Thursday, 16 February 2017

A story about stories, with Taylor

We are taking a break from news of our new tour with this interview from Taylor, a guide who has been with the Insider team for many years now.  There is some real insight here into why Taylor is such a well loved guide. I will give you a hint, it has to do with passion. Enjoy!

I grew up in country NSW, actually closer to Melbourne than Sydney, and while I have been to Sydney many times, Melbourne is my much preferred city.

I feel that if a city has great weather and great beaches (as Sydney does) than it doesn't really need to push too hard for anything else. People will be happy enough with the beaches and weather. Melbourne (by Australian standards) has neither great weather nor great beaches and I think because of that has pushed for everything else. It has great theatre, live music and sport venues and is an amazing (almost European) cosmopolitan city.

But after living two years in Melbourne after high school I decided to move to Perth to pursue a degree in Theatre and Film, with the intention always being to move back to Melbourne after my three year degree was completed. As it turns out I spent ten years in Perth, with its smaller theatre scene it was a great place to get a lot of experience, but the opportunities for paid work were quite limited.

So it was at thirty years of age I decided it was time for another change and decided to move to London, but decided to do some travelling around Europe first before i got settled. My first night in Berlin I knew I wanted to live there and at the end of my travels, picked up my stuff from London and moved to the Hauptstadt instead.

a historic postcard of the Volksbühne

In a lot of ways I see the Berlin theatre scene to be a little similar (although much larger) to the Perth scene. There is so much going on and so many ways one can get experience, however with the plethora of incredibly talented artistic people drawn to the city, it can be quite difficult to find paid work. My favourite venue for theatre in Berlin is definitely the Volksbuehne at Rosa Luxemburg Platz. Its just an amazing venue steeped in 20th century history as it was completed shortly before the outbreak of WWI and like most of Berlin, heavily damaged in WWII.

When it comes to my own work however, i prefer venues that are much more intimate. In my play "Altbau" we used an apartment. With eight actors playing in four different rooms of the apartment to four small groups of audience simultaneously. Each scene is only thematically connected to the scenes in the other rooms, so they can be viewed in any order. Each scene is also specifically written for the room in which it is performed. The small performance spaces and limited audience numbers made it an incredibly confronting work, with audience members able to see, hear and even smell the actors performing less that a meter away in some cases. It was a very new style of work for me and has sparked my interest to create more site-specific theatre in the future.

Guiding for me will always be closely linked to my theatre background. I like to run a tour that is not just full of facts and dates, but full of stories. I see my tours as a one man show, I guess. I regularly get asked if I get bored of saying the same thing every day, and while that is not the case because tours will change and expand over time and I also do many different tours, the main reason I dont get bored is because every group, every audience is different in their reactions, their questions and reflections are why I still enjoy my job so much.

So there you have it, come join a tour with Taylor and know that it is not only one of kind but you the guest are indeed affecting the show!


Monday, 23 January 2017

Insider's Museum Island Tour: The Renowned Pergamon and New Museum

Insider is excited to announce a new tour, and more so a new direction for 2017! We will be going inside for the first time, hosting a daily public tour of the renowned Pergamon and New Musuems on Berlin's infamous Museum Island.

On this tour you will explore the wonders of ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome. Hosted by one of Insider's expert guides, you will not only be able to admire the impressive artefacts and architectural structures, you will also be taking a journey through history and gaining a critical understanding of the collection's relationship to Berlin, past and present.

The Ishtar Gate

The ferocious bombing campaign of WWII and the final Battle of Berlin left the centre of the city, including Museum Island, in almost complete ruin. Following the war the area was allocated to East Berlin, which resulted in a stagnant rebuilding process. Only in 1999 was Museum Island awarded UNESCO status, securing its cultural heritage as an architectural and social result of the Ages of Enlightenment & Empire. A tour with Insider takes you through these different eras to the present state of continual renovation: literally a tour of history in the making.

By engaging with the whole of Museum Island, its renowned Prussian architecture, the collection of ancient structures and artefacts, and the contemporary approach to restoration, you will be able to experience the Pergamon and the New Museum in a unique light.

The Pergamon Alter

How did the Bauhaus aesthetic inadvertently preserve Prussian-era Egyptian fresco facsimiles? Who found the bust of Nefertiti lying face down in the dirt in 1912 and how did she end up in Berlin? Where can one walk down a contemporary staircase based on Classical proportions which is scarred with WWII bullet holes? Join Insider for an unforgettable tour of Berlin's two finest museums and immerse yourself in history.

VIP entry, no queuing! Price €59 per person. Duration is 3 hours visiting both museums. Plus the price includes a Museum Island day pass. This is valid for all the museums on the island for the rest of that day.

Tours run daily from Apr. 1st to Sept. 30th at 10:00am
Pre-booking is required. Just visit our website and you will receive a 10% discount!

