Trip Start Jul 28, 2007
Trip End Sep 02, 2007

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

As we drove into Berlin, we knew immediately that this city was going to be different than our other stops.  Berlin has a very metropolitan feel to it, rather than historic -- like the difference between visiting Vancouver and Quebec.  We found our hotel, Pension Peters  (with another super-enthusiastic and helpful host, Christophe) and headed out to explore.

We strolled through the former West Berlin, pondering the not-so-positive influence of American-style capitalism on European nations.  We've noticed that many of the countries we visited seem to be trying to hungrily reach the Golden Pinacle of the American system, not acknowledging the decades it took to get to that point.  They see the product but are trying to forgo the lengthy process.  We nick-named it "capitalism gone wrong."

We took a double-decker bus down to the Reichstag (Parliament Building) but on Rick Steves' advice and after looking at the line snaking down the parkway, we decided to take the tour later.  We walked down to Brandenburg Gate and tried to picture where the Wall was (there is no sign that it was ever there... it is quite amazing).  Passing into what was East Berlin, we walked down the main drag, stopping to check out the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, the memorial to the Nazi book burning (One of the books read, "a society that burns books will eventually burn people," written 100 years before the Nazis... creepy), the Memorial to the Victims of War, and various churches and cool old buildings.

By 10pm, we figured the line at the Reichstag had gone down, so we walked back.  Nope.  Still a huge line.  Oh well.  We got in line and just squeaked in before they closed the doors.  The building is capped with a huge glass dome that allows you to see the city itself, but also into the halls of the Parliament building.
On leaving the building we passed a bus stop, but decided that the Metro would be faster.  Wrong again!  We sat in the Metro station for 20 minutes before we realized that the track our train was supposed to be on was under repair so our train was travelling on the other track.  We got on the train and off at the transfer station.  I read the signs and we got on the train that should have been going to our hotel... except it went the wrong way!  We got off at the next stop and on to another train going back to the transfer station.  We stayed on the train, assuming that it would continue in the same direction.  Wrong again!  It went BACK to the stop we were just at!  We got off again, and by now were utterly frustrated and tired.  Some kind exchange students told us to get on the next train and it, fortunately, took us back to our hotel.

In the morning, we had to do some shopping as the weather in Berlin was more like fall than summer.  By lunchtime we were ready for the sites again.  We took the bus (no more Metro in Berlin for me... too confusing!) down to the Topography of Terror (big name for a low-key park with the only remaining section of the Wall and the former SS Headquarters), then over to Checkpoint Charlie.  Checkpoint Charlie was a border crossing from the American West Berlin to the Russian East Berlin.  There was a house on the West side that was used to send signals to people on the East who were planning an escape.  That house is now a museum devoted to the victims of the Wall and the ingenius people who escaped.  Inside are displays with artifacts of the tools of escape, like the radio that carried a young girl across the border, or the shopping bag that a mother used use carry her toddler across.  Very interesting but almost overwhelming, as the information is very hodge-podge and not in any logical order.  The gift shop sells pieces of the Wall, though I wondered why they were all the same flourescent colour ("capitalism gone wrong"...)

Leaving the tour busses at Charlie behind, we walked to the Markt (no, not a spelling error, that's how they spell Market in German).  We thought we had stumbled on some sort of emergency with scores of ambulances and police cars, but it turned out they were filming a police drama in the Markt.  So, we checked out the Fassbender & Rausch Chocolate Store instead.  Imagine a Titanic made of chocolate... or a 55-foot display counter with every kind of chocolate confection imaginable.  Yummy chocolatey bliss.

After browsing the chocolate store for quite some time, we decided we should find some real food for supper.  We spent too much on dinner the night before, so we opted for a cheap food-court style dinner in the underground mall.  Pizza instead of schnitzel... sounds good to me!  After dinner, we walked through the city park to the Victory Statue (not a short walk, I assure you!) and took the bus back to the hotel for some web updates and an early bed.
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