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October 15th 2009
Published: November 15th 2009
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Day 47
Sunday 26th July
Long drive north back into Germany… and the ‘handbrake-ing’ incident




It was an early start to the day as the plan was to drive up to Berlin in one day if we could, a good 700km away. We were packed and away from camp (and the psycho lady who worked there… seriously she was disturbed… apparently our car was too noisy?!) by 8.30am to begin the long drive north and back into Germany again.



By mid morning we were all a little peckish but had limited options with the day being Sunday and many places shut. We stopped off at a small city called Regensburg, where we somehow managed to stumble upon a large café that was serving a brunch buffet for a reasonable price. So, given the travelling mentality, we all stuffed ourselves silly, filling our plates high with each return trip to the smorgasbord. And so with our pockets a little lighter but our bellies very full, we hit the road again, heading off about 1pm.



By 5.30pm we were passing through Dresden, with a good two hour drive still ahead of us to Berlin. Given the late hour we were due to arrive and the hassle this involves with attempting to not only find the campground but then also set up in the dark, we decided to reshuffle our plans - choosing to visit Dresden before Berlin, instead of after Berlin as per our schedules itinerary.



So we found a campsite on the outskirts of Dresden town and set up for the night. And then drama struck… Having repositioning the car to better suit our camp layout, Craig pulled the handbrake… and it snapped in his hand. We had been told before we left that the handbrake cord was frayed and may not last the trip, but it was still a real bummer when it did actually go, especially given the amount of time we ended up wasting in getting it fixed… (more details to follow…)



With nothing we could do until the mechanics reopened the next day, and with the car in gear and on the flattest ground we could find, the boys went for a swim at a nearby swimming pool while Lucretia and I read. We ended up having a pretty early night and with no dinner as we were all stuffed still from brunch - talk about good value!





Day 48
Monday 27th July
Dresden




Lucretia and Craig got up early, taking the car to the mechanic to get the handbrake sorted out. It was a task made so much more difficult given the fact that we were now in the old Eastern section of Germany where their understanding of English was considerably less than the other sections of Germany we had travelled through. And so there was some help from Dianna, the girl in reception at the campground who spoke a little English and wrote down some of the key facts, as well as a fair few hand gestures and charades acting to get the point across.



But they did manage to communicate our needs… only to be told that the part we needed had to be ordered in and so the car wouldn’t be able to be fixed until the next day… This did, however, have one positive in that we could use the car through the day and drop it to them in the afternoon, so we weren’t to be without the car for long.



And so we headed into town about 2.30pm to meet up with Dianna (from the reception at the campground), who used to be a tour guide of Dresden and had offered to show us around. Because of it, our personalised little tour, I found Dresden to be a really amazing place, which I’m not sure I would have if we have been left to our own devices.



Our first stop on the walk around town was to check out three of the main churches in the city, two being Protestant and one Catholic - indeed the only Catholic Church in the city. I found the differences in the churches to be really interesting, having never compared nor known what, or why, subtle differences exist between the two. The Protestant churches, with simple and plain designs and colours, were far less grandiose than their Catholic counterparts with their red and gold embellishments, and many different paintings and artworks; an indicative reflection of their differing belief systems when it comes to the relationship between art and devotion, money and faith.



Our next stop was two scaled down models of the city depicting the area before and after the massive bombings which annihilated the town at the end of World War Two, resulting in a lot of the main centre needing to be extensively rebuilt. Apparently at least 60,000 people were killed, with the actual numbers probably much higher due to vast quantities of people fleeing the Red Army and the many Czech prisoners of war being passed through. It was quite an eerie feeling to be able to visualise such devastation, and to hear the story from another side other than the Allies’ point of view.



Next on the tour was the Zwinger, a massive palace which was one of the grandest achievements of Augustus the Strong, one of the Kings of Germany who lived in, and made a lasting impression on Dresden. The Zwinger is a beautiful building with impressively manicured gardens and lovely water features, and many, many statues all the lining the walls. As much as he admired grand beautiful buildings, Augustus was also a lover of the ladies, which is why there are so many statues of women around the Zwinger (and as a result of his admiration of the finer sex, he was rumoured to have fathered 365 children…).



Even the layout of the city was not left untouched by Augustus, with many of the towns most prominent buildings all fanning out from the palace. He spared no expense in achieving his radiating design, even demolishing and rebuilding one church to a position 150m further along the same road so that it fit in with his design!



With our tour over, we said our goodbyes to Dianna - we have to try to arrange one of her in every city we visit! We then dropped our car at the Citroen dealership and caught a taxi back to the campground.



Back at camp, we enjoyed a few games of cards after dinner, before hitting the sack.





Day 49
Tuesday 28th July
What a waste of day…




It was a lazy day that stretched ahead of us, waiting around for car to be fixed so that we could continue on to Berlin. Highlights of the day included some pancakes for breakfast and then a walk along the river - not that there was anything to see along the river but it broke up the monotonousness of the day.



