Don't mention the war!!

Trip Start Mar 06, 2012
Trip End Sep 06, 2012

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Flag of Germany  ,
Thursday, July 26, 2012

We did not know what to expect really. You get these pictures in your mind of Berlin's Nazi and Cold War past and that's all so negative. Yet everybody we have met on our travels had said what a wonderful city it is.

It’s certainly not picturesque and there are no ancient ruins to see but there are plenty of modern ones: The Brandenburg Gate, The Reichstag, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Tiergarten and so on.  A lot of the historic buildings destroyed in the Second World War have been, or are, still being restored. On top of that you have the architecture of the old East Germany with its Communist influences and the modern Berlin with its shiny new skyscrapers that have been built since the fall of the Wall in 1989 and the unification with the West. There is still a lot of building work continuing at the moment too, and unusually whilst these works are continuing, sewer pipes are hoisted above the city streets.
We started our sightseeing around the museum district and then walked along Unter den Linden Strasse towards the Brandenburg gate. The whole history of Berlin can be found on or around this long street and it was set out to run from its museum and galleries area near the Spree River towards the Tiergarten. Linden means "lime trees" and they adorned the centre of the street until Hitler had them removed because it spoilt the view of his military parades!

The Brandenburg Gate has been and remains an important symbol of Berlin and Germany and was erected in 1791 as a triumphal arch to celebrate Prussia’s capital city.  Across the road is the vast expanse of the Tiergarten, Berlin’s central park and the Reichstag. Interestingly The Gate was in East Berlin and the park in West Berlin.

The route of the Berlin Wall can be traced throughout the city as there is a double row of stones laid where the wall had existed. A small part of the Wall remains in an open air exhibit at the old Gestapo headquarters called the “Topographie des Terrors”. This exhibit does not hide from the events that occurred in Berlin during the 20th century. The Wall did not run in a straight line and it is quite confusing as to whether you are walking in the old East Berlin or in the Western Sector and  it was a bit of a surprise when we walked past the old “Checkpoint Charlie” security post where a big sign stated that we were leaving the American Sector when I would have sworn we were in the Soviet zone.  Along some of the more important streets there are old photos of the East/West divide and even though you can still recognise some of the buildings, when you look at the photos and compare to what you now see from the same spot the transformation is amazing.

Another moving Memorial is to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This Memorial covers a city block and is a field of concrete slabs, arranged in rows but sloping in different directions on uneven ground.  Joyce and I also visited the Jewish Museum which focuses on the personal stories of prominent Jews. The buildings architecture is interesting as it’s based on an exploded Star of David; there are rooms with unusual angles, void spaces and diagonal passageways.

The big surprise of our visit though was Potsdam.  Again it was by chance (no research again!) that we chose a wonderful site adjacent  to a very wide river. In fact,  Berlin is  surrounded by large lakes and woods which was a real surprise to us and adds to the popularity of the city.

Of course I had heard of Potsdam, because of the Agreement signed at the end of the War that split up Germany.  It was not until we looked more closely at our maps that we found that Potsdam is more or less a suburb of Berlin (don’t tell the residents that though!) and about 45 mins from the city centre and with a direct run in by train.  Potsdam is to Berlin what Versailles is to Paris and is divided by the Havel River and there are many lakes that also surround it. It is World Heritage listed.

Most of Potsdam’s Palaces were built as summer residences for the Prussian Kings and it has many historic buildings. In fact from a historical perspective Potsdam has much more to offer than Berlin and deserves at least equal time when visiting this region.  I won’t go into detail about the places we went sightseeing but just let you look at the photos and I’ll give a brief overview with each.     

Last but not least we managed to catch most of the Olympic opening ceremony at the campsite restaurant on a massive projector screen. It was a little difficult to work out what some of the scenes were meant to mean as of course the commentary was not in English. However, when the Queen jumped out of the aeroplane, the restaurant, which was full of Germans, burst out laughing. So they do have a sense of humour after all.

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