Day 9, Thu 9/1: Berlin, Part 1


Berliner Dom

It’s not quite 5am on Friday morning as I start this. We got back to the room last night a little before 10pm, which is by far the latest we’ve been out the whole trip. The blog process is generally¬† 2-3 hours – one hour for photo prep, another 1 or 2 for writing. – and I hate getting behind because it’s too hard to catch up. But it was a long day with lots of walking (11.43 miles and 40 floors according to Dan’s phone) and I just couldn’t think straight to do the writing. So after the photos were uploaded here I decided the writing would work better (for all of us!) if I did it over coffee in the morning. So here I am ūüôā I slept a decent 5 hours and the room coffee ain’t bad for being instant. (Which is always the case here, by the way: instant, and surprisingly good.)

We got an early start yesterday, but intentionally. Dan set the alarm for 5:45 so we could get one more spa round in, which opens at 6am. And we did. Made it to breakfast a little after 7 and out the door by 8:10 for an 8:56 train to Berlin from Dresden. This one was on time.

The two hour ride was uneventful. We both slept a little. This train was more crowded, and there were 2 other women with us in a compartment for 6. So still comfortable.

If you’ve been traveling with us for awhile you know we love train stations. And the Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) is huge! As soon as we stepped off the train we were like “this is going to be our kind of town.” We stopped at the visitors center and picked up public transportation passes which we can use unlimited for 4 days, and Dan added some extras to that for museums and such. Mostly we were interested in the transportation because we knew we’d be using it a lot, and much of what we would do (today especially) was free.

And we had that feeling again as soon as we got off and started walking to our hotel. We like cities that have a lot of diversity, in people and neighborhoods, and like to see as much of it as we can. We especially like to taste neighborhoods that feel very lived in, as opposed to touristy areas. Neustadt in Dresden so far was the only one we’d done on this trip. Our hotel is out of the city center – there’s something going on in this town this weekend and we had trouble getting a room – but pretty close to 2 train stations so it will still be easy to get around. But the neighborhood is great so we’re really happy with it. Nothing touristy about it.

This is a Hampton Inn, still part of the Hilton chain, but very basic. Honestly, we don’t really care that much about the rooms because we spend so little time here!

We went in search of lunch and decided on a German place the hotel clerk had recommended, Gasthaus Krombach. It was #43 on TripAdvisors list of 6439 restaurants in Berlin so figured it couldn’t be too bad. And it wasn’t, but very German for sure.

The restaurant as you walked in above. We took the one below as we were leaving, the waitress is clearing off our table.
¬†This was probably the most unappetizing looking meal I’ve had, but it tasted good. Boiled pork knuckle – sort of like eating a turkey leg – with boiled potato, mashed yellow peas, sauerkraut, and a killer horseradish sauce I kept taking too much of and would get that burn.
 Dan had a standard German staple: Currywurst and fries. Currywurst is a sausage with a sort of BBQ sauce and curry powder sprinkled on top.
After lunch we took the train towards the city center. Although we’re both getting a little museumed out, Berlin actually has a “Museum Island.” Ruh-roh. You know you’re in trouble if there’s an actual island full of them. We only did one of them today though.

About to cross onto the island. You’ll probably see a lot of cranes over the next few days. There is a ton of construction going on in this town. Dan said there was even more when he was here in 2002, and it was on the “east” side where the post-Communist area was trying to catch up to the West Berlin side, which, while completely surrounded by the Communist state East Germany, actually belonged to the democratic state West Germany. That part of history is always very interesting to me for some reason.

We decided to do Berliner Dom, the Berlin Cathedral, first. This was the view approaching it from the side. For some reason, probably the name, we had both assumed this was Catholic. Turns out it’s Lutheran, like the one in Dresden, which makes more sense. Also turns out it’s not a cathedral, in that it’s not the seat of a bishop. It’s just what it’s called. It’s official name is Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church, a parish which dates back to 1451 and would have been Catholic then of course. It converted to Lutheran in 1538 by the ruler at the time, Joachim

The front view, taken from a large park across the street after we were done here. This church isn’t huge real estate wise – we’ve certainly been in a lot bigger – but it’s dome is huge and it’s very impressive inside and out. It was finished in 1905, and up until 1918, served as both a place of worship and a state site for public events. The Royal Palace was across the street and the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, who was also the head of the church, was very involved in its construction and used it a lot, including for his own birthday celebrations. Once he was out of power after 1918 and the end of WW1, it fell out of use publicly until the Nazis in the 30’s. Goering used it for a very public wedding in 1935. (And added a fun little photo below for emphasis.)

Notice the guy in the left background, who was also the best man.

It was damaged by bombs during WW2 and much of it sat unrepaired for awhile. Because of it’s association with governments the people were tired of, there wasn’t a ton of interest, therefore no funds, to bring it back. The parish continued on though. Long story short: West Germany ended up funding it’s repair in the 70’s-80’s. After the Wall fell,¬† people were committed to restoring it and it was re-inaugurated again in 1993.

 This is the same entrance as the one above.
¬†At this point I was still thinking it was Catholic. You don’t typically see the crucifixion like this in Protestant churches. (At least not the ones I’ve been in!)

