Monday, August 24, 2009

be. Berlin

I had tried to find out what the marketing tag for Berlin last night and couldn't find it anywhere on the web. But when we went in to Berlin this morning, it is everywhere (as well it should be!) - it is simply: be. Berlin

Doing the bus tour yesterday gave us a better idea of what we wanted to make sure we got to see today. So we spent a little time this morning planning a route. Given that they were scattered all over the city we decided to take the car in, knowing that if we could not find parking that we could bring it back only partway to one of the big rail parking stations. But you would not have believed how little traffic there was! Anywhere!!

First on our list was the Oberbaumbrücke Bridge. We had seen this bridge on the way through yesterday and it looked so amazing! When the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the bridge became part of East Berlin's border with West Berlin and beginning in 1963, the Oberbaumbrücke was used as a pedestrian border crossing for West Berlin residents only - even though it is a two tier rail and pedestrian bridge with a road bridge joining it. Because of its length and the busy road at the end it is almost impossible to get a photo of the full bridge, but this one isn't too bad.

And for a length of 1.3 kms from the bridge, there is part of the former wall still standing. After the fall of the wall in 1989, artists began to paint messages and pictures. Today, it is the longest piece of the wall still standing where it had been situated and more than 118 artists from 21 countries have left their messages on this stretch. The story of the Berlin Wall and the Berliner people's determination not to let it tear them apart is very interesting reading. The link is above! This section of the wall is now known as the East Side Gallery and is a protected monument. There are conservation and rehabilitation works underway to minimise the affects of weather and dirt. Unfortunately, there are some pieces that have been vandalised with meaningless spray can graffiti tags - bloody blighters, lets hope that they never have the need to leave messages as those before them here had to.

From here we set Kate to take up to the ruins of the Franziskaner Klosterkirche. In the twilight of last night when we were trying to find it, we had actually driven straight passed it, but as its not lit, we didn't see it! We are a little disappointed to find it locked up tight. After being struck by bombs in WWII and almost totally destroyed, it was never rebuilt. Now it has become a venue for the arts - we can see various sculptures both inside the former church ruin and in the grounds and there are advertisments for musical concerts on the front of the building remains. It is is a beautiful setting and must have once been a lovely piece of Berlin's architecture.

We are lucky enough to park the car in the street beside the ruins. Surprisingly, we are having absolutely no trouble either moving through the city, or finding (cheap) street parking. You would hardly know that you are in a capital city! But remember what I said yesterday about the lack of a single business area. That is coming though! In the area of Potsdamer Place which was the no-mans land between the east and west, there are multiple projects building a new commercial centre for the reunified Berlin. It will take some time to complete though - maybe another ten years?!

So once we had finished admiring the kloster ruins we were ready for some lunch. There is a shopping complex across the road (an 8 lane major road - Grunerstraße) so we dash across when the lights allow us to find a café. We figure that this will be cheaper than a restaurant. And it is. We sit on the sidewalk in the shade and have our lunch (we forgot to write the name of the cafe!) Michael has Hungarian Goulash with rice and I have chicken and peaches in curry sauce. Not big meals, but very tasty and enough to fill the holes. From here we can see a steeple which is very close to the television tower we went up yesterday (gosh, can't help but compare our small lunch with the magnificent meal yesterday). So lunch down, we go off to take a look.

This is the Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) and while the exact age is unknown it was first mentioned in German chronicles in 1292 and is presumed to date from earlier in the 13th century. It was originally a Roman Catholic church, but has been a Lutheran (Protestant) church since the Reformation. There are major conservation works underway as we walk through.

So this was an added bonus as it wasn't on our list of to-does for today, but as we are so close, we can't leave without taking a look. It sits in Alexanderplatz along with the very impressive Neptune Fountain that the Italians are all climbing over making it hard to get a photo, and it is bordered by the Rathaus. When we walk in to take a look, we can't help but be reminded of the simple beauty of the Maryborough City Hall and Council Chambers. The Berlin Rathaus is much much more ornate, but in a dignified way that despite its glitz and bling manages to retain an air of glamour not gaudiness. It contains beautiful architectural touches such as highlighted capitals and ribbed vaulting, plus stunning stained glass window panels and cool marble floors.

So back out into a warm sunny day - although at 24.5°C, late summer in Berlin is proving cooler than late winter back home. I'm finding it hard to get my head around temperatures in the low 30's in August. What on earth will it be like next summer when we have to come home from the European winter? Yuk!

We walk back through the cool of the park around the kloster to the car to head for something totally different. While its nice to see the historical and cultural side of a city, its great also to get a sense of the today. And on an artificfal 'beach' established by the River Spree, we are lucky to visit the Sandsation - World Solo Championship. Lucky because the displays will only be up for another week! This is the result of a competition for solo sand sculptors. And what they have made out of sand with a little fixer and water is amazing. The theme for 2009 was 'City of the Future' and some of the artist's statements are truly thought provoking when you read their interpretation of the theme and the message they are portraying. There was an Australian entrant for the first time as well. Set against the backdrop of the Hauptbahnhof - the new Berlin central rail station, they looked quite stunning.

