A Travellerspoint blog

Divided Berlin

semi-overcast 12 °C

Berlin today is known as a 'Party Town' with bars, nightclubs and strip joints for all – except us. However, we enjoyed an early evening visit to a Munich Biergarten, with a Bavarian oompah band, (two guys in tight lederhosen playing souped up keyboards), where the beer was good and the roast pork knuckle enormous...
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We also took an afternoon cruise on the city's waterways, but we were not alone...
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Several people, including the staff at the tourist information office, had been skeptical that the river cruises were still running this late in the year so we were amazed to find ourselves in the midst of a procession as we meandered past ancient, (though largely rebuilt) stone edifices like the Berlin cathedral...
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...and under newly erected ivory towers of the government...
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However, the truly iconic symbol of both Berlin and of Germany is the Reichstag...
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This parliamentary building was built in 1884 but was badly damaged by an arsonist in 1933. Hitler used the fire as a reason to seize power by claiming that the fire was started by the Bolshevics. But many people believe that Hitler's supporters started the fire to give him the excuse he needed to strip the populace of their rights and impose strict martial law and Nazi domination. World War 2 followed in 1939 and it is impossible to escape signs of that dreadful period here. It is also impossible to escape the Berlin Wall. Most of the wall was torn down soon after re-unification but sections have been replaced with steel railings that trace its path through the city...
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Alongside the railings and throughout the length of the wall are plaques commemorating the people who escaped from the East, and often died in the attempt...
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Straddling the line of the wall in one place is the Mauer-park flea market where hundreds of stallholders sell everything from fur coats to cranky bikes, creaky old LPs, and huge numbers of biersteins...
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Now, autumn is catching up with us in these northern climes so it's time to head south to the Mediterranean for a family holiday. We will be back with you in a week or so as we continue our quest for Athena in the Aegean on the island of Rhodes, but for now, Prost and Auf wiedersehen from Berlin...
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Posted by Hawkson 09:16 Archived in Germany Comments (3)

The Best of Berlin

sunny 14 °C

Insane politics, nationalism and mindless populism, under the banner of “ Make Germany Great Again”, led to the virtual destruction of the once great capital of Berlin just 75 years ago. And then, just as the world was attempting to get back to rational order, the Soviets built a mighty wall that divided this once great city and the world. To have straddled this spot after 13th August 1961 would have meant instant death...
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It would be nice to believe that insane politicians, rampant nationalism and walls no longer divide us – but...? As we travel the world we meet wonderful people everywhere – people like Sabine who couldn't believe the size of the Wiener Schnitzel served at the restaurant she invited us to in Berlin...
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Sabine is a relative of a Canadian friend and she welcomed us royally with an evening tour of the German capital that included the beautifully restored Deutscher Dom cathedral at Gendarmenmarkt...
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We are staying in Alexanderplatz, an area that was totally destroyed during WWII, but has risen loftily from the ashes and is now home to many highrise hotels and the Fernsehturm tower...
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This 368 metre communications tower was constructed between 1965-69 by the East German Government as a symbol of Communist power and, as intended, it was clearly visible from most places in both East and West Berlin. Berlin suffered massive destruction from the allies and the Soviets during WWII and thanks to the Cold War much of the damage was not repaired until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. One building that survived, though severely damaged, was the iconic Brandenburg Gate...
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German history was made here. Built on the site of a former city gate in 1791 it was inspired by Athen's Acroplis and was the grand entrance to a boulevard of Linden trees. The gate was crowned with a statue of Victoria, the goddess of victory, but Napoleon's troops took it as a war prize after beating the Prussians in 1806. The Prussians won it back 8 years later and in 1933 the Nazis used the gate and its symbolism to celebrate Hitler's rise to power. The Soviets blocked the gate as part of the Berlin Wall and it became an emblem of the East/West divide until 1989. Another iconic symbol of the Cold War was Checkpoint Charlie...
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Today the border crossing is nothing more than a hut in the middle of the road with some fake Americans in uniform pretending to guard it. Prior to 1989 anyone crossing without a permit was liable to be shot by either side. Berlin is a united city in a united country today but, we are told, all is not quite as rosy as it appears – xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise again. However, we were heartened to see this silent demonstration against worldwide slavery by many young people...
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And we were delighted to be given chocolates by Katrina...
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Katrina is the sweet fraulein at Berlin's answer to London's Harrod's – KeDeWe, the department store properly called Kaufhaus de Westens...
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Once we've finished our chocolates we'll get back to our day job of sightseeing in Berlin.

Posted by Hawkson 08:51 Archived in Germany Comments (4)

Hannover's Regal Past

semi-overcast 24 °C

Following the death of Queen Anne in 1714, through a convoluted secession process, the Prince-Elector of Hannover, George Louis, became the first Georgian king of England. And so began the German dominance of the British royal household – the House of Hanover. That could be the history lesson for today, but the truth is that here in Hannover, (spelled with only one 'n' in English), history is all around us. Herrenhausen Palace on the outskirts of the city was the summer home of the Hanoverian princes and today the Great Garden, dating from 1683, is considered one of the most distinguished baroque formal gardens of Europe...
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We had splendid weather as we strolled the majestic linden walks that surround the garden and led to the great fountain...
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All around us were magnificent plants and statues, but most surprising were the huge trees growing in seemingly tiny planters...
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By talking to the gardeners we discovered that all of the trees are kept inside during the winter and their roots trimmed to restrain them, as has been the practice at Herrenhausen for some 350 years.

