In the photo below you will see buildings of the Berlin University right in front and to the left of the plaza. This is the university that Einstein walked the halls until he left for the U.S. never to return. To the right is the equipment and material of the reconstruction of the historic opera house further to the right. I am taking this photo from my hotel window which again, at the time, was a financial institution in the Mitte neighborhood. If you look closely you you will see a group of young people gathered around listening to a guide narrator and looking down through a thick glass window on the ground. Underneath the window is a underwhelming white wall about a story down with a white empty bookcase.
They are huddled around the very site where on April 6, 1933 (Einstein was still in Berlin,) students launched a book burning campaign by the German Student Association under the proclamation “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” which was climaxed in Säuberung — cleansing by fire.
It is not hard to envision Einstein and his contemporaries across the way there, looking out the window, it is nighttime and there is a throng of people around a huge mound of books blazing, faces lit yellow from the flames and chanting propaganda as a uniformed student throws more of them onto the fire right where those young people are standing now in the photo. It was students, just like these standing there, that bent themselves toward purifying the German language and affirming German values. 25,000 volumes of un-German books were destroyed as a band played songs and the students sung “fire oaths’ and incantations while 40,000 people gathered to hear Joseph Goebbels cry out,
“No to decadence and moral corruption! [..] The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end!…”
Right there were those student are… gathered by the construction… all in their cool levi denim jeans…
This is my last day and I decide to do some more sightseeing and grab lunch. I go to the old Jewish quarter that now just lumped in with Mitte. This is the new and happening neighborhood with a lot of boutique shops and restaurants. Tanja from Hamburg recommended this small and hip standing room only Monsieur Vuong on Neue Schönhauser Strasse. Its pretty good but I think its a bit overhyped. This guy is an impressive self promoter, proud of his lifestyle, and there are posters of him all over the wall. I have the Pho Hanoi with chicken, a Tiger beer, and the Vietnamese spring rolls which were very good. Still, after yesterday’s fried pig knuckle this light broth and noodle dish is from the Lord himself.
I did manage to get a laugh from the vietnamese hostess when in her assessment of my naive girly western palate I put too much hot chili pepper on top which of course turned my meal into a competitive moral challenge with me smiling nonchilantly and sweat dripping from my forehead.
Next I go to the Holocaust Memorial, I took the underground rail “S line” from Hacescher Market to Friedrichstrasse and walked the rest of the way through Parizer Platz, the famous victory arch like that in Paris (Napolean paraded through this one too as did Hitler’s elite SS and Panzer’s a century later) and another block past the British Embassy (all the embassies are really well done with architecture unique, contemporary, and culturally expressive (except of course the U.S. embassy which was just a building.)
This is a must see. I didn’t go inside as I really didn’t want to be depressed that day but the architecture of the monument is profound and now in writing this I wish I did. There are signs telling visitors there is no talking or standing on the blocks as this is a sacred monument.
I took a walk in Tier Garten next and watched the locals playing with their dogs or walking their children around to get fresh air or holding hands with a lover.
I get back to the hotel for a well earned martini and decide on dinner. In making dinner plans I ask around from something different and really cool and below 6,000 calories and 40% trans fat and get a few ideas.
Before dinner I go to the beautiful 18th and 19th century plaza called Gendarmen Market. I hit it just right as people were entering this vintage symphony hall and the sun coming out and setting casting the perfect light.
I go to Long March Canteen which is fusion dim sum in Kreuzberg. Its like dining in a Blade Runner scene but it is very fun and the food pretty good although probably the same as what you might expect at something in San Francisco or New York. The manager sat me down with a film producer and his wife. They were a thirty something couple and I ended up having a great time with them drinking Monkey 47 and tonic.
Tired, a bit tipsy, and full I get a cab back to the hotel. Tomorrow I take the train to Hamburg (looking forward to that nap) and to my friend’s home, then back through London and finally home to the U.S.
Berlin has absolutely entered into my heart as one of the great cities in the world. I will come back in the summer to talk another walk in Tier Garten.