Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation
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Day 20: Berlin
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Day 14: Lahr
Day 15: Lucerne
Day 16: Munich
Day 17: Munich
Day 18: Nurnberg
Day 19: Dresden
Day 20: Berlin
Day 21: Berlin




Mercure Hotel
Checkpoint Charlie


Very warm with a high of 26°C

Day 20: Sunday, September 24, 2006     Berlin, Germany

What Berlin Marathon?

We awoke to a beautiful sunny day and headed out early on the autobahn for Berlin.  After a couple of days of driving beside wall-to-wall large trucks, we saw a total of eight trucks on the two hour drive to Berlin.  As we entered the city from the south, we drove by a part of the Berlin Wall that is still standing - most of it has been torn down. 
Kathryn had printed off a map and directions to our hotel before we left home and we were sure we wouldn't get lost this time.  We entered the city from the south and turned left on Unter den Linden just as the instructions said, only to

Part of Berlin Wall still standing

find that we were the only car on the street.  There were people walking in the middle of the road and it was blocked off a couple of blocks ahead.  We made a U-turn and headed back the way we came.  The map looked like we could get in the direction of our hotel by going back south for one block and turning right.   When we tried to do this we discovered that the way was barricaded and there were lots of cops scattered over the road.  It seems we had hit Berlin in the middle of the

Berlin Marathon.  Luckily one of the officers spoke a little English and when we explained that we needed to get to our hotel, he moved a barricade and said we could head west for a one block until we came to a point were the road was completely blocked.  Then he said keep heading south and west in a zig zag pattern and we would get to our hotel.  We were alone on the street as we drove down Leipziger Strasse.  When we got to the point were the road was blocked, Kathryn jumped out and took the photo on the left.  We followed the cop's instructions , turning left and right and left and right and found our hotel, the Mercure Checkpoint Charlie.  The hotel was 500 m from the famous

The Berlin Marathon

Checkpoint Charlie.  We dropped off our luggage and went to return Kangoo, our rental car.  We had to drive an hour to the airport to return the car.  We had driven 2400 km since we had picked it up in Calais.  Then we jumped on the underground which took us back to within a couple of blocks of our hotel.  We picked up our luggage, check-in to the hotel and went up to our room.  This turned out to be one of the nicest rooms we stayed in on our entire trip.  The suite was larger and had two bathrooms - one for the shower and another for the commode.  

Kathryn in our Hotel Mercure room

We decided to check out the Famous Checkpoint Charlie.  We walked a block and half west along Leipziger Strasse to Freiderichstrasse.  About 50 m from the intersection the left hand side of the street consisted of a 3 m plywood wall covered with large photos and stories about the history of the division of Berlin and the Berlin wall.  As we turned and headed south on Freiderichstrasse, these plywood walls containing displays were on both sides of the street for the short block to Checkpoint Charlie.  We spent a fair amount of time reading and looking at the old black and white photos.

Checkpoint Charlie, one of the ultimate symbols of the Cold War, came to epitomize the separation between east and west. For nearly 30 years, this checkpoint represented not only a divided Germany but a world in political turmoil. Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall The Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 by the East German government. Shortly after the wall was built, President John F. Kennedy ordered the U.S. forces to build three checkpoints at different points in the wall through which diplomatic corps and allied forces could enter West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous.  Checkpoint Charlie got its name from the American alphabet. (The others were Alpha and Bravo…a, b, c).

Soviet-American tank standoff in 1961.  I took this photo of a picture on the plywood walls mentioned above

The same view looking north along Freiderich-strasse.  You can see people in the background reading the displays on the walls.

By 1962, this checkpoint was the only place at which foreigners visiting Berlin could cross from West to East and back again. Located in the Friedrichstadt neighborhood in the heart of Berlin, the checkpoint was the subject of many movies and appeared frequently in spy novels penned during the Cold War era.  In the early years, Checkpoint Charlie was the site of a few stand-offs between east and west, America and the Soviets, most notoriously in 1961 when American and Soviet tanks faced each other at the checkpoint. Both Kennedy and his Soviet nemesis Nikita Khrushchev visited the checkpoint shortly after it was erected. 

Checkpoint Charlie was removed in June of 1990, when German reunification was finally complete and nearly a year after the Wall came down. Removal was not difficult as the Americans never built any permanent structures at the site. Today, a line of bricks traces the path where the Berlin Wall once stood - see the slide show for a photo of Ken "standing on the Wall" - and visitors will find a replica of the Checkpoint Charlie booth and sign at the original site. The original booth is in the Allied Museum in Zehlendorf. Kathryn found it really interesting to see it now as she had crossed into East Berlin through Checkpoint Charlie back in the 80's when it was operational.

Ken at Checkpoint Charlie with the former East Berlin in the background

We then walked about 1 km west to Potsdamer Platz, which
is an important square and traffic intersection in the center of Berlin, Germany, lying about 1 km south of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag and close to the south east corner of the Tiergarten park.

It is named after the city of Potsdam, some 25 km to the south west, and marks the point where the old road from Potsdam passed through the city wall of Berlin at the Potsdam Gate. After developing within the space of little over a century from an intersection of rural thoroughfares into the most bustling traffic centre in Europe, it was totally laid waste during World War II and then left desolate during the Cold War era when the Berlin Wall bisected its former location.  Since the fall of the Wall it has risen again as a glittering new heart for the city and the most visible symbol of the new Berlin.

