Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015 (Part 3)

Denmark, Germany, Netherlands – August 2015

Part 3  – Berlin, Germany
Pictures coming soon….

Train to Berlin
After three days in Hamburg, we took an ICE high-speed train to Berlin. In under 2 hours, we arrived in Berlin at the new central train station. Opened in 2006 on the site of the former Lehrte Station, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof came to symbolize the reunification of Berlin and handles approximately 1,800 trains daily.


Berlin Pass
As we frequently do when visiting a city for the first time, we purchase the city’s tourist pass, which for Berlin is the Berlin Pass. Possessing this pass will get you unlimited travel on Berlin’s public transportation system, free entry to 60 attractions, free travel on the city’s hop-on, hop-off bus tour, and a free cruise on the River Spree. Even if you don’t visit everything that’s included, which, in reality, is highly impractical, the pass is well worth its price if you have a few days to spend in Berlin.

If you get the pass early enough, they will ship it to you, but it costs 25 euros to ship to the USA. We chose to save that money and picked up our passes for free once we arrived in Berlin. The redemption point is on Museum Island outside the Humboldt Box at Schlossplatz 5. If you aren’t staying within walking distance to this location, you will need to purchase a bus/metro ticket or take a taxi to get you there.

For the purposes of public transport, German cities are divided into zones which are either numbered or lettered. In Berlin, these zones are labels A, B, C, D, and E. The city center is within zones A & B, but the Berlin Pass gives you unlimited travel in zones A, B, & C, which is great if you want to venture outside of the city. We did exactly that on our first day by going to Wannsee.

Wannsee is the westernmost suburb of Berlin, with a population of around 9,000, and can be reached by taking either the S1 or S7 transit line. Its lakes are known as the premier recreation and bathing spot in western Berlin. But the suburb gained notoriety in 1942 when a lakeside villa, purchased by the Nazi Security Force from Friedrich Minoux, who was a German industrialist and financier, hosted the Wannsee Conference. The purpose of this conference, led by Reinhard Heydrich, the Chief of the Reich Main Security Office, was to ensure the cooperation of administrative leaders in the implementation of the final solution. Under the pretext of resettlement, Heydrich proposed the forcible removal of Jews from their homes into concentration camps, principally in Poland, where the vast majority of the Jews were murdered. The villa, opened in 1992, houses a museum and a memorial and is free for all to visit and to learn about the about the conference. The main exhibition is in German, English, and Hebrew. The juxtaposition of a lakeside villa in a peaceful suburb with the historical significance of the building itself highlights how such a brutal regime forever changed the suburb’s atmosphere.

Our hotel was near the Kurfürstendamm, one of the most famous avenues in Berlin. Lined with many cafes, name-brand shops, hotels, and restaurants, this street was the hub of commercial activity in western Berlin when the city was divided after World War II. Reunification brought about competition with major avenues in eastern Berlin.

Berliner Dom
The Berlin Church, located on Museum Island and included in the Berlin Pass, is an Evangelical (Protestant) church that has technically never been a cathedral since it has never served as a seat of a bishop. The current building, completed in 1905, has a pipe organ with 113 stops and is played by a 4-manual console.

River Spree Cruise
As mentioned earlier, a river cruise is included in the Berlin Pass, which leaves from the Alte Börse Pier. This hour-long cruise operates from the end of March until the beginning of November and travels between the former east and west sections of Berlin. Commentary is in German and English. As we traveled down the Spree, it was quite evident from the differences in architecture of where the erstwhile division of the city was.

A large public square in the Mitte district of Berlin, Alexanderplatz derives its name from an 1805 visit of Russian Emperor Alexander I and originally served as a cattle market outside the city limits. The square gained notoriety during the Weimar Republic (1920s), alongside Potsdamer Platz, as the center of Berlin’s nightlife. During the 1960s the square became a pedestrian zone. On the square’s periphery stands the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), and the World Time Clock, a continually rotating installation, shows the time throughout the world.

Berlin’s Olympic stadium in the Charlottenburg district, included in the Berlin Pass, is easily reached via the U2 or S5 transit lines and is currently home to the Hertha Berlin Football Team, but the stadium’s origins date back to the Nazi era. When the International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 games to Berlin, the initial concept called for a restoration of the German Stadium. But once Hitler came to power, he ordered Werner March, alongside March’s brother Walter, to construct a new stadium, which was built between 1934 and 1936. This new stadium’s capacity was around 110,000 and had a special seating area for Hitler and his compatriots. Hitler used the torch relay and the games themselves as a giant propaganda piece for the Nazi regime. It was at these games that Jesse Owens won 4 gold medals, becoming one of the most memorable parts at the 1936 Olympics. The stadium has also hosted the 1974 and 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Brandenburger Tor
One of the best known locations in Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate, built on the site of a former city gate on the edge of Pariser Platz, which is where the American and French embassies are located. Located in the Mitte district at the intersection of Unter den Linden (an east-west avenue lined with linden trees along which many notable buildings are located) and Ebertstrasse, King Frederick Wilhelm II of Prussia commissioned the gate as a sign of peace, and it was completed in 1791. The quadriga (a chariot drawn by 4 horses) sits atop the gate driven by Eirene, the goddess of peace. The Brandenburg Gate was damaged during World War II, and after the Berlin Wall was constructed, neither East nor West Berliners had access to it. The refurbishment of the gate began in 2000 and was completed 2 years later.

