Finding our feet in Berlin... with a fair bit of history.
We were following our now well proven formula of doing a free walking tour on the first full day in a new city, which was on in Berlin from 11am today.
However, Hans was keen to go out and explore a bit earlier, before the tour started, while Di wanted to have a little bit more time at home before venturing out. Di had a little sleep in and a nice long shower...
So, by 8am Hans was on his way and first walked up to Torstraße which he followed east. We should mention at this point that our apartment is in the old East Berlin - more on this later.
This place on Torstraße had an interesting slogan...
Corner of Karl-Liebknechtstraße and Torstraße looking southwest and towards the Berlin Fernsehturm or TV Tower.
Straßenbahn on Torstraße.
It is probably more clear in this photo that Hans was in a part of the former East Berlin. Pretty grim housing here.
...where they were preparing for the Christmas markets.
The world clock on Alexanderplatz. Sydney is shown, with Melbourne and strangely Canberra gets a mention too...
You know that you are stay in a convienient area when every single tram on the display finish up at Hackescher Markt (literally around the corner from us and where we had dinner last night).
Berlin is one giant construction zone. From here, Hans could count to more than 20 cranes whereof only a handful could fit into this one photo frame.
Outside the Alte Museum, there was a street exhibition of prominent, mainly Jewish, people who had suffered during the nazi era, although Marlene Dietrich had also found her way in there. On reading the detail later it basically said that she was included because she defied Germany's orders to return home and spoke out against the Nazi regime (safely from Hollywood).
Hans wandered along Unter den Linden but as can be seen on this picture, it was yet another construction site and no linden left along this stretch of the street. Where linden could be found, they looked pretty bare at this time of the year.
On Friedrichstrasse is Admirals-Palast where we will be going on Thursday to see a concert with Max Raabe & Palast Orchester.
The courtyard and theatres behind the street front...
...to where you have to walk through this tunnel.
The river Spree with the domed Reichstag building in the background, with Friedrichstraße Bahnhof behind Hans.
Hans continued from this point back to Unter den Linden and on to Starbucks in front of the Brandenburger Tur where he caught up with Di a bit later, so now it is on to Di and her morning.
It turned out Di almost followed Hans' footsteps so we won't repeat photos and info here. She took an hour to wander to the same Starbucks and also followed Unter den Linden, which she thought more appropriately should be called Unter den Scaffolding!
Part of this massive construction is to rebuild the royal palace and also a new U train line that runs under the road.
The road passes many historic sites, including Humboldt university and Museum Island. This, Altes Museum, is just one of 5 current museums here (soon to be 6).
The Berlin Cathedral sits in the same square. Looks impressive - might be worth a visit...
Well, the Starbucks, where we would start the walking tour at 11am, was in a prime position. Hans took the opportunity to have a cuppa, upload some photos and check out the "circus" in front of the Brandenburger Tur. Di joined him there around 10.30am.
This was the English speaking crowd doing Sandeman's free walking tour of Berlin.
There were so many punters that they had 4 tour guides with roughly 20 punters per guide, and we think also a tour with Spanish commentary kicking off at the same time with roughly the same numbers. A big business here.
A couple of Brandenburger Tur photos while we wait for the tour to commence...
A "selfie" would almost be mandatory in a place like this. Behind us you may seem some of the "buskers". Some dressed in uniforms with flags, some dressed as bears and one even as Mickey Mouse (why???).
The Brandenburger Tur was built as the palace gate in the 1700's when Berlin became the capital of Prussia.
On top of the Tur is a famous statue which was stolen by Napoleon and taken to Paris after his victory in Berlin. When the Germans won her back, they changed her name to Victory and named the plaza below Pariser Platz.
The needling point the Germans wanted to make, of course, is that Victory is looking down at the French and ironically the French embassy is here under her gaze. There is a long standing rivalry between Germany and France seemingly still today...
The tour started and so did Runkeeper.
The walking tour was about 4km after which we continued our own exploring until we got back home. The odd spike at 7km should be disregarded as we were indoors at the time.
Almost all of our walking tour was inside the old East Berlin with just a tiny less than 100 meters inside the west.
First main stop after Brandenburger Tur was the almost new 27€ million Holocaust Memorial - actually titled "the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe".
The artist did not specify what all these blocks symbolized so it is up to the viewer to make up his or her mind. Apparently the blocks are all the same size but with a varied amount above vs below the surface. To Di they were grave size, to others they represented the carriages in which the Jews were transported away etc.
It was an interesting memorial and you could wander freely between the blocks.
Di being cheeky, perhaps not quite respectful enough?
This is where Hitler's bunker once stood, and apparently there are small sections of wall still buried underground, but with no way of getting there bar digging into the ground. All else is gone.
