Open the Gates to East Germany

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

This year will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall which, in combination with more medium and long-term factors, ultimately proved to be a catalyst for the end of communism.  Now a new visitors’ map has been launched to attract those who are or may be intrigued by the former internationally-secluded and secretive East Germany.

The “Welcome to the country without border” map introduces travellers to sites of change and commemoration in Berlin, Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia.  Each area is represented on the map with about ten sites and locations such as memorials, museums, leftovers of former border installations, bunkers or restored historical buildings and town centres. Each site comes with a short description on the backside of the map helping visitors to put together their own route through Eastern Germany.

Since the fall of the Wall in 1989, Germany has changed its look with many buildings, squares and city centres having been painstakingly restored. What used to be no man’s land in Berlin is now “Potsdamer Platz”. In Brandenburg, the restoration of Potsdam’s historical centre will be completed with the reconstruction of the “City Palace” in 2011. After its rebuilding, “Schwerin Palace” in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is now seat of the federal state’s parliament. Reopened in 2005, the famous “Church of Our Lady” in Dresden has risen from the ashes to being one of the city’s jewels after its complete destruction in World War II.

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Air Berlin City Tour Pass

air-berlinJust in time for school leavers and graduates, Air Berlin, Germany’s second largest airline has introduced the ‘Air Berlin city tour pass’ to give young people between the ages of 18 and 27 the chance to travel on five flights within a defined route departing from the UK for the special promotional fare of £173 per ticket.

Air Berlin is urging people to be quick as tickets are for a limited time only with 3,000 available in total. The special city pass is valid for travel during July and August 2009 on all UK to Germany routes. Example itineraries include:

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Plum Streusel Slices

This recipe is of Saxony/German origin where fruit desserts are very popular.  A basic pastry base is used, with a plum filling (although apricots can be used if preferred) and topped with a streusel/crumble topping.  I am not normally a fan of fruit desserts, or desserts in general, but my Mother bought me 1 1/2 kg of plums and I sickened myself of eating them for breakfast.  I tried this recipe to try to use some of them up and was pleasantly surprised.

Ingredients (makes 14 slices)

225g plums, stoned and chopped

1 tbsp lemon juice

100g caster sugar

115g butter

1 egg yolk

150g plain flour

For the topping:

150g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

75g butter

50g soft, brown, light sugar

50g chopped hazlenuts

Instructions

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius

Grease and base an 8-inch square cake tin

(I used a round enamel one but if you want to cut the streusel into slices a square tin is easier)

Put lemon juice and plums into saucepan and heat on low heat for 5 minutes

Lemon juice & plums

Add 50g of caster sugar to plums

Simmer plums until very thick

Leave to cool

Beat the butter and 50g caster sugar together in bowl

Beat in egg yolk

Mix in flour to make soft dough

streusel-dough

Press mixture into base of prepared cake tin

Bake for 15 minutes in the oven

baked

Remove from oven and spoon over plum filling

(Tip:Do not put the filling all the way to the edges as it will ooze when it cooks and become difficult to cut into slices/remove from tin)

plum-topping

For the topping:

Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl

Rub in butter until mixture resembles breadcrumbs

Stir in brown sugar and chopped nuts

topping

Sprinkle topping mixture over the plums

Press topping down gently

streseul-for-oven

Bake for 30 minutes until lightly browned

cooked

Leave to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into slices (or portions)

Remove from the tin when completely cold

Serve!

Serve!

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The Stasi Prison

Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie

Berlin is an incredible city and as a result of its united and divided history is packed with hundreds, if not thousands of sights to be seen, all of which have been a great influence on both great and terrible elements of European history. During the Cold War, Berlin was split into two, one part being in the Federal Republic of Germany (the West) and the other being the home to the Germany Democratic Republic (the East) government. The Berlin Wall was constructed in the 1960s and up until 1989 represented the metaphorical iron curtain which Churchill had referred to in his speech in Missouri in 1946.  Crossing from East to West and West to East was difficult and dangerous.  To be done legitimately one had to travel through what was known as Checkpoint Charlie.  However, for those wishing to cross undetected from East to West, to escape the terror and/or find their loved-ones, a risky journey over the Wall, during the absolute dead of night, was required.  Unfortunately, the majority who attempted this were killed by guards.

While West Germany, under the influence of the USA and Britain, rebuilt itself on capitalist principles, East Germany, under the influence of the USSR evolved with supposedly communist principles. However, in reality, the latter was no more than a rouse for a vicious regime which was merely a puppet to its puppet-master, Russia. This was particularly true during the period defined as Stalinism, 1928-1953.

One of the most terrifying elements of the East Germany regime was the Stasi, the Ministry for State Security (state police) which prevented East Germans enjoying a so-called normal life. The Stasi organisation and mentality were based upon Russia’s KGB and their terrorising techniques, not to mention their obscene censorship on seemingly everyday parts of life, are almost incomprehensible. Die Ausstellung (Stasi Headquarters) on Mauerstrasse (www.bstu.de) currently exhibits vast quantities of evidence collected by the Stasi, not to mention information on the brutal techniques used by the Stasi officers. Most interesting is the apparently never-ending amount of post confiscated. Unfortunately, at present, the exhibits are described in German only, but an English booklet is available for free from the reception desk.

