7 facts most Americans don’t know about Berlin – How many do you know?

Juten Tach! (“Guten Tag!”)

Are you an expert on Berlin? Think you know everything there is to know about Germany’s capital city? A large portion of Berlin’s population are transplants from other regions of Germany and other nations, so there’s a lot of competition for knowing all there is to know about this dynamic, bustling city.

Because so many Americans already know so much about Berlin, we decided to compile a list of almost unknown facts, or things so obscure they might not be known by even Americans who’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Berlin. The goal here is to challenge even the most ardent fan. How many of these facts do you already know? Count them up, and we’ll rate your score at the end!

As they say in Berlin, “Ran an die Buletten!” (“Let’s go!”)

We’ll get you started with an easy one…

1. Did you know Berlin has an aquarium with an elevator?

The DomAquarée in Berlin is the “largest free standing cylindrical aquarium in the world”.

With thousands of fish and unique flora and fauna, a ride through its middle is a must!

The 82 ft tall AquaDom at the Radisson Blue Hotel in Berlin is home to nearly 2,600 fish of 56 different species. About  264,172 gallons of water fill the cylindrical tank in the hotel lobby.

The aquarium was constructed in 2004 at a cost of 13 million Euros. And upkeep is not cheap: back when the tank had only 1,500 fish, they required 18 lbs of fish food per day – and this number has surely risen.

In order to get a better 360 view of the fish in the AquaDom, visitors can take a transparent elevator up through the inside of the tank!

Ok, that one was pretty easy. Let’s turn up the heat!

2. Did you know actual houses made up part of the Berlin Wall?

The Berlin Wall, which existed 10,957 days, was an improvised construction. Though concrete slabs made up the majority of its 28 miles, urban congestion and apartment buildings blocked the way in certain areas. In some cases, a person walking through their doorway in the morning could start in bed in West Berlin, but exit their home in East Berlin. After all, it’s not as though the Soviets coordinated their ‘infrastructure’ with the other allies occupying Berlin. Life was in the way.

When a house or apartment blocked the way of the Wall, the house or apartment was simply integrated into the apparatus of the Wall. At first this meant East Berliners looking to escape could jump from windows into West Berlin, but this mechanism of fleeing the East was soon fortified.

Read more from Berlin.de:
Houses on, for instance, Bernauer Strasse, where the sidewalks belonged to the Wedding borough (West Berlin) and the southern row of houses to Mitte (East Berlin), were quickly integrated into the border fortifications: the GDR government had the front entrances and ground floor windows bricked up. Residents could get to their apartments only via the courtyard, which was in East Berlin. Many people were evicted from their homes already in 1961 – not only in Bernauer Strasse, but also in other border areas.

3. Did you know that Berlin’s famous and beloved nightclubs are currently fighting extinction?

Berlin is well known for its raucous and all-night club scene. This culture finds roots in the period of deprivation during Germany’s Weimar Republic (1918-1933). Poor economic conditions after World War I encouraged a culture of Cabaret and late evening drinks (among other hedonism we probably shouldn’t list, but make for fascinating historical research).

Berlin’s club culture carries into the modern day. Party-goers looking to stay out until the sun rises have a plethora of unique options. It draws millions to the German Capital each year.

But that culture is under threat as Berlin’s economic development spreads. Gentrification is pushing up rents for club owners. In some cases, as in this article from the New York Times, developers are evicting clubs to make way for redevelopment.

These changes have increasingly led to protests and calls for political intervention from Berlin’s politicians. Only time will tell if Berlin’s club life survives its prosperity.

4. Did you know there is Russian graffiti on the walls in Germany’s parliament building?

The German Parliament (Bundestag) meets in the Reichstag Building. The dome atop the Reichstag building in Berlin is meant to symbolize transparency in government. Visitors can look directly into the German Parliament (Bundestag) chamber. What once burned in a dark historical chapter now represents Germany’s democratic ideals.