Museum Island
In addition to housing the Berliner Dom, Museum Island is the cultural heart of the city. It is here that you’ll find five major state museums: the Altes Museum (Antiquities), the Neues Museum (Egyptian and Prehistory), the Bode Museum (sculpture and Byzantine art), the Pergamon Museum (Middle Eastern art and Islamic art), and the Alte Nationalgalerie (19th century paintings).

We went to 3 of the museums, all of which are part of the Berlin Pass. We walked right into the Bode Museum and the Altes Museum, as these are less visited than the extremely popular Pergamon Museum, for which we waited 90 minutes just to get in the door. Due to the importance of the items on display in the Pergamon Museum, entry is controlled and only a certain number of people can enter at one time. So be prepared to wait to get in unless you arrive prior to the museum’s opening time. Also, be sure you are in the correct line. Museum Island has a ticket booth, whose line snakes alongside that for the Pergamon Museum. If you already have your tickets, don’t waste time in the wrong line.

Checkpoint Charlie Museum
One of the popular museums you won’t find in the Museum Island area is that of Checkpoint Charlie. Originally called “Checkpoint C”, this was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing during the Cold War. (Charlie stems from the NATO phonetic alphabet.) A copy of the original guard house is on display in the middle of road outside the museum, and you can get your picture taken with guard impersonators – this is if you dare cross the street with the traffic. There is no crosswalk at the guard house.

The museum is well worth a visit if you have any interest in the Cold War era. On display are many photos, videos, and methods people used to cross the border, including a mannequin stuffed into a car’s hood. There are also exhibitions on the struggle for human rights and on NATO. You can either sign up for a guided tour in German, English, or French, which must be done in advance, or follow a self-guided tour. This is one of the few museums that is open every day of the year.

Berlin Wall
One of the most recognizable aspects of the Cold War was the Berliner Mauer, or Berlin Wall. The wall, whose construction began on 13 August 1961, totally enclosed West Berlin from both East Berlin and East Germany until its reopening in 1989. Demolition began the next year and was completed in 1992. The East German leaders referred to the wall as the “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall”, which equated West Germany and NATO members with fascists. During its existence it is estimated that around 5,000 people attempted to escape, with an estimated death toll of between 136 to 200+.

While 2 smaller sections of the wall still remain, the open-air Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse stretches 1.4 kilometers and is divided into 4 sections. In the first section called “The Wall and the Death Strip”, the Documentation Center chronicles the political and historical situation surrounding the wall’s construction. The Chapel of Reconciliation, located in the second section called “The Destruction of the City”, was rebuilt on the church’s original site, which was originally located in the inaccessible “death strip”, the area of land between the two walls through which people tried to cross in order to escape. The original church was blown up by the East German government in 1985, but the land was returned after reunification with the proviso that the church was rebuilt.

As you walk along the memorial, plaques on the ground commemorate the locations of tunnels people dug to aid in their attempts to escape East Berlin. They stand as a sobering reminder of the actions people will undertake in order to avoid living under a totalitarian regime.

Käthe Wohlfahrt
Germany is known for its Christmas markets held each winter holiday season in many cities, towns, and villages. But if you happen to be in Germany whilst these markets are not occurring and if you are a fan of Christmas ornaments, see if the city you’re in has an outlet of the Käthe Wohlfahrt chain of stores. There happened to be one near our hotel in Berlin, which was a two-story wonderland of holiday scenes, traditional and modern ornaments, coo coo clocks, and other holiday items. The main store is in a small town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is in northwestern Bavaria. The only branch in the USA is in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Located on Tauentzienstrasse, Das Kaufhaus des Westens (Department Store of the West) is the largest department store in continental Europe and has over 380,000 articles for sale. Originally opened in 1907, each of the store’s 8 levels is dedicated to a different type of merchandise. The top floor is a buffet restaurant that can seat around 1,000 people. While it may not be the best place for a full meal, it is a great place for a slice of cake or some other dessert and a drink.

Reichstag Building
The Reichstag Building houses the German Parliament, and visitors can walk around the roof terrace and glass dome. In order to visit the roof, you must register in advance. You cannot just go and visit when you want. There are two ways to register. There is an online option on the Bundestag’s website, which will have you choose a date and time and will require the full names and birthdates of anyone interested. If you register in person once you get to Berlin, you can do so at the Service Center on the south side of Scheidemannstrasse. You must register at least 2 hours in advance if there are spots available; you must have a passport or identity card if you are a citizen of the EU; you must all be present at the same time to register. Once registered, you’ll receive an invitation for entry, and you come back at that time with your passport/identity card and the invitation. You won’t get in without it. They are actually very strict on this.

While this may seem like a process, and it is, it is well worth the time it takes. The views from the top of the Reichstag are amazing! We went in the late afternoon and had clear views of all of Berlin. Once you are on the roof, you can spend as much time there are you want. Plaques inside the dome chronicle the history of the building, including the fire of 1933 by Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch Communist. The Nazis used the event as propaganda that communists were trying to overthrow the regime.

Next Stop…The Netherlands (coming soon)

Author: TTG Michael