After lunch we caught a taxi back into town to the Citroen mechanic to collect car at the designated time as arranged yesterday… except the car wasn’t ready. The wrong part had been delivered (or ordered, not that they were admitted to that) and so the car wouldn’t be ready for another day… They didn’t have any contact numbers for us and so couldn’t call us to let us know that it wouldn’t be ready - so we wasted not only our time but also our money on two pointless taxi rides into town - rather expensive at 30€ a pop.



So with nothing we could do, we caught another taxi back to the campground to wait around some more… Back at camp we took advantage of the common room, playing some cards, having some dinner, playing some more cards, and watching a movie before calling it a night.





Day 50
Wednesday 29th July
Kicked out of camp… goodbye Dresden!




The next morning rolled around and once again we killed time as we waited for the phone call from the mechanic to say that the car was ready and that we could collect it. We were up and about, playing some cards to pass the hours, when Dianna came over to pass on a messge from her boss - that we not only had to be packed up by 11am, but also off the property or we’d have to pay another night’s accommodation!!



So we had to collect all our stuff (a full car load mind you, including three heavy boxes of food, both our tents and all sleeping gear, plus our heavy backpacks) and carry it all out to the front lawn of the campground (several loads back and forth) and just sit there - within view of the campground but not technically on their property…bloody ridiculous. I could understand if the campground was busy and they needed every available spot, but it was not even half full, and we weren’t being any trouble. Not impressed - and as what often happens, the ordeal tainted our whole image of Dresden and we couldn’t get away from the city fast enough... we just had to wait for the bloody car to be fixed!



And so there we sat, stewing in anger and trying to seek refuge in the little shade that the thinly blossoming trees provided, while we awaited the call from the mechanic… which eventually came just before midday. Lucretia and Dav went off in the taxi once again to collect the car, before doubling back to collect Craig and I and all our belongings, and we finally got away from the campsite, and stinky Dresden, by 130pm.



Back on the road again, we made our way into Berlin and to the campground… which turned out to not be a campground … another marvellous effort from our sat nav Flo just topped off the moods as you can imagine! By this stage we were in the heart of the city and so it was a bit busy and stressful, and tempered were flaring - who said travelling is fun?!



So, our next idea was to try an info centre that might be able to provide us with a more accurate address of a campground… but the information centre address in the sat nav was also wrong - whoever wrote the Berlin section for Nav Man needs to pick up their act a little. As one saving grace however, our unsuccessful trip to find the information centre did take us past another information centre sign, which Dav and Lucretia went to investigate. It turned out to be an information centre for a TV station, not tourists, but the lady inside was really helpful and directed us to a campground not too far away. Finally, on the right track!



The campground was tough to find being in the middle of a city block, tucked in behind a car park, but we did eventually manage to find it after circling the block a few times. We had to leave our car in the carpark and walk all our stuff into the very crowded campground, but it was in a great position being only about a ten minute walk into the city, and we really didn’t have the heart to start the search again! So after setting up, and a quick dinner, we called it a night, happy to be out of Dresden and to have not killed each other after a very trying day!





Day 51
Thursday 30th July
Berlin




We had a pretty good sleep considering the crowds rocking in at ungodly hours in the morning - at differing times of course as the different groups of people wound up their festivities for the night.



Dav and I left about 930am, arranging to split for the day and meet up with Lucretia and Craig later in the evening for dinner. We walked the short distance into town, passing the main train station that we think is the one Berndt (Werner’s son from Sailauf) designed when he was in uni and his lecturer ended up using. We took photos and paid special attention just in case it was.



It was then across the river and onto the lawn in front of Reichstag, their impressive parliament building. While once again our view was obstructed by maintenance work, we still admired the massive building, noting the message of ‘No War’ someone had burned into the grass in front.



From the Reichstag, we walked the short distance on to the Brandenburg Gate, which was equally as impressive and we felt quite special to be walking around and underneath the massive monument. It has only been accessible again since 1989 when the wall came down, as prior to that it was actually situated in the ‘dead zone’ between West and East Germany.



Next was the Holocaust Memorial, a stark and simple, yet moving tribute to the millions of Jews exterminated leading up to and during the Second World War. It consists of 2,711 concrete slabs of varying heights up to over four metres high on a corner block near the Brandenburg Gate, gaining the name ‘Field of Stelae’, with stelae the term coined for the massive concrete blocks used.



Our search for the state library and internet was next, an expedition that took us to the Sony Centre, in itself a pretty amazing building. There we checked out the computers - ridiculously expensive - and a giant Lego giraffe (outside Legoland, not just wandering the streets), before we eventually found the library. We checked in our bags before learning that we couldn’t get in anyway as we weren’t members… It has been fine everywhere else in Europe but apparently not the Berlin library…



After some lovely lunch at a kebab-style restaurant, we moved on to the Topography of Terror, an informative exhibition situated on the site of the SS and Gestapo HQ in the actual government district during and after WWII. The exhibition was also situated behind one of the remaining sections of the wall that is still standing, which was pretty amazing in itself.



