Archive for the ‘Berlin’ Category

Berlin – Spandau, Tiergarten & Potsdamer Platz   10 comments

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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

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Again for no apparent reason I really liked it

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

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

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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

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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

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

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

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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

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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

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West Berlin

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The Daimler Centre

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Panorama shot west to east

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The Holocaust Memorial

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The Reichstag

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East Berlin

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Leipziger Platz. The death strip ran right through here

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South West panorama

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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!

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

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The Fernsehturm tower

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Brandenburg Gate

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Siegesaulle Monument

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Looking to the base of the Deutsche-Bhan  Tower

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Cracking views to end the day, nearly.

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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

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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

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

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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

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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

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

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

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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

 

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Berlin – Afternoon Wanderings   12 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

Berlin – The Wall   12 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   12 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   14 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   10 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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