Gone are also Mr and Mrs Hitler's bodies. Our guide. Taylor, told a bit of a story about a failed cremation attempt of the pair by their bodyguards but basically we were reassured that yes they are now cremated and scattered over water.
We moved on to this building, which was a prime example of Nazi architecture, nowadays the home of the Tax Office.
The picture on the ground above and the mural behind the columns and also below are exactly the same size.
There was a social disturbance at this very site in 1953 during the DDR years when the picture of distressed and serious looking people on the ground was taken. That picture, the reality, conflicts badly with the idealized communist euphoria, the fantasy, as depicted in the mural below.
An interesting street corner with one of those memorable symbols from DDR to the right, the Trabant car.
Further east in Zimmerstraße on the right of the picture, there was a place called Trabi-Safari where a punter could hire a Trabant and go for a spin.
A section of THE wall can still be found on Niederkirchnerstraße.
However, the graffiti seen on the wall on this side would have been added after it came down as this was DDR territory and we were are now standing would have been impossible in those days.
This street was in the middle of no mans land and heavily guarded by East German soldiers and all kinds of technical equipment to alert guards, maim or kill any people trying to leave.
By 1975 the wall was considered impossible to cross so any escape was then attempted via checkpoint crossings.
Most of the Berlin Wall is gone today, but it is marked on streets and sidewalks as per below where it once stood.
Reading this the right way up means you are standing in the former West Berlin. Upside down means you are standing in old East.
What an appropriate name as the Berlin Wall in German is known as Der Mauer. This street leads to...
... Checkpoint Charlie. The original checkpoint is long gone, but a replica has been put in its place as a tourist attraction.
This was another site where Nazi atrocities happened, the infamous book burning in 1933 too place here in Bebelplatz...
... with an underground memorial to mark the place and occasion.
It was a bit difficult to see the memorial during the day, but underneath is a room surrounded by empty bookshelves. We were told that the memorial is lit up from underneath at night, which would make it a bit more visible and effective.
Religion and communism never went hand in hand and in parallel with the TV Tower going up in East Berlin, the DDR leader at the time, Walter Ulbricht, ordered that all crosses on top of churches must come down.
The irony was that when the sun did shine on the TV Tower as it did today, it looked like a cross had been formed there.
Apparently, they tried many different things to remove the illusion of a cross but they ultimately failed.
So, in another communist spin, they rebadged the cross as a "plus" to symbolize that the communist system is better than the capitalist system... Right...
Our tour finished near Humboldt University and we made our way towards AlexanderPlatz looking for some lunch.
On the way back towards Alexanderplatz, we spotted this very mobile wurst vendor... The gas bottle that keeps his grill going is strapped to his back and the grill is his front counter.
For 1.50€ we had to try a wurst to share and it tasted fine but it turned out to be a bad decision...more on that later...
One wurst roll to share was not enough for lunch so we sat down to freshly cooked Asian noodle soup under Alexanderplatz station.
Fresh and good Tom Yum for Di was a good option to warm us up, Hans chose a laksa which unfortunately was not as good.
OK...more on the wurst roll...our stomachs had started to make strange noises before our soup lunch and Di felt a bit crampy..., but we wandered on as Di had missed the World Clock on Alexanderplatz earlier today when Hans was there and she wanted to see it too.
A selfie was required. It is almost midnight in Sydney.
We made our way home and we couldn't help to stop for a photo when we found this great street name. Seemed appropriate... Gimme another weissbier...
We made it home with a few bakery items for later. Di standing outside our front entrance.
Looking down our street in the daylight. Nice.
...and up at our windows, second row from the top.
OK...made it home and Hans' strong stomach survived the wurst roll but Di's weak stomach suffered. We won't go into details except to say she stayed in bed for a few hours...
Around 7.30pm we went out again in search of a quick and easy dinner and for some more local exploring.
Hans had read about 8 interconnecting courtyards very close to where we stay called Hackesche Höfe. We easily found it and wandered inside the court system... (Ha, ha).
Here is a map of the 8 courtyards which were bordered by nice housing, shops and a few expensive looking restaurants.
One of the charming courtyards.
This courtyard was known to be a Jewish area before WWII...
We loved the tiling and design features on this courtyard. Every wall was slightly different...
Looking the other way.
Dinner was nothing special. We found a cheapie pizza joint and ordered some food. It was OK, generous portions as usual and pretty cheap. Hans is seen here waiting for his calzone.
We finished off the evening with a bit of grocery shopping for tomorrow, then home for a cup of tea and some chocolate. And for the first day in a little while, we consumed no alcohol today.
For now it is over and out. Good night.