The Brandenburg Gate-vol. 1
The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) is to many the very symbol of Berlin. Originally part of Berlin’s Customs Walls, (a testament to Germany’s love of taxes) the Brandenburg Gate was built around 1780s and was on the outskirts of the city but today the Brandenburg Gate is located at the very center of Berlin. You can find it on Pariser Platz, just minutes walk from the Siegesaule, Jewish Memorial, Reichstag, Tiergarten and some of the larger embassies.
Victoria, the Roman winged goddess of victory driving a chariot pulled by four horses sits atop the gate. This arrangement is called a quadriga and can be found all across the world, most notably at St Marks. Interestingly enough, after Napoleon defeated the Prussians at the Battle of Jena in 1806, he took it back to Paris with him. But the quadriga was returned to Berlin in 1814 after the Prussians returned the favor by occupying Paris towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1945, during the Battle of Berlin which brought the war in Europe to an end, this central area saw some of the heaviest fighting of the entire war. Amazingly the Brandenburg Gate survived. Since then it has held an important place international politics. The Berlin Wall ran directly in front of the Gate, isolating the it from West Germany. Later, in 1987, President Reagan gave his famous “Mr Gorbachev Tear down this wall“ speech and President Bill Clinton spoke there as well in 1994.
This first picture, was the photograph that inspired me to work on this project. I took it a few days after arriving to Berlin on a cold February day in 2010. I hope you can enjoy these photos as much as I did making them. Here, after the Battle of Berlin has ended, you see what appears to be a disabled German Tiger I tank and just beyond it, the Brandenburg Gate.
According the German Archives, this is a field hospital for wounded soldiers. Nurses mill around as a medic dispenses what little medical attention that was available at the time. In all, some 100,000 German soldiers died defending their capital. You can add another 22,000 civilians to that number (or 100,000 depending on how you like to count). Today, the areas is full of tourist and constantly under heavy construction. In the last two years of the war, the Allied dropped some 65,000 tons of bombs on Berlin. In 2012, undetonated bombs are still being found. Authorities estimate as many as 3,000 bombs still lay buried under the streets of Berlin.
If the Allies dropped 565,000 tons of bombs on Berlin in two years, the Soviets sent 40,000 tons of explosives into Berlin in the two weeks preceding the Battle of Berlin. This photo is perhaps of the same field hospital shown above. To the left of the photo you have the Kunst Academy and the US Embassy. Both closed long before the Battle of Berlin began.
Here a truck lies ruined in front of the Brandenburg Gate. In a war filled with worst-case-scenarios, the Battle of Berlin was exceptionally harsh. The gloves had come off years before, but the ferocity of fighting saw few parallels. I walk the very streets that were a literally a battleground two generations ago. I work about 100 yards from where the Reich Chancellory was, its difficult to conceive with any accuracy what violence occurred just in sight of the window I look out of daily.
When the Red Army descended upon the German capital for the Battle of Berlin, the outcome was never in question. As the story goes, the Soviet army consisted largely of peasants, many of which had lived their whole lives on collective farms. They had never seen a city like Berlin before. Astounded by the technology, stories exist of some of the soldiers removing the lightbulbs and shipping them back to their villages, unaware that they required electricity to run. Here, a T-34 tank crew, just three of the two and a half million Red Army soldiers, chat in the shadow of the Brandenburg Gate.
The Panzerfaust (armored fist) was the German Army’s answer to the T-34, this cheap, easy to use and extremely effective anti-tank weapon was distributed widely to Berliners before the Battle of Berlin. Berlin defenders learned quickly that the Soviet tanks could not raise their guns high enough to hit a building’s upper stories, so they learned to attack from above with the Panzerfaust. At the same time, the narrow, rubble-choked streets also made the lumbering Soviet tanks easy targets. Urban warfare has always put the advantage to the defender, making a tank easy prey to an ambush. As a result, Red Army tank crews commandeered steel mattress springs and welded them to the sides of their tanks. These structures served as rudimentary anti-armor armor, detonating Panzerfaust shells inched before the hitting the hulls of the tanks. The concept is still in use in many modern militaries.
