Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Central Europe: Day 12 (Berlin)

Looking back at my pictures for this day, it was kind of a gray day full of awkward German history. But that's OK, it was still amazing.

First off was the culmination of a dream 10+ years in the making - I got a tour inside the Reichstag building!!

When I studied abroad in 2003, I didn't have tickets and I couldn't wait in the hours-long line. This time, I planned ahead; I ordered tickets online and we got in first thing. We stopped for a few snaps at the Brandenburg Gate and then got our tour.

The tour was SO COOL. You go up this ramp that gives you an audio tour all about German history and the building. The dome is all glass and has a hole in the top to have natural heating and cooling. The mirrors in the center of the dome move with the sun and help with energy savings, too. (Plus it's really pretty.) 

From the Reichstag, we clutched our umbrellas during a walk through the corner of the Tiergarten - basically Berlin's version of Central Park - to the Holocaust Memorial, which was installed later in the same year that I visited Berlin, so I didn't get to see it last time. 

It is a visually stunning and emotional display of different-sized concrete blocks that give you a feel for the breadth of the loss. Also, walking through it, it feels bleak and disorienting.

From there, we walked to the Gemäldegalerie, basically the museum of the old masters in Europe. Dave really likes Rembrandt and Vermeer, and they had some along those lines. 

Speaking of awkward history, on our way to the gallery, we saw a line of bricks in the ground that I realized is where the old Berlin Wall stood. It goes for miles throughout the city and reminds you of the intrusion of the wall on German life.

We also walked by the Berlin Philharmonic, which we didn't visit. I wish I had gotten a show there. Oh well.

We walked over to Potsdamer Platz, an energetic commercial hub of Berlin. Without realizing it, we walked right to the Spy Museum, which was included on our museum pass! Giggity giggity!

The museum was full of fun tidbits of spy history, particularly during the Soviet occupation, and even included some relics (or potentially replicas) of real gadgets that spies used. 

OK, and obviously the museum's curators love James Bond, too...

On the way to lunch, we walked by Checkpoint Charlie, which was a weird area. I thought that it was going to be more of a relic of the old Soviet way-station, but I didn't see any old buildings at all. There was a display with placards about the history of the station, but it was so full of tourists that we just wanted to get the hell out of there. 

Our next stop was Fassbender & Rausch for some delicious chocolates. We got some truffles and different tasting-size samples of chocolate bars from around the world. The displays were mouth-watering.

We enjoyed a meat-centric lunch at Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt, which I had been super excited about because the Augustiner brewery had a location in Salzburg, where I studied abroad. The beer was solid and the meat, well...

We needed a good walk after all that delicious meat, so we headed over to the expansive Deutsches Historisches Museum, a comprehensive history of the German people from ancient times to the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

We walked around for hours in there; I saw Frederick the Great's uniform, tons of suits of armor, lots of World War I and II propaganda, and even a section of the Berlin Wall. Dave and I got a little lost, but it was one of my favorite museums.

Very near the museum, too, was Bebelplatz, the site where the Nazis famously burned books in the 1930s. The eerie Heinrich Heine quote in the plaque embedded in the plaza famously reads: "It was foreplay only, for where man burns books, in the end he will also burn people." [Chills] 

To finish out our day of awkward German history, we visited the Berlin Wall Memorial, which is located in a small park not far from our hotel. 

The memorial park had a section of the wall, some pieces of the original street and cemetery that lay here, and showed how the "no man's land" spanned between the inner and outer walls. It also had a memorial with photos of people who died trying to flee East Germany.

After that sobering visit - and a sobering day overall - we just ate a simple dinner of wine, some sandwich wraps, and fruit in the hotel. We picked a nice German red wine from a local shop, too. I think that German wine gets a bad rap in the United States because they only export the sweetest crap to us. In fact, they have a nice variety, and many complex reds.

Two more days of the trip, and both contain a fun castle! Stay tuned!

No comments: