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 Friday 16th December 2011 Edinburger to Berlin Schönefeld via Köln/Bonn 
  

Louisa's PlaceOff to Berlin we dropped the Range Rover off at the fastTRACK priority parking at Edinburger Airport before spending a couple hours over croissants for breakfast, shopping and having a nice man in Dixons Travel explaining the finer points of digital camera memory card speeds to me.

 

Two flights later we were in Berlin and taxiing to Hotel Louisa's Place on Kurfürstendamm.  And when I say taxiing, I do mean in a cab, not the plane.  The Husband had booked a Grand Suite, which we found means many rooms and two balconies.  There was an open-plan kitchen area with cooker, fridge, sink etc.  Too much suite to fully appreciate to be honest.  Louisa could easily have made three separate good sized hotel rooms out of the space allocated to this one Grand Suite.

 

We dropped off the suitcases and went for dinner.  Close to the Louisa's hotel is a great little cafe/bar/restaurant/lounge called Graffiti.  Food, decor, atmosphere, clientele, staff, all very lovely.

 

The Husband was just amazed at the prices.  All very back to normal compared to our last outing in Norway.

  

  
 Saturday 17th December 2011 Day 1 Berlin tourist stuff
  
 We've got two full days to get round the tourist sites so reckon we'll do as many of the main ones as we can fit in before it gets too dark today.

mulled wine with added JesusWe start off with heading to The Schloss Charlottenburg because it's reasonably close to the hotel but up there, and not in the easterly direction of all the other main sites we want to go see.  This also means we can check out where The Deutsche Oper is for our Saturday night out because it too is up there, in that more northern type way, a wee bit before the Schloss.

So first up we locate The Deutsche Oper.  And a very modern building it turns out to be, with a great big modern sculpture on the pavement out front.  We decide we'll need a taxi to go to the Barber Of Seville performance that evening.  It's very cold in Berlin at this time of year and the theatre turned out to be just a bit too far from the hotel to walk, not in the heels I'd be wearing anyway.

On up a bit and turn west and there's the Schloss.  On the way there we spot a big impressive building, turns out to be The Berlin Town Hall.

When we reach the Schloss I'm a little disappointed to find this Christmas Market thing in the way of a good photo opportunity.  There's all these Christmas market stalls and Christmas Market type people milling around, but to add insult to photo opportunity injury, the Market isn't open and active.  We guess this is because German shops don't do full-on business of a Saturday morning.

I take a photo of this impressive wooden...thing.  I say 'thing' because I can't translate the writing.

Back home I Google Translate it, it's an outdoor alcohol bar, how very religious child-friendly Christian Jesus Christmasy...I can't believe it either.  "Deutsche Winzerglühwein" translates as "German vintners mulled wine"...with added nativity detail.

We walk through the market to get more up close to the Schloss, it does look very majestic.  A couple of women approach me and ask me to take a photo of them out front of the Schloss.  They're Scottish, which surprised and pleased me, and I do, I even notice my shadow and alter my photo-taking position to improve their picture.

By this time The Husband is totally and thoroughly pissed off with walking, he hails a taxi.
   
 Within mere minutes we're at The Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor).  Oh my, we ARE in Berlin.  It's so impressive and brings with it all the history, and the pain of so much human suffering I'm aware of even from my limited knowledge of European modern history. 
   
That history hit is embroiled in your brain with the terrible Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall) erected in the '60s, and the people that suffered.  And the JFK speech a few months before I was born in 1963, and Ronald Reagan's challenge to Mikhail Gorbachev in June '87 to 'tear down this wall'.  Then the major change and joy of the Berlin Wall being destroyed, ripped down, and sold off in minute sections to tourists, even to this day.  That's capitalism for you.

In all the tourist outlets of Berlin there's little bits of wall on sale, all seem to be from the highly colourful graffitied sections.  And this, 22 years after the fall, which is officially regarded to have been on the 9th November 1989.

Steiff bear makes us think we should take it home to The MumI can't believe there's so many bits of it still available to supply tourist gift shops.  On the way home at the airport, there was the usual shelf of little packets of pink and blue and yellow Berliner Mauer bits on sale.  I asked the lady working there, suggested they couldn't still now honestly, after all these years, be genuine.  She gestured and spoke in limited English, indicating Germany is huge, the wall through the entire length of the East/West Germany divide was very long, all these bits on sale to tourists are real, from the German Wall.  Ahhh, I can just about get my head round that, maybe, it's not all Berlin Wall, it's German Wall.

From the west side of The Brandenburg Gate we walked through to the old east side.  And on the Unter Den Linden boulevard stopped off at Café Einstein.  At the counter I picked Apfelstrudel, a heavenly Apple strudel, served warm with vanilla sauce.  I think I got lucky and quite by accident chose the best they could possibly have to offer.  I wanted to do full-on German food.