Potsdamer Platz with the Sony Center in the middle of the photo

The most important project in Potsdamer Platz's resurrection is the Sony Center, an ensemble dominated by glass and steel and consisting of seven individual buildings. It includes offices, apartments, cinemas, restaurants, a "Filmhaus" and the Sony European headquarters.  The central feature in the triangular development is the oval "Forum" which is designed as a public area and is therefore not separated from the surrounding streets. The roof construction is a spectacular engineering feat: the outstretched tent roof consists of a length of material fastened to a steel ring which is attached to the neighbouring buildings. The most striking element is the glass tower block, the tallest building on Potsdamer Platz at 103 metres. It completes the Sony Centre on Potsdamer Platz in that the semi-circular southern facade overlaps the narrower eastern side progressively as it moves upwards.
For more info and pre and post-war photos of Potsdamer Platz, visit http://www.essential-architecture.com/G-BER/BER-016.htm.

Kathryn in the Forum at the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz

We then walked another km to the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate).  Right on the border between East and West Berlin at the Pariser Platz, the Brandenburg Gate was the symbol of the city's divide. Since the fall of the wall, it has become the symbol of a reunified Berlin. The desolate area that Pariser Platz was during the cold war, is now completely redeveloped and has regained much of its 19th century grandeur. It was constructed between 1778 and 1791.  The quadriga of victory crowning the gate was built in 1793 by Johann Gottfried Schadow. Originally it was a symbol of peace. During Berlin's occupation by France, in 1806 Napoleon ordered the quadriga to be taken to Paris. After the Battle of Waterloo, the quadriga was triumphantly taken back to Berlin, and it was turned into a symbol of victory.  Situated at the end of Unter den Linden, the 60m tall gate was part

of a wall surrounding the city and was the main entrance to the city. It is the only gate that remains of this former city wall. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 which was built right next to the Brandenburger Tor, the Pariser Platz, on the East-Berlin side, became completely desolate. The gate symbolized Germany's division. With the fall of the wall in 1989, people flocked to the reopened Brandenburg Gate to celebrate.  I took several photos of this famous gate from both sides.  My photos on this day were taken in the setting sun so we returned the next day to take some in daylight.

Brandenburg Gate taken from the "East Berlin" side

It was just a short walk north to the River Spree and the Reichstag, the seat of the German Parliament, is one of Berlin's most historical landmarks. It is close to the Brandenburger Tor and before the unification, it was right next to the wall.  After the founding of the German Empire in 1872, there was a need for a large parliamentary building in Berlin. It was constructed between 1884 and 1894, mainly funded with wartime reparation money from France. The famous inscription 'Dem Deutschen Volke' (To the German People) was only added in 1916.  In 1933 fire broke out in the building, destroying much of the Reichstag. It is to date still unclear who started the fire, but the Communists were blamed. It gave a boost to Hitler's Party, the NSDAP, who would soon come to power. The building was even further damaged at the end of the war, when the Soviets entered Berlin. The picture of a Red Army Soldier raising the Soviet flag on the Reichstag is one of the most famous 20th century images and symbolized Germany's defeat.  After the unification the decision

was made to move the Bundestag from Bonn back to Berlin. This decision resulted in the latest reconstruction which started in 1995 and was completed in 1999. The design by Sir Norman Foster added a glass dome over the plenary hall. At first the subject of much controversy, the dome has become one of the city's most recognized landmarks. Since April 1999, the Reichstag is once again the seat of the Bundestag. You can visit the Reichstag and walk all the way to the top of the dome although, given the state of Ken's knees, we decided against this.

The Reichstag

We then walked back to Potsdamer Platz.  Along the way we noticed the building at left which was under construction.  If you click on it you will see a larger version.  At first it looks like the building has been draped with a tarp advertising a car.  If you look closer you will see that the building itself has been painted on the tarp - those store front windows have just been painted on.  We saw several of these tarps on buildings under construction in Berlin and they looked very realistic. 

Tarp covered building under construction

When we arrived back at the Sony Center, it was packed.  We finally managed to find a table at
Corroboree, an Australian restaurant.  We had an excellent red curry Thai dish and Kenny had a Newcastle beer.  We then walked the km back to the hotel.  We checked our email and sent out messages from the computer in the lobby.  Ken had a Markischer Landmann beer - it was very good - at the lobby bar and then we went off to bed.

A three-photo panorama of half of the interior of the plaza at the Sony Centre.  It had an Imax, several restaurants and a huge screen which played commercials and short films.  Click here for a larger view.

Ken's Own Berlin Marathon

It has been mentioned before that Ken had knee surgery six months before we left.  The surgery had been a success but the photos had revealed that both knees were arthritic and the orthopedic surgeon told Ken he would need knee replacement surgery in the future.  Ken had taken prescription medication for two months after the surgery and they worked wonders.  They did however have several side effects such as drowsiness.  The most serious side effect was that it caused diarrhea for the first few days.  Ken had stopped the medication after two months but had one month's supply remaining on his prescription and had brought it along just in case.  As you have read his knees had bother him several times by this point in the trip and he decided to start taking the pills the day before in Dresden.  This meant there were several occasions today when Ken had to sprint to find a washroom.  A couple of days and things should be better.

Click here for a slide show of Day 20 photos.

Day 21

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