Friday, May 6, 2016

A Little Bit of Everything in Berlin

I flew rather than taking the train to Berlin because it was cheaper and faster!  Make sure to check a site like Kayak or another metasite as I flew here with an upgrade for about $40 on Euro wings.  Of course, I basically wasted my Thursday off in Paris because I was too sick to feel up to doing anything.  The most "exciting" part of my day was a younger Iranian guy chatting me up to tell me he's hoping to find an American wife so he can move to the US someday as he's a big fan of Michael Jackson.  Eventually he took the hint that I wasn't interested and moved along.

The next day I still wasn't feeling so great, but I headed out anyway.  On my way to the sites, I came across this gate dated 1839-1879, but with no other indication as to what it is.  I looked it up and learned it's all that remains of the Anhalter Bahnhof, which was a major rail station from the East before it was largely destroyed by air raids in WWII.  The fact that it sat in the West and served the East meant it ceased to be used when the city was divided.

Then I was on my way to one of the major tourist sites - Brandenburger Tor (Gate), which originated in 1791.  While it once divided Berlin, it's seen as a symbol of unity today.  The statute on top also survived both wars and is seen as lucky!
Walking along the road to the right brought me to the Holocaust Memorial.  It's designed like a maze and it was particularly moving to see flowers had been left. 
I thought I'd missed my chance to see the Reichstag view because the site showed nothing open for any of my dates, so I was then off to Potsdamer Platz for a look at the "new Berlin" and the view from the Panoramapunkt deck (in the brick building below).
The views were stunning!  Even if you get into the Reichstag, the display at the to,p (in English & German) about the history of Potsdamer Platz with old photos, was worth the visit.
After enjoying the view, I decided to head towards Checkpoint Charlie.  On my way there, I came across this lovely building - it houses a museum currently.
I then happened upon the Topography of Terror.  It is a free site that not only preserved original sections of the wall, but has a fascinating museum about Hitler's rise to power - including that it occurred partially because so many people were unhappy with the poor conditions after WWI.  Hitler was originally perceived as somebody who would bring internal peace and security, plus boost the economy.  Initially these things happened, but they were gearing up for what was to come.  Then started the slippery slope of demonizing those who couldn't work (for various reasons) as taking away from the Volk (aka People's) State.  And we all know what eventually followed.  It's important to note that Germany was a democracy before Hitler's party instituted martial law basically and had armed people present when the legislature voted itself out of existence.
Given the time spent at the Topography of Terror, I decided it was time for a break and noticed a Currywurst option.  This is a local specialty, but is basically a sausage with ketchup seasoned with curry.  The first version I had was good though!  When I went to pay, I started to wonder at the "no credit cards" thing because it came up buying the transit pass, at the deck and for lunch.  My friend, Tina, later confirmed that credit cards haven't really caught on in the area yet - be prepared to bring or get Euros!!!

After lunch, I made it to Checkpoint Charlie and found it very touristy.  The checkpoint is the original from what I understand, but I doubt we actually have military there still.  You still have a lovely "East meets West" view with McDonald's right there though.

Since I was still sick, it was time for a rest and to check if my German friend, Tina, who I met on my 2009 trip, was in town yet.  Once we met up, we headed towards Unter den Linden, which is an area with a lot of Prussian architecture remaining.  We saw this lovely building on the way - not sure what it is though. 
The Prussian style is certainly different than the common French styles I've seen.  Green and gold domes are a strong theme, as are large sculptures of men and men on horseback.
As we headed back around, there was a line for entry to the Reichstag dome, but as we stood waiting, Tina was able to get us tickets online!  They were for 9:45, which turned out to be perfect as the view is incredible at night!  There are certain moments you have traveling that will stick with you for life and lying around looking up at the stars in Berlin from the center of the Reichstag is certainly one!

Before making it there though, we wandered down to Alexander Platz, where the TV tower is located.  I will note this was all walking at this point and, by the end of the day, I had walked a record number of steps!  While this thing towers over the city, it's not until you're standing under it that you really grasp how tall it actually is!  The top design is also very Prussian.

It was close to our time for the dome tour, so we headed back.  I was only able to get this last shot of Brandenburger Tor at night though before my phone battery died!  No pictures from the dome for me :-(
As a side note while I'm thinking about it, virtually everyone in Berlin speaks decent English.  Even the people who thought I was French, due to my inability to quit using French courtesy words, switch to English because it's kind of the default second language.  It is not at all difficult to get around Berlin without knowing any German.  I barely remember any from high school and I've really only used "dänke" or thanks.

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