Trip Start Feb 26, 2009
Trip End Mar 13, 2009

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Flag of Germany  ,
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

   We got up early to get to our free tour in Berlin, and after our experience last night we knew how to get there on the S & U Bahns.  We walked past a "Free Tibet" protest outside of the Chinese Embassy - one guy was getting hauled off by the Polizei - smart move buddy!  We got to the meeting place for the tour - the Starbucks near the Brandenburg Gate (yes they are there too.  They are everywhere.  Get used to it.)  Our tour guide was an American named Nikolai who escaped from Eastern Europe with his parents when he was six years old.  Like our guide in Munich, he had a passion for history as well - but more so because he lived through some of it.  He moved to Berlin three years ago and has been doing tours since.
   We start at the Brandenburg Gate, and Nikolai pokes fun at the French (which gets a good chuckle from everyone - there are no French in the group) and we move on.  We see the Reichstag again, and then someone asks about the bricks in the street.  There is a two deep line of bricks through the street, which is where the Berlin Wall stood around the city.  One block away, we stop at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It was designed by Peter Eisenman, and it contains grey stones of all different heights and angles, made to create an uneasy feeling as you walk through them.  The walkway is not flat, and it dips down below street level - in the middle the stones are 10-15 feet high.  It started to rain while we were down in the stones, and the drops streaked down the sides of the stones.
   Once we exited the Memorial, we followed Nikolai to an empty patch of bare ground - under this was where Hitler's Bunker was before it was destroyed by the Russians in 1945.  Supposedly people bring their dogs here to relieve themselves - we were even invited to relieve ourselves as well, but no takers.  Sixty-five years ago under out feet, this is where Hitler killed himself with a bullet and cyanide.  At least he got killed twice . . . the tour continues to an old building with bullet holes in the side.  After a few more turns, we get to a grey stone monstrosity - the old HQ of the Luftwaffe (German Air Force in WWII) - which was not bombed during the war.  Now amazingly enough it is the German Tax Building.  It survived the bombing of Berlin well just like the RAF HQ was not bombed in London - Nikolai posed the question - a Gentleman's Agreement?  Perhaps.  Also, in 1953 there was an uprising here in East Berlin by German workers - they held a strike and were eventually gunned down in front of this building.  A huge picture of their faces sits in the courtyard, facing the side of the building which has Communist propaganda - the last thing they saw was that propaganda. 
   From the old Luftwaffe HQ, we make a break for the Wall - we were only 100 yards or so from the Wall and Nikolai wanted us to pretend we were running to try to escape - I think the FA got gunned down first . . . .too much beer and sausage made him slow.  I'm sure it was a funny sight seeing thirty people sprinting towards the dilapidated wall.  Right next door is the old HQ of the SS and Gestapo - not a great place in world history.  We walk past Checkpoint Charlie (now all replicas) and then it is lunchtime.  
   Now it is time for the architecturally stunning part of the tour - we get to the French Quarter and learn more about the history of Berlin, such as the Swedish invasion, the Black Plague - fun times.  In the 15th and 16th century some French move to Berlin to rebuild, and they build a cathedral next to the Ballet.  The Germans got jealous and built an exact replica of the French's Cathedral right across the square.  Then we walked to another square, where the Catholic Cathedral was, and the famous Opera House which was bombed twice just to piss Hitler off.  We just missed him once - he has just left and the bombs fell . . . In that same square was the library which was emptied in 1933 by the Nazis when they held a massive book burning - 20,000 books were burned that night.  In the middle of the square is a Memorial for that, which is underground.  Through a window you can see empty bookshelves, with enough space for 20,000 volumes - and a plaque with the quote "When people start burning books, soon they will burn human beings."  We walked past Humboldt University, the home of Kant, Nietschze, Einstein - then on to a World War I memorial - "Mother and Dying Son". 
   We finished our tour up on Museum Island, which holds five museums.  One of the other buildings is an old cathedral designed for Kaiser Wilhelm - he kept interfering so it is conglomeration of architectural styles.  Across the square is the Altes Museum, designed by a 96 year old Karl Friedrich Schinkel.  He built the largest marble bowl in the world, with ideas to place it inside of the atrium of the museum - unfortunately they had already built the columns in the front of the museum, so it couldn't fit.  It still sits outside, and as Nikolai said, it is now the world's largest bird bath.  We sat on the steps of the Berliner Dom hearing the story of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  What a great tour again!!  Claudia and I take the U-Bahn to the Sony Center, and we walk around a bit more until it starts to rain.  That gave us a good reason to go into Tchibo for some coffee and a cake.  We hopped back on the Bahn and got back to the room and watched some more football.  We finished our night off with a great Chinese meal in East Berlin!
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