Archive for October 2017

Back to Normality   16 comments


After taking my readers on a long trip around Europe’s finest cities, its time to get back to normality for a few posts (warning, more city related posts are forecast for the end of the week)


This walk is one of my local favourites, a nice high start and an interesting landscape feature.


It was the weekend after we returned from holiday and it was cold, wet and very windy. The hot days of Rome and Venice suddenly seemed a very long time ago!



Rainbows were a constant companion on this short couple of hours wander





Cobwebs were certainly blown away




A fine way to re-aclimatise to the UK, its mountains and its weather


Back to normality in every way

Posted October 31, 2017 by surfnslide in Black Mountains, Wales, Walking

Tagged with ,

Cologne – The Last Post   22 comments

Start of the long journey home. We could have made it all the way home from Berlin to Hereford in one day. A 6am start, 5 trains and a taxi to get home at 11pm wasn’t all that appealing so we decided to break the journey in Cologne. I had no real desire to go there but it was en-route and the timings meant we’d at least get half a day to have nose around. The morning was gorgeous and the light in the station was stunning




Our ICE train arriving to whisk us to Cologne via Dortmund


We travelled first class again and very luxurious indeed. You even get tea in proper china cups. Fancy!



We stepped off the train in Cologne into a furnace. It was almost as hot as Rom at 32C! In Rome we had the luxury of aircon in the apartment. In Cologne we were only staying one night and anticipating cold northern Europe weather had gone cheap. Our room was also like a sauna but it was a rather nice room right on top of the roof. A kind of penthouse suite with about ten windows, all of which were immediately opened! It even had a little roof terrace with views across the station to the massive cathedral


We headed straight out into the heat for a look around and went directly to the cathedral. I’ve read that it’s the largest gothic cathedral in the world and it’s absolutely immense


The stained glass was stunning




It was very dark inside so my photos aren’t the best but its a truly magnificent building both inside and out


Such is its scale its pretty hard to grab a photo. Its huge!




The centre of Cologne is nothing to write home about. Shopping-precinct-anywhere you might say. We wandered down towards the river Rhine where things were much better. Aside from lazy, broad sweep of the Rhine there were old buildings, squares, enticing restaurants and parkland


Dominating the river view was the massive Hohenzollernbrücke bridge that carries the railway and a footpath



We dropped TJF back at the hotel and despite the heat climbed the 600+ steps up one of the towers of the cathedral. Well, you know by now I wasn’t turning that down


The views across the city and especially the Rhine were amazing





No idea what this building was but it certainly caught the eye





Three became one as TJS and TBF left me to my own devices so I walked across the Hohenzollernbrücke. That colourful mosaic pattern on the railings are padlocks. Part of this craze of saying “I love you” by locking a padlock to a bridge. We saw it in pretty much every city but here it was beyond comprehension. There must have been several hundred thousand here. I don’t get it. Not sure why a trip to B&Q or wherever to buy cheap padlock and then pointlessly locking it to a bridge shows eternal love. There must have been approaching a £1m attached this bridge. Imagine what that money could have done if used more appropriately. They are grossly ugly as well and here despoil a fine bridge. What a waste. I don’t get it


Anyway, the views from the bridge were grand



A cormorant or shag (or whatever), think he’s a long way from the sea




One of the huge barges that ply the Rhine



Another shot from my penthouse terrace


We headed out for our last meal and couple of pints of the local brew


The night-time lights were really impressive although again more practice needed with the photos




The cathedral looked especially impressive




Even the station looked rather good


And a final view of the cathedral from the roof to close out our last day and the end of the trip. Cologne probably doesn’t have enough to detain you for more than a day but on a hot summers afternoon it was pretty splendid and I’m glad we paid it a visit


All that remained was the long journey home via Brussels (where the picky bastards confiscated my Leatherman multi-tool), London, Birmingham and Hereford


A last slice of first class luxury on the train to Birmingham


And that was that. A truly fantastic and memorable trip. Something totally different for the family. I wasn’t sure if it would work out but it was a huge hit and success. Amazing sights, great experiences, history, fabulous food. But the thing I really remember was the laughter. We laughed. A lot. In public much of the time, probably embarrassingly so. I’d hoped the trip would be different, educational, enlightening, enjoyable. I never thought it would be so much fun. I’d love to do it again.