However, before the Reichstag Building stood for German democracy, it was the center of a couple traumatic moments in German History. First, it burned in 1933, presumably by the Nazis as a means of obtaining power. Second, it was defaced during the Soviet invasion of Berlin at the end of World War II in 1945.

After planting the Soviet flag on top, the soldiers left improvised graffiti on the walls of the Reichstag Building. In 1995, an architect charged with renovating the building came across the graffiti when pulling out interior paneling. He decided to preserve the markings for history, and as a reminder of Germany’s difficult past for each politician that would walk past.

If you ever visit Berlin, you can see this graffiti on a public tour of the Bundestag.

 

  1. Did you know Berlin has over 170 museums?We don’t need to explain to you that Berlin is a modern and cultured city; you’re reading this listicle after all! But beyond the most famous museums- the Jewish Museum, German Historical Museum, and GDR Museum, did you know that there are countless others?!From VisitBerlin.de:Berlin has around 170 museums – so you’d need to stay quite a while to see them all! We help you narrow down the field and find your favourite museums. Berlin has major exhibitions with art works from across the ages – starting with masterpieces from the classical and modern world on Museum Island, including the legendary bust of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti in the spectacularly restored Neues Museum (New Museum).There’s even a Currywurst Museum dedicated to Berlin’s most famous cuisine!
  2. Did you know that ordinary Berliners are working to save Berlin’s bees?One-third of human crops are dependent on pollinators–making protecting bees both a priority in both Germany and the US.

The bees of Berlin are struggling due to loss of habitat. They’re under particular threat from new development. But everyday Germans are stepping in with experts to help! Germany has roughly 500 bee species, and Berliners create ‘bee spaces’ and ‘islands of green’ in new developments or private gardens.

“I’d like to do something to help the bees from dying off,” said one man. Simple acts of ‘dignified indignance’ are why we love this city!

Watch and learn about this bee rescue effort in this video from DW

7. Did you know of Berlin’s elaborate Cold War telephone spying tunnel (Operation Gold)?

Divided Berlin was the location of a whole bunch of espionage and intrigue! Here’s a particularly fascinating story.

In April 1956, Soviet intelligence ‘uncovered’ a Western attempt at spying. It was a tunnel created by the CIA and equipped with spying cables to tap East Berlin phones. Over 10 years the tunnel delivered 50,000 tape reels and over 40,000 hours of sensitive East Berlin telephone conversations.

According the CIA, during the tunnel’s construction:

  • 125 tons of steel liner plate were used to line the tunnel
  • 3,100 tons of soil were removed, which would fill more than 20 living rooms in an average American home
  • 1,000 cubic yards of grout were consumed
  • The finished tunnel was 1,476 feet long.
  • It began delivering tapped phone calls in 1955.

Here’s the catch though: the Soviets knew about the tunnel all along!

There was a KGB mole in MI-6, the British Intelligence Agency. Their man, George Blake, had told the Soviets about the tunnel before construction even began. It’s speculated the KGB didn’t immediately reveal their knowledge of the tunnel to protect his identity within MI-6.

In any event, in April 1956, a ‘repair crew’ unveiled the tunnel to the world!

Ok, now add up how many you got and see your score below!

1/7 – ‘Ich spreche ein bisschen Berlinish’ Keep learning, champ!

2/7 – Tourist Plus+ – You obviously had a great vacation in Berlin once. Get back soon!

3/7 –  Grab yourself some ‘Alki’ (Berlin slang for alcohol)! Hey, not bad! Not really good, but not bad! You’ve earned a refreshing Berlin beverage.

4/7 – Gut gemacht – you’re obviously very familiar with Germany’s capital city.

5/7- On fire like mild Currywurst! You know a lot about Berlin, no doubt. You could know more though. Just saying.

6/7- On fire like spicy Currywurst! How does it feel to just miss perfection by a single mark? Totally kidding! You did amazing! You could probably blend into Berlin life, no problem!

7/7- Ich bin ein Berliner! You’re a pro! It’s like you’re actually from Berlin! Color us impressed! Share this article and brag to all your friends.

By William Fox, German Embassy

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