Archives for category: Berlin culture


Mark Twain said, he “[n]ever knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.” Yet, despite his criticism of the German language, Twain loved Germany and especially Berlin. He called Berlin the “newest city I have ever seen,” and referred to it as the “German Chicago” because of its energy and sense of vibrancy. By the end of the 19th century, Berlin had transformed itself from a swampy provincial town into a thriving city where the arts, sciences and technology were flourishing. Berlin was soon to become the third largest city in the world and the center of the “new” Europe.

Twain lived in Berlin during the 1890’s, and wrote articles on his everyday life in the city. Many of those stories were never published until quite recently. Andreas Austilat has complied these stories in an insightful book, A Tramp in Berlin. New Mark Twain Stories: An Account of Twain’s Berlin Adventures. For Twain and/or Berlin fans, the book is a must read. 

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Last Tuesday was the 52nd anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. On the morning of August 13, 1961, East Berliners woke to find soldiers had blocked off the streets, cut off rail links, and begun building a wall. The city’s division followed that of Germany as millions of people in the east were isolated. Over the course of the next 27 years, between 600-700 people died (no exact number is known) trying to flee from East Germany before the Wall eventually fell in 1989.

The Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of Communism and the Cold War and also as a reminder of the potential for nuclear holocaust. In the 1960’s, the Cold War became a popular movie theme. There were a few good ones, but most were mediocre.

I was a little surprised to discover that Alfred Hitchcock had made one of the weak ones, Torn Curtain. An American scientist (Paul Newman) defects to East Germany to obtain information about an anti-ballistic missile program. The movie is formulaic and full of implausibility. In the early 1960’s, Hitchcock’s was on a roll. His three previous movies Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964) were inventive and suspenseful stories that pressed the limits of censorship. However, Torn Curtainis a predicable spy caper that falls flat. There are a few good scenes, but overall, the movie is a failure.

By contrast, Martin Ritt’s, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a classic. It’s about a British agent that is sent to East Germany to plant disinformation. Filmed in black and white, and starring Richard Burton (one of his few restrained performances), Claire Bloom, and Oskar Werner, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is an unflinching look at the spy business. There are no good guys in this movie, just wretched characters engaged in a ruthless occupation. Ritt’s economical use of dialogue, subdued cinematography, and somber set decoration makes for an intense drama that still holds up.

Movie Trivia: The movie’s first scene at Checkpoint Charlie was filmed on a studio set in Ireland. It bears little resemblance to the street (Friedrichsstraße) where where Checkpoint Charlie actually stands.
Last Tuesday was the 52nd anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. On the morning of August 13, 1961, East Berliners woke to find soldiers had blocked off the streets, cut off rail links, and begun building a wall. The city’s division followed that of Germany as millions of people in the east were isolated. Over the course of the next 27 years, between 600-700 people died (no exact number is known) trying to flee from East Germany before the Wall eventually fell in 1989.

The Berlin Wall stood as a symbol of Communism and the Cold War and also as a reminder of the potential for nuclear holocaust. In the 1960’s, the Cold War became a popular movie theme. There were a few good ones, but most were mediocre.

I was a little surprised to discover that Alfred Hitchcock had made one of the weak ones, Torn Curtain. An American scientist (Paul Newman) defects to East Germany to obtain information about an anti-ballistic missile program. The movie is formulaic and full of implausibility. In the early 1960’s, Hitchcock’s was on a roll. His three previous movies Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964) were inventive and suspenseful stories that pressed the limits of censorship. However, Torn Curtainis a predicable spy caper that falls flat. There are a few good scenes, but overall, the movie is a failure.

By contrast, Martin Ritt’s, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a classic. It’s about a British agent that is sent to East Germany to plant disinformation. Filmed in black and white, and starring Richard Burton (one of his few restrained performances), Claire Bloom, and Oskar Werner, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is an unflinching look at the spy business. There are no good guys in this movie, just wretched characters engaged in a ruthless occupation. Ritt’s economical use of dialogue, subdued cinematography, and somber set decoration makes for an intense drama that still holds up.

Movie Trivia: The movie’s first scene at Checkpoint Charlie was filmed on a studio set in Ireland. It bears little resemblance to the street (Friedrichsstraße) where where Checkpoint Charlie actually stands.

What better way to advertise your product than to have a replica of it decorating your storefront. Barber shop poles and wooden Indian’s were common in the early 1900’s. In the 1950’s, when the era of the replica reached its zenith, there were dinosaurs, reptiles, cows, pizzas, and every imaginable kind of thing dotting the roadside. My favorite was the iconic Bob’s Big Boy statue: a symbol for juicy hamburgers and fast service. 

In Berlin, it’s the plastic ice cream cone. These kitschy mass-produced sculptures are easy to overlook, but they are everywhere.  


What better way to advertise your product than to have a replica of it decorating your storefront. Barber shop poles and wooden Indian’s were common in the early 1900’s. In the 1950’s, when the era of the replica reached its zenith, there were dinosaurs, reptiles, cows, pizzas, and every imaginable kind of thing dotting the roadside. My favorite was the iconic Bob’s Big Boy statue: a symbol for juicy hamburgers and fast service. 

