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January 15th 2016
Published: January 15th 2016
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This picture, being quite colourful, is not that typical of our visit to Berlin – we had a wet, cold,grey, dreary couple of days, redeemed on the last day by a blue sky and sun! We were staying at the Ivbergs Premium Hotel, Kleistrass that was about a 5minute walk from the 100 bus stop (The 100 bus is an unofficial tour bus as it stops at all the ‘must see’ highlights and runs about every 10 minutes!). We flew into Berlin -Schonefeld, and visited the Information Centre at the Airport (located 20 metres right as you exit Customs) to buy our 3 day Berlin Welcome ABC Card (29 euros pp), and to check out the best way to the Hotel. One bus, two tubes and a 5 minute walk later we arrived at the Hotel about 10.00pm.

We were up early the next day and greeted, predictably, to a grey rainy day! Duly caught the 100 bus, past a snowy park with piles of dirty snow everywhere, to the Reichstag Building as we had booked online to visit the Dome at 9.30am. Very efficient system with very heavy security, a lift up to the Dome, issued with free auto-guide, followed by a leisurely walk up the spiral walkway to the top and back down again, with 360 panoramic views of the City. , Not many views (due to the rain splattered windows!). The Dome is directly above the main Bundestag chamber.

Walked onto the Brandenburg Gate and took shelter in Starbucks Café where we were meeting up for our free walking tour (Sebastian, Sandemans Tours) that was absolutely excellent! He was very knowledgeable of all the history of Germany and it made sense of all of the tour.

! don’t like to write a load of historical facts, but I have never understood German History or how Hitler came to power etc and I want to write down how I now understand it! Germany is a very young Country (formed 1871) and was originally made up of loads of Duchies. Prussia became more powerful and took over most of the Duchies with the remaining Kingdoms also joining to become the Socialist German Empire. The Reichstag Government building was opened in 1894. Then came WW1 and Germany lost millions of young people and after that the democracy system didn’t seem to work for them and everything was run down. There was then a fire in the Reichstag building in 1933, supposedly started by a Dutch communist but the fire was used as evidence by the Nazi Party that the Communists were plotting against the German Government and used to solidify their power. Adolf Hitler, who was Chancellor persuaded the President to pass an Emergency Decree that meant he was no longer answerable to the government which enabled him, within two weeks, to build a Concentration Camp for all the Political Opponents.

The Holocaust didn’t happen for another 8 years – laws for the Jews were brought in very slowly – ie first they just had to have a J put on their passport, then only allowed to sit on yellow benches – it was all very gradual. Hitler was in power from 1933 – 1945 and instigated WW2, living out his last days in a Bunker in Berlin, where the day before he shot himself, he married his lifelong partner Eva Braun, who poisoned herself the next day. Russia hung the red flag of the Soviet Army above the Reichstag as a sign of Victory over National Socialist Germany, but also after the war, it was agreed at Potsdam that Germany would be divided into four zones, being controlled by UK, France, USA, Russia to prevent anything like the Holocaust ever happening again! This resulted in the Cold War and Checkpoint Charlie at Berlin was a direct conflict between East and West. The democratic Western zones continued to thrive whilst the East’s communist economy declined and over 3 million people fled to the West. The Border was closed in 1952 and the Wall was built in 1961 around West Berlin to prevent more people escaping from the East into West Berlin and flying to West Germany. Eventually the Wall was knocked down in 1989 and in 1990 Germany was reunified. That’s my understanding so if anything is incorrect – I apologise – and please let me know!!

Our first stop with the tour was at Brandenburg Gate (It was built in 1791 as an entry gate into Old Berlin but ended up in no-mans land between East and West Berlin) before walking down to the Holocaust Memorial located in the ‘Death Strip’ behind the Wall. This consists of 2,711 concrete blocks (stalae) of differing heights (15 mm to 4.7 metres high), arranged in rows over a 5 acre site. The effect is simple and very moving, although the architect has never said what the Stalae represent – theories include graves, freight trains, sarcophagae etc – I think you have to make up your own mind. On to a brief stop at Hitlers Bunker ( no memorial here, just a plaque and an apartment block!) before walking to Checkpoint Charlie between the American and Russian sectors. ( This was one of the three controlled by the USA and named after the phonetic alphabet (Checkpoint C) - C for Charlie. In 1961 Soviet tanks and USA tanks stood here face to face)

Then on to Gendarmenmarkt – a grand square with the Concert House and French and German Cathedrals. On to the University Buildings and Einstein’s subtle memorial of underground empty bookcases- enough to hold 20,000 books. (Nazis had a 20,000 book burning ceremony in 1933). The Universities were first class and home to the Grimm Brothers, Einstein, Karl Marx and many others, Germany obtaining more Nobel Prize Winners (29) than USA.