From there we walked past a massive Steiff bear, which obviously had me thinking of The Mum and could we fit it in a suitcase if we got away with nicking it, we decided no, it's very popular with tourists, they were watching, so we carried on bearless towards Wilhelmstrasse.
   
On we walked past what we quickly realised, due to the Union Jack, had to be The British Embassy building.  Very nice it is too, with the turquoise and lilac bits...though the colour scheme did bring back horrendous memories of The Starry Towers living-room decor circa 1988 or thereabouts, shudder.
 Georg Elser monument
Wilhelmstrasse or Wilhelmstraße is a street that, from my reading before going to Berlin, I knew we had to walk. This was the area with the New Reich Chancellery and other such important Nazi buildings.  Most of the buildings were bombed out of existence at the end of WWII, with new buildings replacing, but a significantly important place to be.  We chanced upon the site that I believe marks the street front of the previous site of the Hitlerite Neue Reichskanzle, Hitler's New Reich Chancellery, and therefore, the Hitler bunker.

I appreciate the infamous bunker must have been somewhere back there behind, and obviously, under the street front.  But looking up at the Georg Elser monument on Wilhelmstrasse was close enough for me.

Johann Georg Elser was a brave German opponent of the Nazis and only just failed to assassinate Hitler on 8th November 1939.

It was apparently a matter of weather that prevented Georg from succeeding.  Hitler was due to fly back to Berlin after making a speech at the Bürgerbraukeller, a large Munich beer hall, but decided to take the train instead of flying, which meant finishing his speech 13 minutes earlier than previously planned.  The bomb exploded exactly as planned at 21.20.

It's a very moving story which you can read here.  Personally, when I read it, I was gutted, he missed him by 13 minutes because of fog.


I only wanted to stop the warThe Nazi's got him, interred him in a concentration camp awaiting trial, planned to make a big show and war propaganda trial of it all, making fictitious Allied Forces conspiracy connections.  They were too busy with WWII and didn't get round to his trial, so the Nazis high command ordered him shot.  Elser was killed by gunshot on 9th April 1945, in the Dachau concentration camp, just a few weeks before the war ended.

"Ich hab den krieg verhindern wollen", he only wanted to prevent the bloodshed of WWII. 

This is a German 2003 commemorative stamp in Elser's memory.

It's enough to make you cry, this extraordinary, conscientious and brave man so very nearly changed history because he predicted what lay ahead

If I came away from my Berlin trip with only one memory, one piece of information, one new to me type knowledge, this Georg Elser story is the important stuff.  It took nearly 50 years for me to become aware of him, I won't ever forget him.
  
 At #97 the only surviving major building from the Nazi era on Wilhelmstrasse is now The German Finance Ministry.  During the Nazi era this building was the Reichsluftfahrtministerium or Aviation Ministry building and the HQ of Hermann Göring.  Built in 1933-35 by the architect Ernst Sagebiel with a stone facade and an extremely stable steal and concrete construction, which helped it survive the Allied bombings during WWII.

On 7th October 1949, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) was founded in the building’s festival room and celebrated by Max Lingner’s Aufbau der Republik, his 1950 Meissen tile mural featured in the reception area of the building.

the mural and the photo on the ground memorials
On the ground in front of the mural is artist Wolfgang Rueppel's 2000 memorial to the quashed worker's uprising of 17 June 1953, commemorating the suffering under the East German communist dictatorship.

Demonstrators participating in the GDR uprising marched on the building, at the time it was the seat of several GDR ministries.  The work of art on the ground is the exact same size as the Lingner mural, at approx 400 x 2500 cm.  After the fall of the Wall and up until 1994, the building was used by the Treuhand, the organization which denationalized and administered the former GDR’s state-owned industries.
 Further along  Wilhelmstrasse and we were at Die Welt, the World's Largest Tethered Balloon, which is next to the Trabi-Safari place and a Currywurst stand, Curry at the Wall.  I'd already read about the spicy curried sausage Currywurst, the famous Berlin snack food and knew it's a Berlin must-do.  We had ours at Curry at the Wall on the old east side, across the street from our first sighting of a portion of preserved Berlin Wall.
  
 August Landmesser refusing to salute
On the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Niederkirchnerstraße this portion of Berlin Wall is now next to The Topographie Des Terrors.

This is the site of what was, from 1933 to 1945, the headquarters of the Gestapo.  After 1939 it was the site of the Reich Security Main Office, the SS High Command and the Security Service of the SS High Command.  The exhibition centre there now documents the history of this place as the control centre of the National Socialist program of persecution and annihilation.  We wandered around the exhibition building and pretty chilling it is too with many images of people being murdered, shot or hung.


