On Tuesday we docked at the port of Warnemunde in Germany. Warnemunde is a sea resort in Germany’s Rostock district. The city is situated on the Baltic Sea, in the northern most part of Germany on the estuary of the Warnow River. Together with Rostock, it is considered as one of the country’s major shipping centres. Warnemunde’s broad, sandy beaches are the largest on the German Baltic Sea coast and stretch out over a length of two miles. Because of the low current and good sailing conditions, Warnemunde is one of the best sailing grounds in Germany. The beach is especially good for kite surfing, windsurfing, underwater diving and swimming making it one of the most popular seaside resorts on the Baltic Sea.
Berlin is approximately 200km from Warnemunde. We had signed up to do a Berlin discovery trip. We were met at the Port by Felix, our escort for the day. He was in charge of getting our bus from the Port to Berlin and back in time for the ship’s sailing at midnight.
Felix was excellent – he was about 25 and is about to finish his medical degree – once he passes his final exams in October he will be a Radiography Oncologist. He does the tour guiding over the summer months during the university break. He was born in 1988 in the East – his father was a policeman guarding the wall. They did not have televisions in the East so many people were unaware that the wall had come down on the 9th November 1989. Felix’s mother went to work as usual the next day and couldn’t work out why half her colleagues were not there. She thought they were joking when they said the wall had come down.
The GDR or German Democratic Republic were very good at recording everything and you can go to the State Security Services and request documents that related to you. Felix’s parents did this and discovered their best friends were spying on them and feeding information to the GDR about them. Not all the documents from former GDR have been recovered. We will never comprehend how it was to live in these times.
The wall was built in 1961 and was constructed overnight. If people from the East were on the West that night and vice versa they were trapped. Felix’s Grandfather had a sister who happened to be visiting the West the night the wall went up. They were not reunited until 1994. There are many stories like this. The wall was built for the protection from capitalism, to protect those in the east from the bad influences of those in the west. The older generation still refer to the East and the West. The younger generation refer to the North and South.
The wall came down on the 9th November 1989 and the reunification started on the 3rd October 1990. The people in the West earn more than the people in the East but they pay a reunification tax. The cost of living in the East is lower. The reunification ends in 2019 and the wages in both the East and West will then be equalised.
Berlin is the largest city in Germany with a population of 3.5 million. It is also the poorest part of the country – unemployment is at 7.3% whereas the country average is 5.4%. It used to be at 10% in Berlin but Angela Merkle’s party has worked hard on reducing that. We asked Felix why Angela Merkle is so popular with the people. In the last election she got 63% of the vote – this is the highest recorded by any Chancellor since World War II.
She is very popular with woman and has put a policy in place that requires all businesses to employ at least 25% woman in their workforce. She is also very popular with the students – university education is free. They have to pay an enrolment fee which equates to about EU130 per semester. They will also pay your rent if you or your parents can’t afford it. However, you have to pay 50% of the rent back unless you achieve A grades. A pretty good incentive to work hard at university. Germany, as with NZ also has a brain drain issue with the highly qualified going offshore once they have qualified.
Angela Merkle is in favour of nuclear power but you won’t hear her say that. In order to get re elected she shut all the nuclear power plants down. 60% of their electricity comes from wind and solar, however, when they don’t have any wind and sun they have to buy power from Poland which is generated by nuclear power plants – a bit ironic really! We saw a number of wind turbines along the way as well as trucks transporting the parts. Apparently it is more profitable to have a wind turbine in your paddock than crops.
Angela Merkle lives on Museum Island (there are over 170 museums in Berlin) in an apartment block with ordinary citizens and has BBQ’s on a Sunday afternoon with them. She likes to go to the cinema and the shops and be amongst the people. She always has her bodyguards in tow but asks them to stay back. You could approach her if you wanted and you wouldn’t be stopped but the people have a high regard for her and generally leave her in peace.
Germany has a total population of about 82 million and has the largest population of the member states in the EU. It is the world’s third largest economy by GDP and the largest exporter of goods according to 2007 statistics. It has a federal parliamentary republic of 16 states and is home to the third highest number of international immigrants.
Germans like order so in the state that we were in they had counted every tree and given each one a number plate. Felix was at a bit of a loss to explain this but said that every tree is watered and checked twice a year. We saw these number plates for ourselves. Another irony really given the state is the poorest state and there are many incomplete construction projects all over the place. The efficient reputation of the Germans has been tarnished.
