So I did manage to get most of the day off to take this 12hr excursion ~ thank you Akis! It was amazing in that I felt like I finally had a day off after 3 months. We got up early and took the 2.5hr bus ride into town. The tour was seeming a bit dodgy at first when the tour guide asked us what we wanted to see and he would then take us to it, but in the end, he turned out to be amazing and we definitely saw some great places. To say Berlin has incredible history is a bit of an understatement. I felt after being there, I would need to stay a week to see everything of interest. Anyways, here are some of my moments from the tour…
We came into the city and stopped at the Olympic Stadium. This was quite exciting for the ‘football’ fans in the crowd. Apparently Berlin will be hosting a final game. Interesting fact, the stadium is actually built into the ground ~ about 12 stories. So unlike other stadiums where you need to climb up to your nose bleed seats, you actually need to descend into the depths for the good seats. Just behind the stadium is an open area which Hitler had used to gather people for marching drills. Apparently this space held around 500,000 people… The area is no longer used and in my wildest dreams couldn’t imagine half a million people there.
From there we headed into town and the Brandenburg Gates. The area used to stand in ‘No Mans Land’ between East and West Berlin. People would stand on the Western side and look across to the east. There is a statue of a person yelling (unfortunately I didn’t get a photo) towards the east. This was placed there by the citizens of the west as a symbol to those living in the east that there would always be communication from the west to the east, even if it meant yelling across the gate. The Gate itself is now next to a main road and is a pedestrian area. Looking at some of the old photographs it is hard to imagine that only 15 years ago how isolated this area was.
Right next to the gate is the Reichstag ~ the German Parliament. Quite the incredible building and you will note that there is a glass dome on the top of the building. You are able to climb up the spiral stair case inside the globe. Rumour has it from another excursion goer that this dome allows light into the whole building in the form of a cone, with the point of the cone being in the House. Unfortunately you aren’t able to see just how much light this architectural wonder lets in, but the concept of bringing light to the whole building is pretty cool. Definitely somewhere to stop next time.
The Reichstag ~ not bad from a moving bus...
During the war, Switzerland was the neutral body. Adjacent to the Reichstag is their Embassy. When the city came under heavy military fire, the Swiss came out saying ‘We don’t care what you do to the Germans, nor do we care what you do to the buildings, but leave us alone.’ Miraculously enough, the area all around the embassy was bombed, but not once was there ever damage inflicted upon their embassy. Quite remarkable given the devastation that can be seen in the photos of the surrounding buildings.
Since the removal of the wall, the city is attempting to become and function as a single unit. Previously there were 2 of everything ~ train stations, opera houses, government buildings. With the new unified city they are attempting to create a single building to service the entire city. That said there will be permanent reminders of the city divided. In the place where the wall stood, there now lays cobblestone. The wall itself was only about 8 inches thick, but you are able to see all over the city where the wall ran and can imagine the divide it created. There are still some portions of the wall which are standing ~ international artists have painted murals and it is amazing to see that none of these have been defaced with graffiti. It was quite moving to see and realize that this structure contained a culture, an ideology in attempts to prevent it from spreading ~ yet despite the efforts, we as people could not be contained. I am sure if I dig further there is further meaning to this all, but that I will need to ponder.
A portion of the Berlin Wall ~ and my favourite mural
Another reminder of the differences comes in the architecture. The buildings of East Berlin are pretty much block unit apartment buildings painted ‘Industrial White’. At first it reminded me of lower income areas in major cities, but as you looked closer, you realized that the building looks the same, however the condition of the building and surrounding areas was far superior to that in low income areas. Everything was very clean and well maintained. So despite the sense that you are in a less prominent area of the city, I am not sure that this is really a true statement.
Despite the cookie cutter homes, there are some beautiful views to be had in East Berlin. Notably, the tower which is for the TV stations ~ apparently 365 ft (at least I think it was feet) ~ one for each day of the year. There are also a number of bridges in the city. Berlin apparently has more bridges than Venice. Interesting trivia fact.
After our tour we were let loose on the city for 3hrs. Unfortunately it was just enough time to get started into something, but not do it really well. The Jewish Museum would have been amazing to see. One of the Jewish security guards from the ship who came on the tour went and took his parents. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for them to come. Again, this will need to be something for the return trip.
I did however manage to get to see Checkpoint Charlie. The only place inside the city where people could cross from East to West or vice versa. There were 2 other checkpoints ~ alpha and bravo ~ which ran east to west and north to south outside of the city. Just beside Checkpoint Charlie you find a number of crosses on both sides of the street. Each cross represents someone who had perished in attempts to flee from East Berlin to the west. On some of the crosses there are photos, but on each cross is their name and age. Reading the ages (most were late teens, early 20s) you realize the sacrifices and risks people will go to in order to obtain what a number of us take for granted, in search of what they hope will be a better life.
The Crosses beside Checkpoint Charlie
With the final glimpse of the inner city, the tour bus headed out of town ~ gridlock on a Tuesday afternoon made you realize that the day to day operations of the city are just like any other. Prior to heading home, we stopped at the Beer Gardens to take in a pint. While there it started to rain and thunder. It has been a while since I heard a good storm and was pleased to hear the sounds. The waitresses ~ if you can call women who will not deliver beer in the rain waitresses ~ were quite displeased with our decision to remain outside and drink under the large umbrellas. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
Carrie and yet another beer! Does it ever stop?!?