I was particularly moved by a photograph of a huge crowd of ordinary Germans at some sort of rally, all doing what they had to whether they wanted to or not, all performing the Heil Hitler salute, bar one.

In the middle of the crowd is one lone dissenter with his arms firmly crossed over his chest.  This brave man is believed to be August Landmesser, a German ship yard worker in love with with his wife, a Jew.
  
Leaving the Topographie des Terrors we walked up to the street.  The first building we see on Niederkirchnerstraße is the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall, built in 1881 by Martin Gropius and Heino Schmieden as a Museum of Decorative Arts.  This building survived WWII and has since been restored, The Husband points out bullet damage on the wall facing us.  At the front of the building there's more evidence of war damage, especially to the two statues on either side, leading up the stairs to the front entrance.

Opposite on Niederkirchnerstraße is the Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin, from 1899 until 1933 seat of the Preußischer Landtag, the second chamber of the Prussian parliament.  On 1st January 1919 the Communist Party of Germany was founded in this building.  Since 29th April 1993 it has housed the parliament of the Berlin city state.
  
 We walked along towards Potsdamer Platz, a hugely historically important place, and once the busiest traffic intersection in Europe.  I noted the 26 storey high Bahn Tower, also known as the DB Building finished in 2000, is at 103 metres, the 6th tallest building in Berlin.  It's called the Bahn Tower, named for the Deutsche Bahn AG because it houses the headquarters of the German state railway system.

Another Christmas Market is set up here at Potsdamer Platz, the usual stuff and a more adventurous fake snow sledging hillside.

We passed through the Sony Center with it's impressive roof and along Lennéstraße taking note of the memorial to Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781), a prominent poet and playwrite of the German Enlightenment, in the extreme southeast of the Tiergarten.
  
 monument to homosexuals under Nazi ruleThe next memorial we spotted, on Ebertstraße looks not unlike a hunters shooting hide.  This concrete skewed cube, opened on 27th May 2008, is the Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin.

Inside if you look through the little window there's a short film of two same sex people kissing.  The film changes every two years between men and women.  From the outside it looks like a claustrophobic bleak prison cell, which would perhaps be the symbolism the designers, artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, wished to achieve, why it had to be bent I don't know, a piece of symbolism too far?

I don't like it, if I was a lesbian or gay man persecuted by Nazis in Berlin I'd be most dissatisfied with this ugly block of cement.  Click on the photo to see the English version of the memorial explanation signboard.
  
 
More blocks of cement across the strasse.  This is The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, also known as the Holocaust Memorial (Holocaust-Mahnmal)designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold.  It sits on a 19,000 square metres (4.7 acres) and consists of 2711 concrete blocks arranged in a grid pattern.  The blocks are 2.38m long, 0.95m wide and vary in height from 0.2 to 4.8m.

It cost approximately 25 million and according to Eisenman's project text, it is designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.  Children of course climb on the blocks, and there's something comforting in seeing this, little innocents too young to understand, what I found less sweet and far less acceptable were the adults climbing on the blocks and posing, seeing this as a photo opportunity.  I hope they behave better if they ever visit a concentration camp.

  
 It's a very short walk past the Jewish Memorial till we're back at The Brandenburg Gate, past the gate staying on Ebertstraße till we turn onto Scheidemannstraße and there's Friedrich-Ebert-Platz and The Reichstag.

If you intend to visit The Reichstag be aware that to enter the building and experience the roof terrace and dome you must register at the German Bundestag website with the names and DOBs of every member of your party.  We didn't know this before we went so couldn't go in, I was a tad disappointed bout that.
  
 This is the point, approximately 3pm, where I get ill.  The Husband is visiting the little boys room at a tourist shop across from The Reichstag and as I described on my blog I became rather unwell rather fast.  Sweat, nausea, abdominal pains, I won't go in to detail here.  It was taxi back to the hotel and a bed/loo relationship till the following morning.  And this is the point of the biggest Berlin dissy, too ill to go to the theatre.  Tickets to The Barber of Seville pre-purchased prior to the weekend, gone to waste, the waste of money, the two empty seats.  Too sick, too sad.
  
 
  
 Sunday 18th December 2011 Day 2 Berlin Tourist Stuff
  
 After a slow morning (illness lingering) we decided a hire car was required as I wasn't up to walking any great distance, and The Husband never is.  We took a taxi down to Berlin Central Station and got hooked up with a big Audi.
  
 First off we headed towards The Berliner Fernsehturm, for a closer view of not only Berlin's, but Germany's tallest.  It's a television tower and at 368 meters it's the fourth tallest freestanding structure in Europe after three other television towers.  It's also got the prerequisite visitor platform and revolving restaurant.  Maybe it's because we recently done the Trondheim version for dinner, and we only had two days, but we didn't get round to going up this one, maybe next time.
  