Our travels then took us to Checkpoint Charlie, the American-controlled border crossing between East and West Germany. Again, there was lots of information to absorb, with the streets literally lined with photos and facts.



Anji’s post-WWII in a nutshell…

When Germany was defeated in WWII, the victorious allies (Russia, America, France and Britain) controlled different sections of Germany, including different sections of Berlin. Only a few years after the war ended, now that they had defeated their common enemy of Germany, the tension between the Allies escalated, mainly to do with the Cold War and the fact that they didn’t really like each other much anyway.

And so the control of Germany was
split. East Germany became the Democratic Republic (GDR) (kind of misleading since it was under Communist rule) and West Germany became the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG).

In August 1961, the GDR ordered the construction of a 150km long barrier separating East Berlin and East Germany from West Berlin, with the wall completely encircling West Berlin. Some 2.6 million Germans had fled to the richer West side since the end of the war and the wall was to ensure no one passed else unchecked.

Some 18 years later, the impending collapse of the Soviet empire and increasing protests within the GDR lead to the opening of the wall again in 1989 and the subsequent reunification of West and East Berlin.



Back to our tour of Berlin… Our next stop for the day was the German History Museum, where we spent the next four hours absorbing as much as we possibly could until the museum closed for the day. The museum was really fascinating and well laid out, including a lot of information on total European history, as well as that more specific to Germany.



My first interesting factoid from the museum trip has to do with the formation of the Protestant religion, even more fascinating given our recent trip to Dresden and the insight we gained there into the differences between the churches dedicated to Protestants as compared to Catholic churches. Some 500 years ago a German guy called Martin Luther (no King) questioned the morality of the great Catholic Church, which rewarded monetary and land donations to the church with God’s grace, with those people who gave the most basically guaranteed a spot should/when the end come. Martin drummed up protests against the sale of indulgences to finance the building and decorating of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, with those people who protested becoming a new faction, the Protestants . And so began the formulation of a new faith, a sweeping reform movement in the German empire at that time and indeed all of Europe.



I also learned a lot more about WWI and how that you could say it precipitating WWII.

Here we go again… Anji’s WWI in a nutshell…

Europe has such a history of fighting and takeovers between all the different countries and empires, and hence alliances
were constantly forming and disintegrating with each new battle.

In the late 1800’s, there was a monarchical solidarity between the German empire, the Austria-Hungary and Russia. Then Austria-Hungary and Russia had a dispute over the Balkan question (Serbia, etc), and so that alliance split.

In 1879 Germany and Austria-Hungary joined together to form the Dual Alliance. This was expanded in 1882 with the addition of Italy to form the Triple Alliance. But in 1887 Germany went behind this agreement, strategically signing a secret Reinsurance Treaty with Russia, with the reasoning being so they didn’t have enemies on both sides of the country geographically.

At this time Germany was getting very power hungry, a point not missed by everyone else, but was also very wary about their strategic position. And so in 1914 when they heard about a British and Russian navel deal, they freaked out as they now had what they referred to as a ‘ring of encirclement’, with their neighbours all forming alliances around them… And so they decided to go on the offensive, looking for any excuse they needed…

The murder of Franz Ferdinand, the Austro-Hungarian successor to the throne on June 28 1914 in Sarejevo, was pretty much the excuse everyone needed to go to war. Austro-Hungary, with the backing of Germany, declared war on Serbia. Russia went to Serbia’s aid and so Germany declared war on Russia. All the alliances came into effect then, with France and Britain joining Russia and hence forming the Triple Ontante.

In the end, Germany’s side lost and Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, becoming the independent states of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Serbs, Croatia, and Slovenia. Massive sanctions were placed on Germany for its part in the war, with strict financial fines causing massive problems down the road for Germany… enter WWII.



We also learned, via a great small-scale model of the Munich Olympic Park, that we were off track in our search for the building where the gymnastics were held. While we were mistakenly taking photos and imagining Peter at the wrong building, we did pass by the correct building, we just didn’t know it at the time…



And another highlight of our time at the museum was a really thought-provoking exhibition where different artists had used pieces of the Berlin Wall to demonstrate what the wall represented to them. It was really fascinating to see the different interpretations - really great exhibition.



From the museum, it was back to the Holocaust Memorial where we had arranged to meet up with Craig and Lucretia for the evening. After a quick stop at a ridiculously cheap internet café, it was around the corner to a small Vietnamese restaurant recommended by the internet café guy for some dinner. The restaurant, while very small and dingy-looking, was staffed by a couple of really lovely old Vietnamese guys with smiles that lit up the room and meals that filled the belly, satisfying both the taste buds on the way down and the wallets at the end of the night. Great night!



We all then walked back to the campground, passing a memorial to those poor people killed whilst trying to cross the Berlin Wall that stopped us in our paths for a while.



We eventually made it back to camp around midnight, making the early shift of travellers returning to their tents and waking those souls already tucked in for the night. Exhausted, satisfied and with a head full of information, it wasn’t long before had showered and joined those in slumber.




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