BERLIN

Berlin has seen an overwhelming transformation over the last 75 years, with a tumultuous history so recent it almost feels palpable.                 

This city was headquartered by fascists, heavily bombed during World War II, divided by Communism with the Berlin Wall and finally reunited — all in just the 20th century.

Today, Berlin is one of the most multicultural and open-minded cities in Europe.                    It also has some of the most amazing cutting-edge, and eclectic mix of architecture of the cities we have visited.             

From it’s destruction in World War II that left very few historic buildings intact, and the contrasting urban planning during the years of division, the city is now filled with new and wonderful buildings that might not have found space in other cities in Europe.

Jewish Museum
Berliner Dom
National Art Gallery

At present a new U-Bahn or underground line that runs right under the Unter Den Linden is being built.  All this area was under the control of the GDR during the times of division, where no money spent on these beautiful buildings or any services or upgrades. 

Today huge cranes tower all over the city, construction is everywhere.   The master-plan is that this area along the Unter Den Linden is to be the ‘Showpiece of Berlin’ and will be completed by the mid 2020’s.

cranes in the sky all over Berlin

A replica of the former Prussian City Palace is being built now.  On the outside it will look like it’s predecessor, but the interior will be modern and be used for cultural events.                                                                                           

You may have seen my post on the palaces of Potsdam with their Baroque splendour.                                                                                                  This post is more about the modern Berlin, and the way that the modern and the historic have been so brilliantly integrated together.

The contemporary buildings of Walter Gropius who founded the Bauhaus School we visited not long ago on our way to Berlin, to Frank Gehry and David Chipperfield’s re-construction of the Neues Museum, but that still shows the remnants of it’s war wounds on the inside walls.

Chipperfield’s new modern James Simon Gallery addition onto the National Gallery just opened last weekend. The building raised on a stone plinth over which sit the tall white stone columns that form the stunning colonnade The gallery’s new building will also function as the new entrance to the cluster of Berlin’s museum buildings on Museum Island, by the Spree river in the centre of Berlin.        

opening day of the James Simon Gallerie

view of the addition from the River Spree

Or I.M. Pei’s 5000 sq metre exhibition hall, a massive glass façade that opens out onto the 300-year-old armoury that now houses the German Historical Museum.    The prize winning, Chinese born architect Pei was in his mid-80’s when he designed this building, said ‘architecture should seduce people to move through the whole building full of curiosity and pleasure’ he also designed the spectacular glass pyramid at Paris’ Louvre, and studied under Bauhaus’ Gropius.  He died in May this year aged 102. He must have been an amazing man.

new addition
front entrance German Historical Museum
inside the German Historical Museum

In the cultural centre is the beautiful Opera House and the easy to be missed site of the public book burning by the Nazi’s in 1933.  My picture of the empty book shelves underground, has I think, although I may be biased, a great reflection of the side of the State Opera house in a square that also includes the first university in Berlin, the Humboldt which was originally the palace of a prince.

side of the Opera House
empty bookshelves at the Book Burning memorial
Humboldt statue in front of the University named after him

Moving further down the Unter den Linden is the Brandenburg Gate which is probably Berlin’s most famous, and photographed landmark.  

Built by a Prussian King as a symbol of peace the gate is topped by the Quadriga, a golden statue of Victoria the winged goddess of victory, driving a chariot pulled by four horses. 

A former symbol of this once divided city, where a friend told us you could once climb to an observation platform to get a glimpse of the life behind the Iron Curtain.

without the bare bum
protester with great balance, he stood on his toes on that bike
it was quite cool that day as well
protester spoiling my picture
I keep trying those selfies but I’m not getting any better

 (A little extra info now for my history buffs; In 1806 after Napoleon staged a successful war against Prussia, he kidnapped the golden statue and held her hostage in Paris, until she was freed in 1814 by a gallant Prussian General).

The U.S. Embassy built in the late 1990’s sits right alongside the Brandenburg Gate.                 

It takes up the whole block and runs right along what was once the ‘no-man’s land death strip, and the old wall.                                               

With all the wonderful buildings built after the unification personally I would not put this one on my architectural delights list, but thought it should be mentioned more because of it’s location. It looks just like a big office block which I suppose it is, complete with barricades, watch towers and machine gun toting armed guards

Another interesting detail; disclosures by the US in 2013 is that the top floor of the US embassy was used to wiretap mobile phones being used just across the park, only a stone’s throw away in the Reichstag, even targeting Chancellors Angela Merkel mobile.                                                              

Will those American’s ever learn?

