September 22 (continued)
Sunday afternoon, after a rest in the hotel, we asked our concierge for a place to eat “good German food.” She sent us to the Lowenbrau restaurant, of the beer by the same name. It was a lively place, filled with both tourists and locals. No private tables, seating was family style. By chance or on purpose we were seated with two other Americans, two young people from California. The food was hearty! We ordered a sampler, which included, among other typical things like pork cutlets and sausages, a pork knuckle. It was one of those super slow cooked items, where the meat is so tender it falls apart when touched. It was delicious, and by far our favorite.
Sunday was also election day, so on the TV in the restaurant the election returns were coming in. Angela Merkel was leading and predicted to win, even though she would have to form a coalition government. It has been interesting, especially for Gerry who is used to the Puerto Rican style of electioneering, to note that there were no demonstrations, no cars driving around the city blowing their horns and waving party flags. The whole thing had been conducted in a very low key manner. We didn’t even see evidence of polling places! A few posters on the light posts, maybe a billboard or two were really the only evidence that an election was being held. Angela Merkel was indeed elected to her third term as chancellor.
After dinner we went out to take night pictures. We started out at Potsdammer Platz, a spot we hit on our first night here but were too hungry and too tired to appreciate. This time we walked around the area, first stopping to look at the walk of fame, the Berlin version of the starred walk of TV and movie stars. There were a few familiar names, of German stars who made it big in Hollywood too, like Marlene Dietrich, but most names were unknown to us. Interestingly, if you squinched your eyes to just a slit and looked at the stars in the pavement, you could see a ghost of the star (the person) standing on his or her star! Really! (No, just kidding. There were these holographic monoculars that you could look through to see the image. A neat touch! And, as you can see, they worked for cameras too!)
The fantastic lights of the Sony Center were beckoning. In we went, to an unbelievable fantasy. The Sony center is a series of buildings united by a common courtyard and covered by a roof of fabric and steel. Inside the courtyard (and we are talking about a very large space) there are restaurants and shops, a huge fountain and lots of people and lights. It is really amazing. The roof changes color continuously (after dark). The lights of the stores and restaurants too are all reflected by the water. Very, very cool!
From there, we walked up to the Brandenberg Gate, to the Reichstag and finally to our train station. Berlin is definitely a place to enjoy at night. I just wish you warmer weather!
Today is Monday. Most museums and sights are closed today. Hoping to find the Reichstag open, we head over there. It is open…and we can go get tickets for two to three weeks from now. Yes, the guidebook did say to book the visit online well ahead of our trip. Forewarned is forearmed, as my mother used to say. It would also appear that if you book to visit it with a tour, your chances of seeing it on your trip are higher.
No matter. We had visited it the night before and taken night pictures, so it felt a little as if this attempt was half-hearted anyway.
From there we walked just a short couple of blocks back to the Brandenburger Tor, but this time intent to visit the DZ Bank building in Pariser Platz. Along the way, we stopped to look at the memorial to all the Sinta and Roma people (“gypsies”) who were murdered by the Nazis. Like the Jews, entire families were sent to the gas chambers. The final tally of the dead was a half a million people. The memorial is a simple round pool of water, surrounded by paving stones that bear the names of the concentration camps. It is a very quiet, reflective place. (Somehow, this does not make us any warmer to the gypsies that accost us in nearly all the tourist venues.)
We arrived at the DZ Bank, walking through the square in front of the Brandenburg gate, filled with people, exactly as we have always found it. Remember we couldn’t visit the bank last Friday because we got there after 6:00 PM? We’ll we won’t get to see it today either. In fact, we won’t get to see it at all. It is closed for construction work for the rest of the week.
Two strikes! Will we get a third? Fortunately not.
We decided to walk down to visit Checkpoint Charlie, but first an outdoor exhibit in the Pariser Platz caught our eye. “Diversity Destroyed” it is called, and it is part of a whole series of outdoor exhibits during 2013, the 80th anniversary of the Nazis’ rise to power, and the 75th anniversary of Christalnacht. This portion of the exhibit focused on the events at the beginning of the Nazi regime, when Jews were still being forced to leave Germany, deprived of their livelihoods and harassed on the streets. The day is beginning to have a Second World War theme, which will play out.
Before the actual Checkpoint Charlie (which is set up in the middle of the street for picture taking), there is a block-long exhibit about this Point and its place in history. It is very interesting. The pushing and shoving of the superpowers of the time (the US and the USSR) took place right here. The exhibit includes lots of pictures from the time, so you can see how the checkpoint was enlarged to accommodate 10 lanes of traffic. You also see some of the ways that people tried to get through to West Berlin and freedom. The exhibit includes diagrams and pictures of the building and “perfecting” of the wall.
Hoping to get to sit down for a while, we headed to Kurfurstendamm to see “The Story of Berlin”. Not the multi-media show I had hoped for, this is a multi-media exhibition. I attempted to read the early parts of Berlin’s history, but the multi-media included the text written on glass panels, in varying sizes, including microscopic. Dim lighting and dark pictures behind the glass, all contributed to making the panels exceedingly hard to read. The chronology was also crooked, jumping forward and backward even on the same panel. But that was just in the timeline portion. Once we were up to the early 1900’s the exhibit style changed.
I find it so interesting, that I have seen almost no mention of World War I since I have been in Berlin. The first reference I saw referred to it as “the German Revolution”. Here, at least, was an exhibit about the dead of Verdun, and a mention that the victorious allies forced Germany to take sole responsibility for the war. That was it.