Here German Prisoners of War are marched past the Brandenburg Gate. Following the Battle of Berlin specifically, the Red Army rounded up any man in a uniform and marched them East. That isn’t any in a military uniform, its anyone in a uniform, fireman, rail workers, postal carriers, police officers….180,000 from Berlin alone. Nearly all went to hellish condition in Russian mines, factories, farms or camps. Few ever returned. I find it particularly saddening that, even after the war ends, the suffering did not. According to some estimates, in 1945 alone 600,000 Germans were shipped to Russia to be used as labor, half lived. I’d like to think that after such a horrific war ended, folks would be quick to end the suffering. But, I suppose that’s not the way it works.
Happy to be alive, these Red Army soldiers dance for joy in front of the Brandenburg gate. And, well, who the hell can blame them? Heres a video of some traditional Russian dancing.
The Nazis pressed some 400,000 elderly men, children and infirm into service in preparation of the Battle of Berlin. Known as the Volkssturm, (people’s storm or people’s army), many fought bravely but were obviously largely ineffective militarily. Here an aged Volkssturm soldier watches a column of victorious Red Army soldiers and Josef Stalin tanks march through his nation’s capital. This man looks about sixty, so he probably fought in both World Wars. I imagine losing never gets easier. Regardless, another who’s luck seems to have carried him through the war with life intact.
After the Battle of Berlin ended, the nation was in economic ruins. Rations, restrictions were universal and luxuries non-exixtant. The UK did not go off od rationing until 1954, nearly ten years after the war! Gate became an epicenter of the black market. With basic services gone, supplies non-existent and money worthless, a barter economy emerged, one which the Allied soldiers took advantage of. Here is an excellent article talking about postwar Berlin.
Serving a similar function as the US Capitol Building in Washington DC, the Reichstag is the seat of the German Parliament and where the German government conducts the business of running the country. Prior to German unification in 1871, there was no official, centrally-administered German government and, as a result, no use for a building where a national Parliament could meet. Yet after unification (not to be confused with re-unification) under Emperor Wilhelm I (aka: the Prince of Grapeshot) and Otto von Bismark (aka: the Iron Chancellor), the Reichstag was built to accommodate this new need. As legend has it, following World War One, when Wilhelm II (Wilhelm’s successor) saw the added inscription Dem Deutschen Volk (To the German People), he was not amused by the clear democratic overtones. Today the Reichstag and its glass dome is one of the most easily-identifiable landmarks in Berlin, if not Germany. The Reichstag was designed by German architect Paul Wallot and its cornerstone was laid by Wilhelm I in 1884.
The building occupied a particularly important role in the Twentieth Century. Aside from being the seat of government, in 1933 the Reichstag mysteriously caught fire. A Dutch communist named Marinus van der Lubbe was blamed and executed for starting the fire. His guilt was never really established as the event was probably a false flag operation anyway.
However the fire was quite significant as it led to the Verordnung des Reichspräsidenten zum Schutz von Volk und Staat (Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State ) more commonly known as the easy-to-pronounce Reichstag Fire Decree. With support from newly-appointed Chancelor Adolf Hitler, President Hindenburg (aka: Field Marshal “What do you Think”?) issued this decree which in effect legalized the persecution of anti-Nazi activities. In a more general sense, the fire was also used to spread fear of Communist terrorism in Germany and can be considered one of the watershed events of the rise of the Third Reich. You can also read about the Enabling Act to learn more about how NSADP used legal measure to take control of Germany by allowing Hitler’s party to rule by decree.
Due to its significance, understandably the Soviet Red Army viewed the Reichstag as the “Lair of the Fascist Beast” and the building became not only the living symbol of Nazism, but the top military target in Germany as well. At the same time, the Reichstag, with its thick stone walls and deep cellar, became the location of the Third Reich’s last stand. You could say that, quite literally, the Second World War in Europe ended on the stairs of the Reichstag.