The Reichstag, the home of the German Parliament has been bombed, burned, re-built and is now topped with a glistening glass dome that reminds me of a giant beehive, but apparently was designed as a metaphor for transparency and open-ness in politics.   

Reichstag
the bee hive dome
inside the dome

We lined up for more than an hour the first time we visited this amazing building, it was worth every minute.  Now you can book tickets in advance.

Right behind the US embassy is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.            

Above ground all you see is the field of stelae, the 2711 grey concrete slabs of the same length and width but in various heights, all arranged in precise straight and narrow rows over nearly 20,000 sq meters of undulating ground.                           Apparently from the air it looks like a huge grey wave. 

stelae

Whenever we have visited this memorial, I always see people sitting on the lower stelae. To me that that seems disrespectful, and it takes all my will-power to not yell at them to get off it!                                                                   

The title of the memorial above ground doesn’t say ‘Holocaust’ or anything about who murdered those European Jews, but the museum below with it’s poignant and heart-wrenching themed rooms lifts the veil of anonymity from the six million Holocaust victims.                                                             

In one darkened room the names and year of birth, date and place of death are projected onto the four walls while the names are read out loud. It’s very moving.

Around every Berlin corner there are amazing things to see and do. A huge park the Tiergarten right in the city to cycle through or bring a picnic to have under the Linden trees. Free lunchtime concerts by the Berlin Philharmonic in their concert hall right across the road, remnants of the old wall, the flea-market in the Mauerpark and it’s ‘bearpit karaoke’, my list could go on and on.                                                                           

bridge over the Spree River
the old church bombed out and left, a small new church has been built next door
TV tower with apparently the best view over Berlin
Berliner Dom
park alongside the Art Gallery on Museum Island
stairwell

Charlotenburg Palace
Victory column

Gritty, glamorous, edgy, radical and fascinating would be my best words to describe Berlin……and it’s a place everyone should visit at least once.

     

                                                       

Dinner with Doro, and her story of the fall of the wall.

We were invited to have dinner with Doro, a friend of Ulrike’s that she introduced to us before she kindly left us to look after her beautiful home, and great cat Maverick. 

Dorothy has lived her life in Germany, growing up in the Kassel area not far from the lovely Harz National Park we love so much, but studied and lived in West Berlin most of her adult life. 

Although she was only a child when the wall went up, she certainly remembers the night it came down.

photo courtesy of Google

As she told us the story of her standing on the top of the wall that night in November 1989, I’m sure we all had goose bumps

1989 was a pivotal year for German history, even more so for Berliners.

On the 9th November at 7pm a spokesman for the East Berlin Communist Party announced a change in his city’s relations with the West and starting at midnight that day citizens of the GDR would be free to cross into the West.                                                                                         

Later that night after realizing their mistake a second broadcast was made stating that on Nov 10th East German residents should first go to the migration office, by then it was too late.  

Thousands of East and West Berliners flocked to the wall that night.  They took hammers and picks to knock away pieces of the wall, and chanted “Tor Auf” or “Open the Gate”.  

The border regime of the GDR was finally toppled by brave men and women taking to the streets, and soldiers who were just as brave not giving into the demands of their commanders to shoot – and no-one died that night, instead what is known as “the greatest street party in the history of the world” happened.

On that weekend more than 2 million people from the East visited the West. After 28 years separating families, friends, lovers and children from their grandparents, the wall came down.

So many were killed trying to cross that border, and thousands more incarcerated, abused both physically and psychologically, for decades denied free speech, the right to vote or freedom of travel.

Less than a year later Germany was unified.

Doro not only shared her story, she kindly shared her photos of that time with us as well.

a historic photo from the next day’s newspaper
the party continued on into the night with the some border guards joining in as well
people celebrating at the fence part of the border
cars lined up for hours to cross
a happy family in their Trabant crossing the border freely

CECILIENHOF PALACE – POTSDAM

The Cecilienhof Palace, although also a royal residence, is not known for that reason alone.

It was here in July and August 1945 that the ‘Big Three’, U.S. President Harry Truman, British prime Minister Winston Churchill, and the Soviet premier Joseph Stalin met together in what we know as The Potsdam Conference.

Discussed here amongst other things, was the restructuring of Europe and the future of Germany.  It was also where President Truman gave the order and then told Premier Stalin that the USA had just exploded the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the fight to end the war with Japan.