Our meeting place, just outside the New Museum

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Insider goes to Küstrin/Kostrzyn and the Seelower Heights

a postcard from Küstrin, prior to WWII

    T-34/85 Tank
    Insider guides are constantly doing research. The thrust of this day trip was to uncover more about the German army's defence, Henrici's three line strategy with the focus on the 9th Paratrooper division, and their strategy as they retreated towards the Gusow palace. Insider guides also studied the Soviet assault on Küstrin/Kostrzyn, the construction/defence of bridgeheads and the detail the Soviet attack from Zhukov command post.

    Discussing the difference between traction profiles on mass-produced T-34s compared to the Tiger or Panther

    Katyusha rockets, otherwise known as Stalin's organ
An array of military hardware
Unknown soldier
Seelower Heights Soviet memorial statue
Setting the scene...
The battle begins, Heinrici's defence plan
The encircling of Berlin, and the Western Allied forces position
On the Polish side of the Oder discussing the Soviet preparations for the assault on the Küstrin/Kostrzyn fortress
Entering what once was the bustling old town of Küstrin/Kostrzyn
Discussing the total destruction of the old city
Walking down the main street of the old city towards the site of the former city palace. Between the street signs are the ruins of schools, homes, churches, shops, the whole town...
Discussing the construction of bridgeheads
As the German forces abonded the Küstrin/Kostrzyn fortress the bridges were destroyed in their wake
The wall of the Küstrin/Kostrzyn fortress
War damage on the Rotwein church
The ruined Rotwein church
At Zhukov's and Chuikov's command post, overlooking the battlefield
Gusow palace, amazing untouched villa, used by both German and Soviet forces. Now includes a small restaurant serving great food including fine schnitzels
It also hosts a most eclectic museum of curiosities
Those BRIXMAS boys got around the DDR
SS uniform next to a pink cocktail dress
Werbig by fading light – a tactically important rail crossing, this was the site of some of the heaviest fighting for the Seelower Heights
The Battle for the Seelower Heights was the biggest military barrage in world history. Approx 1.2 million shells were dropped on the first day, April 16th 1945. The Soviets managed to get the 1st Belorussian Front, approx. 768.000 troops and 3.000 tanks across the Oder in 14 days. The Soviets suffered about 30.000 deaths in the 4 day battle. German casualties are estimated at 12.000. After this battle the road to Berlin was open.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Battle of Berlin! with Mike and Michael

Insider guides, Michael and Mike, meet to discuss the plan of attack for the Battle of Berlin, following the lines of the 8th Guards Army from Seelower Heights in to the "Zitadelle" the name given to the heavily fortified government quarter. The race is on. May 1st is the deadline, the Reichstag must be taken by then!  

Lines of German defence. The Teltower canal was a tough obstacle for the Soviets to get through. Michael in full flight here discussing the artillery attack on the 23rd of April, or was he explaining the origins of his original basque beret „it is a soft, round, flat-crowned version, usually of woven, hand-knitted wool or crocheted cotton“.
Get up to the top floor of the Ullsteinhaus for a better appreciation of the importance of the building for German defences, radio communications and 360 degree visuals for the defenders.  It was harder than we thought to get up there, after pushing a few door bells, a computer company on the top floor let us in......briefly.

After the soviets broke through the defensive position of Teltower canal it was off to the second co-centric line of German defences, the S-Bahn (city train/overhead rail) ring around Berlin. "The dogs head" had to be broken. First through the Tempelhof Airport, artillery on the roof, interlocking fields of machine gun fire, dug in tanks on the southern and eastern flanks, and approximately 2 kilometers of open terrain to navigate before the airport itself! 

Artillery started hitting the airport on April 22nd, but the battle proper for the airport started on the evening of the 25th, continuing on to about noon on the 26th. With the soviets taking the airport it was now on to the next obstacle, the landwehr canal. Mike and Michael head to the front of the Tempelhof airport, still a bombastic and imposing building today. Also, this airport was pivotal for the Berlin airlift in 1948/49.

A bit of fire damage from the war still can be seen on the facade of the airport.

This eagle's head was cut off its 4.5 meter high body, and given to the United States military academy at West Point NY, who then returned it to Berlin in 1985.

The surrender of the Berlin garrison took place on the 2nd of May 1945 in this house.  General Weidling signs the surrender, in the same apartment where the current Mayor of Berlin grew up, his dad still lives there today.

On to Anhalter train station to discussed the air raids, and the shelters in Berlin. Gotta love the art on the wall of the bunker - "those who build bunkers drop bombs"!

Then the Bendler Block, site of the OKH where Hitler informed the army on February 3rd 1933 the Nazi case for "lebensraum" and the Germanistaion of Eastern Europe. It was from this site that Weiding left to sign the surrender of Berlin forces in 1945. Here also many German army officers who plotted to assasinate Hitler in 1944 in Operation Walküre were executed.

Then off to the Reichstag........

Next up, Seelower Heights.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Plötzensee - Nazi execution site 1933-1945

John and Michael visited Plötzensee last week and have reported back to us about this harrowing site.