Well as luck would have it we are! I’ll give you a break from my city posts while we head off tomorrow for a week in Barcelona. 🙂


Berlin – Spandau, Tiergarten & Potsdamer Platz   10 comments


Our last day in Berlin and we headed to the suburbs. My guide-book said Spandau was nice so that was our first port of call


We found the castle after wandering through some industrial complexes. It did look rather nice but it reminded me of Caerphilly Castle in South Wales. All the photos you see make it look the castle is out in the countryside, surrounded by fields and accompanied by the chatter of birdsong. Th reality is that both castles are smack in the middle of industrial towns and the only noise was traffic


We had a wander about but had no real enthusiasm for another castle and tried to find a way across the river/lake into the town.




The only way was over the busy road bridge and it was beginning to feel like Spandau might be a little over-rated. When we found the town our impression was confirmed. Pleasant enough, a couple of interesting buildings, but nothing remarkable. It was just an ordinary town with ordinary shops and restaurants. It reminded me of Hereford where I was heading the day after.


Not really what we wanted and we were soon back on the S-Bhan heading into the city. Considering we’d had 3 weeks of exploring, having one slightly disappointing experience among everything else we’d done wasn’t a bad return


We pitched up in Europa Park and I took TJS and TBF up on onto the roof of the mall to see the monkeys


After a good lunch we took a stroll around. It’s not one of Berlin’s better known areas but I really liked it



This is the very odd but likeable Wasserklops or Water Meatball Fountain in Breitscheid-platz


Again for no apparent reason I really liked it


No idea what this equally weird sculpture is. I almost got run over (again) taking the photo


This is the weird “Flow of Time Clock” by Bernard Gitton


We headed back towards the city on foot through the vast Tiergarten park. Crossed by lakes and waterways and a vast network of trails it was a relaxing way to work off lunch



We emerged in the middle for a view of the Siegessaule Monument or Victory Column. Another fearless venture into fast-moving traffic to get this shot


You can climb to the top but I had a better idea for city-wide views




We continued on through the park before emerging back into the urban world at Potsdamerplatz





It was such a clear and sunny day I thought another tower-top view was in order so we headed up Europe’s fastest lift to the Panaroma-punkt viewing platform


The views were better than the Fernsehturm as you were outside, albeit peering through a metal grille. A view out over the Sony Centre and Tiergarten


West Berlin


The Daimler Centre


Panorama shot west to east


The Holocaust Memorial


The Reichstag


East Berlin



Leipziger Platz. The death strip ran right through here


South West panorama


If you pay someone some money they take you up in this balloon. Views must be superb but you have to suffer the ignominy of being associated with one of the worst movies of all time!



The Berliner Dom and ever present tower crane. Berlin will be great when it’s finished


The Fernsehturm tower


Brandenburg Gate


Siegesaulle Monument



Looking to the base of the Deutsche-Bhan  Tower



Cracking views to end the day, nearly.



The Funsters needed an ice cream fix but the Sherpas had a last couple of historical sights to bag, tucked away among the towers and suburbs



Along a tree-lined back street and hidden to the extent you’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there is an old Berlin Wall watch tower


No idea why they left this one standing but it’s quite an unusual thing to see among banks, skyscrapers and shopping malls


A short walk away is this famous car park. Well obviously it’s not the car park that’s famous but what used to be here


It’s the site of Hitlers Bunker. The place where he committed suicide when all his plans went pear-shaped. At the end of the war it was detonated and buried but its been excavated and re-buried a couple of times since. This sign is all there is to remind us of the evil that took place down there


We wandered back to collect the Funsters. The towers of Potsdamerplatz were looking majestic in the late afternoon light





The one on the right below is the Panorama-punkt tower we were on earlier



We headed back to the apartment, packed, had a nice Italian meal down the road and that was that for our visit to Berlin. You can probably tell from the tone of the posts and my comments that Berlin was fulfilling rather than the same love I had for the other cities. To try to compare Berlin to say, Rome is rather unfair. Both are completely different in style and history. I can be certain in saying I’m equally glad I went to both. Berlin provided a stark contrast to the Italian cities and some lessons in modern history that everyone should be aware of and learn from. Like all the other cities I’d happily return to Berlin, it’s just that I’d rather re-visit the others first

Just one more city and one more post to conclude the journey


Berlin – Afternoon Wanderings   12 comments


After the sombre history of the Berlin Wall we needed a little light relief. TBF went off on a solo bus ride and walk through the park. Me and the kids headed for something more fun.