The leaders arrived at various agreements on the German economy, punishment for war criminals, land boundaries and reparations, but failed to settle most of the important issues at hand and thus helped set the stage for the Cold War that would begin shortly after World War II came to an end.


It is only 1.5kms from the Cecilienhof Palace, and the twenty or thirty naked sun bathers we quickly walked past (maybe more on that later), and right across from the tram stop is my next story;

THE REAL BRIDGE of SPIES – THE GLIENICKER

It used to be a fairly complicated procedure to walk across the Glienicker Bridge that connects the cities of Berlin and Potsdam.

For a start it involved nerve-jangling negotiations between the two superpowers of the time, the United States of America and the Soviet Union – and some of their key allies. Razor-sharp legal brains were necessary and horse-trading skills had to be finely honed. And then negotiations could last months, if not years.

Those selected to make the journey had to be very carefully screened. And when they were finally allowed to walk onto the bridge, military and intelligence forces – on both sides – would follow them every step of the way.

the ferry stop at Glienicker bridge

These days, walking over the Glienicker Bridge is somewhat easier. You can approach it quite freely from the ferry stop at it’s base or from both east and west, and you can cross it in either direction.

Once on the other side, you can, should you wish, turn around and retrace your steps back to the other side. You can walk without stopping. You can run. Or you can pause in the middle where to this day, you can still see the faint remains of the thin white line of paint that not all that long ago was the graphic demarcation point between East and West at the height of the Cold War.

SPY EXCHANGES

In total 40 exchanges took place here over the course of the Cold War.

It was across this line that, in February 1962, the Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and the American spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers were exchanged. It was here that in June 1985, 23 agents who had spied for the West were exchanged with four who had spied for the East.

Yesterday we stood on this bridge that has witnessed human drama and political intrigue of the very highest order, tonight we’re going to watch the Steven Spielberg movie “Bridge of Spies”.

Brian standing approximately on the demarcation line.

The history here in Potsdam and Berlin is amazing, around every corner there are palaces, parks, bridges and places with stories that I’m just waiting to tell you about.

The Story of Another Great – Frederick ll and his favourite Palace – SansSouci

His people called him “The Old Fritz” but history knows him “Frederick the Great”, a title he shared with Alexander (his story is a previous blog post), and very few others.

Although the capital of his kingdom was Berlin, Frederick spent most of his free time in Potsdam, only a few kilometres from Berlin.                                                                                                                      

In 1745, he ordered the construction of a summer palace there, completed in two years, Frederick named his palace, ” Sans-Souci ” derived from a French phrase which means ” without concerns/worries or carefree”

Frederick employed a number of renowned architects, but his personal influence on the design and decoration of Potsdam’s buildings, including his palaces was so huge that this entire style of European architecture was later called ‘Frederician Rococo’.

now that’s an arbour

An elegant rococo summer palace, often called the ‘Versailles of Berlin’, is surrounded by a large park, the scenery is spectacular, with architectural treasures scattered among exquisite gardens, fountains, and vineyards.                                                                                                                                                                               

The vast baroque park area is decorated with gorgeous buildings and palaces, orangeries, temples, a Chinese tea-house, Roman baths and amazing statues throughout the area.                                                                                                                

the Orangerie
it’s own windmill

The park is listed among the World Heritage Sites of UNESCO, as a ‘cultural property of exceptional quality’.

The Sans Souci palace was the summer home of Frederick the Great, a refuge from the battlefield and a quiet resort for the enlightened monarch and his famous intellectual guests, who fulfilled his passion for French art and culture. 

beautiful marquetry walls
red marble
doors all lined up
lots of gold

Many philosophers and theorists were invited to court, with Voltaire being a frequent guest and who actually lived at the palace in what is now known as ‘the flower room’ for nearly three years.  Johann Sebastian Bach also frequently visited Sans Souci, and the piano he played while accompanying Frederick on the flute, are proudly displayed in the music room.

music room
The Voltaire or flower room

Frederick also had his own ‘picture gallery’ built right along side the palace to house his considerable collection. 

exterior of picture gallery

Designed with a simple exterior showing marble statues of the arts, the opulent design of the interior is all the more surprising with its gilded ornamentation and picture frames and the most sumptuous floors made of yellow and white marble.

Here, he presented in closely hung arrangements nearly 180 of the best works of the Flemish and Dutch Baroque schools of painting, the Italian Renaissance, and the Baroque period including Caravaggio, Van Dyke and Rubens. 

gallery
most impressive ceilings
wall of masters
don’t sit on those chairs!!!

