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Berlin – Afternoon Wanderings   6 comments

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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

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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

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

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

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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

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We headed back to the apartment

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A few more trainspotter photos

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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

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

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The Fernsehturm and Bodes Museum

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

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The Berliner Dom

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St Mary’s Church and the Fernsehturm

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The Rathaus and Neptunbrunnen Fountain

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Berlin – The Wall   8 comments

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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

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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

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

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

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I really liked the varying architectural styles and angular features

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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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

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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

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Berlin – Fernsehturm   10 comments

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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

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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!

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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

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

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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

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

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The River Spree and South Berlin

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The Altes Stadthaus, old home to the German Senate

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City Hall (Rathaus – I love that word)

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

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South West Berlin

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Over West Berlin to Potsdamer Platz

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The Berliner Dom

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The distinct green copper dome of St Hedwigs Cathedral

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A close up of Potsdamer Platz towers

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The Reichstag

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Beyond to the massive Tiergarten park

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A zoom shot of the neighbourhood where we stayed

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Brandenburg Gate

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Grosser Stern Victory Column

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The Hauptbahnhoff station

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The rebuilt Jewish Central Synagogue

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A sunnier view of the Potsdamer platz area

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And a very distant shot of the Olympic stadium

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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

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

 

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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.

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

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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

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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

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

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

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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

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

Berlin – Reichstag   10 comments

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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

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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

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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.

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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

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

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The glass offices of Potsdamer Platz in the distance

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Brandenburg Gate

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

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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

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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

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

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And a couple of shots of our local neighbourhood

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

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A lot packed into our first day in the city

 

Berlin – Historic Mitte and Around   6 comments

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On to the last major city of our trip. Another sleeper train but a much better experience this time. Fuelled by more chimney cake from station kiosk, ready a few (worrying!) minutes before the train departed

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The train left on time and arrived on time. We had a nice leisurely evening watching the stations roll by before turning in for a proper night’s sleep

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Arriving bleary eyed but excited in a new city

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The huge and magnificent glass palace that is Berlin Hauptbahnhof

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The apartment was still being cleaned but the owner kindly let us use the facilities and dump our bags so we could do a bit of sightseeing. We were close to the historic quarter so we headed there along the Spree river

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First stop was the Reichstag building.

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One of Berlin’s most famous landmarks but more on that in a later post

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We were heading for the Brandenburg gate we passed this memorial to the Sinti and Roma gypsies murdered by the Nazis. Just a simple pool and fountain with a fresh flower laid every day. One of the list of Nazi crimes that I wasn’t aware of. It became a regular theme of our stay in Berlin, a city recovering from an association with the darker parts of history

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The Brandenburg Gate was built in 1791 as a triumphal arch based on the Acropolis in Athens.

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It was the heart of the city then and still to an extent is now with the Reichstag on its doorstep and several embassies around Pariser Platz where it sits. Its one of the city’s most recognised landmarks

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The sculpture on the top is the Quadriga, the winged goddess of victory, her chariot and four horses. Napoleon stole the statue after one his Prussian victories but it was liberated and returned by a Prussian general a few years later

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As an aside my guidebook said we should check out the DZ Bank Building with its free-form sculpture and glass atrium

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The metal sculpture is actually a meeting room

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Pariser Platz with Under den Linden stretching away into the distance

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Into the dark past again with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial. Its official name is the Denkmal fur die Ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe). Over 6 million people were mercilessly slaughtered.

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This is the descriptive text from my guide-book:

“For the football-field-size space, New York architect Peter Eisenman created 2711 sarcophagi-like concrete stelae (slabs) of equal size but various heights, rising in sombre silence from undulating ground

You’re free to access this massive concrete maze at any point and make your individual journey through it. At first it may seem austere, even unemotional. But take time to feel the coolness of the stone and contemplate the interplay of light and shadow and then stumble aimlessly among the narrow passageways, and you’ll soon connect with a metaphorical sense of disorientation, confusion and claustrophobia.”

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As I walked around with the family in silence I felt that disorientation mentioned above. It also entered my head as whether this was right sort of monument and indeed more pertinently whether there is any monument that can in any way represent the senseless murder of so many people

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The photos can’t really give the same impression as being there and making you think about what group of people can coldly and calculatingly do to another. I read that many Nazi officers spent hours working on plans and strategies to make the slaughter more efficient, how they could maximise the number of people murdered on a daily basis. I still cannot make the mental connection as to how anyone intelligent rational individual could think like that. Chilling.

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After sombre reflection and discussion among the family we decided we couldn’t face the excellent underground exhibition just now. We had a very fine brunch on Unter den Linden before walking down towards Alexanderplatz past the statue of Frederick the Great

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This is one of the buildings of the Humboldt University. Marx and Engels studied here and Einstein taught here. This building is locally known as the Chest of Drawers. Lenin did some of his study in this place.

