Saturday, June 30, 2012

Berlin - Bethlehem Kirch Platz

As we approached out hotel from the U Bahn station, we walked under this curious structure that looked like a dome of a church.


The skeleton of the church.


We came back from our feast at the Thai restaurant and looked out of our window. Obviously something was going on. There appeared to be a TV news reporter, camera man as well as a sound bloke with the mike on the big boom.


After a while a group of brass players turned up and after stopping their music blowing away in the freshening breeze, eventually began to play.


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I was expecting Simon Rattle to turn up and conduct but he must have been busy with the Berlin Philharmonic.


The red blocks represent the walls and the black blocks, the pews.

A reasonable size crowd had gathered and more kept streaming in.


Eventually a man and woman donned ecclesiastical clothes and the man came out and addressed the crowd. Since he spoke in German, I can only suspect that it was a welcome to what might have been the first service to be held there since the church was destroyed in 1943.

The woman also had her turn and the TV group kept recording it all.


Suddenly they turned on some purple strip lighting attached to the frame. It looked much more spectacular than what the photos show. 




By dusk, (10 pm)  it was quite a sight to see. The following evening it was rainy and overcast and you could not see the TV tower. They certainly picked the right night to hold their ceremony.


There are some photos on a bill board that show what the church looked like.



Berlin - some food

Those of you who have followed my blogs for a while know that I like to take photos of some of the food that we eat when we travel.


The first night in Berlin we went to a Thai restaurant just up the street from the hotel called Sisaket. I ordered the above chicken dish #138 from the menu. It was some of the best Thai food I have ever had. The coconut sauce had more texture than what I have typically had in the past. It wasn't ultra spicy, in fact I would say it was only moderately spicy.




Marianne won the prize with #157. The orange stuff is carrot. The bird was made out of a radish and we each tried a wing. The beak is probably a chili. The ground duck was interesting but very rich and filling. Even I could not have finished it.

We decided that nobody actually eats the bird but people will pluck off a wing. That bird body might be six months old. However, since it is probably fresh each time, you have to wonder how much effort goes into carving the body and the wings.



After the long walk around Berlin, we did not want to walk far to find dinner so we went to the Italien restaurant next to the hotel, La Via del Muro. It was rainy outside so I wanted something warm and hearty and ordered a Sicilian pizza. It was a thin crust so I had no trouble plowing my way through it and it was quite simple and tasty.


Marianne ordered pasta with clams. It was ok but nothing great.


Berlin prides itself on the range of restaurant types in the city. Restaurants featuring German style food are not as common as you would think. However, Berliners do love their currywurst so I decided to try some at the station as we were leaving to catch the train on the way back to Mellrichstadt. It had a very strong flavour and I quite enjoyed it.



Friday, June 29, 2012

Berlin - Hotel Gat Point Charlie

While I do most of the planning for our trips, Marianne is usually better at finding us places to stay. For our time in Berlin, she came up with the Hotel Gat Point Charlie. We found it so interesting that I decided it was worth a blog.


It is a modern building close to Checkpoint Charlie and Leipziger Strasse. It's a great location and close to the Stadtmitte U-bahn station. We were in the room on the 2nd top floor to the left of the one with the light.




The green colour in the bathroom really gets your attention.


There is a light above the bed that shows a picture.


Very simple, modern racks.


The window is one of those typical European windows that can open normally and also from the top.


Bicycles for rent just outside.


A weird arrangement of cardboard used in a window of what looked to be their wine bar.

A window right beside the lift (elevator).


All was not perfect. The free internet connection seemed to come and go. In addition, we thought 15 euros each was a bit much for breakfast so we went around the corner to a cafe that served good coffee and warm chocolate croissants.


Berlin

We arrived in Berlin  at the huge new Hauptbahnhof and found the appropriate S bahn and U bahn trains to take us to our hotel.


The hotel and the structure in front of it proved to be so interesting that I will do a separate blog for them.


Another objet d'art in the square in front of the hotel. Click on the link to read about it.




Entrance to the Ministry of Finance. Notice the bullet holes.


Marianne liked the green on the building.


There are still quite a few older buildings around with their interesting old doors.


Now this should inspire confidence.




The place where the Trabants go to sleep. Apparently you can join a tour where participants get to drive a Trabant and see Berlin.


One of the few surviving stretches of the 'wall'. This side is the former East Berlin and the other is West Berlin. The wall evolved over time. The top used to have barbed wire but the wire in fact made it easy for escapees to pull themselves over. The wire was replace by the concrete cylinder.


This double line of bricks follows the former path of the wall.


So you can park your car on top of the former wall.


