After getting settled at the Berlin Hotel, we started to walk the streets
to see what was around the hotel. A few blocks away we found
the downtown Christmas Market and the central
Right in the middle of the market was the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche
(a church bombed in WWII that was never restored). Next to this
church is a more modern church with 1000 blue tinted windows and a bell
tower. Nearby is the zoo - over 1500 different animals.
We wandered the main shopping street -
Kürfürsten-damm., walked through the Tiergarten
(Central Park) and visited the Winged Column
(Siegessäute). On our way back to the hotel we stopped on the
street when 2 young men were handing out literature. When I
asked "English?" they immediately spoke perfect
English. They were Mormons doing their obligatory 2 year
missionary duties in Berlin. Come to find out we were in front
of the local Mormon Temple. They appeared glad to be talking
That evening we had a welcome dinner in the hotel. There were 17 of us
for this part of the tour.
The next day we toured East Berlin.. The
first site was the famous Brandenburg gate
1791. Unfortunately for us, it was being restored and had a huge
"foil" screening material cover with a painted picture of
We went down the main street Unter den Linden,
lined with Linden trees, to Humboldt University, the oldest in Berlin. Across the street from the university is Bebelplatz
where the famous book
burning took place in May 1933, in front of the main library.
Also by the plaza is the Opera House and St. Hedwig's Cathedral
(Domed Church). The interesting thing about the Domed
Church is that the present day altar is on a lower level at "bomb depth" (bomb
crater was never filled in) and the worshippers are on an upper level.
The museum area was
nearby (visited on another
day) along with the former East Berlin City Hall and
a 1200 foot TV tower -
the tallest structure in Berlin.
We drove by 2 small areas where the Berlin Wall
still stands. When the rebuilding started in the early
1990s, a 2-brick wide reminder was built into the roads where the wall one stood.
Very interesting! Barriers were
constructed in the Spree River to separate East and West Berlin, and
some of those barriers still remain.
We stopped at Checkpoint Charlie (one of three ways to
enter/exit West-East Berlin). The nearby museum showed just how
inventive the escaping East Berliners were - cars with carved
out areas, makeshift hot air balloons, SCUBA gear, etc. Very
We next went to a section of East
Berlin having old apartment houses that survived the WWII
bombing. (80% of Berlin was destroyed in the war.) That
afternoon we visited the KaDeWe department store - the largest in
Europe, originally opened in 1907. They have an entire floor
with sections for different foods - fish, pasta, chicken, beef, cold
returned to the shopping district
, a short walk away, to do some
shopping and once again visit the Christmas market. The main
shopping street - Kürfürsten-damm - is 2.5 km and goes back to 1886.
next day we took a West Berlin tour visiting the Egyptian and Picasso
Museums and Charlottenberg Palace. We stopped at the
Platz to view the Sony Building - 26 stories, the tallest building in
Berlin. (Hitler's bunker was about 1-2 blocks away - there is no
monument or marker for the site.) Also drove through the Tiergarten,
past the Victory Column (again), then to the
New Bundestag and
Reichstag Buildings passing Bellevue
Palace, the Congress Hall (so-called pregnant
oyster) and Bell Tower. On a
hill overlooking Berlin was Belvedere
Palace. We walked around the grounds, it was not open to
visitors on this day.
Interesting to note that the
marked bicycle paths on the sidewalks also had small stoplights, just
like the vehicle traffic. It's good that the bicycles had their
own lane because most bikers went pretty fast.
afternoon we went to Potsdam, about a
45 minute drive from the
hotel. This vacation spot was popular in Prussian history.
It is a lake front, resort town. Formerly in East Germany, the
Russian officers confiscated the homes for residences.. When they
left in 1989, they took everything from the homes leaving them
in shambles. Very few repairs were done over the years. We
were told that the houses whose ownership could not be established were
selling for one Deutsche Mark (50 cents). Unfortunately, some new owners
went bankrupt complying with restoration rules and building
codes. The houses that were restored are beautiful. Some
are still being restored and others left to decay .
visited the Cecilienhop Castle (built at beginning of the twentieth
century) on the lakefront. It was used for the Potsdam Conference in
1945 with Truman, Churchill and Stalin. This is where the
agreement was signed for the division of postwar Europe. The
Castle has 175 rooms and our English-speaking guide was very
Also in Potsdam is the
Sans Soucci Palace of Frederick
the Great. Since we arrived after sunset we were not allowed
inside. The garden area is huge with a slopping hill.
On the way back to Berlin we stopped at a local Christmas Market in Potsdam. Our tour
guide bought us all some hot wine to warm up. Kirsten thought it
tasted and smelled like vinegar. In the market
square was another Brandenburg gate.
On our way to and
from Potsdam we crossed the
famous Glienicke Bridge where spies were exchanged during the Cold
The next day we were given all-day bus passes to
visit museum row in the former East Berlin. We spent
some extra time in the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island. We saw the
original Pergamon site in Turkey earlier in the year. The Germans
literally stripped the entire Turkish site and sent everything to
Berlin, then built this huge museum to house the artifacts. The all
marble altar of Zeus was gigantic. Definitely worth
The next museum we visited was called the
Islamic Museum. It had very impressive objects and treasures from Iran and Babylon
on display. There was a huge history museum
which we did not enter since it was being renovated. We also walked to the
Berlin Cathedral. A religious service was in progress so we briefly
looked inside at the altar. We then took the public bus to the
Reichstag building. We waited in a long line to climb up inside
the dome. We could look down through the glass and see the
legislators at "work." Same as in US - some taking a
nap, some reading the paper, and some actually working.
that day we found an Internet Cafe in the shopping district (kept
ending up there) to e-mail everyone. The cafe had 350 computers
with the flat LED screens and (if I had known) USB connections that I
could have sent some digital pictures (but didn't have the camera cable
with me). The Internet cost was the cheapest on the trip - 2DM
(about a dollar) for 49 minutes. It was a fast Internet
connection. Since we had the all-day bus pass, we decided to
ride the double-decker bus to the end of the line in former East
Berlin, then ride it back. We were lucky enough to get the first
seat on the upper deck - both ways.
Information from our tour guide: Kirsten Vögel
West Berlin house/apartment - DM 14-17 per square meter
Berlin population before WWII - 4.6 million -- after the
war 3.5 million
We asked our guide about the graffiti that was everywhere - buildings,
bus stops, even churches and government buildings. Our guide
told us it was a losing cause trying to remove it all. (This was
also a problem in other cities we visited.)
On November 29th, we left by train to
Warsaw. It was only about a 1 hour ride to the Polish border.
immigration officials came on the train to check passports then
got off at the next stop when the Polish immigration officials came on
board. Doing the same in the opposite direction made for a very
efficient operation. The German immigration officer allowed me
to take her picture, the Polish officer said no pictures. After
using hand held scanners to check our passports, we then received a
passport stamp for each country.