Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Walking tour & sausages

First full day in Berlin and I can now see why so many people fall in love with this city.  It has a funky, grungy, sharp, creative edgy feel that has not been present in any of the cities we’ve visited so far.

After the fantastic Walking Tour we did in Munich, we thought we’d do one with the same company in Berlin… good decision.  So we rocked up to Starbucks at the Brandenburg Gate (the meeting point for these tours) at 11am only to find our guide was an Aussie from Finley (in the Riverina).  The next 3 ½ hours were spent all over the old central part of Berlin … all but one stop being in the former East Berlin.

First stop the Brandenburg Gate with the statue of Victoria (as in Victory not the Pommie Queen) looking down on Pariser Platz and the French Embassy – seems the French pinched the statue in Napoleon’s time and the when the Germans got her back they added an Iron Cross & Eagle and tilted her head .. making it pretty clear to the Frogs who was in charge!  It is huge.

Down the road stopping for a distant look at the Bundestag (the German Parliament building) and on to the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe … it is a unique place, 2000+ concrete blocks of varying sizes are placed in a central Berlin city block … and as you walk through you are encouraged to ponder the design, the materials and the inspiration … there is apparently no clear answer as to what the designers concept really was.

Over the road from here is the spot where once stood Hitler’s bunker … now just a carpark where people let their dogs poop!  Pretty appropriate actually!

Next stop was the monumental and feared building that was the German Air Force Ministry offices during WW2, then became the DDR Ministry of Ministries and is now still feared … it’s the Ministry of Finance (the Tax Office).  It’s a bloody boxy monstrosity! Round the corner is a remnant of the Berlin Wall sitting alongside the Topography of Terror Exhibition.  Built on the site of the former Gestapo and SS HQ it chronicles the rise & power of these two nasty nasty organisations.

Across the road is Trabie World … home of the last remaining fleet of Trabies – the quintessential East German car.  They are tiny, tinny, and so bizarre but people in East Germany waited up to 10 years to get one.  They were the only car produced in East Germany. Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie … the crossing point between East & West Germany.  It is now just a tourist trap with a couple of actors dressed as a US and A Russian soldier that stupid tourists have their photos taken with.  The guard house is a replica.

Up the road from here is the double line of stones that mark the route of the Berlin Wall. 

Past the Gendarm Markt – home of two stunning and almost identical churches (one built for the Germans and one for the French Huguenot Refugees – the German one is 12” taller) and the Berlin Concert Hall.  It is claimed to be the most beautiful square in Berlin and I’d happy to agree…. It also has Berlin’s most lovely public loo.

Across Unter den Linden into Bebelplatz, scene of the infamous Nazi book burning.   Twenty thousand ‘anti-social books, those written by pacifists, homosexuals’ etc were set ablaze in 1933.  Overlooked by St Hedwigs (the Berlin Catholic Cathedral) and the Law Faculty of the Humbolt University, and the Berlin Opera House which is currently closed for renovations.  On the protection barrier round the Opera House are some posters advertising the Berlin Philharmonic and some naughty kid has gone and painted pink clown noses on all the musicians.

Round the corner we came to the Neue Wache … originally the Guard House for the Prussian Guard, now home to the moving statue called Mother & Her Dead Son.  Underneath the statue is a handful of dirt from every concentration camp site, and every battlefield since 1914.  It is now a monument to all Victims of War and Tyranny.

Over the Palace Bridge onto Museum Island brought us to the end of our tour.  Museum Island (it really is an island) is home to a bunch of famous Museums (funny that) and is a World Heritage Listed Cultural site.  By now the temperature had dropped to about 4 degrees, the cloud was so low you couldn’t see the TV tower behind the Berliner Dom and we needed to find somewhere warm.

In the afternoon we visited the Topography of Terror Exhibition and headed home in the almost dark at about 4.30pm.  It took us a while to figure the very comprehensive transport system but we made it and it was really lovely to come back into a warm apartment.  A trip out to the local supermarket for dinner provisions including a bunch of different wursts for Tony to fry up, some wine and cheese rounded out another great day.

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