Kate and William visit Berlin's Holocaust Memorial

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19.07.2017

Kate and William's first visit to Berlin

On a three-day visit to Germany, the royals went to a site devoted to the country's darkest historical chapter. But as DW's Jefferson Chase found out, the somber location didn't prevent the customary royal watching.

In Don DeLillo's novel "White Noise", there's a passage about "The Most Photographed Barn in America," a perfectly normal structure that's a tourist attraction for the sole reason that so many tourists take pictures of it. As I stood with scores of people waiting for the arrival of Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate at Berlin's Holocaust Memorial, I was reminded of that scene. Anticipation was building. Kate and William were coming, and that was important because Kate and William were…well, Kate and William.

For me at least, the afternoon had begun auspiciously. Despite my name being missing from the official list, the accreditation lady had simply handed me a fistful of press tags, and 90 minutes before the royal arrival, the police had let me loiter around the entrance to the Memorial's documentation center in an effort to get into the tiny pool of journalists who would actually accompany Kate and William through the museum. The alternative was a cordoned off press section the cops had semi-affectionately called "the cage."

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Britain's royals touch down in Berlin

William and Kate, along with their two children, landed in Berlin Wednesday as part of their four-day tour of Poland and Germany. The visit has widely been reported as an attempt to shore up ties with the EU as Britain prepares to make a bitter exit from the bloc. Their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte did not take part in any of the official visits.

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Locals line up to see the future king

Crowds waving small Union Jack flags gathered by Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate to greet William and Kate. It would be the young royal couple's only public appearance that day. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge spent about a quarter of an hour shaking hands and speaking to locals.

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Don't mention the Brexit

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for lunch. While the political content of their talks were not disclosed, a source close to the chancellor did reveal what was on the menu. Britain's royals were treated to three kinds of fish: salmon and tuna as a starter and cod with a side of vegetables for the main course.

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A 'moving' visit

The royal couple visited Berlin's Holocaust memorial, guided by the head of the Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Uwe Neumärker. There, William and Kate also met with Holocaust survivor Leon Schwarzbaum. "It was very moving," William said of the visit. The couple also visited the site of the Nazi concentration camp at Gdansk during their visit to Poland a day earlier.

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Raising awareness

William and Kate visited children from the East Berlin Strassenkinder charity, which supports vulnerable young people. They then met with Teresa Enke, whose foundation raises awareness about depression after the suicide of her late husband, footballer Robert Enke. William and his brother Harry have spoken of the trauma they suffered following the death of their mother, Princess Diana, in 1997.

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Tschüss Berlin, it's off to Heidelberg

The royal couple where the special guests at the residence of the British ambassador in Berlin later in the evening where they celebrated the 91st birthday of William's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. The next morning, they took off to Heidelberg, a town that is twinned with Cambridge, where William and Kate were expected to watch the boat race on the Neckar river.

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Hands-on research in Heidelberg

The Royal Couple started their second day in Germany at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, where they learned about research projects focusing on particularly aggressive strands of leukemia. They were accompanied by the Baden-Württemberg state premier, Winfried Kretschmann.

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Baking up a storm

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went on to take a tour of Heidelberg's central market square, where they were instructed on how to make the perfect pretzel. Onlookers were amused as the couple tried their hands at baking. It's probably best they don't give up their day jobs.

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Bottoms up

William and Kate raised their beer mugs after the boat race between Cambridge and Heidelberg - two of the world's most elite universities. Kate changed into a more sporty outfit for the unique event, which attracted young and old to the Neckar river. But before they could drink up, the young couple were on their way back to Berlin - for a reception at the legendary "Clärchen's Ballhaus."

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Off to Hamburg

The next morning, William and Kate got ready to take a high-speed ICE train to Hamburg as the last stop of their tour of Germany. Security was high at Berlin's central train station as the royal couple took off to the Hanseatic city, where their first stop was the Hamburg Maritime Museum, which houses a small-scale replica of the decommissioned Royal Yacht Britannia.

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The sounds of Hamburg

After the Maritime Museum Kate and William headed to the Elbphilarmonie Concert Hall to witness a performance by the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. Kate even got to try her hand at directing. The new performance space had only been inaugurated earlier in the year and towers over Hamburg as the city's newest landmark.

