Kathryn and Ken's European Vacation
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Day 21: 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


Sunny with a high of 26°C

Day 21: Monday, September 25, 2006     Berlin, Germany

A Unified City

We got up early and walked over to have breakfast in a coffee shop by Checkpoint Charlie - our hotel breakfast was really expensive.  We then caught the U-bahn (underground transit train) to Kurfürstendamm.  The Berlin underground is not as well organized as the London Tube.  We had to transfer to the S-bahn (above ground transit train).  When we came up out of the underground station, we couldn't find the S-bahn station.  We must of looked lost because a little old German man on a bicycle came up and asked if we needed help - I think that's what he said because he didn't speak any English.  We tried to let him know what we wanted and he used gestures and a few words of German to indicate that we should cross a little park and then a plaza.  We thanked him and set off.  His directions were correct and we found the station.  When we got there, we turned around and there was the little old man, smiling on his bike.  He wanted to make sure we found our way.

Destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt in the ensuing decades, Kurfürstendamm is no longer the beauty it once was. Yet 'Ku'damm'—as Berliners affectionately call it—is still a symbol of wealth and prosperity.  Once Berlin’s symbol of wealth and prosperity, Kurfürstendamm dates back to the 16th century when Electoral Prince Joachim II constructed a path connecting his palace on Unter den Linden with his hunting lodge in Grunewald forest. In the late 19th century Bismarck transformed the simple street into a prestigious boulevard lined by stunning town houses.  Kurfürstendamm had to become Berlin's version of the Champs-Elysees.  Few of these ornate villas remain - for a few different reasons - one being that they were replaced in the early 1900s by high rise apartments of great proportions. Some boasted as many as 10 rooms and covered an area of up to 500 square meters (about 5,400 square feet). Stores and cafes opened and Kurfürstendamm soon became the place to be seen, especially if you were “the artistic type.”

Unfortunately, more than half of the magnificent structures along the Kurfürstendamm were completely destroyed during World War II, and those that weren’t suffered significant damage. Just a few remain. Though reconstruction was attempted after the war, the street was never really restored to its original glory.  Kurfürstendamm is better known for its shopping opportunities than its architecture. Many dub it “the 5th Avenue of Berlin.” Kathryn says this was the happening place to be in West Berlin when she was here in the 80's.  She was really surprised how much it had changed. 

Kathryn on the Ku'damm

Unfortunately many of the exclusive shops have disappeared; nowadays you’ll also find chain stores, souvenir stores and other lower-priced options located along the boulevard. 

One of the most haunting symbols of Berlin, the ruins of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, have been irreverently nicknamed the "hollow tooth" because of the ragged-edged hole in the roof.  The church is located at the Breitscheidplatz, the center of former West Berlin with the Ku'damm shopping street and Europa Center near by.  The church was given the name of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in 1895 to honour Wilhelm I.  Following damage by severe bombing raids in 1945, the ruins of the tower were left standing as a memorial.  Only the tower survived - it now stands at 63 m high, it once was 113 m.  Next to it was erected a new church in 1957-63 with a new bell tower. 

Ken in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

We then spent the next two hours in the Story of Berlin Museum in Ku'damm.  This multimedia extravaganza portrays 8 centuries of the city's history through photos, films, sounds, and colorful displays. Beginning with the founding of Berlin in 1237, it chronicles the plague, the Thirty Years' War, Frederick the Great's reign, military life, the Industrial Revolution and the working poor, the Golden 1920s, World War II, divided Berlin during the Cold War, and the fall of the Wall. Lights flash in a media blitz as you enter the display on the fall of the Wall, making you feel like one of the first East Berliners to wonderingly cross to the West. One display we really found interesting was the two living rooms in Berlin of the 50's, in the eastern and western sectors.  The entry fee included a guided tour of a Seventies underground bunker built to shelter 3592 people but we did not feel like waiting an extra half-hour for the next tour to start.

Kathryn standing on a floor of book spines, symbolizing the Nazi's burning of books

We then took a short walk north to the Tiergarten.  The 2.5 sq. km (about 1 sq. mile) Tiergarten is the largest park in the city. Its more than 23 km (14 miles) of pathways make it popular with those who are looking for a leisurely place to stroll.  The Berlin Zoo also took up residence in 1844, boasting thousands of animals whose antics were enjoyed on a daily basis by those who lived in and around the city.  Unfortunately, much of the park was decimated during World War II, and in the years immediately following the war, cold Berliners cut down the remaining trees to use as firewood to heat their homes. Most of the animals in the Berlin Zoo perished as well. Records show that only 91 remained at the end of the war. By 1955, however, local government saw fit to begin to restore the Tiergarten, and trees, shrubs, and plants were replaced, paths were rebuilt, and new attractions added.

