Saturday morning, May 17, 2014 After the cruise, we struggled to get out of the boat like a bunch of cattle. I guess this is inevitable with 1,700 passengers and only one exit. We took our only taxi of the entire trip to the airport to catch our 45 minute flight from Denmark to Germany. Berlin’s Tegel Airport reminded us of Chicago’s smaller Midway Airport. We traveled on a bus and two trains to our apartment on Bernauer Straße in the very chichi neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. From the train, we had to walk about ½ mile dragging our luggage to the apartment over cobblestone sidewalks. A friend of the landlady was waiting and took us up to, what turned out to be, a brand new place. In fact, it looked to be only about 30% complete. There were construction workers in the building every day. Luckily, we were the second people to ever rent the place. We weren’t sure white floors, walls, cabinets and furniture would work out so well for the owner, Jana. From the picture window, we looked down on Bernauer Straße and Mauerpark across the street. The Berlin Wall formerly ran down this street. No Man’s land, the property adjacent to the wall is being transformed with new buildings. This Ost-West (East-West) Café was nearby, with a very interesting old Trabant parked out front. After choosing rooms in very orderly, Germanic fashion, we headed to the center of town to start the walking tour. The streets were packed with tourists and soccer fans. The German Soccer (Bundesliga) Championship Game between Dortmund and Bayern München was being played that evening in Berlin. The Dortmund fans wore Black and Yellow jerseys and the München fans Red and Blue. The three-hour free Sandeman Tour started at the Brandenburg Gate. Our guide was Franziska Storr. She actually gave up practicing law to become a tour guide. Made sense since she was quite a people person. This city has withstood the most incredible evils in recent history: The Nazis wiped out Democracy, disallowed independent thinking and began purging non-Aryans starting in 1933 The Wall was built in 1961 in one night and came down in 1989 And this history, with its pain so fresh, is embedded everywhere: statues, parks, buildings. AND remnants of the wall are still standing in many places — left in memory. This graffiti says it all. Madness indeed. Berlin’s painful history is not evidenced at the Hotel Aldon where Michael Jackson famously dangled his baby over the balcony. The Presidential Suite, at the “best flexible” rate, goes for the ungodly sum of €15,750 ($21,418) per night! Hello! The traffic lights are delightful. They were originally only in East Berlin, but became so beloved, they have become iconic. They are known as Ampelmännchen, which is German for little traffic light man. We toured the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. It is a thought provoking exhibit made up of huge concrete towers of all sizes. The architect never explained what he meant by it, leaving it up to the viewer to decide. It cost €27,000,000 to construct. Underground at this site is The Holocaust Memorial, in which you can hear a pin drop…or should I say, tears fall. There is much personal accounting of the horrors Hitler’s policies unleashed. Here are two of the things I read: one from a note recovered in a concentration camp, the other a summary of just one family’s journey. Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie, which, it turns out is well-known by the locals as a high-priced tourist trap. Near the end of the tour, and after hearing about Berlin’s sordid past, Franziska said “Now to something a bit more cheerful. Let’s see where Hitler shot himself in 1945.” A parking lot is built over the bunker where he and Eva Braun committed suicide – no monument there. We ate at a local Thai restaurant across from the apartment. There were many restaurants to choose from in the neighborhood. We then went to the beer garden across the street and watched some of the soccer match on the big screen TV with the German fans. The game went to over time with Bayern München winning so the Dortmund fans were pretty somber. Sunday, May 18 We toured of the Reichstag, a German version of the U.S. Congress. After passing through security, we met our Tour Guide, In May of 1945, the building was captured by Russian soldiers who wrote all over the walls. There are photos of the soldiers standing on ladders or the shoulders of comrades writing on the walls. The Germans have preserved these writings. Since nothing was in session, we actually got to go into the chambers where the members debate and vote. She wasn’t in today. But, according to the guide, she lives quite modestly in a local apartment. Those practical Germans! We then made our way up the spiral walkway in the famous glass dome atop the building. We had audio recorders that described what we were seeing as we walked up. Outside the entrance to the Reichstag was a monument in memory of 96 members of the Reichstag (Parliament) of the Weimar Republic who were murdered by National Socialists. We went to Typography of Terror Museum, which details the rise of the Nazis and the termination of the Jews. I was topped up with sadness, so only read some of the exhibits outside. We opted to move on. At this point, the lush green forests of the Tiergarten sounded appealing. This giant park, in the middle of Berlin, measures about one square mile, and has 14 miles of pathways. We walked down the main avenue which was lined