In Berlin, it’s the plastic ice cream cone. These kitschy mass-produced sculptures are easy to overlook, but they are everywhere.  


Last week, I read the tragic story of a 15-year-old Californian who died after falling from a third floor hotel balcony. The young man was visiting Berlin as part of a school tour, and was under the influence of alcohol at the time of his death. According to authorities, the youth had consumed a large amount of whisky and had been celebrating with his classmates.

In Germany, minors are allowed to consume and possess beer and wine at 14, as long as they are in the company of their parents or legal guardian. At 16, minors can consume and possess beer and wine without parental consent, and at 18, they have access to any distilled liquor.

Unlike the USA, Europeans aren’t puritanical when it comes to alcohol consumption. Most people learn at an early age how to drink responsibly. This young man’s death is not uncommon, especially among young tourists visiting Berlin from the USA and Scandinavia where alcohol prohibitions are tough. When an inexperienced young person comes to Berlin, it’s like a license to binge.
There’s always something to see on the streets of Berlin. 

This temporary art installation just appeared overnight. It’s located near the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station
in Kreuzberg. 
A bronze face located near the Foreign Ministry
in Mitte
Beautifying a parkway on
Libauerstr. in Friedrichshain
Located on Karl-Marx Alle and
surrounded by Stalinist style apartments
this kiosk is in the shape of a baby bottle.
It states, “Finally Grown Up”
On the corner of Warschauerstr.
and Friedrichsstr. this street light
is the victim of too many posters

There’s always something to see on the streets of Berlin. 

This temporary art installation just appeared overnight. It’s located near the Schlesisches Tor U-Bahn station
in Kreuzberg. 
A bronze face located near the Foreign Ministry
in Mitte
Beautifying a parkway on
Libauerstr. in Friedrichshain
Located on Karl-Marx Alle and
surrounded by Stalinist style apartments
this kiosk is in the shape of a baby bottle.
It states, “Finally Grown Up”
On the corner of Warschauerstr.
and Friedrichsstr. this street light
is the victim of too many posters

The Memorial to the Socialists (1951), Friedrichsfelde Friedhof.
The Central Obelisk states,”The Dead Remind Us.” It is surrounded by 10 graves commemorating East Germany’s foremost socialist leaders,
including Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht.

On Monday, Germany marks the 60th anniversary of the June 17, 1953 uprising in East Germany when thousands of people took the streets against the Communist government demanding transparency, free elections, and reunification. The uprising was quickly quashed leaving scores of people dead and injured. The uprising would mark the first time an eastern block country would unsuccessfully try to wrestle control from the Soviet Union. Hungary would do so in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1980. Not until 1989 would East Germany realize freedom. 

The Memorial states,
“What has passed will not return again,
but it left brilliant lights.” 

On the eve of this important anniversary, I paid a visit to the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde), also known as the Memorial to the Socialists. Tucked away in the borough of Lichtenberg, not far from where I live, the Friedrichsfelde cemetery is a lovely and almost deserted place. Away from the sights and sounds of the big city, it’s just you, the trees, and the lush foliage.

Unlike the Dorotheenstadt Friedhof, where many of East Germany’s artistic and cultural elite are buried, Friedrichsfelde was reserved for East German leaders and activists. For example, this is the final resting place for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (co-founders of the German Communist Party), Walter Ulbricht (East Germany’s ruthless leader), Käthe Kollwitz (pacifist and artist), and Klaus Fuchs (physicist and atomic spy). 

A No Nonsense Socialist Headstone


This quiet and bucolic space is the perfect escape from the summer heat, and a good place to learn a little history. 

The Memorial to the Socialists (1951), Friedrichsfelde Friedhof.
The Central Obelisk states,”The Dead Remind Us.” It is surrounded by 10 graves commemorating East Germany’s foremost socialist leaders,
including Wilhelm Pieck and Walter Ulbricht.

On Monday, Germany marks the 60th anniversary of the June 17, 1953 uprising in East Germany when thousands of people took the streets against the Communist government demanding transparency, free elections, and reunification. The uprising was quickly quashed leaving scores of people dead and injured. The uprising would mark the first time an eastern block country would unsuccessfully try to wrestle control from the Soviet Union. Hungary would do so in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and Poland in 1980. Not until 1989 would East Germany realize freedom. 

The Memorial states,
“What has passed will not return again,
but it left brilliant lights.” 

On the eve of this important anniversary, I paid a visit to the Friedrichsfelde Central Cemetery (Zentralfriedhof Friedrichsfelde), also known as the Memorial to the Socialists. Tucked away in the borough of Lichtenberg, not far from where I live, the Friedrichsfelde cemetery is a lovely and almost deserted place. Away from the sights and sounds of the big city, it’s just you, the trees, and the lush foliage.

Unlike the Dorotheenstadt Friedhof, where many of East Germany’s artistic and cultural elite are buried, Friedrichsfelde was reserved for East German leaders and activists. For example, this is the final resting place for Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg (co-founders of the German Communist Party), Walter Ulbricht (East Germany’s ruthless leader), Käthe Kollwitz (pacifist and artist), and Klaus Fuchs (physicist and atomic spy). 

A No Nonsense Socialist Headstone


This quiet and bucolic space is the perfect escape from the summer heat, and a good place to learn a little history.