An Easy Alternative Berlin Free Tour
Our focus here was to show you that, even close to the most famous places, Berlin has something hidden. It can be a War Memorial, it can be a concrete cylinder from the 30’s. It can even be a tower left from the Berlin Wall, this city has a lot of hidden treasures and Fotostrasse is here to show you some of these places.
Most of the tourists that take the U-Bahn to Kochstraße go there to see Checkpoint Charlie but they are missing one of the most bizarre landmarks in Berlin just a block away.
On the side wall of the Tageszeitung Building on Rudi Dutschke Straße there is a sculpture called Peace be With You, created by Peter Lenk and erected in 2009. This weird sculpture has a giant penis spreading across a few floors and an uncanny resemblance to Bild’s editor Kai Diekmann, whose offices are located across the street.
Most people don’t even see this piece of art when they walk by. The ones that see it, scratch their heads wondering what does it mean. but to explain the meaning behind the artwork, we have to go back some years in the past and understand that the street where this artwork can be found hosts a long battle between the left wing scene and the newspaper Bild, the most sold newspaper in Europe with a circulation of more than 3 million issues a day.
The battle started in the 1960s when student activists held Bild and its headlines responsible for the death of Benno Ohnesorg and the attempted assassination of the student leader Rudi Dutschke. But this was a long time ago and we imagined that this sculpture has nothing to do with what happened. This is a dispute between Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann and the legendary left-wing Tageszeitung newspaper. But how does this sculpture adds anything to the dispute? We don’t know but we love to walk by the building and see the weird faces some people do when they see this for the first time.
If you want to see one of the bizarre landmarks of Berlin in all its glory, go to the corner of Rudi Dutschke Straße and Charlottenstraße and look beyond the trees. There you will be able to see how weird Berlin streets can be.
Sometimes we think to ourselves that we know Berlin and that this city cannot surprise us that easily anymore. But, of course, we are always wrong. Berlin surprises us almost everyday and this is how we felt when we realized that, hidden in plain sight, there is a East German Watchtower on Potsdamer Platz.
This observation tower used to stand between the Brandenburg Gate and Leipziger Platz and it was used as a base for border guards to monitor the area at the former House of Ministries. It was only in 2001 that this tower was moved to its present location near Stresemannstraße on Potsdamer Platz.
The construction of this BT 6 watchtower, the technical name for this East German Watchtower, began in 1966 and, by the end of the GDR era, there were more than 200 of them following the Berlin Wall. This one is the only one that still stands and it’s quite weird to visit the place where so much had happened before.
When you go visit the East German Watchtower, avoid wet days since there is not much space protect the guys that keep the watchtower open. Opening hours are, normally set between 11:00 and 15:00, from monday to sunday. We paid €3,50 for the 20 minutes we stayed there taking pictures and listening to the history behind this Cold War relic and it was way worth it.
When you are walking around Tempelhof, a concrete cylinder isn’t the first thing that crosses your mind as a place to visit. But the Schwerbelastungskörper is more than just a bunch of concrete and a really scary german name. The Schwerbelastungskörper is one of the few structures that survived to tell the story of Welthauptstadt Germania, the capital of the new german world that never survived the Second World War.
The history says that back in the 1920’s, Adolf Hitler was using his artistic skills to sketch what he saw as the future capital of the upcoming German Empire. This city would be a improved version of Berlin and it would be called Welthauptstadt Germania. This would be the megalomaniacal dream of a crazy dictator but we will never see this outside of the history books. The only thing we can see, and visit, is the concrete cylinder that was built by the orders of Albert Speer, the First Architect of the Third Reich, to see if it was possible to built the mega city.
Right now all you can do is visit the Schwerbelastungskörper, do the historical tour and climb on the platform above it and see the great view from the top. This is the best way to understand the massive size of this concrete structure.
The guided tours happen between April and October and are held by Berliner Unterwelten e.V. every sunday at noon. If you don’t want to do the tour, just go to the corner of Dudenstrasse and General-Pape-Strasse and you will find everything you need. The site is only open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
The Parliament of Trees against War and Violence can be found hidden close to where the Reichstag is. In german, this place is called Parlament der Bäume gegen Krieg und Gewalt and is a memorial for the people who died trying to cross the Berlin Wall. Ben Wagin, a performance artist that lives in Berlin since 1957, is the person responsible for creating this memorial at the border strip.
The installation was created back in 1990, right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and it’s made of trees, memorial stones, some parts and pieces of the border fortifications and the names of the 258 people that died trying to cross the Berlin Wall.
The Parliament of Trees stands in the former no-man’s land and is made of 58 pieces of the Berlin Wall. But this is not the centre piece here. Everything in this memorial is about the trees. Trees planted by the prime ministers of the sixteen states that formed the unified Germany. Sixteen trees stand there today and are the foundation for this environmental art piece.
You can reach the Parliament of Trees and the Wall Memorial from the Schiffbauerdamm promenade from 11:00 to 17:00 and admission is free.
Rosentrasse runs between Hakescher Markt and Alexanderplatz. It is one of these small roads and you walk by without knowing what happened there before. But this street is the place where the Old Synagogue used to stand before the Second World War.
Also, this is the place where a street protest in 1943 showed that resistance against Nazism was possible and that it could be successful.
Let’s go back to 1943 when hundreds of unarmed German women stood day and night for a week doing something unheard of in Nazi Germany. They stood close to Gestapo agents armed with machine guns and demanded the release of their Jewish husbands that were locked up in a Jewish community center close to Alexanderplatz.
After a few days of struggles, their men were freed, and today we remember their stand with the Block der Frauen.
Block der Frauen, Block of Women in German, is the work of Ingeborg Hunzinger, a East German sculptor that created the memorial to those women who took a part in the Rosentrasse Protest. It was erected back in 1995 not far from the site of where the protest happened in 1943.
Ingeborg Hunzinger first proposed the memorials to the city councils of East and West Berlin in the late 1980s. But, even though the boards agreed with the helping out with a portion of the construction cost, Ingeborg Hunzinger bore most of the expense herself. And she is glad that she did the memorial since the Rosentrasse Protest was such an critical facet of the history of Berlin and most people don’t even know it happened.
You can find the Rosentrasse Protest Memorial close to Alexanderplatz on Rosentrasse. If you are coming from Alexanderplatz, you’re going to see it on your left side inside a small park.
Rosenstrasse Protest Memorial on Alexanderplatz
Parliament of Trees against War and Violence
East German Watchtower on Potsdamer Platz
The Giant Penis next to Checkpoint Charlie
Most people would say that the history of Berlin is filled with tragic events and there is no way of saying this is a lie. Berlin was the center of most of the history in the last century and it paid a high price for everything that happened.
It is better to visit the city trying to understand how the city copes with its past than to just ignore it. This is why we write about these places on Fotostrasse and this is why you should see them as well.