Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Our 2 Day Berlin, Germany Experience

As an American I sometimes forget how powerful and influential our country and President is all over the world.  Our third full day of travel showed just how much of an impact President Obama has even in Europe.  Obama held a speech at the Brandenburg Gates during our stay in Berlin, where President Kennedy once held a famous speech.  Because of Obama’s visit our whole two days of travel in Berlin had to be changed up.
Before our Berlin exploring began we had to leave Dusseldorf on the High Speed Rail to travel to this next city.  Our guide brought us to the train station early to allow us to get something to bring aboard the train for lunch as we would be traveling through the early afternoon hours.  Since public transportation is a main source of transportation in Germany, and Europe, the station was packed with people already at 10 a.m.  We browsed through some of the shops and eateries and finally settled on a pretzel and pizza croissant for lunch.

We sat first class in the train and had actually lots of room to move around inside the car.  The highest speed the train got up to was about 200 kilometers.  Even at that high speed you really couldn’t feel the train moving.  Germany had been experiencing some major flooding in certain parts of the country, so we had to take a different, roundabout path to Berlin.  The trip should have only taken a few hours, but because of the detours ended up taking about five hours.  Despite the long train ride, I was still impressed with the rail transportation in Germany.  It is leaps and bounds above what we have available to us in Central Illinois.
Once we got to Berlin and our hotel we were back on the bus to head out for some sightseeing.  Our original plans were altered because of Obama’s speech, so we instead went to the Checkpoint Charlie museum.  Checkpoint Charlie was the point where people had to check in before entering East or West Germany after World War II.  This museum had endless pictures and artifacts from the time period showing the extremes people would go to trying to escape West Germany, which was ruled by the Soviet Union, to enter the U.S. side of East Germany.  Since we arrived in Berlin much later than expected we weren’t able to spend a great deal of time at the museum.  Our local tour guide lived in East Germany during this time and told a few fascinating stories about her experiences during this time period and the awful living conditions people were forced to endure in West Germany.
Checkpoint Charlie

Posing in front of Checkpoint Charlie .... and McDonald's!

Sign near Checkpoint Charlie.

JC standing where the Berlin Wall once was.
As we were walking out of the museum and back to the bus we walked over where the Berlin wall was once standing.  The streets and sidewalks now have a different colored brick to represent where the wall stood.
Our last stop during the first night at Berlin was at the Bendlerblock where Claus von Stauffenberg and other German soldiers who unsuccessfully tried to kill Hitler were executed.  There was a plaque remembering Stauffenberg and others in the small courtyard area.
Memorial at Bendlerblock for Stauffenberg and the other soldiers executed.
The next day we picked up our sightseeing tour of Berlin by visiting the Holocaust Memorial.  Rows upon rows of huge blocks take up one corner of a street.  A person could definitely get lost walking through the Memorial as each small monument was the exact same as the next.
Holocaust Memorial.

More of the Holocaust Memorial.
Another stop was at the location of where the remaining parts of the Berlin wall stand.  The wall is maybe a block long and crumbling in parts because when it first came down people were allowed to break off chunks of the wall as souvenirs.  Right underneath the wall was the Gestapo Torture Chambers where they held and tortured people who did not support Hitler and his propaganda.  We didn’t have much time to spend reading all of the history and looking at pictures during this stop either, which was also a little disappointing.  
Berlin Wall.

Picture of Hitler in the Gestapo Torture Chambers.
We visited other sites such as the State Opera House, but the highlight of the guided morning tour was stopping at the Brandenburg Gate.  Since Obama chose the monument for his speech, scaffolding and tents blocked the view from the road leading to the gate.  We had to get out and walk directly in front of the gate to be able to take in all of its glory.  It was a really beautiful, amazing structure which makes you reflect on history and all that’s taken place below its gates.   
State Opera House

In front of the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate.
 After a stop at lunch JC and I opted not to go on the optional tour to Potsdam due to the extreme heat and lack of sleep.  We did, however, check out the Berlin Zoo, which our tour guide told us was an excellent zoo.  We didn’t make it to the zoo until later in the day, so we were able to see a lot of the feeding taking place with a number of animals.  The zoo’s in the U.S. definitely outweigh the Berlin Zoo, but I always enjoy visiting a zoo.
Our last stop for the night was at an authentic German Restaurant.  I had a pork roast meal and JC had the Weinerschnitzel (sausage plate).  Both meals were very good.  For dessert we began our taste of Apple Strudel.  This sample of the delicious dessert was one of the best.
Berlin in general was a highlight of the Germany trip.  JC and I both said we want to go back to Berlin to explore the city on our own time.  There is so much history and things to see in Berlin a day and a half doesn’t allow for you to see even half of the wonderful sights and sounds of this great city.

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