BERLIN: Wannsee

Time to read:

2 minutes

Wannsee is in the far southwest corner of Berlin, in the former American sector. In surface area, Berlin is almost nine times bigger than Paris. But you don’t really internalize that until you try to visit multiple sites in this city on the same day. Especially by train and bus. And on a Sunday or holiday, waits between rides can be 20-25 minutes.

Looking out the window during the 45-minute light-rail ride from my apartment in the former East Zone to Wannsee. Fall’s beginning to paint the trees in the northern climes.

First stop: Steinstücken. This little enclave of about 200 people was part of West Berlin but not contiguous with it. For more than 10 years in the ’60s, it existed as an island of the West completely surrounded by East Germany (like Berlin itself). A road was built to it in the ’70s.

The bus stop is what Google Maps shows as the center of Steinstücken. Today, Steinstücken is just a suburb like any other. No sign of a wall that was built entirely around it.

The Bridge of Spies, actually the Glienicke Bridge. The middle of the Havel River, which separates the states of Berlin and Brandenburg, was the Cold War dividing line between East and West in this area.

In the middle of the bridge is a brass strip that says “Deutsche Teilung bis 1989” (“German Division until 1989”). That was when the wall fell. Among the prisoners swapped here were CIA U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and Soviet intelligence officer “Col. Rudolf Abel” (an alias).

The front of the House of the Wannsee Conference. In January 1942, Nazi managers from security, transportation, immigration and other departments met here to decide how to implement the third and final solution to the “Jewish question.”

The lake-facing side of the House of the Wannsee Conference. I didn’t see a room large enough to have held a conference table for 15 (including Heydrich and Eichmann). But I grew queasy walking over the same parquet floors that those black jackboots did.

After the Wannsee Conference house, I needed to sit and just breathe fresh air. This patio is next door.


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