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A history lesson straight from the source

Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany with Bernd

sunny 60 °F

Today (Wednesday) was a national holiday that split up the week nicely. Since it was a holiday, Bernd and Elke were up eggs for breakfast. My two egg omelettes had overstuffed them on Sunday, so both requested just one egg apiece. I was going to make a two egg omelette and split it in half, but Elke wanted mushrooms, scallions and cheese and Bernd wanted fewer mushrooms and wanted cherry tomatoes added in. So instead, I made the first one egg omelettes of my life. I wish I had taken a picture before I served them. Unfortunately, they were so darn thin that even on half power, Elke's cooked through almost immediately. Bernd's turned out a bit better by turning down the stovetop below halfway and cooking for literally no more than 10 seconds. In the morning, I continued to refine some of the marketing and online materials that Konzepte has as well as their English language training programs.

Around noon, Bernd took me to the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Museum of the History of the Federal Republic of Germany). I had been really looking forward to this museum since I first researched the things to do in Bonn and Bernd had expressed interest in going as well.

The museum began with a brief overview of WWII. Here was a Nazi party rally. I'm not sure I've ever seen so many people in one place:
And a Bomb England board game for kids:

With this kind of propaganda, you start to understand the remarkable influence that the Nazis were able to command and in many ways, the brainwashing that they were able to carry out, starting with the kids.

Seeing this uniform from one of the concentration camps gave me an eerie reminder to the movie "The Boy in Striped Pajamas" and started to choke me up, in addition to seeing a cloth of Jewish stars to be cut out and sewn on to their clothing.

What I found especially interesting was that guards at the concentration camps were forced to state their name and rank on video. They had parts of the video playing at the museum.

They did a really nice job at the museum of using real artifacts and rubble to give you a peak into life at this time.IMG_0997.jpg
Bernd told me about unexploded bombs like this that would be periodically found throughout Berlin after the war and that he would regularly pass streets that were closed off to deal with these bombs.

He also told me about Kindersuchdienst, the Children Retrieval Service run by the Red Cross. In the mass confusion as people were fleeing from the Nazis and later the Red Army, several children were lost or separated from their families. At the end of the hourly news on the radio, there would be a public service announcement where a few children would tell all they could remember about their family and hometown, hoping to be recognized and reunited with their family. Amazingly, this continued through the mid 1960's. Here's one of many card catalogues of several thousand misplaced people:

This was another incredible picture. As Germans went through the rubble that had been their cities and their homes, salvageable bricks were saved and organized to be used to rebuild the cities. Talk about recycling! Everyone pitched in to the effort. You have to think such an experience contributed to the determination and efficiency with which Germans conduct business, even today.
To be able to get food vouchers, you had to pitch in to the cleanup and rebuilding efforts daily.

On the way to the museum, I had asked Bernd about the founders of the country that had written the constitution. It was fascinating to think that their constitution had been written in the lifetimes of many Germans alive today (especially in comparison to ours which was written centuries ago). It was written in a museum in Bonn, simply because it was the only building still intact that was large enough to house the assembly. Several Germans were hesitant to move forward with drafting the constitution because they were still holding out hope that Germany would be reunited. Here's a picture of all who participated in the assembly. Notably, there were a few women.
When you create a new country, you need a new flag. Here were several finalists:
When Germany was reunited, it simply adopted the constitution of what had been West Germany.

Heres the original chairs from the first assembly hall. visitors could sit in the chairs and watch videos about certain issues and vote on them, but they were in German, so I couldn't really participate.

Here's a look at the border between East and West.

On June 17th, 1953, a strike in East Berlin led to a widespread uprising all across East Germany.
In thinking about the spreading of such a movement in just 24 hours, it's pretty remarkable to consider how fast it spread through word of mouth and Western radio broadcasts alone (without the help of TV news coverage, social media, etc that aided uprisings like the Arab Spring). Here's one of the tanks that was brought in to suppress the uprising. It was so heavy that even after gutting it, they had to cut it in half AND add additional supports to keep it from making the floor collapse.

After dealing with the formal splitting of Germany, the museum turned to the developments on either side of the border. First was a room dedicated to the West...Here was a famous toy from West Germany that I had to include only because I knew Kristine would love him.

This was one of many remarkable photos from a slideshow depicting German cities after the war, then after 10 years of rebuilding:

When we got to see some of the gadgets, cars and pop culture pieces of the day, I saw this car and remarked that it looked like a airplane cockpit. Bernd said thats exactly what it was. After the war, the company had switched their manufacturing operations from planes to cars, without changing the design too much.

The room depicting life in the East was equally fascinating. When looking at some posters about the youth groups in East Germany at the time, Bernd commented that it seemed so obvious to West Germans that the Hitler Youth organization had simply been replaced with a similar structure that revered the leaders of the Soviet Union.

Bernd recalled paying a months wage on this tape recorder, which could record songs from the radio using a microphone. He laughed remembering the terrible audio quality from such a process.

