Thursday, December 31, 2009

Berlin, Germany

On the 28th, Marcus and I took a sleeper train to Berlin. We got on the train at around 1 AM and arrived at the new Berlin station at 9 AM. Claudia met us at the platform and we immediately started checking out the sights.

We stayed with Claudia's family in East Berlin. This was very surreal for me. I mean, I grew up during the Cold War. When I enlisted in the Air Force, the Berlin Wall was still up and East Germany was a separate country. Now I live in the Czech Republic and go on vacation to East Berlin. It's amazing what 20 years can do.

Berlin is Germany's capital and has about 3.4 million people. There is so much so see and do here that in 6 days we only got through about 1/3rd of our list. But most of the tourist stuff was closed for two days for New Year's. I can't wait to go back again this year. This is a city I would not mind living in one day.
I'll have to make lots of separate blog entries for Berlin. I've loaded up almost 950 pictures on Flickr but it will take a while before I get all of the descriptions added. In the meantime, here are some of the highlights.

The Brandenburg Gate is one of the main symbols of Berlin and Germany. It was built between 1788 - 1791. There used to be 18 city gates but this is the only remaining one. On top of the gate is the Quadriga sculpture, a horse-drawn chariot piloted by the winged goddess of victory. During the Cold War it sat in no-man's land between West and East Germany.

KaDeWe – or "Kaufhaus Des Westens" is the most famous shopping center in Berlin. It is over 100 years old and with 7 floors it is the 2nd largest in Europe (after Harrods in London).

The Berliner Dom is an ornate Protestant cathedral located on the river Spree.

Nicholas Quarter, Nikolaivertel, is Berlin's oldest quarter and dates back to 1237. It is named after St. Nicholas Church which stands in the center of the neighborhood.
The Gendarmenmarkt is a very cool square. It was named after Gens d'Armes, a Prussian regiment consisting of French Huguenot immigrants. Local Huguenots worshipped at the Französischer Dom (French Cathedral). On the opposite side is the Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) [in the picture]. Between the two cathedrals is the Berlin Konzerthaus. Here was one of the only Christmas markets open after December 24th.
The Rotes Rathaus (Red Town Hall) is in the center of the city. It was built in 1860 and is the office of the mayor and senators.

The Cathedral of St. Hedwig is Berlin's Roman Catholic cathedral on the Bebelplatz. It was built in the 18th century as the first Catholic church in Prussia after the Protestant Reformation. Across the Bebelplatz is where the Nazis burned books in 1938 on Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

The Fernsehturm (TV Tower), built in 1969, is the tallest structure in Germany at 368 meters (1,207 feet).

At Alexanderplatz is the World Time Clock. It weighs over 16 tons and features the world's 24 time zones. On top of the clock is a model of the solar system that revolves once per minute.

The Reichstag has been the seat of the Bundestag (German parliament). In 1999, the 1894 building was completely renovated and a glass dome was added.

On the other side of the Tiergarten is the Holocaust Memorial. "Stelen" is made up of 2,711 gray stone slabs. Across the street is the Gay Holocaust Memorial.

This building, the Stasi Museum, was one of the most hated in East Germany. The State Security Service, or Stasi, was responsible for intelligence gathering abroad and at home by spying on its own citizens.

The Checkpoint Charlie Museum focuses on the history surrounding the Berlin Wall, including an exhibit of instruments people used to escape. Again, very interesting for an ex-military "cold war kid".

The East Side Gallery is a mile-long stretch of the Berlin Wall. It's one of the largest remaining portions of the former divide between East and West Germany.

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