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The Schlossbrucke Bridge

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The Berliner Dom Cathedral with the Fernsehturm Tower alongside, a nice mix of old and new

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Stepping over the Schlossbrucke effectively takes you on to an island in the Spree. The island is home to a collection of major museums that give the island its name Museuminsel. This one is the Altes Museum, home to Greek, Roman and Etruscan artefacts

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This is the Pergamonmuseum home to Ancient world and Egyptian treasures

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And the Bodemuseum with its medieval sculptures

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The museums are world renowned and a couple of days of your time to see them properly. Not reall our things so we wandered back along the river to the apartment to settle in

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Afterwards, time for a proper look at the Reichstag

Budapest – Castle Hill   10 comments

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After lunch we headed off on another little tram ride around the city and ended up below the Royal Palace and the Castle district

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Its perched on hill high above the river and it would only have taken us 10-15 minutes to walk up. TJF gave me an imploring “please don’t make me walk up that nasty hill” look and I relented and paid a hefty fee for the 1 minute journey on the cliff railway

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Quaint, but not quite as enjoyable if it had been free

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At least the views across the river to the city were worth it

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The area consists of the Royal Palace and the Old Town to the north and all of it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Royal Palace has been around since the 13th Century and has a feast of stuff to do. Museums, Art Galleries and caves beneath the castle

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We didn’t have time for any of that and contented ourselves with a walk along the courtyards and walls facing out over the river and city to take in the sweeping views

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We came across these guys undertaking some kind of ritual and followed them around the castle for a bit

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Walking through to the old town the most striking building is the Matthias Church. Some it dates back 500 years and its an arresting sight

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I was fascinated by the roof (a Zsolnay Porcelain Tiled one if you must ask). Reminded me of Lego

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Its been extensively renovated over the past 10 years and dazzles from all directions

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These strange turrets are part of the Fisherman’s Bastion. It looks medieval but it only dates from 1905. It supposedly has fine views over the city but seeing as they wanted me to part with cash I was happy with, what I assume were, pretty much the same – and free – views from everywhere else on the hill. Takes its name from the guild of fishermen who used defend this stretch of the walls

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An equestrian monument by Alajos Strobl stands in front of the bastion

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A very fine – and free – view across the river to the city from just next to the bastion!

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We wandered down through the old town, cobbled streets lined with artisan shops and restaurants

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We walked back down the hill and took a metro back to the centre, stopping off for a beer in Szabadsag Ter and a final play with its fountain

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We picked up our bags from the hotel and headed off to the station to catch our next train to our next and final (almost) city on the Grand Tour

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What can I say other than I absolutely loved Budapest. Of the all the places we visited it was the one I could actually see myself living in. It didn’t possess the history and iconic sights of Rome or the water and architecture of Venice but its overall sense of uncrowded space together with unique sights of its own put it in a class of its own. We only had 3.5 days here as I wasn’t sure whether we’d like it, or find enough to do. Quite the reverse. There was a whole list of places we never got to see but as I’ve said many times through these posts, a good excuse to go back. Wonderful city

 

Budapest – Seven Forms of Transport to the Buda Hills   16 comments

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Our last day in Budapest, time flies when you’re having fun. My guide-book recommended a trip into the Buda Hills using an interesting mix of Transportation styles. First was a Metro to the other side of the river followed by a tram ride – well two tram rides actually as we got on heading in the wrong direction!. From there a rack railway high into the Buda Hills that rise to the west of the city.

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Another of the city’s great features. Less than an hour by public transport from the centre of the city and you’re in wooded hills. There are some fine walking trails up here apparently

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A short walk brought us to another train station. This one is a children’s railway in more ways than one. It was built by Scouts in 1951 and is staffed entirely by schoolchildren (except engineers and drivers).

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It was fun and utterly charming and a wonderful run through the wooded hills with glimpses to the green pastures to the west of the city. Another world in every way.

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The kids perform guard duties, check tickets and manage the trains. One them even sold me my tickets at the booth. They all wear their natty little uniforms and seemed to be enjoying the responsibility

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The line runs for 11km through the hills but we got off halfway to walk up to the highest point (a respectable 527m) and see the views from the Elizabeth monument

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It was a longer and steeper climb than I thought

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The Elizabeth lookout is a very faux-grand affair that I’m sure everywhere else we’d visited would try to extract a charge. Here it was free to climb.

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The views from the top were superb. To the west, rolling green hills, farm land and small towns

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To the east the huge sprawl of the city threaded by the Danube

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A zoom shot of the Parliament Building

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And a couple of Panoramas looking east and west

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The tall round building in the centre-left of the photo below is where the cog railway started from

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It was a revelation to be out in the countryside after two weeks in busy cities, yet all this was a short trip away from the busy heart of Budapest.

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To head down we took another from of transport, one that every city should have, a chairlift!

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A very unusual and relaxing way to descend and admire the excellent views over the Buda Hills and the city itself

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A little video to add to the blog experience

 

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A short walk down the road from the bottom to catch a bus and a metro back to the central park for another Hungarian street food lunch. Metro, Tram, Rack Railway, Children’s Miniature Railway, Chairlift, Bus. Six forms of transport. Number seven? Walking of course!

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