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Published: August 29th 2017
Our house swap is about 100 meters from Checkpoint Charlie and the Metro Station is directly outside of the front door; we couldn't be happier. Caroline had visited while the wall was still up and had her photo taken underneath the “Leaving the American Sector” sign at Checkpoint Charlie, we tried to recreate this photo 40+ years on...... Before I move on, I just want to say that in Germany they call City Hall the Rathaus and, in my view, this is a pretty appropriate name.
A little history on Berlin, the city was 85% destroyed during WWII and most of the monuments along with it, although the Brandenburg Gate did survive. Today, the museums have all been rebuilt in their original position alongside the river Spree and the city's churches and cathedrals have been rebuilt and restored. The stone is blackened and they look as though they have been there for ever, however it's all an illusion. The main allies carved up Berlin into the British, American, Russian and French sectors, although the French got the smallest and least important slice. While all the allies seemed to get along in the first few years, tensions were growing
and on August 13, 1963 the Berlin wall was started. This endured until November 9, 1989.
A little known fact for all secret David Hasselhoff fans, is that “The Hoff” was supposedly the real reason the Wall came down. The “Hoff”, big only in Germany, performed his song “Looking for Freedom” to crowds of reunification supporters in 1989, and from there it was all on. Take that one with a grain of salt, me thinks.... And if you are in Germany next year, 2018 you can attend one of his concerts as he is touring again.
We started our exploration of the city with a long walk from the apartment to Alexanderplatz and the space needle (built by the GDR around 1965-69) and then back to the Brandenburg Gate before returning to our apartment. The whole walk was around 10-12km and because of all the walking we are at least maintaining some kind of weight control (Caroline's Facebook posts of all the food we have consumed) . Along the way we visit the GDR museum to get a feel for life under Soviet Rule. A lot of what we see is reminiscent of our
experiences from childhood, however we were not spied on, separated from our relatives, told what to think, who to vote for and of course not allowed to travel outside of the Soviet Bloc. Because of this, East Berliners tried many ingenious ways of escape, from tunnels to hot air balloons and during the 27 years the wall was in place there were around 5000 escapes between 1961 and 1989.
The Jewish Memorial – Also known as the Holocaust Memorial is made up of 2711 concrete slabs of varying heights laid out in a grid. Below ground there are the names of 3 million known Jewish victims of the Nazis. The memorial is on over 4 acres of land formerly part of the death strip between East and West Berlin. We did not go underground to view the names
Hop-on, hop-off Bus tours – We purchased a two day ticket and did all three available tours of the major city sites. I will only mention the Charlottenburg tour as this mainly focused on the British sector and took us to the 1936 Olympic Stadium that was surprisingly undamaged during WWII.
my favorite bands in the last 8 years is The Shins and luckily enough they are playing a small venue in Berlin while we are there. Anyway, I purchased tickets online and dragged Caroline along to see them; the beer was cheap, the venue was small and the band were pretty damn good. I enjoyed myself, even though we had to stand for three hours; Caroline also says she enjoyed the concert!
Segway Tour – On Wednesday, I booked a 3 hour Segway tour and it turned out to be our only day of rain. However, it was supposed to be a group tour, but with the rain I was the only customer and got a personalized tour of the Berlin Wall sites. My guide had grown up in East Germany and I was able to ask many questions about life under GDR rule. While I was whipping along the streets of Berlin, Caroline was in the department store KaDeWe, renowned for its food hall that supposedly rivals Harrods. However, she says it was a disappointment.
A prospective Home Exchanger, Manuela, arranges to take us out for the day. This turns out to be
very special and we have lunch in one of Berlin's secret places as well as visiting an Industrial Beach area in the middle of the city. We are then taken to to a town about ½ hour outside of Berlin to meet her partner, Andreas. A fascinating man with a story to match. He spent three years traveling the world as a Journeyman. This is referred to as the Journeyman years https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journeyman_years
and we were privileged to spend a couple of hours talking with him about his experiences.
Potsdam – A drive down to Potsdam from Berlin takes about 40 minutes and of course we do it so we can see Fredrick's Summer Palace. The palace is one of several in a park, and after being told we only had to book entry time to the summer palace we were turned away at another palace because we didn't have a booking. It wasn't as though there were any people other than us trying to get in and this is where Caroline lost it with the “Berliners”.
Nickolai Quarter - The area where Berlin was first founded alongside the Spree river contained some
of the oldest buildings in Berlin, however WWII turned it into a wasteland, pretty much like the rest of the city. Today, buildings have been rebuilt in the old style, the streets are cobbled, narrow and lined with restaurants. It's a popular tourist attraction, even though the recreation is supposedly not quite like the original. Still, we enjoy an amble though the area and take all the requisite photographs.
Hackesher Market – In the old Jewish quarter, a great place for an evening meal. However, as always, the German food is heavy and salty. I'm not sure that there is such a thing as German cuisine, but German comfort food, yes!
Well, that was Berlin in a nutshell, I personally enjoyed the city, it is European multicultural (all white faces) and I was glad we managed to see it. However, it's a young person's city and has a vibrant club scene. Oh! to be young again.....
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