We continue to the last of the places that we had planned to go to today and for the first time since arriving here encountered real traffic. And this was on top of road closures for events and road works. Gosh, it was a total shambles. We wanted to go to the Brandenburg Tor (Gate) and then drive Straße des 17. Juní travelling through the Großer Tiergarten towards the Großer Stern (the Great Square) with its imposing Victory Column. And although we finally managed to get up close and personal with them both, it was the hardest thing we did today!

There has been some sort of event at the Brandenburg gate and the roads leading into it are congested as nothing we have seen yet in Berlin while the scaffolding that rings the edge of the Tiergarten and that has closed the Straße des 17. Juní is dismantled. The worker ants (cos that is what they look like!) are scurrying busily, working efficiently and quickly - but there is so much to do. The local drivers are as impatient as some angry hornet - they don't like not being able to travel their normal routes and you can feel the road rage building as we crawl forward inch by small inch. And it is truly a pity as we cannot get a photo of this impressive reminder to the might of Germany as a nation from back. It is hard to demonstrate its size with the ones we can get, but hopefully you will be as impressed as we were.

The Victory Column at this hour of the day casts it shadow and points towards the east as if it is the needle of some huge sundial. Yes, 5:50 pm - right on the mark! Now, THIS is some monument - built in the days when honour and pride in the achievements of a nation were paramount in demonstrating might and power to others, and engendering the soul of a nation. This column commemorates the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, but by the time it was inaugurated in 1873, Prussia had also defeated Austria (Austro-Prussian War,1866) and France (Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71), giving the statue a new purpose.
It is magestic sitting in the middle of the round square of the only major intersection in the Großer Tiergarten - meaning that you look down a wide avenue to see it in the centre of this magnificent park. This monument is a masterpiece of design and construction - check out the link if you want the details, but you have to see the mosaics that form the entire wall of the monument inside the collonaded portal - artistically and aesthetically these are just stunning.

What is disgusting is the lack of respect sho to the monument by many many visitors. You see you can climb up 301 steps to the top of the monument for amazing views over the Großer Tiergarten and up the Straße des 17. Juní to the Brandenburg Tor and indeed right across the city skyline. And the inner stairwell from bottom to the very top is covered with graffiti - as though adding your name to an immortal statue brings one a place in history - NOT. Absolutely disgusting (in my humble opinion).

London has Harrods. Berlin has Ka De We (Kaufhaus des Westens). But here the comparison ends. While Harrods relies on its name and its 'connections', it is old and dated with threadbare fittings and a desperate need for a makeover. Ka De We on the other hand is total chic.
There are two restaurants here and as the one on the lower floor is closed for the day, we head for the 7th floor and the Wintergarten International Buffet. You can choose from an incredible array of foods all cooked to order (except the roasts) - from fish and shellfish to steaks, from salads to asian, from pizza to crépes to cakes and coffee. We are hungry and so decide to have dinner - well, it is just before 7pm!
Lamb shaslick auf Rosmarin Kartoffeln backen und Gemüse überbacken (Lamb shaslick on rosemary potato bake and vegetables au gratin) Michael
Gegrilltes Rumpsteak mit Whisky-Pfeffersauce, Pommes backen und Gemüse überbacken (Grilled rump steak with whisky pepper sauce, potato bake and vegetables au gratin) Maria
Frische Brötchen mit Butter, Knoblauch und Zitronen-Butter (Fresh breadrolls with garlic butter and lemon butter - savoury not sweet and oh-so-yummy!)
Erdbeer-Gelee Scheibe mit Kiwis (Strawberry jelly slice with kiwifruit) Michael
Fresh Krepp gefaltet mit Kirschen (Fresh crepe folded with cherries) Maria

And as we are leaving we get a little treat for later - fresh marshmallows, nougat and licorice! The lady in the confectionary sales area tells Michael that I am 'just like a little girl' as I giggle and grin with our selection. Yep, thats me!!

And just when we thought the day was as full as, we are caught in the middle of a VIP (very important politician) motorcade. We are not sure that the German Chancellor is in one of the cars, but it is a pretty safe bet as there are police and military police cars and motorcyles surrounding two cfars travelling at speed, ignoring traffic rules and almost bludgeoning other traffic into pulling aside to let them continue unimpeded (albeit with a polite bitte over their loudspeaker as they rush past). Wen the motorcade pulls into the grounds of the German Federal government building - we just put two and two together.

Once back at the hotel (via the motorway this time which took us through places we had not yet seen), we spend the rest of the night booking accommodation through to the end of the month, making plans to visit Felicitas (our last exchange student) and her family, and planning for the Western Front tour!

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