When we first entered the park, we were surprised at the different lampposts that lined the path.  There were lampposts from several different cities all over Germany.  At the center of a large roundabout in the Tiergarten, known as the Grosser Stern or great star stands the 62 m tall Siegessäule, the Victory Column.  In 1945, the Soviet Union built a War Memorial along the Strasse des 17 Juni, the Tiergarten's main east-west artery, near the Brandenburg Gate.  We had a nice long walk through the park and arrived at the Brandenburg Gate.

Lampposts in the Tiergarten

We then walked down the famous Unter den Linden, a main east-west thoroughfare through the city of Berlin.  It earned its name from the rows of linden trees that were first planted there more than three-and-a-half centuries ago. This prestigious boulevard leads from the Brandenburger Gate at the Pariser Platz to the Schlossbrücke (Castle Bridge) at the Museum Island.  By the 19th century, it was one of the most visited streets in the city and served

Unter den Linden Street

as a central gathering place for many Berlin citizens. By the end of World War II, Unter den Linden was little more than rubble and the magnificent linden trees were cut down and used for firewood in the final days of the war.  Today the lindens blossom as beautifully as ever.

One of the first sites along the Unter den Linden is the Hotel Adlon, originally built in 1907. 
Until its destruction during the war, the Hotel Adlon was

Hotel Adlon

considered Europe's ultimate luxury resort.  In 1997 the president of the Federal Republic of Germany opened the new Hotel Adlon, a Kempinski hotel, rebuilt on the same location as the original hotel.  As we passed the hotel a whole bunch of police cars and motorcycles pulled up along with a limo.  Shortly a small group of people surrounded by security guards exited the hotel and pulled away in the motorcade.  One of the security guards told me that it was the Polish prime minister.  We stopped at an outdoor kiosk and had a curried bratwurst and a beer for lunch. 

As we walked the length of the boulevard we found a number of wonderful architectural sites along Unter den Linden, many of which have been renovated or restored over the years.  You can see photos of these sites, including Humboldt University, Frederich the Great's statue, the Altes Museum and more in the slide show below.

At the Schlossbrücke (Castle Bridge) at the Museum Island, the street bends north slightly and becomes Karl-Leibkecht Strasse.  A little further on in front of Alexanderplatz is the famous TV tower, known as the Fernsehturm or the Tele-spargel (toothpick) is one of the largest structures in Europe and is visible from afar. It was built in 1969 with a total length to the top of the spire is 365m or 1197 ft.  It contains a concrete shaft, a steel-cladded metal sphere and a TV antenna. The sphere contains a revolving restaurant (Telecafé) at 207m and a viewing platform at a height of 203m. Ever since it was built it has had this effect of showing the reflection of a cross when hit by bright sunlight, which was apparently highly embarrassing for the atheist East German government. Originally the square was called the Ochsenmarkt or ox market, but after a visit

Fernsehturm TV tower "cross"

by Tzar Alexander I, it was renamed to Alexanderplatz. The locals simply call this large square 'Alex'.  Most of the buildings on the square were destroyed by bombing during the second world war. As the center of East Berlin, the square was used as a showcase of socialist architecture. This resulted in some plain bulky buildings and the huge television tower. 

In 1969 two more monuments were added to the square, the Weltzeituhr (World Time Clock) and the Fountain of International Friendship.  Alexanderplatz is also home to the biggest underground railway station of Berlin as well as S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations.  We wanted to check it out because our flight the next day left from Berlin Schoenefeld Airport, which is situated 18 kms to the southwest of the city centre, and the train from Alexanderplatz would take us there.   After seeing how many stairs and escalators we would have to climb with six pieces of luggage, we decided we would take a cab from the hotel instead of the train.

We caught the U-Bahn back to the hotel for a nap.  We then caught the U-Bahn back to Potsdamer Platz and had dinner at the same Aussie restaurant as last night.  This might seem boring but the food was good and the prices were reasonable.  We caught the U-Bahn home to our hotel for a good night's sleep.

We walked many kms today and Ken's knees held up thanks to the anti-inflammatory drugs.  We found that walking is the only way to really see a city.  We might have missed some things in Berlin but we experienced everything close up and personal.  Kathryn really enjoyed Berlin as it was an opportunity to see how much things had changed since she had been here in the 80's.

Now it's off to Athens and the start of our Cruise.

Click here for a slide show of Day 21 photos.

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