Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Walking Tour of Berlin

We left for Berlin on Friday morning and the cloudy, chilly weather continued. It definitely seemed colder here. We started off with a walking tour in the afternoon. It is put on by a walking tour company but is shorter than normal and free! You just tip your guide. Our guide's name now escapes me but he was very good and gave us a recommendation for dinner that night.

On the way to meet for the tour, we actually passed Angela Merkel's house/apartment. She is the current German Chancellor (head of state). You'd never know it! It's on a normal looking street near many of the museums. There's a cop car on the road outside with a couple of cops, but otherwise no visible security and an ordinary building. Apparently her husband still teaches at the university nearby. Very different from visiting the White House. 

We started outside the cathedral and got some general info/history on Berlin. He covered a lot about the wall, how it came to be, what it was and when did it come down. I'll probably leave that for a separate post. The cathedral and many of the historic buildings in Berlin were damaged or destroyed in the war as well. There is a huge boulevard, Unter den Linden, that runs in the heart of the historic area and it was full of beautiful, old Linden trees. Hitler had them all removed to put up Nazi propaganda. So there were Nazi changes to the city but then also the cities of Germany were heavily bombed by the Allied forces, including Berlin where Hitler had been and ultimately died. On many of the old buildings, you can see where completely new sections have been rebuilt or where there is still damage from gunfire and/or shrapnel. 

This is a memorial along Unter den Linden called Neue Wache and is a memorial to all the victims of war and dictatorship. From the outside it is a large building with large columns, like a museum. I think it use to be where the royal guards stayed. But as you enter it is this beautiful open air memorial. 

Humboldt University - famous alumni include Einstein, Marx, brothers Grimm, W.E.B. Du Bois among others. 

One of the Christmas markets throughout Berlin. They really do the city up well for Christmas though our guide said Berlin is actually one of the more relaxed cities when it comes to the holiday. I'd love to visit some of the others then :). For the tour we just passed by, but Mary and I later visited several of them. 

I mentioned it was cold on the tour and so our guide strategically took us through a shopping mall and stopped there to chat a bit so we could warm up some. 

As we approached Checkpoint Charlie, we got some more info. They had these photos along the roadside to show what the checkpoint looked like back then. This was one of the checkpoints manned by the U.S. 

They still have an old checkpoint office and pictures of a U.S. Soldier on one side and Soviet soldier on the other (I was told this actually an actor and not a real soldier pictured). They also have actors hired to stand at the checkpoint in uniform. Definitely done up for the tourists. We stopped here for a hot chocolate. Mary still hadn't thawed out, so she headed back to the hotel and I continued. 

These are the old Trabant cars used in East Germany. They are now turned into tourist attractions and you can ride around in one on a tour. We ran out of time but it looked like it would've been pretty neat. You never know how much guides fudge on the facts during their tours but ours said the bodies were made of organic materials and they would have issues with mold and stuff. Sounds unbelievable but they were very cheap looking and sounding :). I don't think there's risk of a speeding ticket in these bad boys. 

This was a memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was one of my favorite. It is a city block and you walk through and around in it. Mary and I came back during the day also but I think I enjoyed it better at night.  As you walk, you go down and soon are over taken by these tall columns (2,711 in all). There is enough space so it isn't claustrophobic, but you have to go single file. You quickly lose sight of people as they turn corners. There is thought that maybe this is meant to look like a Jewish cemetery or is meant to give you the feel of being alone and separated from others. There is also a museum underground but we did not visit it. 

Our tour ended at the Brandenburg Gate.  This was one of five (I think) gates into the city back when there were royalty ruling. It forms one end of Unter den Linden and is very eye-catching.

Some of the Christmas decorations on trees that are back on Unter den Linden. 

We had read an article that Berlin had the best Thai food outside Thailand. Turns out it referred to street food at a summer market where there were lots of Thai immigrants. Our guide was originally from Australia and very familiar with Asian food. We thought if there was Thai food in the summer surely it was also somewhere in the winter. Not so much. But there were a couple Vietnamese places he recommended and we headed there. Berlin transportation can be a little overwhelming but once you get a feel for it, it works amazingly well. 

We found the new, popular Vietnamese place at about 8:30 or close to 9 that night. It's on this little street with not much else going on. But there was a line stretched out the door. Maybe we waited 45 minutes? Maybe more? I can't recall for sure. We got in, sat at the counter and had a great dinner!

We both had pho - though later realized no one else was ordering it and we should have gotten one of the specials that seemed to be going like hot cakes. No worries though because it was all great! And the pho was nice with the cold weather outside. I also ordered this honey lemon ginger tea that was amazing! It came out looking like soup broth though :). It felt like mostly locals were out with us that Friday night, and it was a fun time and great end to the day!

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