Next stop on our Grand European Tour was Berlin. Our hotel was just south of the city centre but a comfortable walking distance to the main sites so walk we did. We headed towards the Brandenburg Gate via Potsdamer Platz. On the way we noticed a whole square covered in concrete blocks, on closer inspection we discovered that it was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, its form reflects the style of a Jewish cemetery and you can wander between the rows of blocks and gaze down the alleyways created by the grid layout. Later on we came across a memorial to the murdered Roma and travellers, these sights made us wonder about the difficult balance the city has to achieve between properly honouring the past and continuing to rebuild itself as a modern, progressive city.
We reached the Brandenburg Gate just as it started to drizzle, Marks first reaction to the gate was ‘I thought it would be bigger’, possibly a sign that he has reached sightseeing overload!! From there we walked around the Reichstag building, we had tried to book tickets to visit the glass dome that rises from the centre but the whole building was closed to visitors for the week so we had to make do with gazing up at it from the street. As the rain got heavier we reluctantly took shelter in the café of the Hotel Aldon and ordered hot chocolate and apple tart. Once the rain started to ease we set of in search of Checkpoint Charlie, looking out along the way for the tell-tale cobblestones that trace the route of the Berlin wall. As we walked we noticed the sweet little cartoon characters used as stop/go signals at pedestrian crossings, we spotted a lapel pin featuring the character, called Ampelmann (literally ‘little traffic light men’), so Mark bought one for the collection of souvenir pins he has been building up throughout our trip. We stopped at a restaurant for a typical German lunch of sausages ad sauerkraut (me) and currywurst and chips (mark) before walking back to the hotel. Back in our room we looked up Ampelmann on the internet, it turns out he is the figure used in East Germany before the wall fell, the figure is one of the only features from East Germany that has been retained. Mark had bought the green pin, but we liked the story so much we made sure we picked up a red one too before we left.
The weather wasn’t much better the next day but rather than stay in the hotel room all day we wrapped up and caught the metro out to Schlesisches Tor to the east of the town centre, we crossed the bridge across the river and then walked along the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall which has been left intact. When the wall fell artist from around the world were invited to paint sections of the wall many of the images depict interpretations of Freedom. From there we walked back to the hotel, a walk of 5km or more. Once we had crossed the river we found ourselves in a run down and un-redeveloped area of East German housing, we continued to follow the line of the wall as closely as we could, as it wove its way back towards the centre of Berlin the townscape gradually changed to modern housing and community shopping centres then, as we reached Friederickstrasse we were back in the land of high-end boutiques and smart restaurants, a history lesson in 5000m.
We had dinner in the hotel that night and took advantage of a fast internet connection to watch TV, we have been on a strict diet of 24-hour news channels pretty much ever since we left Australia (last year!) so it made a real change to watch some drama.
Next morning, still raining, we headed back to the very impressive Berlin Hbf station for our train to Cologne.