with vendors and food tents because of a huge bicycle race that was being held – as in 15,000 bikes huge. Unfortunately, the intermittent rain, meant sparse crowds. From the top of the Victory Column located in the center of the park, we could watch the bicyclists coming around different streets through the park. A fellow spectator lamented “Many riders, not so many spectators.” We ended up at Hauptbahnhof, Berlin’s Central Station. It is almost like an airport with all kinds of shops and restaurants on different levels. International and local trains, subways, and buses connect there. Very impressive. Right across from the station along the waterway, we saw people gathered along the water’s edge. Never did figure out what they were watching…a race? It was very inviting and picturesque, but we were on our way home, so there was no turning back to explore. We returned to the apartment and then headed out to hear this sweet guitar player sing in the park right across from us. And we never could figure out what this fellow was doing lying on the sidewalk next to his bike, bundled up in motorcycle leather. We sought treasures in the HUGE flea market in the park. No luck. Buncha junk! Never quite understood what this ad was about or for. But I got a kick out of it. Also in the park was a very lively, dusty dog park. Lots of romping, playing, chasing and humping. Monday, May 19th Today was Pergamon Museum day. We found it on Museum Island. Upon arrival, I was most amused and encouraged by this bird. I hoped he was a good omen. The critter certainly wasn’t flying anywhere. The Pergamon contained excavated Roman altars and friezes discovered in Turkey and brought to Berlin in the 1930s. The museum survived the bombings during WWII. But I have never been so tired in a museum in my life…and it had nothing to do with my clock. The audio recording we carried around was of a woman’s voice alternating with a man’s. It was downright hypnotic. I’m thinking my interest in antiquities of this kind is limited. Berlin is on-the-go. This vista, with seven cranes in view was typical of the horizon. Build, repair, build, repair. We found ourselves in a huge square in front of the Berlin Cathedral. They are putting in a new subway, which has caused some disruption. It was fascinating to see these diagrams of the plans and the massive drill doing the dirty work. We walked through the Alexander Platz and ate dinner at an authentic German restaurant. So authentic, the waitress didn’t even speak English. I ordered what sounded very German, but it turned out to be a couple of brats and BBQ sauce, sauerkraut and soggy french fries. Jack hit the jackpot (so to speak) with his enormous pork something-or-other. One thing was for sure, the German beer was divine! Wow! I hadn’t seen a cigarette machine in forever. I think Germans haven’t yet kicked the evil habit. Our day in Berlin ended watching the sunset from the Reichstag Dome. No clouds, just blinding light. Probably could have passed on this one, especially since it takes much prior planning to get permission to enter the dome. Tuesday, May 20th We wanted to visit our hometown’s namesake’s palace, so we headed to the Charlottenburg Palace. That’s how Mary, with her little lamb, was feeling with all that cruise food and German beer. We took a bus from there to the zoo. We decided German lions, camels, elephants and alligators probably weren’t much different from others we’d seen, so saved our $70 for later. Along the way, through the Tiergarten, we saw many homeless people and tons of graffiti. I wouldn’t have taken this picture, except he appeared to be sound asleep. These walkways were everywhere in Tiergarten. They are beautiful, but talk about labor-intensive. I saw a fellow laying these pieces one-by-one. Not as cost-effective as just pouring concrete, but certainly more beautiful. Never did figure out what this sign meant. It appears to say “No Tanks”. We visited the Kurfürstendamm, the Champs-Élysées of Berlin. In a square nearby, we were entertained by this middle-aged fellow doing stunts on a skateboard. Had Amaru and Paloma, my nephew and niece, been there, they most certainly would have been digging for pennies to press in this machine…or maybe Euros. They’re everywhere, they’re everywhere! Near Kurfürstendamm was the burned out Kaiser Wilhelm church, currently being restored. We returned to Alexanderplatz and saw The Fernsehturm (TV Tower) up close and personal. The Tower is the tallest structure in Germany at 368 meters. It was pricey to go to the top and, reportedly, the restaurant was overpriced, so we only looked UP. In the same plaza, fondly known as Alex, we saw the World Time Clock, which continually rotates showing the time throughout the globe. We finally went into St. Mariankirch (with a statue of Martin Luther outside.) We’d seen this church the day before from the plaza, but were unimpressed. It was built with a variety of bricks and looked a little seedy. But it turned out to be beautiful inside. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an altar quite as ornate as this. Finally, we headed back toward our apartment and visited the Berlin Wall Memorial, which was right down the street. This area is where The Wall first went up. Again, the museum was full of horror stories…which is what it was: A Horror Story. We packed up and took off for the airport. Having missed her at her office, it was nice to see Angela Merkel saying goodbye as we dragged our luggage to the bus.