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 BRIXMIS 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 http://www.brixmis.co.uk/early-years.html 
KGB Potsdam https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KGB_Prison,_Potsdam
Allied Museum http://www.alliiertenmuseum.de/en/home.html
Dahlem https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dahlem_%28Berlin%29
La Belle Disco Bombing  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_Berlin_discotheque_bombing
Operation Stopwatch Gold http://www.coldwar.org/articles/50s/berlin_tunnel.asp
Karlshorst http://www.museum-karlshorst.de/en.html
Marshal Zukow http://militaryhistory.about.com/od/1900s/p/zhukov.htm