I appear to have turned into a trainspotter on this trip. I just loved traveling on trains and metros and took loads of photos. Hopefully someone will buy me a satchel, flask, anorak and notebook for Christmas



This was the U-Bhan out to East Berlin. I liked the fact that you could look down the entire length of train. Simple pleasures


We popped out on Karl Marx Allee which we’d seen from the Fernshturm.



We got a closer look at cold war architecture, now renovated and looking rather splendid I thought



Our destination was the Computerspiele or Computer Games Museum. It was great fun and really well done. Loads of really old games to play (lots of chance to tell the kids how lucky they are) and loads of interesting historical stuff. Sadly I forgot to take any photos but we had a great laugh and well worth a couple of hours of our time


We headed back to the apartment


A few more trainspotter photos




The kids had had enough for one day but it was really nice sunny Sunday afternoon. I met up with TBF and we went for a walk along the Spree to Alexanderplatz



The light was clear and it put a new perspective on Berlin


The Fernsehturm and Bodes Museum



There was a wonderful atmosphere, loads of families and people having a few drinks in the sunshine and generally enjoying their Sunday


The Berliner Dom




St Mary’s Church and the Fernsehturm


The Rathaus and Neptunbrunnen Fountain





It would have been the perfect afternoon to head up the tower (there was still no queue) but it’s quite an arresting sight from the bottom


When we first walked through Alexanderplatz under a grey sky it looked a little seedy. On a sunny Sunday its fountains and flowers looked rather pretty set against the background of the tower


It was a spur of the moment decision to take another walk but a good one. One of the highlights of Berlin and the whole trip


Satisfied with our stroll and footsore after a long day on foot we took an S-Bhan back to the flat. A day of real contrasts

Berlin – The Wall   12 comments


We took another train ride and headed down to Potsdamer Platz for a poke around. As expected the train system was efficient. Our local station at Friedrichstrasse and the view from the bridge



Potsdamer Platz is one of the major representations of the new modern unified Germany. It was historically the hub of Berlin life pre-WWII until it became derelict in the post war years and ultimately sliced in two by the Berlin Wall. Its infamous Death Strip became a symbol of a divided city. When the wall fell it became a fury of urban development and regeneration that was, at the time, the largest construction site in Europe. Today’s it’s a cluster of urban glass and concrete and I have to say I liked it a lot, probably my favourite part of the city.

We emerged from the S-Bhan into the Sony Centre a huge glass roofed space of shops and restaurants. I loved the design and interior and spent a good few minutes gawping at it





The area has many other tall structures. This one allows you to go up and take in the views. More in a later post



I was amused by this collection of miniature cars that went by, clearly some kind of theme night out


I really liked the varying architectural styles and angular features


There are a number of sections of original walls in the square


This section had lots of background information (they do this stuff really well in Berlin). The only downside was when I realised what that sort of mosaic pattern was when I got up close. It’s used chewing gum. Gross!! I hate the stuff. Luckily I realised before I touched it. TJS wasn’t so lucky




This is a section of wall in its original location. You can see a thin line of cobbles that marks where the wall used to stand




We moved on to look at the infamous Checkpoint Charlie. In case you were wondering the name means nothing more than it was one three crossing points between East and West Berlin using the Phonetic Alphabet


Much of the remnants of Berlins dark history are really well presented, informative and sombre. Checkpoint Charlie is tacky in the extreme. The “soldiers” are just paid actors and the area is surrounded by seedy souvenir shops and cheap burger bars. One of those things you have to see in Berlin but we didn’t linger long


We headed home via the remains of the Anhalter Rail Station Facade


The next day was to be a Berlin Wall day – or morning anyway. We were headed for the Gedenkstatte Berliner Maur. A sort of Berlin Wall Memorial Park. We arrived at the Nordbhanhof station where there was a fascinating exhibition detailing what were known as the “Ghost Stations” of the underground rail network. Several lines began and ended on the western side but passed through stations in the east. As you can imagine these were prime escape targets and the exhibition detailed not only the extraordinary escape attempts but the extravagant lengths the DDR went to, to block up these routes. The idea of sitting on train to suddenly emerge into a deserted, derelict station patrolled by heavily armed soldiers was chilling


The park is along Bernauer Strasse where the wall ran along its length. A little history to set the scene. When the DDR was founded in 1949 it immediately suffered from a mass exodus of its population seeking the wealth and success in the west. By the 1960’s the effect was becoming catastrophic. 3.6 million people had fled leaving the DDR with no skilled workforce and on the brink of collapse. They acted swiftly and decisively.  On the night of the 13th August 1961 they began rolling out barbed wire and effectively sliced the city in two pretty much overnight. Over time it was strengthened with concrete slabs and a whole range of protective measures that became “The Wall” that we are all so familiar with. It was 112km long and eventually two walls with the death strip in between. Protected by lighting, armed guards, dogs, electronic counter measures, it was notorious and fearsome in equal measure.