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Virtually home

The couple went on to tour an Airbus training facility in Hamburg, where they witnessed the latest innovations in the field of aviation. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge witnessed the assembly of A320 jets at the facility and learned how virtual reality was used in engineering today.

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Goodbye, Deutschland

After three action-packed days in Germany, William and Kate returned to Britain but not before this priceless photo opportunity. The couple's children, George and Charlotte, had been kept out of the limelight for almost the entire duration of the visit. The little heirs-to-the-throne waved as they headed back home in time to celebrate Prince George's fourth birthday on Saturday.

"If the DPA guy doesn't show, I can put you in the pool," said the head organization guy, who proceeded to lead us through the subterranean museum where William and his wife would soon be taking in tragic facts and heart-breaking images of Nazi Germany's lunatic attempt to eradicate the Jews of Europe. There, they would also meet with a nearly hundred-year-old Auschwitz survivor named Leon Henry Schwarzbaum.

Unfortunately once we were above ground again and had walked through one of the many columns of concrete steles that make up the memorial monument, there was the DPA guy waving press tags far more exalted than mine. No luxuriating in the pool for me. It was back to the cage.

Culture | 17.07.2017

A prince, after all

If I was going to be cast back down amongst the commoners, I thought, so be it. So I forewent the press area and headed for the growing crowd of onlookers on the western edge of the monument. Using the knowledge I'd gained on my walk-through, I helped an elderly woman on holiday find a spot with a good view of the row of concrete slabs the royal couple would soon be striding through.

Berlin Prinz William, Herzogin Kate & Kinder | Holocaust-Mahnmal

Some onlookers waited for two hours to see the royals

Why was she sweating in the summer sun to see two people she didn't know do something as mundane as walk, I wanted to know.

"It's such nice weather, and what am I supposed to do, sit at home?" she replied. "And he is a prince, after all."

True enough, although for my money Kate possesses all the couple's pizzazz, while William, solely in terms of physical appearance, has always made me think of the fellow who sold home owners' insurance in the small American town where I grew up.

Were they here to pick up fashion tips from the princess, I asked two young women from Leipzig. On the contrary, they told me, they had turned out because they were politically active. Politically active?

"Yes, my family is Jewish," one of them said. "It means a lot to me that members of the royal family take the message of the Holocaust."

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Open mouth, insert foot. It was a reminder that despite all the star power of royal glitz, this is a site that deserves respect.

Deutschland Prinz William und Ehefrau Kate in Berlin

William and Kate met Holocaust survivor Leon Henry Schwarzbaum

An unclear message

Indeed, why had Kate and William chosen to visit Berlin Holocaust Memorial, especially one day after they went to the Stutthof concentration camp in Gdansk, Poland? Were they trying to send some sort of message?

The royal couple's Europe trip has largely been interpreted in Germany through the lens of Brexit, with pundits speculating that Kate and William's mission was to present a more positive image of Britain. Was visiting two Nazi-related sites a way of recalling Germany's former status as Europe's villain and England's enormous sacrifice in helping create the continent as we know it? Or did they merely feel a duty to acknowledge the immense injustice and suffering of the past? I batted such thoughts back and forth with a British colleague who works for German television, but in the end we agreed that there was really no way to tell.

Then, at long last, the big moment was at hand. To somewhat fewer audible gasps of wonder than I had expected, Kate and William emerged from the underground museum and moved solemnly through the steles, slowly disappearing and reappearing from behind them. Then they posed for photographers, acknowledged the crowd and got into a discretely luxurious armored car.  The whole shebang lasted perhaps four minutes.

As they drove off, Kate gave an obligatory wave.

"That was directly at me," said one of the onlookers, but not seriously. We all knew that, on the other side of such dark windows, all her highness likely saw was her own reflection.

I tried to find the people I'd talked to, to ask them whether it was worth the two-hour wait to get a fleeing glimpse of two people famous for being famous. But the show was over, and like most everyone else, the retiree and the politically aware 19-year-old were already gone.