Checking out Charlie..

Trip Start Apr 12, 2008
Trip End Jun 18, 2008

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Flag of Germany  ,
Saturday, May 24, 2008

<Brian's brief chronological list of "highlights" (and of whinging)>
- Joined the free walking tour but decided to do the free bike riding tour instead as it took the same amount of time but covered 5 more places since they could cover more area. It seemed like a good idea but you don't get as orientated of the city as you are too busy watching the bike ahead of you and avoiding the local pedestrians and traffic. This covered sights such as the Brandenburg gate, holocaust memorial, Berlin wall and Checkpoint Charlie with the history behind each place. It was quite interesting hearing about WW2 and then about the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- After the bike riding tour, we revisited some of the places that were covered via metro instead. A lot more can be soaked up when on foot.
- Rick Steves recommended the East End Gallery which is basically 1.6km of the Berlin Wall which is still standing and is spray painted with art. This wasn't as impressive as I had imagined it would be as people had written crap over the nicer art on the walls... but it was still ok.
<Lang's Extended Version>
Since we didn't see a whole lot of Berlin yesterday, we walked over to Zoo station for our meet up point for the free tour - yup, doing it again, but the only difference this time round was that it was on bike..
After putting down a deposit and photo id (in case you rode away with one of their bikes), we were given a quick history lesson on the area before we were given a bike each. Brian struggled with his for a little while, especially when taking off as these bikes were different to all the ones we were use to. If you back-pedaled, it basically put the brakes on, so it was very difficult to turn the pedal in the right position to start off. Nevertheless, I got the hang of it alright and could even use the back pedal break to slow myself down while on the road.
John, our guide for this tour was tall and had that school boy look about him. It was only his 2nd month tour guiding but he appeared to be very interested in the history of Berlin and enjoyed sharing it with all of us..
Berlin is definitely an interesting city. We saw and learnt about Checkpoint Charlie - named not after a person, but the 3rd military alphabet.. ie.. alpha, bravo, charlie.. It was the most famous of the checkpoints as this was the only one that allowed foreigners to cross..
We also got to see one of the last parts of the Berlin wall, which they have now fenced off (pretty ironic) as when the wall came down, the East Berliners use to spend all day with hammers, chiseling this eyesore to pieces..
The stories of escapes and attempted escapes to the West side were interesting too, but I'll let you find that out for yourselves, rather than bore you here..
Apart from the above two sites, we also saw the remains of an old bomb shelter, Reichstag, the remains of Hitler's bunker, the book burning site, the Brandenburg Gate, Paris Square, where we saw the hotel that Michael Jackson dangled his newborn son out from a few years ago, and also the Jewish memorial, which was very interesting, especially after visiting the Jewish Cemetery in Prague..
It was difficult to believe that it was only 18 years ago that the wall came down in 1989 - I very vaguely recall the news events on that night with the people trying to tear down the wall while others celebrated their newly found freedom.. Berlin has definitely come a long way since then and can only grow even more..
So after about 4 hours on our bikes, we were happy to get off and stretch our legs a bit, so of course Brian and I headed back to the hotel to pick up our trusted copy of Rick's book and headed back out to the Brandenburg Gate.. We wanted to take some more photos and also to go back to the Jewish Memorial.
Dedicated to the 6 million Jews who perished during Hitler's reign, the Memorial housed a free exhibit underneath, explaining more about what happened and also told some stories of some Jews who had experienced the terror firsthand. 
Usually during these free tours, there is very little time to actually read any of the plaques or take photos, so once again we headed back to Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall.
At the checkpoint there were a couple German/American soldiers in their uniforms offering a stamping service - you can 'purchase' the original East/West Berlin stamps to be marked in your passport.. we were somewhat tempted as our passports were still pretty empty, but decided to forgo this service..
One last stop for the night that wasn't covered on the bike tour was the East End Gallery. This is the longest stretch of wall, still intact, and today it is used as an artist's canvas. There were paintings all along the wall, but unfortunately these were also covered in graffiti, which was disappointing.
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