The park does a superb job of presenting the wall and how it might have looked (very little of it actually remains, about 2km in total, mostly in the East Side Gallery) as well as memorials and presentations of what life was like in those dark times


These vertical iron bars I originally thought were reinforcements for the wall but in fact they mark the line of the wall creating the effect of a barrier you can look through


When the wall was built here it ran right down the middle of the street. Neighbours and families were separated, some never to be re-united. The lights in the photo below are the original ones that used to light up the death strip


This is the Window of Remembrance for many of those who lost their lives trying to escape. The youngest was six years old


Let me share just one of these tragic stories. On August 17th 18-year-old Peter Fechter was shot, wounded and left to bleed to death as the East German guards looked on. Those same guards that prevented escapes were usually rewarded, commended and promoted. Hundreds of people died trying to escape, over a hundred at the hands of the border guards directly


The atmosphere is now one of peace and solitude. The green space was once a cemetery torn up to build the wall


There is an excellent visitor centre packed with fascinating material about the wall. There is a roof terrace where you can gaze out across where the wall once stood. There is a small section left as it would have looked when the wall was in force complete with Watch Tower




This poignant statue epitomises both the sorrow and reconciliation of the wall and its eventual demise


It stands near the Chapel of Reconciliation built on the site of a church that was destroyed to make way for the expansion of the wall. We are all aware of the story of the wall from pictures and news footage. What I was never truly aware of was the sheer brutality and callousness of what it did to a society. It will take generations for that pain and suffering to subside to a level of tolerance but I have to say the authorities have made a very good job of documenting what happened in an open and respectful way


The wall came down almost abruptly as it went up. After the exodus accelerated with Hungary opening its border with Austria providing another escape avenue, the mass protests on the streets began, culminating in half a million people attending a mass protest in Alexanderplatz on the 4th November 1989. 5 days later in a live TV broadcast a government spokesman announced that travel restrictions to the West were to be lifted. When asked when he looked a little uncertain and, while shuffling his papers, announced “As far as I know, immediately” (it was supposed to be the following day but no one told the poor chap). The rest is history as overnight, literally, Berlin became whole again.

A chilling and quite superb piece of street art at the end of the exhibition



If you read through the huge amounts of material on display then it would take several hours to follow the trail. It’s a very sombre and solemn experience and after a couple of hours we felt we’d seen enough for now. After a brief reverie looking at a couple of Trabants by the tram stop we headed home for some lunch and a lighter mood for the afternoon


Berlin – Fernsehturm   12 comments


As you can probably tell I like views over the cityscapes from tall buildings and Berlin has one of its own, the Fernsehturm or TV Tower. Its 368m high and built by the DDR in 1969 as a demonstration of the DDR’s strength and technological prowess


The viewing platform is inside the 4800 tonne sphere at 203m and its design is inspired by the space race of the 1960’s. It was originally supposed to be built in one of the city parks on the outskirts and was was actually under construction until some bright spark realised it would be on the flight path of a planned airport at Schonefeld!


The views are all from inside (hence the strange grey/green tint to the images) but it was all really well done (if a bit crowded). At every window was an information board pointing interesting buildings and their history

A view over old East Berlin


This hotel next door is famed for BASE jumping off the roof on weekends although we never saw any while we were there


Karl Marx Allee. This was the main road in the DDR days and if you ever recall sights of military processions of armies and tanks in East Germany this was the street they paraded down


The pink building is the Alexa Shopping Mall and the red roof building the Stadtgeticht Museum


The River Spree and South Berlin


The Altes Stadthaus, old home to the German Senate


City Hall (Rathaus – I love that word)


The Nikolaikirche and 13th century church, destroyed in WWII, now rebuilt as a concert venue


South West Berlin


Over West Berlin to Potsdamer Platz


The Berliner Dom


The distinct green copper dome of St Hedwigs Cathedral


A close up of Potsdamer Platz towers


The Reichstag


Beyond to the massive Tiergarten park


A zoom shot of the neighbourhood where we stayed


Brandenburg Gate


Grosser Stern Victory Column


The Hauptbahnhoff station


The rebuilt Jewish Central Synagogue


A sunnier view of the Potsdamer platz area


And a very distant shot of the Olympic stadium


We spent a happy hour up here admiring the views. We’d booked online to avoid queues but there was no need. Downside was you can’t pick the weather in advance and we’d have been better waiting for a clearer day. We enjoyed the visit though.

