Trip Start May 31, 2008
Trip End Jun 01, 2009

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Flag of Germany  ,
Monday, May 11, 2009

The train from Amsterdam to Berlin was a dream - so comfortable, efficient, great scenery.  And fast in this part of the world.  I think traveling by train is my favourite method.  We got to Berlin's main train station, the Hauptbahnhof, and couldn't believe how big it was.  It felt like an international airport.  There isn't a section of the city that isn't covered by the S-Bahn, so getting to our hotel in Charlotenburg  was pretty easy.

There is a tonne of things to do here (of course), so Calvin and I spent the better part of the evening looking through various tours and activities to spend the remaining days of our trip.  It's hard to believe that we won't be pouring through Lonely Planets, looking at train and bus schedules, and planning escapades in a few weeks.  What a job we got to have for a year.  :)

The next morning started with what would become our Berlin routine - pastry and latte breakfast at the corner bakery.  We ended up being friends with the waiter there.  :)

The best way to learn about this city and it's history is through a walking tour.  Our Famous Walk tour was fantastic (highly highly recommend it) - led by a fellow Canadian who now calls Berlin home.  I learned so much WWI and WWII history that day.  If only all Social Studies teachers could be as captivating as our guide.  I guess standing at the spot where it happened helps too.

Some of the walking tour highlights:
- Reichstag Area:  There is a dome on top on the Reichstag (parliament building) where people can walk up and look into the parliamentary chambers.  It represents that the people are above the government, and the transparency of a democracy.  The official residence of the chancellor was nicknamed "The Washing Machine" - Berliners joke that the politicians go in to get clean, but are always a bit dirty.  The 1933 fire was blamed on the Communists which fueled a political witch hunt by the Nazis.  A symbol of the end of WWII is a Soviet soldier placing the Soviet flag on top the Reichstag in May, 1945.

- Book Burning Memorial: The memorial consists of enough empty bookshelves to hold 20,000 books - the number of books destroyed in the May 1933 book burnings.  "Un-German" books were destroyed, leading to an era of state censorship and control of culture.

- The Brandenburg Gate has an impressive statue of Nike and her chariot.  It was made to commemorate the Prussian victory of Napoleon.  The Nazis were worried about it being destroyed during an air strike, but they didn't want Berliners to get the wrong idea by removing it during the war.  So they made a plaster cast of it at night.  The original was found in the Louvre.

- The Aldon hotel, by the American Embassy, is where the Queen, Barack Obama, and Michael Jackson stayed.  MJ dangled his baby from the window.

- Cold War, A Divided Berlin.  West Berlin, and West Germany, forged ahead economically after the war due to the funds from the Marshall Plan.  East Germany couldn't take any of the Marshall Plan funds because the Soviets thought it was an American bribe.  East Germany also had to pay debts to the Soviet Union.  The difference in living standards was increasing, and by 1960, there was a major refugee crises with many people fleeing to West Berlin.  The wall went up in 1961 to prevent the mass exodus.

We had the famous Berlin drink (beer + sticky sweet lemon juice) at a pub to end our first full day.

The rest of our days in Berlin were fantastic.  We went on a tour to Potsdam and enjoyed walking through the pristine parks and gardens, and hearing all the escapades of various Frederick Wilhelm's.  My favourite building was the Chinese Teahouse.

The Gemaldegalerie had an exceptional collection.  Our favourites were a portrait of Rembrandt's lover, Hendrickje Stoffels, and the famous Woman in a Bonnet by Rogier van der Weyden.  And of course, the Dutch Proverbs painting - the painting consists of more than 100 illustrations of Dutch proverbs.

The Checkpoint Charlie museum had some great stories of escape attempts, but was a little cluttered and confusing to follow.  Go to it if you want to see tiny cars and models of how people squished themselves into the hood or trunk.

We spent our last day in Berlin (and in Europe!), walking through TierGarten and the Charlottenburg gardens, and reflecting on our year of travels over a beer or two.
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