 

 

 

 

 Martin Luther is the predominant figure left of the altar.
¬†This seriously cracked us up. All the way up the dome there were these lines like “still 180 steps to go!” and constant reminders of how physically demanding it was. The last line above we found hilarious. Did somebody die or something from physical exertion? The repeated emphasis was unusual.
The Berlin TV Tower, finished in 1969. At 1207 feet, it’s the tallest structure in Germany, and 2nd tallest in the EU. (A radio tower in Riga, Latvia, is 2 feet taller.)
 The park we were in when we took the front shot of the church.
 A museum on the island we will not go into, but we liked the look of it.

 

We headed to the Pergamon. As if it could read out minds, this museum focuses on what Dan has been wanting to see: civilizations from the Mesopotamia region, including now Turkey. There’s a lot of history there we know nothing about. The museum gets it’s name from a site discovered that was part of the Babylonian empire.

 The map of the areas covered.
The next 3 photos are from the Ishtar Gate, which has been reconstructed here in the museum to the degree it can be. It was built in 575 BCE in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar.

 

 

 

The next several shots are all from a market square in Miletus, from what is currently Turkey, dating around 350 BCE.

Mosaic flooring similar to the Roman stuff we’ve been, only this is several hundred years older.

 

 The reconstruction of these in this room was just kind of amazing.

 

These next 3 are intended to be the rebuilding of the corridor that lead up to the gate of Ishtar, although these walls would have to be double the height to get it accurate.¬† In the 3rd photo you can see a model that shows what it might have looked like. We picked up the walls on the side matching the model; the Ishtar Gate in the background is hard to make out. But this was an impressive exhibit; we’d never seen anything like it.

 

 Looks amazing for being 3000 years old.

 

 

 This is a water basin, cut from a single basalt block.

The next grouping of these came out of the Islamic exhibit. So from Arabia and Iraq, circa 700 AD.

 

 A palace wall.
 A very intricately decorated room.
We left around 4:30 after just 75 minutes; were ready to be outside the rest of the day. We went in search of water and coffee, which we found at a train station not surprisingly, and decided where to go next.
Ritter Sport is Dan’s favorite German chocolate. There’s a store here where you can design your own chocolate bar! We passed on that, but enjoyed looking around anyway. We will come back on Saturday and try out there restaurant.

 

 

¬†You can buy this in most grocery stores in the US, it’s just much cheaper here.
Next was the holocaust memorial. These blocks are intended to create of sense of order that’s actually confusing (mission accomplished); some have also said it looks like a cemetery. We got there too late to go into the museum portion underneath all of this so just walked around. It was interesting being there as sunset approached, made for interesting shadows.
¬†They start at street level, get higher as you go in, and the ground turns into a valley. So suddenly you find yourself surrounded and you can’t see out, lose your sense of where you are.

 

 

 

We had dinner after at a Thai vegetarian place. There are a lot of Vietnamese and Thai places here so decided we’d try one. This was vegetarian and it was very good.

 

¬†Dan had an eggplant dish and I had a simple vegetable hot plate dish, both with rice. Very satisfying, almost like a taste of home! We love Thai food and there’s a lot of good Thai food in Sacramento.

 

This is Brandenburg gate, the most Berlin-y thing you could possibly see. Constructed during the reign of Frederick William II of Prussia, completed in 1791. Used for all sort of ceremonies, battles and demonstrations over the years, it was originally a gate used to collect taxes as merchants came in and out of the city. I loved some of the description provided about more recent events: “The thousand-year Reich proclaimed by the Nazis led to mass murder and a world war which ended 12 years later in catastrophic defeat.” and later: “The Brandenburg Gate took on a new significance after 13 August 1961 when work on began on building the Berlin Wall just a few meters away. The gate now became the symbol of the division of Berlin and the entire country. For 28 years it was completely inaccessible, being locked into the prohibited zone and death strip controlled by GDR border guards. the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, however, and on 22 December 1989 Germany’s most prominent historical structure was reopened.” Nothing more I can say about that.

 This is the US Embassy, to my left from the photo above it.

Next we went to the Reichstag. This is the German Parliamentary building. It was free, but you had to make an appointment to get in. We made ours a month ago, for 8:30pm. We got there around 8pm, left around 9pm, and there were still lots of people around. Everything about this was impressive and we’re very glad we did it.

 We took this on our way out. The dome at the top if what we got to tour. This is the #1 thing to do on TripAdvisor and we agreed.
 A viewing deck, taken as we were ascending the dome, it was still dusk then.
We took this after, but it’s where we spent our time. It’s very well done, with ramps that lead you up and down, and an audio guide that plays automatically, describing things you’re seeing as you move about, stopping and starting based on where you are.
On the right: mirrors that reflect sunlight into the plenary chamber below. On the left, a shade of shorts that follows the sun throughout the day to block glare. And below: a nice shot into the chamber with the chairs being reflected in the mirrors.

 

A 30 meter hole in the top that allows creates passive ventilation. Dan was very impressed!
The next several are all shots of the city from our walk on the deck.

 

 The Brandenburg Gate on the left.

 

 

 We went back to Brandenburg Gate on our way out to get a better photo at night.

We took a bus back, which dropped us off at one of the train stations close to the hotel. We had seen this earlier in the day, just as Dan had said “I haven’t seen any Bayer signs.” They have pharmacies in Germany and we typically see them fairly regularly. Not 30 seconds later we came across this building, across the street from the train station.

It was a good first day in Berlin. We are headed to breakfast soon, and after are spending the day in Potsdam, and will complete Berlin tomorrow.

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