The advent of Hitler into power and all the ensuing events are covered quite well. Still multi-media, but now much more graphic, and encompassing whole rooms. Here you get a physical sense of history, as well as the intellectual sense (reading the labels). It was here that I found the explanation for the glass window in the ground at Bebelplatz with the empty bookcases. I can see how this type of exhibit would be popular with students, and we saw lots and lots of groups here.
Gerry was way ahead of me and got to do a tour of a 1970s bomb shelter. It had been built underneath the shopping center where the museum is and could house 2,000 people for two weeks.
Following the museum visit, we walked on Kurfurstendamm, Berlin’s premier shopping street, very much like the Champs Elysees. At the beginning is a large square, Breitsheidplatz, and we took the time to just sit and enjoy the afternoon’s hustle and bustle. We have been amazed at the hordes of young people. You see them everywhere! Huge groups – mostly seeming like class field trips as there seem to be some adult members in the hordes. It is also funny to me, like teenagers everywhere, they all dress the same: All the girls wear skinny jeans and canvas tennis shoes. All the boys wear regular jeans and canvas tennis shoes. No exaggeration! All of them!
Here in the Breitsheidplatz there is an interesting memorial to the war. The tower of an old church rises above the modern constructions that surround it. The tower has part of the roof blown off so it looks like there is a hole, and we hear that Berliners call it the “hollow tooth.”. Because we didn’t go in, I don’t know whether there is truly a hole or it is just made to look that way at the top. From the guidebook, I saw that there is a church to visit inside, so maybe more of the ruins are extant than it seems from the outside. This tower was set up this way as a reminder of the horrors of war.
After killing time, just relaxing in the platz and enjoying the people watching we set off in search of an early dinner, before returning to our hotel. Our first choice turned out to be too fancy for our mood, and so we ended up at our second Thai restaurant of the trip. A good, hot (spicy, too) dinner, and home we went.
Tuesday, September 24th
Tuesday, we made a decision to go to Potsdam. It was neither the best nor the worst decision of this trip, but it was pretty close to the bottom. We wanted to wait for a nice day, but worried that if we waited we wouldn’t get there at all, we just decided to go on Tuesday based upon a weather report that said it would be partly cloudy in the afternoon. Can you believe it rained all day? Believe it!
The day was filled with other indications that we really should have waited…the train we wanted to take wasn’t running on Tuesday. It seemed odd, but there was another way to get there, on a slower train so we took that. Well the slow train stopped well ahead of the station we wanted to get off, and declared that the line was closed from there on. Odd again, but what do we know. So we get on a tram and ride through town, unable to see a thing out the windows because everything is all steamed up. A man on the tram tells us when to get off…even though we don’t have the slightest idea where to go once we do. So we follow a group. The group seems to know where it is going, and I am just crossing my finders that it will take us to Sans Souci, the palace we have come to Potsdam to see.
We’re getting closer! We are in the gardens of Sans Souci, and for 2 euros, a young fellow gives us a map and tells us how to get to the palace. All well and good, except it is raining. But being intrepid travelers, the rain is like nothing to us and we trudge through the park, until we see the palace before us up on a hill. The hill has a giant staircase that comes down to a magnificent fountain at the base. To either side of the stairs there are walls with trellises upon which grow fruits of all kinds. On the flat sections, grapes are planted. It is so organized and beautiful, that I wish it weren’t raining!
At the top, we walk around the palace until we get to the ticket office where we buy the special ticket to see everything. Everything that is, except the Neues Schloss, the New Palace. Our timed ticket has us entering Sans Souci at 12:20pm, so we have about 45 minutes to kill and use it to visit the kitchen and the wine cellars. Significant about the kitchen is how immense it is – and how many people food had to be prepared for. Fire was a peril in the early days, but with the purchase of a “cooking machine” (a stove, with built in ovens, burners, plate warmers and rotisserie) the palace was the most up to date kitchen of its time.
The wine cellars were heavily used by the courts that stayed here. The local production (from the vineyards we saw outside was certainly not enough to satisfy demand. Currently, some of the most important wine makers in the world have bottles stored in the wine cellars of this palace.
When finally it was our turn to enter the palace, we were given an audio guide and ushered from room to room. There weren’t many rooms to see but the rooms we saw were wonderful. Rococo is not a style I would have said I liked, but this version of Rococo was intricate and detailed to an extent that the gaudiness of all that gold took a backstage.
Our visit pretty much kept up that pattern for the rest of the day: Go out in the rain, go see some palace rooms, go back out in the rain, go to see more palace rooms. The gardens around the palaces are spectacular, according to everything we’ve read and heard. But we could not enjoy them in the weather we had. We did certainly enjoy all the rooms we saw. I hope you can enjoy this gallery of pictures. Just click on one of them to open the gallery, and then you can scroll through them all.
We had lunch in Potsdam, right next to the palace grounds in a place called Moevenpick. It was really good, and we sat in a glassed in, palm courtyard, which was quite cheerful on our gloomy day.
Finally, in the late afternoon, as we prepared for the journey back to Berlin, we discovered that our morning’s travails were caused by the discovery of a bomb. Not a terrorist bomb – a unexploded WWII bomb and a Russian grenade! Once they had been safely detonated, all the trains got back to normal and our trip home was without further incident, the bus taking us to the train and the train taking us home.
Back at the hotel, tired, cold and wet after a long day in the rain, we opted to get an internet card and stay in for the evening. Internet reception was bad in our room, so we went down to the bar, and I updated “Jetsy” over a glass of wine. We also ate in the hotel…the only people in the dining room. Our food was okay, and really, we were so thankful not to have to go back outside in the rain, anything would have been edible!