For a past birthday, Bernd had had the museum rented out and his guests had been given a private tour of the museum. It was remarkable for him because he related the room about life in the West with great childhood memories, while memories of the East brought distasteful and fearful memories. At the same time, one of his secretaries, who grew up in East Germany, had quite nostalgic memories in the room depicting life in the East.

Onward in the museum, we came upon the beginnings of the Berlin Wall. I had long wondered what would lead to such a monstrosity, and here was the answer. East Germans had been fleeing the "workers paradise" (as Bernd sarcastically called it) to the West in droves. Eventually, the Soviets put up barbed wire coils to demarcate the line between East and West.

Neighbors and even families were separated with no way to cross over. In time, the barricades became larger and larger. A few brave young men took a train through roadblocks to cross the border in the first days of the barbed wire wall. The Soviets responded with more barbed wire.


This was an iconic photograph from the period, where a photographer noticed an East German soldier pacing uneasily near the barbed wire border and eventually snapped a picture as the soldier jumped over. What a decision in must have been to leave family behind and risk death, and yet you can imagine how that single decision dramatically would have shaped his life from then on. Had he waited a few more days or weeks, the wall would have been built up to the point where such a jump was impossible.

As the walls reached higher, it was not uncommon for families to climb ladders just to wave to friends and family that they had been separated from. There were no phone lines, no mail and certainly no border crossings to ever see them again. This street in particular had been split down the middle. Other photos showed some families climbing out of windows to get over the barbed wire barricade and escape to the West.

After years of denying the existence of the war, these trials started to uncover the extent of the atrocities.
This is what led many young people to start asking questions and demand that the events be recognized and documented so as to prevent it ever happening again.

Moving on to the reunification, here was the original document signed to reunify Germany:
And the ensuing celebration in Berlin...
Here is a section of the wall, of which Bernd assured me there would be plenty more opportunities to see when we get to Berlin.
When the wall came down, East Germans flooded into the West and were each given 40 Marks as Begrüßungsgeld, or greeting money.

After the museum, we sat down in the museum coffee shop to chat for a while. It was truly incredible to get Bernd's perspective about living in West Berlin "on an island." Bernd told me that his father was a German soldier and after the war, had been given advice to avoid the French and British and instead to seek refuge with the American forces. From this experience, his father developed a deep reverence for America and passed it on to Bernd, who has always been fascinated with America, getting the chance to house an American exchange student, then live with that student's family to be an exchange student himself and later going to grad school at Michigan. We also had an interesting conversation about how much land Germany had given up when post-war lines were drawn and how the surrounding countries each claimed chunks that cut into what had once been German territory. The Germans had accepted this willingly as retribution for the war, which was pretty remarkable considering all of the wars that have raged in the middle east and elsewhere over similar situations.

As we were leaving the museum, we noticed a special exhibit about The American Way, subtitle "Die USA in Deutschland" which made me do a double take until I realized that it meant THE USA in Germany.
We were headed back home to Skype with my parents and didn't have time to walk though, so I'll have to come back. Regardless, it was funny to see so much American pride so far from home. There were even US flag scarves and books in the gift shop.
It would be fascinating to see. All this and the museum was free!

After Skyping with Bernd, Elke and my parents, I was had a bit more work to do. Around 6, I went for a run. Near the beginning of my run, I ran past a park not far from home and decided to switch up my workout. After all, I hadn't ran 3/4 days in a row since my marathon training and I needed a change of pace. So instead, I used the playground to do pushups, pullups on the bars, dips between the benches and inverted rows on one of the railings. After a circuit, I would jog up the steep hill nearby, then repeat. I'm still trying to figure out what I can do with the seesaw haha. I ended with a few sprints up a smaller hill. Overall, it was kind of fun!

I got in home in time for a quick shower before dinner at 7:30. We each heated up some leftovers (I laid claim to the chili con carne, so no complaints here!)
We had a great dinner conversation. Bernd cited the fact that there is no German translation for "serendipity" and after explaining its meaning to Elke, it was funny to note that Germans probably didn't believe in such a thing and how culture can influence a language. On the topic of translations, we also had a lengthy discussion about how translations aren't always so straightforward as we tried to find the English equivalent to the German phrase which roughly translates to "he cooks with water." Eventually, I was able to determine that "he puts his pants on one leg at a time" was our phrase to describe someone who may seem superhuman, but is really just like the rest of us. To top it all off, we ended the night watching Bayern Munich own Barcelona 3-0! Elke had the closest guess with 3-1 Munich, while Bernd had been least optimistic, with a 3-1 prediction in favor of Barcelona and I was in the middle, guessing 2-1 Barcelona. Too bad there is such a long layoff until the final game at Wembly stadium in England...I'll be back at home. It would have been awesome to be in Germany for that game.

I felt extremely grateful for the day. To learn about the recent history of Germany from someone who lived it was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

Posted by atbrady 12:02 Archived in Germany Tagged history the of germany berlin world west wall east war ii republic federal bonn cold 2 nazis

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you know me so well - that toy is phenom

by Kristine

I would have LOVED to join you and Bernd at the museum!!! WOW! Love & miss you! Mom xoxoxo

by Elaine Brady

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