An early morning train took us from Prague through eastern Germany countryside to the city of Berlin. My brother and his wife had been stationed in Berlin when they were in the US Army back in the 70s. I wish they could have been with us to see the changes! The city was divided then, of course, and I have always wanted to see the remains of the "Iron Curtain" Wall that separated East from West during the Cold War.
Looking at the tourist information we realized that all the "cool" things we normally would want to see in a city are located in what used to be East Berlin. Here is the beautiful Berliner Dom, the cathedral first built in 1465 and rebuilt several times; the last change was to make it look like St. Peter's in the Vatican.
The cathedral is located on Museum Island, which is literally filled with art museums.
This one is so beautiful, but I couldn't help but remember this scene in all those history movies with Hitler yelling from the steps and those tall columns filled with nazi flags...
Our arrival day was sunny and warm - we found an outdoor "bar" to have a German beer and soak up some sun, all looking across the river to the museums.
Our hotel was very crowded and expensive (even though it was just a Courtyard by Marriott). We just figured that was Berlin... but then we saw all the signs and realized we had picked the weekend of the Berlin Marathon!! Lots of roads and parks were closed...but that didn't dampen our fun.
Our friends, Bronia and Andy joined us and we proceeded to celebrate Oktoberfest. (Of course you know that the real German Oktoberfest is always celebrated in September, right?)
First on most tourists' list is Checkpoint Charlie, the one border crossing/guard house that has been left to show us what it felt like from 1962-1989.
The Wall used to define Berlin, but now it is bustling and totally free. There are a few spots in the city which focus on the wall and the injustices done to the people who wanted freedom. But now the area around the Checkpoint is a fun place to get your photo taken, and to have a beverage on hte "beach."
And a bunch of Trebants, the East German cars... now cute and bright-colored...
And a tribute to our son!
One area that is several blocks long is now a park filled with memorials to those who died. Where there were mines, dogs, guards with machine guns and spotlights, there is now grass and movingly portrayed with photos and sound. See more at http://www.berliner-mauer-gedenkstaette.de/de/
And another day we visited MauerPark, which is literally, Wall Park. They have a big chunk of the wall where graffiti artists paint, and then a large park with a Flea Market (I loved that!!), cafes, live music (anyone who wants to can entertain you), frisbee, dogs, fun!!!
One afternoon we visited a Singaporean composer living in Berlin with his wife, whom he met in Japan...the world is a small place! Bronia had met him in Singapore and we saw his work at a gallery at The Barracks, a modern art complex in S'Pore. They took us to a new park near their apartment, former airport Tempelhof that has been left to the neighborhood (rather than developed land) It was delightful to see biking, gardens, kite-flying, walkers, re-claiming the runways and grassy areas. (We recognized the airport when watching Bridge of Spies)
Since reading In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larson, I have looked forward to seeing the Tiergarten, which is a very large wooden park in the center of Berlin. Because of the Marathon, the park and surrounds were closed until our last day there. We took a lovely walk and John climbed the massive obelisk Victory Column, built in the 1870s. Covered with amazing mosaics that look brand new. Some photos:
Gold mosaics just visible here...
Monument to Bismarck:
And the favorite Kaiser Wilhem Kirche, nearly destroyed by bombing in 1943. They left part of the spire standing as a memorial to peace.
Not to be missed, the Holocaust Memorial. It covers a whole city block near the Tiergarten and the Brandenburg Gate. It is a sea of concrete blocks of varying heights and depths, with alleyways, shadows, a few trees of hope, and silence. Very moving. It was especially poignant to be there with our friends who had lost many relatives in those horrific events. (Nearby is the bunker where Hitler died...it is not a tourist site, located under apartment buildings and supposedly filled with dirt and concrete.)
And at last the Brandenberg Gate, but it was the conclusion of the Marathon, so we only got to see it from afar.
I will conclude with this modern statue called "Pieta." It is the only figure in a museum; it represents mothers from all time and all countries. She is holding her son...
Let there be Peace on Earth.