While Hitler sat in his bunker under the Reich Chancellory building, elements of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army crossed the bridges over the Spree and came within gunfire range of the Reichstag at the end of April 1945. Within the Reichstag itself, remnants of the German army fought a battle battle to the very last man in the cellars of the Reichstag.
Stalin himslef set a deadline for the taking of the Reichstag: May 1st, May Day, the Communist version of the Fourth of July. The event was recreated for the photographers and you can see a newsreel of members of the 150th Rifle Division (Alexai Berest, Mikhail Yegorov and Meliton Kantaria) erecting the Russian Victory Banner over the Reichstag on May 8, 1945. The photo of the event is quite similar in significance to the Joe Rosenthal picture of Marines raising Old Glory on Iwo Jima.
These pictures are of various, not so well-known places around the center of Berlin, which in Berlin is known as Mitte (middle). These particular photos are not really part of a set, so I am just lumping them together under the title “Mitte”.
The first picture is of the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Rheinhardtsrasse. Friedrichstrasse is a main avenue in Berlin and the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhoff (train station) is one of Berlin’s more important stations.
In this photo, which was probably taken after the Battle of Berlin, we can see some civilian refugees streaming past a German Sd.Kfz. or Sonderkraftfahrzeug (special purpose vehicle). This type of tank/truck hybrid could be considered an ancestor of the Humvee and could be referred to as a half-track but that was a term for the US versions of these. Regardless, the Sd.Kfz. came in so many different configurations that I wont even try to guess what the proper model is with any authority. But, well, this could be a Sd.Kfz. 251.
Again on Friedrichstrasse but closer to a bridge crossing the Spree this German tank destroyer assault gun was knocked. From the looks of the picture, this was taken some time after the Battle of Berlin as, at least to some extent, life seems to be getting back to normal. This particular vehicle is called a “Stug” Sturmgeschutz (literally: assault gun). Its designed to travel along with the infantry and serve as a close mobile artillery support by knocking out bunkers, defensive potions, vehicles and perhaps a light tank. Assault guns aren’t tanks, tanks have moving turrets, assault guns do not.
Ill be truthful and admit I’ve never actually been to the Bode Museum. Apparently it is full of things that would actually interest me greatly. The museum is named after Wilhelm von Bode, perhaps considered a bit of a fraud in the art world. Regardless, I’d guess this picture shows damage received during the Bombing of Berlin, but it very well could have been taken after the Battle of Berlin.
This was the Reichsbank and is located on Kurstrasse to the Eastern part of Berlin Mitte. Today this is the office of the Bundesbank, the German national bank, which was established after World War two, in 1957. This is actually a strange picture as it appears to be a picture of an American M4 Sherman tank. Therefore, either this tank was loaned to the Soviets during Lend Lease and fought its way to Berlin. Or, this actually is an American tank that appeared with the Americans who arrived after the Battle of Berlin.
EDIT: Im not sure what I was thinking. That tank is surely not an M4 Sherman. I will go sit in the corner and think about what I’ve done.
Coming back to museums,and its hard to not speak of museums when talking of Berlin, here we have a lone Red Army soldier walking past the ruins of the Neues Museum. The Neues Museum sits on Museum Island and is home to the 3,300 year old Bust of Nefertiti, which Ill have to admit, I still haven’t seen. The Neues Museum still has bullet holes in its facade and was so badly damaged during the Battle of Berlin that it was not reopened until 2009.
This photo was taken “way out west” at Charlottenburger Tor (yep, another one of those gates). Here we have six, Canadians, Tommys of the United Kingdom, standing on a statue of I have no idea who. To make it clear, the Soviets captured Berlin, but later the other Allied nations like the US, the UK, and France arrived to participate in the occupation. As I said, the gate is in Charlottenburg, the West, and I only went there to take this picture. Afterwards, I turned back to my home in the East and got under the covers.