In the guise of a fruit and vegetable van this would drive around Berlin and watch those suspected of being enemies of the people. The Stasi Officers would then bundle their suspect into the van, drive them around and to the Stasi Prison. Those on the street never suspected a mere fruit and vegetable van could be carrying such a dark secret. Those living near the prison never knew what the building or the vans were used for and never suspected what happened behind the prison's large gates.
In the guise of a fruit and vegetable van this would drive around Berlin and watch those suspected of being enemies of the people. The Stasi Officers would then bundle their suspect into the van, drive them around and to the Stasi Prison. Those on the street never suspected a mere fruit and vegetable van could be carrying such a dark secret. Those living near the prison never knew what the building or the vans were used for and never suspected what happened behind the prison’s large gates.

While a trip to Die Ausstellung is useful to explain the censorship of everyday life, the true terror of state prison and the regime is best understood on a visit to the Gedenkstätte Hohenschön-Hausen (Stasi Prison). The prison can be found by taking the M5 tram from Alexanderplatz to Freienwalder Strasse. When vacating the tram, follow the sign to the prison, past Lidl to the end of a road in the middle of a residential area.

The prison can only be visited when accompanied by a prison tour guide, usually historians or former prisoners. The site was used as a location to collect and confine men, women and children destined for the Soviet gulag until the Allies intervened in 1946. It then became a regular prison and when the Soviet guards handed over control to the Stasi, they eagerly embraced terror tactics including beatings, sleep deprivation and water torture previously used by their mentors. During the 1950s, physical torture gave way for mental abuse and prisoners suffered total isolation and sensory deprivation. So-called enemies of the regime were held captive right up until 1989 and the fall of the communist regime.

A visit to this former prison, perhaps more fittingly described as a death camp, truly evokes a feeling of how terrifying living under the East German regime was. While it is difficult to ever truly understand the thoughts or experiences of those who have suffered extreme terror and torture, whether it occurred at a British concentration camp in South Africa, a Gulag in Siberia, or indeed this Stasi Prison in Berlin, a visit to Gedenkstätte Hohenschön-Hausen does illustrate how, throughout history, human beings have inflicted evil upon their innocent peers. While no doubt not appearing on many top ten sights to visit in Berlin, for those searching for a deeper understanding of the human psyche, a trip to this Stasi Prison is a must. For more information visit www.stiftung-hsh.de.

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The Wintour of Moscow?

A number of new appointments have occurred at Condé Nast in the last week.Eve Georgiou, the junior fashion editor of Glamour Russia has been promoted to Fashion Editor, but remains based in the UK office on London’s Maddox Street.

However, the big news is the appointment of Ingrid Sischy and Sandra Brant as International Editors of German Vogue and Russian Vogue.This new appointment is in addition to their existing position as International Editors of the Italian and Spanish versions of Vanity Fair.

Russian Vogue was launched in 1998 and the incumbent editor, Aliona Doleteskaya, is rumoured to be favoured as being Anna Wintour’s successor as editor of American Vogue. Last year during a television appearance in Moscow she was even introduced by the presenter as being the future editor of American Vogue! Still, Wintour has been editor at American Vogue since 1988 and her resignation at this point seems rather unlikely.

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Russia and the West: A New Cold War

I wrote this piece for the April issue of Anglomania.  Unfortunately, they credited it to someone else who is called Olivia, which was rather annoying but there should be a correction and apology in the May issue.

Russia and the West: A New Cold War

This year, Germany and most of the world will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Built in 1961, the wall became a physical symbol of the very real socio-politico-economic and ideological divide between East and West during the Cold War; the West was capitalist, while in the East, political regimes, labeled as communist, held control. However, it is important to remember that the term was merely a label. In reality, what actually existed were dictatorships of a new, emerging elite rather than of the proletariat. Moreover, the struggle between East and West had little to do with ideology, particularly as time progressed. Instead, between 1945 and 1991 the Cold War proved to be no more than a period of competition between the two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States of America, for world domination and superiority, masked in the guise of ideological rhetoric. However, due to the closed borders and limited flow of knowledge in both directions, citizens in the USSR and the West truly believed that ideology was the basis for the struggle.

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About Charlotte

Charlotte Jones
Charlotte Jones

I was born in Surrey, raised in Hampshire, but now reside in Bayswater, in London. My interest in history and passion for Eastern Europe developed when, at the age of nine, I read Judith Kerr’s novel ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’. After spending many summer holidays in Slovenia, I studied much Russian history at A Level, and then went on to attain an Upper Second Class Honours Degree in East European History from UCL’s School of Slavonic and East European Studies.  During my vacation periods I enjoyed travelling throughout this incredible region and to date have visited: Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Slovenia and Germany. I am currently learning to speak Russian and will study my Masters in East European History on a part-time basis from autumn 2009.

I love food and all things cultural, particularly East European.  I write feature articles for Anglomania, a sport, culture, fashion magazine and work as an editorial assistant for Glam Media UK.  I have previously worked for TopTips.com, Emap, Conde Nast, The Telegraph and The Sun.

In this blog I am indulging my love of Eastern Europe, and utilising the web I shall tell tales of my travels, and impart my knowledge of the region’s culture, history and food.

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