Thursday, August 6, 2009

Berlin- last day

Day 30 Thurs. 6 Aug.
The day started out cooler and overcast like yesterday but by 9:30 it still hadn't cleared. This meant cooler weather for my bike tour of the wall that I joined. Even though I felt like I had already covered a lot of this I learned so much from it, how the wall was developed (there were about 5 phases) and how life was conducted during the existence of the wall. And then looking at the changes that have slowly taken place after 1989 was fascinating.

Our guide was a Dutch guy who had been in Berlin for a couple of years and really liked all the neighborhoods and the atmosphere of the city. He showed us this street where most of the buildings have been renovated but the outside of this one has been left as a reminder of the fighting that went on here. In these pictures we can see what it looked like with the wall and now how it looks.

When you see buildings that look like they have been "cut off" or you see an end of a building that has no windows then you know that indeed, the building was chopped up and walled off so that no one could get through. At first they used buildings as part of the wall but people were escaping by jumping out of the windows to get to the other side.

Then they bricked up the windows so no one could get through and chopped off the parts of the buildings that stuck into the "death strip" area.

This is a watchtower that was left. The river Spree was part of East Berlin so there were many watchtowers along that with the death strip in front of it. Now there are lots of cafes and drinks places along the Spree and it is a nice place to hang out in the summer. What a difference!

The more famous site, Checkpoint Charlie is close to Brandenburg Gate and the tourist area and is always crowded. That was a place where you could get through into east or west Berlin if you had the proper papers.
There were lots of stories that made the whole day entertaining as well as informative.
After we went back to return the bikes, which happened to be quite close to my hostel, I realized there was a whole neighborhood of interesting shops and restaurants just behind my hostel that I had not explored at all. I guess I'll just have to come back to Berlin some day. The 3 1/2 days there just gave me a taste of all that is in Berlin, enough to ensure a return visit.

Berlin 2 museums and 3 neighborhoods

Day 29 Weds.5 Aug.
Today I visited the Markisches Museum which tells the history of Berlin, walked through an east Berlin neighborhood into a west Berlin neighborhood, had lunch and then took the U-bahn all the way to the western side of Berlin near the Charlottenberg Palace to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco museum. It was a full day.

Berlin - walking tour and other things

Day 28 Tues. 4 Aug.2009
There won't be many pictures for today because once again I forgot to charge my camera battery and only got a few in until the battery was exhausted. I ended up taking many pictures that I would have taken, later in the week when doing other activities.

I headed to Brandenburg Gate to join the free walking tour. After wandering around the Alexanderplatz where I needed to change trains for ages, I finally gave up and headed for the 100Bus which I knew would take me there.

There were quite a lot of people with more and more arriving for the next 20 minutes. I managed to get in the first group as most of the early people were taking the Spanish tour. So I was happy when the first tour guide - Rachel, an American dancer who has lived in Berlin for the last 4 years started us off. She was very good and told all sorts of stories and information about the history of Germany and Berlin. It was not just focused on the last 70 years, but she started with the whole history of the Brandenburg Gate itself.

We walked around to several of the sites and went to this Jewish Memorial which was really quite impressive. It is basically a large abstract sculpture covering a large city block.

After the tour I talked to her a bit a bout dance in Berlin and asked if there were any performances that week and she told me a bout a free performance that night which was a bunch of different artists showing things they are working on.

I went over to the Deutsches Historisches Museum - German history, where I spent the rest of the afternoon. It was fascinating and way more than I could see in one day. Starting with the Celts and other tribes there, there were lots of artifacts, pictures, clothes, models and explanations. After looking at and reading everything for about an hour I cam to a map of the museum. I felt that I must be about 3/4's through but when I looked at the floor plan, realized I was only 1/4 of the way through the museum! Then I stopped reading everything and picked up my speed. I left when they closed at 6:00, exhausted and made my way back to the hostel.
After a bit of a rest I made my way to this dance performance that Rachel had told me about. After a slight 35 minute delay while I took the M-tram instead of the S-bahn by mistake (I realized when the stop that I thought was the 3rd one never came and we seemed to be out in the suburbs of Berlin that I better get off, cross the street and head back to Alexanderplatz!). I did manage to find the place, it was informal, a space with people inside watching the performance and lots of people outside chatting and smoking. The pieces were not boring and definitely avant-garde. I can't say I really liked any of them but it was great being there and seeing all the people in the audience as well. Rachel was there and happy/surprised to see that I had come. The whole show wasn't supposed to start until 9:00, I got there at 9:50 and they were on the 2nd of 4 pieces, so it didn't end until after 11:00. That is why I was arriving back so late and still up when my new roommates arrived from a late train.