Clearly long after the Battle of Berlin, Soviet soldiers march past a memorial to fallen Red Army soldiers in Tiergarten. If I remember correctly, it was meant for the soldiers who died taking the Reichstag. The Red Army lost some 80,000 men taking Berlin and you can see the Reichstag’s damaged dome in the back. Today this area is full of tress, but after the Battle of Berlin the area had been stripped bare. First by bombs,then later by civilians for firewood. There are many Soviet Memorials in Berlin, one of my favorite being the Soviet Memorial in Treptow.
The Altes Museum sits on Berlin’s Museum Island. As the name suggests it is an island on the Spree River which is home to some of Berlin’s, if not the world’s, most impressive museums. The Altes Museum, altes being a German word for old, and Museum Island were built in the 1800s by renown German architect and city planner Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841). Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Altes Museum is home to Germany’s collection of Classical antiquities. However, in 1939 as Germany celebrated the 50th birthday of Fuhrer Adolph Hitler in Berlin, the Altes Museum became the location for a parade down Unter den Linden followed by a speech given by Hitler representing the climax of the celebrations. Some footage for the event still exists.
Despite getting off to to a good start, by 1945, the Soviet red Army was knocking on Germany’s door and by April, the Russians were in Berlin. The city became a battlefield. During the Battle of Berlin, all of Berlin’s historic sites were fortified. Old stone buildings like the Altes Museum, with their thick stone walls, cavernous basements and small windows became mini fortresses defended until the last man.
When folks visit Berlin, they probably just see one big big city
….and with 3.5 million people, it is a big city. Regardless, it doesn’t take long to discern two entirely different orbits in Berlin-the East and the West. Still separated along the path of the old Berlin wall, the two boroughs of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain are the epitome of this duality; The Berlin Wall and the Spree river both ran between these two boroughs. Kreuzberg was, and still is the West and Friedrichshain was and will always be the East.
I don’t know when exactly, but I got the idea a long time ago to take photos of the different manhole / sewer covers that I encountered on my travels. One led to two and then I had a bunch. I think they are pretty damn cool, but I’ll let you judge for yourself. If you have any cool manhole / sewer covers or goolies (DE) from your town, think about sending them my way and I’ll make sure they show up here, and I’ll be sure to give credit where it is due.
Enjoy , and remember to look where you step.
Martin Continue reading
For nearly half a year in 2005, I fulfilled a dream and lived in Japan. People always ask me what my time there was like. If there was ever on spot in all of my travels which defies description it just might be this distant island. I have tried to portray it as a trip into the future, where solutions existed to problems that you never knew you even had, such as toilets with speakers that concealed the coarse sounds of their human users or street-corner vending machines selling entire bottles of Suntory Black Jack whiskey.
When I arrived in Germany in 2006, I took note of these small bronze plaques which were set into the pavement. I believe the first one was directly outside the front door to my work. If you take the time to stop and look, you’ll find that each tile has words on it. A name followed by some information; birth date, death date, location of death and perhaps the circumstances. These are Stolperstein (Stumblestones), they show the last known residence of the victims of the Holocaust. They are the work of German artist Gunter Demning. Started in 1993, this project seeks to observe the victims of the Nazi regime and hundreds, perhaps thousands of Stolperstein can be found all cross former Nazi Occupied Europe.
Around the middle of the 16th century the Elector/Prince of Brandenburg, Berlin at the time, had a horse path connecting his residence to his royal hunting grounds in what is today the Tiergarten (Animal Garden). Unter den Linden (Under the Limes) got its name in 1647 when Elector Frederick William lined the avenue with lime trees. Since then Unter den Linden has become one of Berlin’s greatest attractions. In the past it was home to a royal residence, military buildings and arsenals. Later large churches, opera houses, national libraries and a university were added. In more modern times, Unter den Linden was a government district, where you could find all of the most important embassies in the world. Today, the avenue, which runs on an east-west axis through the middle of the city starts at Alexanderplatz and goes all the way through to the Brandenburg Gate. Here you can find some of Germany’s most recognizable landmarks as well as enough History to fill many pages. Not surprisingly, during the Second World War, Unter der Linden was the spot for parades, demonstrations as well as the target of bombs and some of the fiercest fighting of the Battle for Berlin. Continue reading