Berlin, Germany

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Map of Germany
Christmas Market
Bombed Church
Winged Column
Brandenburg Gate
Bebelplatz
St. Hedwig's Church
Berlin tour guide
Museum models
History Museum
Pergamon Museum

Museum Restoration
Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Wall
Check Point Charlie
Shopping

Bellevue Palace
Tiergarten
Charlottenburg Palace
Reichstag
Bundestag
Potsdamer Platz
Berlin Streets
Peoples' Court
City Hall
Potsdam
Cecilienhof Castle
Sans Souci Palace
Potsdam Market
Train to Warsaw
German Immigration




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 shopping district.  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 with Americans.  

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 built in 1791.  Unfortunately for us, it was being restored and had a huge "foil" screening material cover with a painted picture of the gate.

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 interesting exhibit.

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 cuts/sandwiches, salads.  

We then 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.

The next day we took a West Berlin tour visiting the Egyptian and Picasso Museums and Charlottenberg Palace.  We stopped at the Potsdamer 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. 

That 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 .

In Potsdam we 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 informative.

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 War.

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 seeing.

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.

Later 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.  German 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.

On to Warsaw