It is also the oldest (still standing) museum in Germany.

P.S. All the interior pictures were taken by me surreptitiously as a ‘photo ticket’ costing 3 euro per building, and we were in at least 6, was supposed to be purchased, and after paying 19 euro each to enter, I figured we had paid enough. During our day spent at SansSouci I lost count of the number of times I was ‘spoken to’ for taking pics, stepping slightly off the walkway, brushing against a wall etc., etc., etc.

The German Green Belt from Death Strip to Conservation Lifeline

The inner German border once separated the East from West.

Nearly 1,400 forbidding kilometres of high metal fences and four meter high walls, barbed wire, alarms, anti-vehicle ditches, minefields, and guard towers, running the length of Germany.

The “death strip”, which was up to 200 metres wide, passed through villages, forests, rivers and moorland and was patrolled by 50,000 armed GDR guards who faced tens of thousands of West German, British and US guards – and separated families and friends in both parts of Germany.

More than 100 people died while attempting to escape to the West from the German Democratic Republic (GDR

This separation finally ended when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and Germany reunited in the autumn of 1990. 

Now one of the world’s most unusual nature reserves has been created along the old “Death Strip”, turning a monument of repression into a symbol of renewal. 

For decades, Germany’s former border sector remained an inaccessible area which gave nature, animals and plants a place to thrive undisturbed.

Apart from the no-man’s land itself, this also applied to the extensive tracts of land adjacent because they were so cut off.

From the western side of the border conservationists had long been watching different bird species among other animals thriving in such a hostile environment.

Conservationists from the East and the West initiated this nature conservation project to ensure that the border strip would be preserved as a green belt, and as the ecological backbone of Central Europe during this historic period of upheaval.

And they succeeded. No longer the Iron Curtain but the Green Belt.

So far, conservationists have documented around 1,200 at-risk species of animals and plants there, including rare orchids like the lady’s slipper and scarce species of birds such as the black stork and the kingfisher.

The Green Belt can be hiked or biked.

This post has come about because we’re now in Potsdam after having travelled along much of the old border, now this superb green belt.

We were here in 2010 on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, driving a very similar route to the one we have just covered. The Harz area is such a beautiful place, it always seems to draw us back.

THE ROMANTIC STRASSE

It was a shame that Brian left his Lederhosen at home because he would have fit in perfectly wearing them as we travel through these gorgeous German towns.

Four hundred kilometres of road running from Fussen in the south to Würzburg in the north.                                    A dream route passing the southern Alps and Germany’s fertile farmland, lowland forests along the banks of the Danube, and storybook looking towns complete with medieval walls, cobbled squares, and crooked streets, all preserved as if time has come to a standstill.

Set picturesquely on the steep cliffs of the Lech, the unspoiled medieval walled town of Landsberg am Lech is close to the Wendls’ so that is where we are starting our drive along the Romantic Road. 

lovely Landsberg am Lech

Landsberg also has the prison where Hitler waited for his trial after his failed coup in Munich in 1923. He was convicted and sentenced to five years confinement, this is when he started writing the first part of Mein Kampf.

The free Imperial city of Augsburg is next, founded by the children of the Roman Emperor Augustus over 2000 years ago and one of the oldest cities in Germany.                                                                      It’s also home to the Fuggerei, the oldest social housing settlement founded almost 500 years ago by the wealthy banking Fugger family as a housing complex for needy Augsburgers and has been in continuous operation since that time.  To this day around 150 residents with low incomes live in the Fuggerei for an annual base rent of 88 cents, and three prayers daily.  How do you think they check to see if those prayers are said?

Fuggerei

With a name like Rain and considering the heat wave we are still experiencing here in Europe, this is our next stop. This town is famous for the battle in 1632 between the Catholics and the Protestants that took place here during the Thirty Years War which devastated entire regions.

Thirty year war memorial

Harburg Castle complete with parapets, towers, turrets looms over the valley and river, and provides us shade and shelter for the night, especially needed when the thunderstorm rolled through, cooling and clearing the hot air.  Worth a mention is that this 11th century castle has never been captured, and is now privately owned and occupied, with some general areas open to visitors on weekends.

now that’s a front gate
the Castle church
view from the castle
the residence of the Lord that lives there now
Harburg Castle

Not many towns can claim they are built in the crater of a massive meteorite that hit the earth 15 million years ago, but Nordlingen can do exactly that.                                                                                     It is also the only German town with walls and battlements you can walk all the way around, about 2.5kms worth which we walked I may add.

the covered ramparts

Dinkelsbuhl would be the archetypal town along this Romantic Strasse.  Immaculately preserved buildings and crooked lanes and all ringed by medieval walls, boasting 18 towers and four gates.         It also had the best ice-cream I have tasted in a long time.   

a wedding
and a stork I wonder if that was significant?

