said, "Here's what we do to filthy rats in Germany.  We dip them in formaldehyde until they're gone."  (OK, just kiddin'.)

I could not show you the most disgusting of all the displays, which included a rat's body being eaten (in stages) by a bunch of maggots.  This was to preserve the delicate bone structure.  "Science is gross!" seemed to be the lesson here.  I had a good time, but it was a good idea to move on.

Checkpoint Charlie

I wanted to visit Berlin because I figured it would be soaked in history, and it was.  The Cold War period really fascinates me, so we paid a quick trip to the site of Checkpoint Charlie on the border between the free West and the Communist East.

This was a building located on the site of Checkpoint Charlie, right in the middle of a street.  The checkpoint was the only location where non-Germans were permitted to cross between the two Berlins, and was the site of some dramatic confrontations between East and West, including a two-day standoff between Russian and American tanks.  (I have cropped out the fact that it was all decked out for Christmas!)  Nearby was a fascinating private museum documenting some escape attempts and the history of the wall.  They had a lot of escape vehicles and photos and maps of tunnels.  The photo above is a little confusing, though, because I read at the museum that the original Checkpoint Charlie had been "bulldozed in a solemn ceremony with the foreign ministers of the four protecting powers and the two Germanys on hand."  So I'm not sure if you're looking at the original or what.

The sign on the way out.

A section of the wall had been preserved nearby.  We ran into these all over town.

World Clock

Somehow, the World Time Clock (die Weltzeituhr) fascinated Matt and me.  We knew of it before we got to Berlin, and we wanted to find it.  When we realized we were pretty close, we decided to go by and get our pictures taken.  (If you don't know what this is, go here so you'll know what I'm talking about.)  Basically, all I knew about it is that it was a product of the Communist era, it was located on Alexanderplatz in a prominent location of East Berlin, and where the names of the cities are shown by their time zones, there are a bunch of Communist capitals like Havana and Moscow on it.  The big thrill here, of course, is that the sun never sets on the Communist empire, right?  Also, the weird looking atomic thing on top spells trouble.  All in all, I figured it would be an extremely menacing, extremely funky piece of socialist art.

Unfortunately, it was a huge letdown, even if you allow for the fact we were there at night.  "That's it?!" I said when we found it.  It was kind of crappy and really small!  The map panels were sort of peeling off -- you can tell this thing isn't going to last forever (but I guess it did outlast most of the Second World).

Since this was the night I demanded we wear our Buckeyes hats, we got our pictures here with this symbol of socialist unity.  As you can see, I'm doing a really good job of bending up the bill.

Stasi Museum

The former DDR (East Germany) maintained a huge "security organization" for keeping tabs on its citizens, the Stasi.  Matt and I decided to visit this museum where they had assembled some of the tools that were used to spy on citizens.  If my German skills hold, there were over 110,000 "unofficial employees" (informants, basically) who spied on people.  As an example, they had a map of one town showing how many spies were there and where they lived -- it was shocking because there were so many dots and they were in every neighborhood.  This was an organization that infiltrated so much of the country's life -- and even more stirring was the fact that many of its agents were operating even up to the end of the regime, and therefore many thousands are currently alive and living in the reunited Germany today.

Predictable tools of the trade were shown, along with more unconventional stuff.  Here was a display of spy cameras that were used.  The museum also had more exotic cameras and devices, such as the belt-buckle camera or an ordinary-looking garden watering can with a camera concealed inside.  (Matt pointed out that it was funny that the camera inside was just a regular, full-size camera.)

The spies also used to read people's mail, or send fake letters around, so they needed a way to produce the postmarks of the appropriate postal agencies.  This cabinet was full of drawers, each labeled with a country name (Iran, Holland, Britain, etc.), and had tons of these fake postmarks.

I was stunned by the lengths they would go to to fake some mail.  I also began to wonder about life in a country where nothing could be taken for granted, not even the simple things like marks on an envelope.