Five years ago I had taken a guided walking tour of Berlin and found it was very worth while and Marianne wanted to do the same tour. Instead of taking the train to one of the meeting points, we decided to take walk along one of central Berlin's major roads, Leipziger Strasse. It was reasonably busy by 9 am when we started to walk, but not backed up with traffic.



The traditional center of Berlin lies on an island between two branches of the Spree River and this curious statue on one of the bridges caught our eye.



We were intrigued by this polished mouse and here is the story of this statue.



Some sort of wine tasting room.


Not all of the buildings in the former East Berlin are beautiful and need to be restored. Some are down right ugly and need to be demolished.


The other branch of the Schnee.


Behind these beautiful buildings beside the river is the TV tower known as the Fernsehturm. Since it is so tall (368 meters) it can be seen from many parts of the city.



There are outdoor restaurants everywhere in Berlin.



Side view of Berlin's oldest church, St Nicholas.




The front entrance is quite stark.


The bear is the Berlin mascot. 


Along with the pretzel.


This reminded me of Tambo and its teddy shop. It was a shock to go to my blog entry and remind myself of how bright the light is in Australia compared to the grey of Europe. 

Marianne and I were talking about Berlin at dinner and I mentioned that I had put the link to Tambo into the blog. Stuff has and always will happen in Berlin. Stuff has never happened and never will happen in Tambo. Where do you want to live?


Interesting water pump.



This was some sort of Asian restaurant.



Finally a clear view of the TV tower. It's interesting to read the story about half way down the wiki entry about the Pope's Revenge.


Some of the housing blocks are immense.


Public transport in Berlin is everywhere. Trams, buses, above ground trains, below ground trains. An all day ticket that is valid on all of them is a bit less than 7 euros.



We reached the Hackersher Market where the tour was supposed to begin. We bought our tickets and asked the bloke where the nearest WCs were and he directed us into a nearby restaurant. These glass panels were the doors to the mens and ladies.


As we walked out of the restaurant, I saw a postcard.


The cellar.


Pretzel statue.


The side of the Hackescher station.


The market area was a sea of restaurant tables. There seemed to be thousands of them.


Even spiffy dangling bamboo chairs.


So here was the meeting point. The tours are very good, I can recommend them.


While we waited for the tour to start, these little birds scurried around for food scraps. Unfortunately the area is also home to numerous small children who try to scam you in one way or another. They also distract you while your pocket is picked.


Our group of about twenty headed off for the hike.


After a five minute description of the older history of Berlin's origins, we walked over a bridge onto Museum Island. There was construcution everywhere, including repairs to the bridge itself so it was difficult to take photos at times. Here is the Berliner Dom.


The Spree with the Old National Gallery on the left.


In the distance is the golden dome of the New Synagogue. As with many structures in Berlin, its history is interesting.


Our guide leading us to the portico in front of the Old National Gallery. She came from Newcastle in England and was doing some form of advanced higher education. She was even better as a guide than the bloke from five years before. She had a book with photos and diagrams which she used to illustrate points of interest.





These bullet holes will give you some idea of the intensity of fighting when Berlin was taken by the Russians in 1945.


We continued on to the front of the Altes Museum (Old Museum) with the large granite basin in front of it. The basin was supposed to be inside the museum but was too big to fit through the doors.


The Dom is not all that old. It was consecrated in 1905.



Photo of one of the Hitler rallies held in front of the Altes Museum and Dom.


And peeking through the domes is the TV tower.


This curious structure is the Humboldt Box and it is on the site of the former Berlin City Palace which was damaged in WWII and demolished in 1950. From 1973 to 1976 the east Germans built the Palace of the Republic which hosted political, cultural, academic and social events. It was found that the building had an asbestos problem and was demolished in the past few years. The plan is to rebuild the old Palace with facades that copy the original. 

There won't be too much change out of a billion dollars and Marianne and I discussed whether it was worth the price. I think all of this reconstruction in the former East Germany is a public works program designed to keep the economy afloat. Tens of thousands of workmen have to be employed and this must be a huge economic engine. Tourism will eventually pay for it.




The Armory, with a host of frightening statues on top, and painted pink! The Armory is now the site of the German Historical Museum which our guide reckoned was the best museum in Berlin. 

While looking at the wiki link, I found this curious story about a failed plot to assassinate Hitler in 1943. I had never heard of it.


There are construction cranes everywhere. 


Now here is a face to inspire dread, that of Frederick the Great. Look at those eyes. He really was a great man and among other things was a composer as well.  Here is some of his flute music.


More cranes.


The sculpture 'Mother with her dead son' inside the Neue Wacher. The story of the sculpture and the woman who created it is interesting.