The afternoon was free so we wandered around re-visiting the sights (still in the cold rain!!) and also went to the Museum of Terror that gave more insights to the Holocaust. Walked down past the Memorial, which has been a Memorial for lots of things in the past but has been bombed and rebuilt a few times and currently is an empty room with a statue of some sort in it! We couldn’t see very well because it was dark by now! (due to the rain it gets dark even earlier!!!) Carried on down to the Cathedral and Museum Island, past the river flowing with lumps of ice to Alexandraplatz. We had a ticket to go up the Berlin TV Tower (stands 368 mtres high and known locally as Fernsehturm) at 9.00pm but as it was only about 5.00pm we decided to see if they would let us up earlier – and lo and behold they did!! Lift to the top (cant be bad!!) and then a walk around the dome – again not many interesting views as it was a) dark, b) raining, c) there wern’t many sights to see!!!

Back down and a fantastic meal in Vapiano. It’s a franchise of restaurants where they cook either pizza, pasta or a salad in front of you, completely fresh ingredients and you can watch your whole meal being cooked for you! Brilliant idea and totally recommended!

The next day we were going on a tour to Potsdam, which is where the treaty to divide Germany into four zones was made and also where lot of the Summer Palaces for the Frederick and Wilhelms (too many of them to know which is which!!) We met our tour guide, Lizzy, at 11.00am where we then had to get the tube and train to Potsdam where our first stop was the City Palace! Back on a tram out to a few more Palaces, as well as the Glenicke Bridge (painted in two different colour greens as the Soviet and USA couldn’t agree!) which is where the West and East exchanged spies. I think there is a film called The Bridge of Spies about it? Walked through Neuer Garden, avoiding the icy patches and mud, past another Tudor style Palace (which hosted the Potsdam Conference in 1945), and then caught the bus back to Potsdam. The town itself was a very pleasant place to wander around, with Dutch house streets and gates that had been renovated!! From here we could walk to Sansscousi Palace – the highlight of our trip – and also where it started to rain heavily again!! By the time we had walked through the gardens and up the steps to the Palace it was getting dark, so a quick peer at the Tombstone of Frederick the Great (covered in potatoes – forgotten why!) then it was back on the bus and train to the Zoologischer Garten Station in Berlin! We were going to get the No 100 bus back, but decided to have a look at the stunning ruins of Kaiser Wilhem Memorial Church. It was very impressive with repaired mosaics covering the walls and a new Concert/Church built next door of bright blue glass blocks! Very modern and beautiful. Difficult to find the No 100 Bus stop and ended up walking back to the hotel where we ate!

Our last day was blue sky, bright and sunny!! As its very easy to travel around in Berlin with the ABC Card and you end up waiting no more than 5 minutes for any mode of transport, we decided to make our way to Charlottenburg Palace. A beautiful Palace (I think the sun helped!!) and gardens with ponds and the River Spree running through! Saw the Mausoleum of Wilhelm, the tea house Belvedere, as well as a red squirrel running across the ice, a jay, robin, blue tits, woodpecker – it was a lovely place to wander through!

As we came to Berlin on the day David Bowie died, and he had lived in Berlin for three years, we thought we would mark the occasion by finding his house (155 Hauptstrasse) It wasn’t too difficult to find being only 100 metres from Kleistpark tube station. There was a shrine with lots of flowers, candles and pictures laid out on the pavement, as well as a lady blowing gold stardust over the flowers! A fitting tribute!

Onto the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of wall that was painted in 1990 after the Wall came down as a tribute! It’s a tourist thing to do and some of the paintings look a bit tired now, but it was good to see and a pleasant walk along ( in the sunshine!!!) the River Spree! The wall doesn’t seem as tall or definitely not as thick as I imagined it, but I suppose with the inner wall as well as the no-man’s land and guards it was quite sufficient. At first the wall had barbed wire on the top but they found that too many people could use the wire to hook themselves up on so the Wall that is left now is actually the 4th edition! As the years went on less people tried to escape East Germany and therefore less people died.

As it was still sunny, we decided to visit Berlin’s highlights again (train from Ostbahnhof to Alexandraplatz) and managed to get a lovely picture of the Cathedral, before catching the bus up to the Brandenburg Gate, and we just managed to catch the last of the sun at the Holocaust Memorial.

Back to the Hotel to collect our cases, 100 bus to Zoologischer Garten, and a last meal at another Vapiano ( at Zoologischer Garten). From there, we caught the overland train to the airport (40 minutes), and our flight home at 21.10pm! This is probably a better way coming into Berlin than the way we arrived!!

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16th January 2016
Brandenburg Gate

Ah, Berlin
We really fell in love with Berlin. Once we retire we plan on going back and renting a place for a couple of months. What a great city. Thanks for the memories.

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