We’re getting towards the end of the Romantic Strasse with only a couple more historical towns to visit.  We have been driving this route for 5 days now, so I’ll try not to bore you much more, but really have to mention Rothenburg ob der Tauber, built above the Tauber River (ob der meaning above) with it’s lovely half-timbered houses and the 700-year-old artisan area where cobblers, weavers and potters are still working to this day.

As I mentioned at the beginning, way back at the top of the page, the UNESCO listed city of Wurzburg is our final stop.  Probably anyone that has been on a German river cruise would have passed under the old bridge lined by Baroque statues of saints that span the River Main.  This city is also smack in the middle of one of Germany’s biggest wine producing areas, but more on that a little later.         

tower with a residence on top,n fancy living there!
old fire truck
beautiful church

The red lead coloured church in the centre square was a subject for a good chat while we stopped for a beverage or two.  Badly damaged during WW2 when this town was fire bombed, the internal restorations were done in a controversial more modern style, whilst the exterior now painted ‘primer red’ was restored to it’s previous Baroque splendour, although for the life of us can’t figure out the colour choice.

lovely old Bishop’s Palace
sorry couldn’t wait until Mr Pink shirt moved. not too sure about the colour choice
some saint
look at those vineyards, that’s about a 30 degree slope
river traffic along the Main

We didn’t make it up to the castle, although definitely admired it and it’s surrounding vineyards from the wine bar on the bridge, the best idea ever and one that should be implemented on our bridges in Australia.


 

CAMPING at the STAFFELSEE with the WENDLS’

Werner and Brian and their Fat Rhino beers

It seems our good friends the Wendls seem to go on vacation whenever we decide to visit.  A coincidence, or do we just have bad timing?

But this time they are camping at the Staffelsee which happens to be right on our way coming from Austria, and we are looking forward joining them there for a couple of days, before heading to their quiet and empty lovely home so we can do a little maintenance on Hermione.

The Staffelsea is a lake in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen district of Bavaria, in southern Germany and is just the place to be with the heat wave that Europe is experiencing right now.

Werner giving us a push off, we look like pros!
Gisela and Lea getting the paddle board ready
Felix
Leonie
and she’s up!

We kayak around the lake and over to one of the seven islands, while Gisela, Leonie, Felix, and Lea have a paddle on a SUP.  

We made it !

THE EAGLES NEST- Berchtesgaden-Germany

The Kehlsteinhaus or Eagles Nest is a third Reich-era building erected atop the summit of the Kehlstein. Built for Adolf Hitler by mostly slave labour, and was used exclusively by Nazi Party members to make decisions regarding war and mass murder.  It was also Hitler’s planned refuge of last resort.

Early in his career as a wannabe tyrant, Adolf Hitler checked into an alpine hut in this dramatic corner of Bavaria, nearly encircled by Austria to finish his manifesto, Mein Kampf.  It was here he claimed to be inspired and where he laid out vision for the Third Reich.

You start by driving up a very steep hill out of Berchtesgaden to the Obersalzberg Documentation Centre a vast museum with an underground bunker system.  From the parking lot you catch specially designed buses that take you on a 20 minute journey around hair pin bends and up the steepest terrain you wouldn’t think a bus could manoeuvre. But remember these are German designed buses.

You’re dropped at the entrance to a 120m long barely lit tunnel that leads you an elevator shaft buried in the heart of the mountain for the final 124m step to reach the Eagle’s Nest.  This same dazzling brass lined elevator that you know Hitler, Himmler, Eva Braun and other high ranking Nazi Party members used to reach the Eagles Nest.

With the weather co-operating for us the panorama was incredible, you are eye level with the Alps at 1834m.

The Eagle’s Nest wasn’t damaged during the war, so the actual building outside still looks the same.  Much of the original furniture was removed by the occupying forces, but the red marble fireplace that Mussolini gave to Hitler is still there, minus some pieces chipped off by souvenir hunters.  The stone walls and ceiling beams are the original ones as well as some light fixtures, and you can sit on the glassed in sun porch where Hitler was known to spend time looking at his beloved mountains.

Hitler on the sun porch
sun porch now

The Eagle’s Nest is now a restaurant.