Day 20: Sunday, September 24, 2006
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
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
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
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).
tank standoff in 1961. I took this photo of a picture on
the plywood walls mentioned above
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
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.
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
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.
with the Sony Center in the middle of the photo
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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.