Part of an already existing jail, this courtyard complex was used to murder conscientious objectors, resistance fighters, alleged looters, those involved in the July 20th coup, and others. Almost 3.000 people, from 22 nations, though mostly Germans, were murdered here. During the early years those sentenced were beheaded by axe, thereafter by guillotine until it was damaged by Allied bombing in 1942. Then a steel beam was erected from which 8 hooks were employed for mass hangings. Prisoners were mocked before their deaths and piano wire was used to add cruelty. The durations of their demise was assiduously noted down to the second.
execution complex

This is a small but important memorial close to Berlin's centre. The site is well maintained and most of the information on display is also in English. It is a poignant visit.

execution room

Friday, 19 August 2016

Just 1 day...

Many people write to us asking what to do with just 1 day in the city. I wrack my brain each time, how to choose! Finally, I believe I have found a sufficient answer. This walk concentrated to one area (almost one street) offers so much, from history to startup culture, authentic food, bars and even an urban farm. So, if you have just one day in Berlin, after your morning Insider tour of course, my official recommendation centres around Bernauer Straße. Along this street one can experience and start to comprehend Berlin's most recent history, how the Berlin Wall truly cut the city and its population in two, how Berliners have coped with and digested the era, and how the city never ceases to stop transforming itself.

Nordbahnhof - Ghost Station - Third Wave Coffee - Craft beer

Bernauer Straße - If Walls Could Talk: Mural - The Berlin Wall Memorial - Startups galour

Mauer Park - The history - Sunday flea market and Karaoke - Urban Farm run by Local Children

Eberswalder Straße - Authentic Currywurst (vegan now too!) - Former Brewery/New Musuem: Everyday Life in the DDR - Berlin's Oldest Biergarten

Monday, 6 June 2016

Espionage, Superpowers and their Spies: Insider goes Undercover!

The Bridge of Spies, Glienicker Brücke

Battleground Berlin, from 1945 to 1989, countries with opposing ideologies honed their espionage skills in this geopolitical hub. From the turning of individual informants, to hoovering up information en mass, the two superpowers, and their satellites, vied to get the edge on the other – knowledge is power. From the mundacity of sifting through shed loads of correspondence, to daring missions behind enemy lines, no stone was left unturned in the struggle for world dominance.

Insider guides took some time to retrace the sites of these operations, and the fascinating stories behind them, in and around Berlin.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – post WWII, Berlin becomes the world's spy capital.

George Blake's residence on Platanenallee.

Charlottenburg Palace – site of the KGB defection of Alexai Myagkov in 1974.

ECHELON on Teufelsberg. British Military Hospital in the foreground, location of Hess's autopsy in 1987.

The Teams

MI (Military Intelligence) 6 / Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) a.ka. Box 500

Deuxieme Bureau (until 1982) & Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE)
FMLM et al.

KGB (Commitee for State Security) and GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) et al.

Strategic Services Unit (SSU) then (from 1947) Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
C.I.C. (until 1961), A.S.A. (until 1977), then A.S.A., INSCOM, USMLM, FCA et al.

East Germany
Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) and Hauptabteilung II

West Germany
Organisation Gehlen and (from 1956) Bundesnachrichtendienst

'London House', British Military Sector HQ and counter intelligence hub.

A spy

Mission House, BRIXMIS liaison location in Potsdam.

KGB Forbidden City, Potsdam, 3rd Directorate military counter intelligence

First CIA HQ location in Dahlem

Allied Museum Dahlem

Hastings TG503 bomber used in the Berlin airlift

Former Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Advancement of Science. Site of the the first nuclear fission by Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann and Lise Meitner.
Site of Allied Control Council walkout 1948.

Him again!

Site of the La Belle Disco bombing 1986.

Looking for Operation Stopwatch Gold.

Found it!

Karlshorst, site of German unconditional surrender in May 8th, 1945.

HQ of the KGB/GRU/SMAD, residence of Marshal Zukov.

KGB prison '45-'63.
The Players
Lavrenty Beria – Petrov
Robert Bialek – Bruno Wallman
George Blake – Diamond
Anthony Blunt – Tony/Johnson
 Alexei Myaglkov – n/a
Guy Burgess – Mädchen/Hicks
John Cairncross – Liszt Jeffrey
Carnney/Jens Karney – Kid/Uwe
Nigel Dunkley – Hotspur
Allen Dulles – Mr. Bull
Musbath Eter – n/a
James Hall III – Paul
William 'Wild Bill' King Harvey – n/a
Gennadi Titov – n/a
Donald Maclean – Homer
Adjutant Chef Philippe Mariotti – n/a
Erich Mielke – Fritz Leissner (1936-39)
Major Arthur (Nick) Nicholson – n/a
Harold (Kim) Philby – Sony/Stanley
Geoffrey Prime – Rowlands
Alexander Schalk Golodkowski – Schneewittchen
Manfred Severin – Hagen/Canna Clay
Wolfgang Vogel – Eva
Huseyin Yildirim – Blitz
Marcus (Mischa) Wolf – Michael Storm (1945-49)
Günter Guillaume – Hansen
Rainer Rupp – Mosel/Topaz
Anne Christine Bowen – Turqoise
Gabriele Gast - Leinfelder

George Blake 
Mission House and Glienicker Bridge 
KGB Potsdam,_Potsdam
Allied Museum
La Belle Disco Bombing
Operation Stopwatch Gold
Marshal Zukow