 We stopped off and I had a wander round looking at Berlin Cathedral, the Altes Museum and the temporary museum The Humboldt Box, which was opened on 29th June 2011 and expected to be removed in 2019.  It's an interesting 28 metre (92 ft) high of silver-blue metal multiple-storey hexagonal structure, it does grab your attention.

And it would have got a lot more of my attention if I hadn't been accosted by a head-scarf wearing eastern European gypsy beggar woman.  Strange thing was she was in Berlin and approaching people asking if they spoke English.  I became aware of her just as she'd been brushed off by a couple, I answered honestly that I did speak English, I didn't realise what I was getting into at the time.  My human instinct was to assist a fellow human in distress.  Within seconds I realised what I'd done, soon as I said I spoke English she produced cards written in English.  The cards told me stuff like she was poor, she had a sick child, she needed medications, she was from an eastern European country, I don't recall which one.  All the time she was pushing the cards in my face she was pleading and whining, please, bambino, sick, please, please.  How utterly embarrassing and quite frankly, annoying.  I wanted to tell her I'm aware of the begging gang scam, but she wouldn't want to hear it even if she could speak English.  It's a real downer being harassed by beggars.
  
 The Husband arrived to save me, waving from the Audi, onwards to Sraße des 17. Juni as I wanted a closer look at the Siegessäule, the Berlin Victory Column at the centre of the Grosser Stern or 'great star' in the Tiergarten park.  The bronze sculpture of Victoria was designed by Friedrich Drakeis, is 8.3 metres high and weighs in at 35 tonne. Berliners call the statue Goldelse, meaning something like 'Golden Lizzy'.  I'm amazed at just how shiny gold she is, very very, for a bronze, she looks gold-plated.

Nearby there's the Otto von Bismarck memorial and the Statue of Albrecht Graf von Roon.  Prussian heroes I knew nought of before now.

From there it was back in the Audi and over to visit Checkpoint Charlie, we stopped off for the taking of photies before driving through the checkpoint from east to west, we'd escaped!  Or rather, if this was the 1960s...we escaped!  It's all gone very tourist attraction tasteless at Checkpoint C.

The remains of the Berlin Wall are few and far between and being no aficionados of the historic wall, we may have missed bits on our travels.  We found one impressive stretch by accident as we drove along Bernauer Straße.

On Unter den Linden I spot the Neue Wache (New Guard House) War Memorial, without knowing what it is at the time, but it looks good.  Back home I find that the Neue Wache, a leading example of German neoclassicismwas, was built in 1816.  Designed by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel as a guardhouse for the troops of the Crown Prince of Prussia, it served this purpose till the end of World War I and the fall of the German monarchy in 1918.  Since 1931 it has been used as a war memorial.  Over the years the individuals being memorialised has changed.  Currently, and since it was re-re-rededicated in 1993, it serves as the "Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Tyranny".
  
 On now to the Olympiastadion (Olympic Stadium)on, not surprisingly, Olympischer Platz.  Now the home stadium of Hertha Berlin football team,  much sport history has been created here.  The FIFA 2006 World Cup, but more importantly the four gold medals won by Jesse Owens at the 1936 Summer Olympics, much to the annoyance of Hitler and his ideas of Aryan supremacy.

It's getting dark already by the time we head back towards the centre of Berlin for a look at the Brandenburg Gate lit up at night.  We stop off at Austrian restaurant Tiroler Bauernstuben for, well in my still slightly sickly state I want scrambled eggs on toast, but given that that's not going to be on the menu I have a hankering for chips.  I have a plate of fries and a bowl of pumpkin soup.  The man with the non-ill iron constitution has a meaty strudel.  It's a good enough eatery though they do have a giant fish tank.  I can't be doing with looking at living swimming creatures while I'm eating, viewing fish and consuming food are two very separate activities in my opinion.  I've never understood the thinking behind mixing the two up either, it should be one or the other.  Happily I'm seated with my back to the tank and quickly stop thinking about it.

Then it was off for our last drive around Berlin at night and that view of the gate.
  
  
 
 
   
 Monday 19th December 2011  homeward bound 
   
 We're up exceptionaly early next morning, actually it's more during the night than morning.  We check out at 0400 hrs and head to the airport.  Looking for the car hire return place we locate the right area but the kiosk is shut and empty and we don't see the key return slot.  Just then a man arrives in a car with no identification and tells us we give the keys to him.  Turns out this was the proper thing to do, the man was genuine, but it seems like a good idea for a crooked thieving scam type thing. 
   
 A couple of flights with German Wings and we're back in the room 
   
  
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