Berlin day 1 Mon afternoon

Day 27 Mon. 3. Aug. 2009

The train station was HUGE with at least 5 levels, all new looking with nice escalators going both up and down (no carrying my suitcase up or down stairs here). It was pretty easy to figure out where to get the right Bahn-train. There is the S-bahn (I thought sky train, but the S stands for schnell - which is quick) and the U-bahn which does stands for underground - though sometimes the U-bahn is above ground and sometimes the S-bahn is below ground...

There was a mix of old buildings in-between lots of very modern buildings. There seemed to be a lot of glass and shiny metal. You could see the radio tower from many spots of the city - one of the communist "presences" left in Berlin.

I went to the Modern Art Museum (called Berlinische Galerie) partly because on the 1st Mon. of the month is is only 2 euros to get in (most museums range from 5-12 euros for entrance, a euro is about $1.45), but also because I like modern art. This sculpture was outside of it. It was quite crowded, I arrived about 4:00 so I suppose people left work early or came after work - it didn't seem to be a lot of tourists. There was an interesting special exhibit which I liked better than the permanent collection which was upstairs.

After leaving that museum I had planned to go up to the main street - Unter Den Linden, to go to the Duetches Guggenheim but when I got there it was closed as they were changing their exhibit. I walked down to this large square which has the opera house, and had a bratwurst from a stand near-by.

I decided to take the 100 Bus that I had read was a great route to ride to see many of the main sites. It went down the Unter Den Linden and I got a seat on the top level (along with all the other tourists). We went down past the Brandenburg Gate which was very impressive and past the Reichstag - the German government buildings, and through the Tiergarten park. Then we got to the very busy square and right in the middle is this church that is still in ruins that was obviously bombed in the war and they have left the remains as a reminder.

The modern bits around it are a new church and I tried to take a picture to show the beautiful blue glass of which it is made. The picture is blurry because it was such a long exposure that I couldn't hold still for but you get the idea.

After getting to the end of the line I figured out where to get the bus back towards the center - I didn't want to take the U-bahn if I could help it, and made my way back towards my hostel. Here I am staying at the same chain of hostels that I stayed in in Vienna. When I had checked in I was the first in my room which held 6 but I expected others to be there when I returned and they were.

I had these three German girls as roommates for one night, they were fun to talk to and told me of some places to go to as they had been in Berlin before. Then another girl checked in later - she actually lived across the street but her parents who had been visiting left with her keys! Her other roommates were not there and would be back the next day so she was stuck for the night. She was very nice - a French girl working in a science lab for 6 months doing a masters. They all left the next day and my other roommmates ended up arriving at the same time I returned the next night at about midnight - another group of 5 American girls traveling together.

The rest of Dresden

Evening of Sunday
After watching the skateboarders I walked in towards the "Alte" town square. There were nice flowers in front of the city hall as I see all over most of these towns and cities.

Yes, I was there. I have started to hold the camera in front of me so I can be in some of the pictures and "prove" I was there.

Even though we hear that most of Dresden was destroyed during WWII by bombings there one could be fooled into thinking that they missed some of the landmark buildings. However, the reality is that they were all rebuilt after 1989 when the cold war ended and East Germany was no longer under the Socialist regime.

The surrounding square and buildings were quite large and nice to walk around. There was a terrace on the back side that looked out over the river.

There was this incredibly long mural, this is just one little bit of it but I went like this all along the building.

I walked across the bridge even though I could see that it was raining off in the distance. I don't know why it didn't occur to me that the storm would be moving in over the city. And of course I got caught without my raincoat or umbrella since when I went out it was still about 100 degrees and sunny! I sat under the umbrellas in the beer garden by the river until it got too windy and these quite large umbrellas started to blow over.

I finally decided to go inside the restaurant to eat, it was charming and looked like a traditional country type place with traditional German food. I'm not sure what I had was traditional but it was good.

I finally decided I was just going to have to walk back to my hostel and get soaked. I couldn't walk very fast because I was wearing my sandals which slip on wet smooth marble pavement which is what the whole way back was. So I had to walk slowly and carefully. Then when I didn't trust my sense of direction I decided I was going the wrong way and when I finally stopped to figure out where I was on the map I managed to knock a contact out of my eye (thank goodness I remembered to bring a spare pair) and I had to ask some girls where I was because the writing on the map was too small to read! Then I discovered that I had been going the right way in the first place but now I had walked way out of the way so turned and walked the extra distance back to my hostel. I was glad that I had splurged on this one night there and had gotten a private room.