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Day 5 and 6: Berlin


Riding into Berlin on the train, and then viewing it from the cab we took from the train station, the contrast to Amsterdam is startling. The part of Amsterdam we were in was centuries old with charming architecture, bridges, and bikes, and very few places to park a car. Berlin, in contrast, is a bunch of memorial plaques amidst utilitarian apartment buildings, and there are cars everywhere. 

That's an unfair characterization. This is a city that was heavily bombed in the world wars, and which has seen multiple changes in political regimes, each of which dismantled and repurposed what was sacred to the regime before it.

Tuesday the 9th, Deborah and I went on a walking tour, mostly of the former East Berlin, as that is where the Actual Old Stuff is--the museum island, the twin cathedrals at Gendarmenplatz, the Palast der Republik, etc. When our travel agent set this up, I had misgivings. I am not as able-bodied as I used to be, and my back and knees can give out easily after a fifteen-minute stroll, much less a three and a half hour walk in the middle of what is mostly paved city. I told our travel agent I would give it a try, then told Deborah the morning of the tour, "We may have to bail at Checkpoint Charlie," which is a block from our hotel. 

Well, that tour ended up lasting more like 5-6 hours, and I did the whole damned thing. I survived through a combination of sitting at every conceivable opportunity (even if it meant plopping unceremoniously on the ground--I am lucky I can still get back up), standing with my back arched and my knees bent, or walking in a weird cross between a march and a horse canter that elevated my knees and kept them from locking. Truth be told, I have a harder time standing still than walking. 

We saw historical sites and buildings from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, learned about the history of the city from the days of the Germanic tribes to the present, and got misty-eyed at the monument to the 20,000 books that were burned by the Nazis in the square in front of Humboldt University. 

The tour moved forward in time from the early days of the united Germany, to the Weimar Republic, then segued into Nazi Germany (e.g., the site of Hitler's bunker, which really is a plaque next to an apartment building--they removed anything they thought might get turned into a shrine to the man). Then we reached the site of the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie, and wandered from there to the Brandenburg Gate/Reichstag where the tour ended.

Checkpoint Charlie features an old guard box where actors dress up as soldiers for the tourists to take photos of. Then they expect a few euros for their trouble, rather like those nice old Peruvian ladies in traditional dress standing around with llamas on our last trip. Wednesday was museum day in Berlin.

Deborah and I got the hang of the Berlin subway system, figuring out how to get from our hotel to the museum island, the museum island to the Kathe Kollowitz museum, then the Kathe Kollowitz museum to Museum Berggruen. At museum island, we chose to go to the Neues, which has the Nefertiti bust and many other Egytian and Greek artifacts. Kathe Kollowitz was one of the preeminent 20th century artists from Berlin, doing mostly anti-war work in drawings, woodcuts, and sculpture after losing a son to WWI and a grandson to WWII. Museum Berggruen houses a staggering number of Picassos, Klees, Matisses, and Cezannes. It's almost too much to take in. 

Although we took the subway around, figuring out which route would get us where we wanted to go and how to get to the stop we needed involved a few wrong turns and a fair bit of walking. I developed some fun new blisters on my toes. I am also bruised in bunch of places from who-knows-what. I seem to bruise at the drop of a hat these days. Nevertheless we are still seeing everything we came to see. Nancy and Deborah      

Comments

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masqthephlsphr
Jul. 12th, 2013 07:05 pm (UTC)
Lol, my travel agent had the exact same experience as you, except she was there in 1979.
masqthephlsphr
Jul. 12th, 2013 07:14 pm (UTC)
Now they sell tiny chunks of the Berlin wall in every souvenir shop with half a. Mile oh where the wall was.
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