There is also no major airport in Berlin, instead it is serviced by three smaller ones. They started building a large airport in 1999 that was going to be completed in June 2014 – it is still not finished much to the embarrassment of the German Government. The first things they built were the runways and because so much time has elapsed and planes have evolved (A380’s for instance) the runways do not meet international standards – another dent in the German reputation.
There are two main airlines in Germany – Lufthansa and Air Berlin. Lufthansa has lost a lot of credibility with the people due to poor service and unfriendly staff so Air Berlin is the favoured airline.
We got into Berlin after about 3.5 hours on the bus. First stop was lunch – the food was good and Steve enjoyed a German beer. We then met up with our tour guide Thomas who was going to show us the sights of the city from the bus. There was so much to see and take in.
We stopped at the Brandenburg Gate which was originally intended to be a symbol of peace, but eventually the winged victory goddess, Nike, and four horse chariot were added to the top of the gate symbolising the strength of the Prussians.
We drove past the Reichstag Building which is where the German Parliament sits. It has a glass cupola and you can walk along and look into it while parliament is in session – the theory on this is that the parliament have nothing to hide. It is the most visited government building in the world with over 3 million visitors annually. It has been re built three times.
We stopped at Checkpoint Charlie which sat in the middle of the Russian, French, American and British quarters. It was the checkpoint you went through from East to West. The Russian and American tanks sat facing each other about 50 metres apart. It is quite a tourist attraction now and they have these “soldiers” standing there with American flags – you can have your photo taken with them for EU2 per person. It was a bit tacky really but it had to be done.
We also stopped at the Eastside Gallery which is the remaining part of the wall in the city. It has been painted with all these murals. One of the murals is of the Brotherhood Kiss. The socialist fraternal kiss or Brotherhood Kiss was a special form of greeting between the statesmen of the so-called Eastern Bloc. It consists of an embrace and a mutual kiss (or kisses) to cheeks or in rarer cases to the mouth.
With this act, a special connection between Socialist states was intended to be demonstrated. Both the embrace and the kiss were supposed to be the expression of happiness, fraternity and equality, and were otherwise a transformation of a known ritual and symbol of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The fraternal kiss became famous via Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, who were photographed exercising the ritual. The photograph became widespread and it was subsequently transformed into a graffiti painting on the Berlin Wall named My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.
Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall became known as a symbol of communist oppression. In the 1963 “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, U.S. President John F. Kennedy stated the support of the United States for democratic West Germany shortly after the Soviet-supported Communist state of East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement from East to West.
There was a misconception that “Ich bin ein Berliner” translated to “I am a jelly doughnut” but apparently in the context it was correct. He was declaring his solidarity with it’s citizens when he said “I am a Berliner”. The Germans still laugh about this today.
However, in 1987 it was a different story. “Tear down this wall!” was the challenge issued by United States President Ronald Reagan to Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy the Berlin Wall, in a speech at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, commemorating the 750th anniversary of Berlin. Reagan challenged Gorbachev, who was then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to tear it down as an emblem of Gorbachev’s desire to increase freedom in the Eastern Bloc through glasnost (“transparency”) and perestroika (“restructuring”).
Arriving in Berlin on June 12, 1987, President and Mrs. Reagan were taken to the Reichstag, where they viewed the wall from a balcony. Reagan then made his speech at the Brandenburg Gate at 2:00 pm, in front of two panes of bulletproof glass protecting him from potential snipers in East Berlin. About 45,000 people were in attendance; among the spectators were West German president Richard von Weizsäcker, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and West Berlin mayor Eberhard Diepgen. That afternoon, Reagan said:
We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
The River Spree runs through the city and is 300 miles in length and has the most boat traffic in Europe.
There are two city centres effectively because after the wall went up the West Germans needed to build a city centre. After our bus tour we had some free time to look around the east part of the city. It is a really nice city and one I would like to return to and spend more time exploring – there is so much to see.
One memorial we didn’t get to see was the Holocaust Monument – it is like a maze made up of these squares which get bigger the further in you go. It is to show how the Jews felt in the sense that the infiltration started off small and gradually got bigger to the point it was a full blown occupation with no way out.
We got back to the boat about 10.15pm – a big day but a good day.