Spying was even done through water lines.  This is apparently an ordinary looking telephone that could be connected to the plumbing you see there.  As best I can tell, the description said that high-frequency sounds were produced by the phone which could then later be detected by the security forces and the military.  Matt and I speculated on how many phones like this were still left in East Berlin and East Germany, and whether you would just run across this as a matter of course on construction projects today.  With so much of the city torn up and being rebuilt, it had to be fascinating.  What kind of country does this?

We found an area of the museum that was more high tech.  These aren't Communist washing machines, they're ancient computers.  There was an embargo on the Communist world, so they had to cadge together what they could.

Because having to import goods from the capitalist west did nothing to bolster East German morale, and because the government wanted the people to believe its scientists were capable of anything, smuggled devices were "neutralized" before they got into the hands of their users.  They scraped off the original labels and put on the good old "Robotron" brand name.  Amusingly, the mirror shows that they forgot to do the back side, and you can clearly see this is a Japanese-made Epson FX-1000.

It wasn't all high-tech stuff in the Stasi's DDR, however.  Good old-fashioned torture, intimidation, and interrogation were also used.  This one was a real mystery to me until I read it.  These are yellow cloths in jars with sealed lids.  I thought maybe they'd used these to chloroform people, but look at the chair diagram.  It turns out they would put these cloths inside the seat, then bring in someone for interrogation.  The tactics would cause the person to sweat, leaving their personal scent in the cloth.  Then the spies would take the cloth out and keep it in a jar.  If they ever wanted to track the person later, the cloth could be presented to dogs who would follow the scent.

This was in an exhibit of eastern propaganda.  The poster reads "16 states -- ONE Germany.  Thuringia -- our home.  Germany -- our fatherland.  Europe -- our future."  This was reunification from the eastern point of view.  What a terrifying vision of the future this had to be, on both sides of the border.


These are all photos that were taken in Berlin, but don't fit into the categories I've set up.  Since I like to visit cities as cities per se, I take a lot of pictures of average buildings, people, and so on.

On the road to Schloss Charlottenburg.

A cool bridge between two buildings in the old eastern goverment quarter.

Another bridge between (I think) two offices near the Jewish cultural center.

The British Embassy.  Replete with the largest Union Jack I've ever seen and sad concrete barriers in the closed street.

An interesting street near Potsdamer Platz.  The funky buildings in the background were in a newly-developed part of town (this is East Berlin, near the wall).

Another funky eastern building -- sort of a cross between Roy Rogers N.J. Turnpike rest stop architecture, the FBI building, and any university science department circa 1975.  I love neo-brutalism.

On the Kurfürstendamm, West Berlin's most celebrated shopping street.  I took this picture because I thought it was an amazingly gracious urban scene, with lovely, human-scale buildings, amazing detail, the graceful boulevard, even some nice street furniture and interesting paving.  If you don't visit in winter, I bet it's even nicer.

Also on the Ku'damm.  Not all of it is old gorgeous buildings, but there was still a great urban energy about it.  (Check out the lamppost.)  See at the top of the picture where it says "Fitness Company?"  That's a gym.  We were extremely jealous.

Other photos

Miscellaneous screwing around and the bizarre.

In the subway, trying to be inconspicuous.

Abandoning all pretense of inconspicuity.  Come on, vogue!

The blue sticker reads, "For the young ones, the biggest."

Contemplative, disturbing trails to you...

The incomparable Sharon Stonewall Bar.  This was a photo that just took too damn many tries to get right, so I had to put it up here.  We happened upon the Sharon while looking for a place called "Soul Kitchen," which was supposed to be "African-American delicacies of the southern US."  Who can pass that up?  It had been turned into a fish stand, unfortunately, so we stopped in here for restorative beverages ("Was für ein Schnapps?").  I met a dirty blond white American in the bathroom.

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All original material is © Copyright 2005, Bill Cash, III.  No permission is granted to use these photos for any purpose other than viewing on this web page.