There is a hole in the roof directly above the sculpture. When it rains, the water falls on the sculpture and the mother appears to be crying.


Pipes like these run everywhere in Berlin. They are used to carry away ground water from building projects. Berlin is built on marshy ground so dealing with water when building foundations is a problem. The building is the Berlin State Opera which is being restored yet again.


Next to the Opera and this part of Humboldt University is a large square. It would be easy to walk by the square and just wonder why there are so many groups of people in it.


The answer is this sheet of glass where you look down into a room with empty bookcases. This is Bebelplatz where the books were burned in 1933.



The inscription from Heinrich Heine on the left is:

 "Das war ein vorspiel nur wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen" (in English: "Where they burn books, they ultimately burn people")


A curious bike designed to hold five people.


Frederick the Great statue with a background of yet more construction.


We continued down Berlin's most famous street 'Unter den Linden'.


So why does Ray put in a photo of some traffic lights? The answer is the little green man that tells you it is safe to cross. There were plans to replace him by standard symbols but a campaign was mounted by East Berliners to keep him and he is still here.


Ritzy cafe. We are definitely into high $$ territory here. 


Workmen are everywhere.



Our guide outside the Russian Embassy. Apparently the Russians made sure this massive building was the first to be erected after the end of the war.


The windows still have the hammer and sickle above them.


This was one of the 'ghost stations' before reunification. Subway trains from West Berlin passed through East Berlin but passengers were not allowed to get off at stations like this one. Armed guards made sure you stayed on the train.


The British Embassy. The Queen opened the building in 2000 and was apparently not too impressed by its beauty. The area in front of the building is blocked off with many guards apparently for security purposes.


Finally we reached the Brandenburg Gate. There is a massive square and the only older building is the  Adlon Hotel.


For some reason or other, I did not get a decent photo of the Brandenburg Gate, but I'm sure you will recognize it if you click on the link.


The guide from five years ago said that after reunification, the political leaders decided to have a bunch of world famous architects each design a building to surround the square. The height of all of the buildings had to be less than the top of the Gate. What resulted was an indifferent collection of flat stale and unprofitable facades. An opportunity wasted.

This is the French Embassy.


The US embassy. It could be a corner of Indianapolis except for the cordon of security that surrounds it.
  

Perhaps the most distinguished building houses the Starbucks.


As we left the square, we passed an entrance to the Adlon. That champers better be pretty good for $100.



Five years ago I was entranced by this monument to the Jews murdered in WWII.


View Larger Map

You can zoom in to where the green arrow is to see how large it is.



The paving inside is uneven with hills and valleys. When you get to the center, the slabs tower above you and you get brief glimpses of people. Some you see again, some you never see again. 


The city around you virtually disappears.



In the distance, the Reichstag with its new dome. The tour does not go there but it is a very popular attraction. The dome is made of glass and is designed to let people look down into the parliament chamber to see democracy at work. It also lets the politicians look up at the citizens watching them.


Interesting facades.


The pavement inside the memorial.



One of the curiosities of the tour is this parking lot about 100 yards away from the south east corner of the memorial. Thirty feet down are the remains of Hitler's Bunker. After the war, the Soviets tried to blow it up but were largely unsuccessful but after reunification it was mostly destroyed.


Diagram of the bunker.


Interesting piece of art near the bunker. It's quite large, probably 30 feet tall.


This is one of the few Nazi buildings to survive the war. It was the Ministry of Aviation, where Goering was in charge. More history of the building can be found here. This building was also the focal point of the 1953 East German Uprising. History is everywhere around here.

The traffic lights were out at the intersection and a policeman was directing traffic.



It turned out he was holding up traffic for a convoy of 'important people' on their way to 'somewhere important' at high speed. It took a while for the traffic lights to come back on and it was bedlam.


The main entrance to the building which is now the Finance Ministry.


One of the few remaining sections of the wall.


Part of the Topography of Terror on the former site of Gestapo Headquarters. 


The Gestapo Building was demolished after the war and the site remained empty. A museum has now been erected as part of the Topography of Terrors that documents what happened. 


So we eventually finished up at Checkpoint Charlie, just a couple of hundred yards from our hotel. By now we were both feeling quite tired and so we went back to our hotel rather than see the final site which we went to the following morning.



One of the few old buildings left on the East Berlin side of the wall at Checkpoint Charlie. Much of the area has been redeveloped.

It's a long tour that takes over four hours, but it is worth it. Along with a couple from the US, we were the oldest people on the tour. Marianne mentioned that she overheard a much younger couple talking about the Holocaust and how they had heard a bit about it but never realized what it really was about.