The lift has a glass roof so you can see the shaft as you ascend and descend which I though was rather neat


A video here that doesn’t really capture it but thought I’d share it any way



Time for lunch and for me and TJS a chance to try a “local delicacy” – Currywurst. Basically a sausage covered in curry sauce. Very nice in a junk food sort of way.


These guys are everywhere as well. Basically selling hot dogs from a gas burner strapped to their chests. SCUBA – Self Contained Underpaid Bratwurst Apparatus!


TJS and TBF went to look around the DDR museum but TJF was feeling a little under the weather so we took a bus down to Europa Centre at the far end of the Tiergarten


There is a shopping arcade called the Bikini Mall (supposed to look lime a bikini but neither of saw the resemblance). What it does have is nice a roof top terrace that overlooks the zoo with a free view of the monkey enclosures




The area was Berlin’s first modern skyscraper development. We paid another visit a couple of days later


On the bus ride back I saw my first “beer-bike”.


Popular with the stag and hen do fraternity you pedal while the proprietor steers and a barman serves you drinks on board. A very short video showing one in action


We met up with the others and decided to take TJF back to the apartment to rest up


Plenty of day left though and more Berlin to see….

Berlin – Reichstag   14 comments


The Reichstag is one Berlins most famous and iconic buildings and has been the home of the German Parliament since 1999


It’s free to enter and climb the dome if you book a ticket online so we did just that and took our cue on time in the late afternoon


A glass lift whisks you to the roof of the main building on top of which is the glass dome designed by the famous architect Sir Norman Foster in his overhaul of the building after the fall of the wall. They provide you with a free audio commentary that helps understand the design and function and the views across the city


The dome is there as a visual metaphor for the new open-ness and transparency of German politics. The main plenary chamber sits right beneath the dome. The views as you climb are excellent


There is a spiralling ramp that ascends to the top allowing plenty of time to look at the views from all sides. I really liked the design and the idea behind it.


The top is open with an oculus much like the one in the Pantheon in Rome. Rain water is dispersed by a clever system of ducts and sunlight is harnessed for energy by a rotating mechanism that tracks the movement of the sun




Once back down from the dome the views from the roof terrace are equally fine


The building was completed in 1894 and was the home of the German Parliament until 1933. Its had a role in most of Germany’s most famous and infamous moments. The German Republic was proclaimed from here in 1919. More infamously the Nazis seized power, using a mysterious fire in the building, on 27th February 1933, as a pretext. An anarchist was arrested for arson although that in itself was shrouded in mystery. The Nazis proclaimed that this was a part of a large-scale communist conspiracy and implemented the “Reichstag Fire Decree” that led to civil rights being quashed and widespread political persecution.

It was a pivotal moment in Hitler’s power grab and modern history. We all know what followed


Victorious Red Army troops raised the Soviet flag over what was the bombed out building at the end of the war. The Berlin Wall ran right alongside the eastern facade and major pop concerts took place on the lawns in front. After the wall came down German reunification was enacted here in 1990 although the building was still largely a shell.


In 1995 work began on a complete overhaul of the building, led by Sir Norman. Only the original 19th century shell and facade remained, while the inside was completely rebuilt and the landmark glass dome added


We spent a happy half hour wandering about the roof and admiring the views of both the dome and city beyond




The glass offices of Potsdamer Platz in the distance


Brandenburg Gate



The Fernsehturm tower behind a building that despite dominating the skyline, I never found out what it was



We headed out toi take another look at the Main Facade. The inscription over the main entrance reads “Dem Deustchen Volke” – To the German People although this wasn’t added until 1916


A hugely impressive building of huge historical significance. I’d happily see it again although I’d like to go on an organised tour that I think allows you to peek in to the Bundestag Plenery chamber if it’s not in session


A nice evening stroll back to the apartment along the river Spree


And a couple of shots of our local neighbourhood


And the street where we lived (for a few days)


A lot packed into our first day in the city


%d bloggers like this: