Archive for the ‘Berlin’ Category

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….

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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   4 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

A Tale of Eight Cities   20 comments

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Kids and how to keep them happy on holidays. Both of mine have grown up with radically different interests especially when it comes to leisure time. TJS loves walking and backpacking through the mountains. TJF loves chilling and when encouraged some adventurous climbing and water based fun. Neither enjoys the others preferences. I was stuck for this years holiday, keen to keep the family trips going as long as possible as University years approach, without one or both of them looking bored.

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Several of my friends have been focusing more on cities than our traditional outdoor trips (Barcelona, Nice to name but two). I mentioned doing something similar more out of desperation than anything else, expecting a lukewarm response. I was taken aback when both of them (and TBF) were positively enthusiastic about the possibility of a summer trip to bag a few key European cities as it were. The idea was born and the holiday planner in me sprang into action.

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After much deliberation we centered the trip around Italy and Eastern Europe having never been to either. Train travel was our chosen transport method and we were all excited by the prospect of doing the whole thing by train (and bus) and being liberated from the cossetted world of the car and the endless tedium that is air travel. Thanks to the amazing website, The Man in Seat 61 (I lost hours trawling through its pages) that travel planning was easy and booking rail tickets was simple. It’s a mine of information, almost all of it helpful and unerringly accurate

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Rome and Venice were certainties as was a more modern city in Berlin. I wanted to see Budapest although that got a lukewarm reception (very misguided). As we had to travel through Paris it seemed prudent to spend a couple of days there. In addition long journeys from Paris to Venice and Berlin back home dictated a couple of stopovers in Turin and Cologne. That makes seven. City number eight came courtesy of one very delayed train and an unexpected chance of a couple of hours in Vienna.

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I wanted to spend at least a few days in each of our major stays so a 3.5 week trip was in order to take advantage of the Bank Holiday. We used Apartments for multi night stays and cheap quad room hotels for the single nights. Over the course of the planning, hotels were booked, rail tickets purchased (including several first class tickets – European rail travel is exceptionally cheap if you book ahead). A few key attractions and tours were reserved. We packed light, just one rucksack each.  We were ready.

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Never having done anything like this before I thought the trip could go two ways. It would be a disaster and we’d hate it, vowing to put it down to experience and never attempt such a thing again. Alternatively it would be an amazing, fantastic experience that we’d want to do again. I’m not giving too much away to say it was most definitely the latter! 🙂

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We saw and did a quite staggering amount of stuff. I took thousands – yes really – of photos so its going to take me a while to write all this up. I’m planning one general post about each city and the related journeys and some more specific posts about places or days that deserve them. It will take me a while

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I’ve dropped a photo from each city into this post as a taster to get you in the mood. There was plenty of sun, tons of great food, bucket loads of ice cream, amazing sights and experiences and a lot of laughter (much of it at TBF’s expense bless her!). First instalment tomorrow, hopefully.

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