Able to move freely within Berlin.
Trip Start Aug 08, 2010
21Trip End Aug 29, 2010
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Where I stayed
We set out on our morning bus tour with our local guide Critabell. To the disappointment of everyone, it started off very drizzly, and as the tour went along, it got even more wet. The worst part of this was the fact that the sides of the bus developed water droplets on it, and any pictures we took were clouded with these spots. Therefore, it became useless to take any pictures from the bus, and we only stopped at a few of these sights to get off
We made our way around all of the major tourist stops, and I know I couldn't do any justice to these buildings, so I won’t try very hard to describe them. The first place we were give a choice to get off near Checkpoint Charlie’s, which I discussed in the previous blog. It did provide a chance to get pictures of the Berlin Wall. You could go on either side (West or East) and on one side was the bunkers of the Torture chambers.
The next place we got off the bus was at the Holocaust Memorial, where there are different sized blocks of cement placed in columns. You could start walking at one end where the blocks were as high as your ankle and 20 feet later these blocks were above your head. It was an interesting memorial to the victims.
From there we visited the Gendarmenmarkt. This was a large square that had the old Opera House in the middle, flanked by two nearly identical building on either side. From what I gathered, one was dedicated to France and the other to Germany. I think the Opera House is called the Opernpalais.
Then it was off to the Brandenburg Gate
Reichstag, where the Berlin government is housed. This Parliament building is the heart of the German democracy. It was originally built in the 1890’s for the last emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and it was here that the German Republic was proclaimed in 1918. In 1933, this building was nearly burned down, and the Nazi party blamed a communist plot for its demise. However, some people believe that Hitler himself was to blame for this fire and it is this reason that his government was able to gain a foothold. Today a glass cupola rises above the building, and visitors can walk in a circular pattern around this large glass dome. They can even see down into the legislative chambers. The thought behind this was that the new government wanted everything to be transparent and out in the open. The line to get in was approximately 2-3 hour wait, so our tour guide dissuaded us from attempting this.
We then had a photo op at Charlottenburg Castle. We tried to get individual pictures taken with the Castle guards stationed outside the gates dressed in 18th century costumes
Our tour was completed and they dropped us off at Hardenbergplatz which is near the Berlin Zoo. We walked around the shops of this Market area, which we were told was where the East Berliners rushed to after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Each East Berliner family was given 400 marks, or approximately 200 euros on that day to spend by the banks in West Berlin, and they all came shopping in this area to for the first time spend with it what they wanted instead of what they had to.
After about 30 minutes I walked back to my hotel, which was located about a 15 minute walk from the Zoo area. Back at my room, I waited for my buddies to arrive and decided to write the first part of the days blog while it was still fresh in my mind.
At 2:00 Karsten and Nicolas showed up in the lobby and we set off to see the city. Nicolas was from the Hamburg area, and had taken the train up to stay with Karsten so as to meet me here in Berlin. Both of them were returnees at the EF Language and Culture Camp at Norwich University in Vermont this past month. The first thing we did was purchase a day subway and bus ticket, which was a very reasonable 6 euros and 10 ticket. This allowed one to get on and off any U train (subway), S train (fast train) or bus in the city.
They took me to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which was a bombed out hollow Church in the heart of the Hardenbergplatz area
They then took me to lunch at an Turkish shop named the Bistro Nazar Grill, and ordered a Doner Kebap. This was a pocket bread type sandwich with shaved beef, lettuce, and some kind of purple cabbage. In the shop, they had a large 3 foot high rotating meat blob made out of beef. One side of the counter had a heated cooking flame that browned the meat while it rotated. The man then slowly shaved off the cooked portion of the meat. When enough of the meat had accumulated on the counter below, they shoved it into a pocket bread and served it to me, along with a dairy type drink which was a yogurt based white substance. The idea was to take a bite from this sandwich and at the same time take a swig of this drink. However, the drink tasted like a weak or watery sour cream, and I was not fond of it. The sandwich however, was another story. I am told it came over from Turkey and you can now find these shops all through Berlin and other parts of Germany. I was also told that if I took a picture of this and posted it on facebook, that any of my exchange student friends from Germany, would instantly recognize it and think I was a “legend” for ordering it.
About this time, my camera backup battery was exhausted. Somehow, the charger was not working in my hotel room, whether it was the current not being strong enough to charge it overnight, or the small battery center I purchased was not working
We jumped back on the subway and arrived at the Alexanderplatz, a popular Square that is a gathering place for shops and businesses. Another returnee, Alex who lives in a neighboring suburb or Berlin, met us to hang out for the day. Much like any large city, it had street entertainers, and we watched a man juggle and go up a 10 meter high chair balanced on a metal pipe by 3 men holding onto a rope outstretched in opposite directions. He was very funny, and good at what he did. After he was done, we jumped back on the subway and went to the Pariser Platz or Parisian Square. From there we walked towards the Brandenburg Gate, which Nicolas had never been before. In fact, despite living in Germany, this was the first time he had ever been to Berlin. After taking several pictures, we continued on our way, running into a group of girls from a Bachelorette Party, who were attempting to accomplish some stupid tasks. We helped the party out with their quest, posed with a few pictures, and strolled over to the Holocaust Memorial and more pictures were snapped. This is officially known as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
We spent some time strolling up and down the famous Unter den Linden, which is one of Europe’s grand boulevards. It originally flowed from the palace to the hunting grounds which today is known as the Tiergarten. It is named for the thousands of Linden Trees that line both sides of the large boulevard. These trees had been cut down by Hitler who used this street for a parade ground during World War II. However, the German people were very upset by this move, and he later replaced the trees that now still stand in this area.
We then wandered over to the Reichstag, passed the Premier’s new residence, and then crossed the Spree River. After stopping at a small relaxing spot along the riverfront, we made our way to the newly built Hauptbahnhof, which is the main train station to drop off Alex. He had to get back at 8pm to get packed for a swim camp in Munich the next morning. The Hauptbahnhof is a huge glass structure.
Karsten, Alex and I then jumped back on the subway and travelled to Charlottenburg district where we returned to the Palace. Afterward we wandered down around several deserted neighborhoods, before jumping back on the subway. I’m not exactly sure what part of Berlin we arrived at next, other than it was west of the Tiergarten quite a ways
On the way back through the subway, my sore left knee reappeared to once again show me who was boss and also remind me that I am not as young as I once was. I limped back the rest of the way and arrived back at my hotel room at about 2:15. After downloading the pictures from Alex’s camera, I said goodbye to my German friends. I hit the sack shortly after 2:30, knowing that with tomorrow being another travel day, I would have sufficient time to catch up on my sleep.
All in all, I enjoyed my time in Berlin. It was interesting to see the modern buildings that sprang up to replace those that had been lost during World War II. There was a definite difference between that of Eastern and Western Berlin.