I had booked my train tickets from Cologne to Berlin on-line from Orlando. Germany is supposed to run like a clock; the train is scheduled to leave at 8:48 from platform 2 but I swear it was 8:50 when the wheels started to turn: – Heads will roll!
A reserved first class seat with a table in the salon; no internet but power; a cappuccino served en route. Five hours later, the ICE (Intercontinental Express) pulls into the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, a Pirenisian, multi-level building that make the passengers feel like ants.
Rivers of rain pour over the curved glass roofs of the station but I am eager to hit the streets. I have studied Berlin extensively whilst writing “A Gordian Web” and this trip is more for confirmation than anything else. I can see the simulated dome on the Reichstag and know my hotel for the next two days, The Maritim, is within walkable distance.
The clouds clear and I am on Frederickstrasse within twenty minutes.
Berlin has reverted into a truly beautiful city since ‘The Wall’ came crashing down. The River Spree is somehow symbolic of the restored freedom as it winds its languid way around the major buildings. Berliners do not retreat from or deny their past and those Third Reich buildings that did survive the final days of 1945 are well documented by marquees that explain their history in four languages. The fact that all those red sandstone, four storey buildings are still pockmarked with bullet holes really brings home the horror that accompanied the Russian Armies in those final days.
A major part of the action in “A Gordian Web” takes place in the Adlon Hotel in Pariser Platz. The original, luxurious hotel opened in 1907 and served as a military hospital during the final defense of Berlin in 1945. A fire, started in the closing hours of the war, left the building in ruins and despite East German attempts to renovate, the building in my book was demolished in 1984. The current magnificent Hotel Adlon Kempinski opened in 1997 on the same site and still incorporates the British Embassy on the Wilhelmstrasse side; an odd fact that pre-dates the War.
I walked west along the Unter den Linden to visit today’s Adlon Hotel, which shares the Pariser Platz with the Brandenburg Gate. The developers chose to mimic the original architecture so it does not take too much imagination to pretend I was back in the day. Of course, this ‘new Adlon Hotel’ might be more famous for providing the balcony from where Michael Jackson dangled his child, Blanket, in 2002.
My first mission is to rove Willemstrasse in search of Hitler’s Bunker. This is far from a well-advertised tourist attraction but I was fairly certain it was somewhere near the current Peking City Chinese Restaurant. So, I climbed over a barrier and looked into the back alley. No bunker, but I found a sign that documents its former location and the fact that it was demolished in 1988. An accompanying map shows where the Reich Chancellery, the Winter Garden and many of the other locations featured in “A Gordian Web” housed the bad guys.
Ironically, the surrounding Ministry Gardens, a crown jewel for the Thousand Year Reich is now the location for the Holocaust Memorial. Designed by New York architect, Peter Eisenman, 2711 concrete ‘stelae’ haunt Hitler’s suicide site. When I walked down the three-foot passageways between these rectangular plinths, my footsteps echoed. I felt proud that I was helping millions of past and present Jews remind the bastard that he would never rest in peace.
By the way, dinner at The Adlon’s Restaurant Quarre was exquisite; chanterelle soup with Berliner Eisbein (pig knuckle as the main course.) If you go there, ask for table 26 and you will have a great view of the Brandenburg gate.