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Published: June 22nd 2017
Geo: 52.5235, 13.4115
Friday was a day of travel from Prague to Berlin. Though we rode in a first class car, it was so hot that it felt like a traveling sauna. We all managed to sleep at various points, but waking up sweaty was not fun. After about 4 hours, we arrived in Berlin at Berlin Hauptbanhof, supposedly one of the finest, modern train stations in all of Europe. Being below ground, exiting the car presented us with a blast of welcome cool air.
A 15 minute cab ride later and we arrived at Hotel Jurine. Though the name sounds a little funny, it is a very nice hotel. Hot showers and comfortable beds are great. Air conditioning would be a bonus, but the heat wave is now over here.
We walked around a bit to orient ourselves to Berlin and then called it an early night.
Saturday, we woke up to enjoy the best breakfast buffet we have experienced yet. The sausage actually tasted and looked like breakfast sausage (not ham, hot dogs, or bologna). We then walked to meet our very informative tour guide for a 4 hour walking tour of Berlin's highlights. Almost all of these sites were in East Berlin.
We walked only about 20 minutes in West Berlin. First we looked at the Berlin Dom which wasn't reconstructed until very recently because of damage from World War II. Next it was on to Museum Island to look at various national exhibits dating back to the 17th century. Many of these structures also sustained damage during the Battle of Berlin. The colonnades are being restored presently to remove bullet holes. From there it was down the Unter den Linden to see the plaza where the Nazi book burning took place in 1933. The linden trees are very small today because the Nazis chopped them down to replace them with flagpoles. Underneath the plaza where the books were burned an underground monument has been constructed where you can view empty bookshelves looking down into the glassed in area. In this area we also saw a monument to the victims of war. It is a plain building with a statue of a mother holding her son. This was a very impressive and moving memorial. We then continued down Unter den Linden into a subway station that was a "ghost" station from 1961 to 1989. This section of the subway, traveling below East
Berlin, was blockaded by border patrols. The station entrances were bricked up and the West Berlin government had to pay rent for the rights of its trains to travel into East Berlin territory. We emerged from this former “ghost” station near the Brandenburg gate. The Brandenburg gate used to be the entry way for Emperors in and out of the City. It was not used from 1961 to 1989 because it was blocked by the Berlin wall.
We then viewed the holocaust memorial around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate. This is a very unique design of approximately 2700 slabs of concrete of varying heights. Some were leaning, possibly suggesting old tombstones in a Jewish cemetery. People are meant to wander the passageways, experiencing their own interpretations.
We left there to see the location of Hitler's bunker and suicide. Today it is a small grassy plot with a small sign marking the area, not to glorify the Nazi era.
We then walked along a section of the Berlin wall that is one of two remaining in Berlin. At the end of this section was “Checkpoint Charlie.” This was one area where people could cross between East Berlin and West Berlin. The only ones excluded from this privilege were East Berliners. After this our four hour tour had come to an end. We found a place for rest and lunch. Fortunately for our feet, service was very slow.
Next it was back to Checkpoint Charlie to read the many informational billboards concerning Berlin during the Cold War. After learning a lot we walked to the Topography of Terror – an exhibit located on the grounds of the former SS/Gestapo headquarters. This was very graphic and very informational. A most interesting thing about this place was that it was, up until 1980, slated to become an expressway.
At this point, all of us were weary, so we caught a taxi back to our hotel for a relaxing time for blogging. It was an exhilarating feeling to think about the fact that we were able to zip around in a taxi to our hotel, quickly and effortlessly, when, prior to 1989 this would not have been possible.
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