Published June 19, 2013
BERLIN (AFP) – US First Lady Michelle Obama and her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, on Wednesday visited Berlin's Holocaust Memorial as part of a tour of key sites of Germany's troubled Nazi and Cold War history.
As President Barack Obama attended to matters of state during a 24-hour visit to the German capital, his family had a rather sombre sightseeing schedule.
They were also to take in the Cold War-era Checkpoint Charlie, where US and Soviet tanks once faced off, and a remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall that once split the city.
The Obamas, dressed in light summer clothes on a blistering hot day, were joined by the president's half-sister Auma, who studied in Germany and lives in Kenya, as they visited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Opened in 2005 near the Brandenburg Gate, the field of 2,700 concrete slabs of varying height evokes a cemetery to many visitors and serves as a memorial for the millions of Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Visitors walk along pathways that descend into the heart of a claustrophobic maze, while below the fate of the millions who were murdered is documented in a subterranean information centre.
At Checkpoint Charlie -- the best-known border crossing between Berlin's former US and Soviet sectors -- the Obama family would see a temporary display by artist Yadegar Asisi which gives visitors a glimpse at what life along the Wall was like.
A large panorama inside a circular building gives a photorealistic view of a divided 1980s Berlin neighbourhood, showing the graffiti-covered West side of the Wall and, beyond the guard dogs, barbed wire and search lights, the drabness of East Berlin beyond.
The Obama family was set to be joined by Joachim Sauer, the husband of Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the next stop, the Berlin Wall Memorial, a remaining 220-metre (720-foot) section of the 155-kilometre (95-mile) "death strip" that split the city between 1961 and 1989.
Located at Bernauer Strasse, it features a preserved guard tower and fortifications of the Wall, where at least 136 East Germans died in the city during escape attempts.
The final stop was set to be the Reichstag, which housed the assemblies of the German Empire, Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany until it was destroyed by fire in 1933, leaving it abandoned for decades.
Refurbished after Germany's 1990 reunification by architect Norman Foster, who added its characteristic glass dome to symbolise open democracy, it has since 1999 housed the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag.
After their tour, the US first family was set for some light relief, Berlin newspapers reported.
In the afternoon, Michelle, 49, as well as 12-year-old Sasha and Malia, 14, were due to go shopping near their luxury hotel at Potsdamer Platz before the girls were set to watch a movie in a nearby cineplex.