Although Hannover is truly the seat of the present British royal family, when Germany started the first World War the Brits changed their name to Windsor to distance themselves from their German cousins.
Despite the war the Brits kept ownership of Herrenhausen Palace and asked the RAF to give it a wide berth – Oh well...we all make mistakes – at least the Great Cascade of 1676 survived...
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Herrenhausen Palace, along with 90% per cent of all the buildings in Hannover were either totally destroyed or damaged beyond repair during 88 air raids on the city during World War II. It is almost inconceivable to us today as we walk the wide pedestrian precincts amongst throngs of friendly locals, that some 75 years ago nearly one million bombs, mines and incendiaries were dropped on these streets killing some 7,000 people and injuring countless others. Hannover was a beautiful city of half timbered medieval houses until the night of October 8th. 1943, when Britain and its allies finally decimated the place with thousands of bombs, but the majestic city hall survived...
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Despite its Gothic appearance, Hanover's Rathaus was only finished a little over a hundred years ago and it has an intriguing original secret. The lofty dome of the city hall is reached by an elevator that curves as it rises to the summit. The elevator has both a glass roof and a glass floor so you can appreciate the unnerving phenomena – if you don't close your eyes. However, the view from the top on a fine day is superb...
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Unlike Hannover, the nearby town of Celle was never bombed during the war and it is rumoured that it was spared at the request of the British King because of its beautiful 16th century buildings like this one from 1585...
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There are some 500 medieval buildings still in existence and in daily use in Celle. It is quite surreal to walk street after street of houses and stores more than 400 years old and to imagine the lives of the merchants and people who walked these streets in Elizabethan times...
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And what would they have made of the ubiquitous bicycles...
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Celle is a beautiful medieval town but its history is forever horribly stained by its close association with the nearby Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen where some 60,000 prisoners, including Anne Frank, died during the war.

Posted by Hawkson 09:01 Archived in Germany Comments (5)

The Home of the Real Hamburger

sunny 25 °C

So, now we are in Hamburg – and discovered that real hamburgers are raw ground beef on half a bun topped with chopped raw onion. No self-respecting Hamburger, (a Hamburg resident), would dream of spoiling it on a grill. In the late 1800s German immigrants in New York ate the traditional raw minced beef patti, then some yankee stuck it on the fire, added mustard and a bun, and burgers were born.
Hamburg is one of the busiest ports in the world with hundreds of wharves servicing fleets of mighty ocean goers like this...
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But the docks closest to the city have been cleaned up and are home to a fleet of tour boats, ferries, and several museum ships including one of the few surviving U-Boats...
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Our hotel gave us free passes for all public transport during our stay so we had a great time riding the buses, the trains and the ferries to places like the Elbphilharmonie...
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This modernistic concert hall sits atop an old warehouse and to reach the observation deck we rode one of the world's longest curved escalators...
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Ferries also ply downstream from the city docks and we spent a warm summery day by the seaside at Blankenese, an old fishing village that has been gentrified. Long gone are the fishermen's cottages and the herring trawlers of old. Today it is home for some of Hamburg's poshest residents, but they have to contend with the passing traffic...
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However, being so close to the North Sea meant that we could get a taste of delicious herrings at a beachside restaurant...
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From the fjords, the Viking longships and historic ships in Norway, to the Vasa and the hotel ships of Sweden, and the numerous ferries of Denmark, vessels of all kinds have played a large part in our trip so far. Our ferry crossing from Sweden to Germany carried an entire intercity train together with 340 cars and trucks and was hybrid electric. It was clean, silent and smooth, and from the deck we saw dozens of the wind turbines that were fuelling us. Hopefully, this is the future of sea travel.

The sea has been the lifeblood of Hamburg for many centuries but much of the city was destroyed by fire in 1842 and what was left was flattened by the Allies exactly 100 years later during World War II. One building that survived the war is the city-state's parliament – the Rathaus...
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This fanciful Gothic style building replaced the old parliament at a time when Germany was a series of independent states and, to impress the neighbours, the businessmen of Hamburg spared no expense in making it one of the most lavish parliament buildings in the world....
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A 500lb British bomb fell on the market square outside the Rathaus near the end of the war and would have totally destroyed the building had it exploded. Luckily for the Hamburgers, it didn't. However, the detonator was removed and now has pride of place in a glass case in the Rathaus...
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Despite the incredibly warm weather, autumn is catching up so we are now heading further south to Hannover in search of the ancestral home of the British monarchy.

Posted by Hawkson 06:12 Archived in Germany Comments (6)

Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen

sunny 28 °C

It was quite a wrench but we have now moved on to Hamburg in Northern Germany where it's a scorching 28 degrees. - a full 18 degrees above normal for this date. However, we can't leave the Danish Capital without a few words about Hans Christian Anderson. The celebrated author was a regular diner at a house just along from our apartment and we think of him as we enjoy yet another delicious Danish smoresbrod...
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Copenhagen is a beautiful city, especially in the warm autumn sunshine, and we have spent the week strolling her wide, cobblestoned, boulevards and relaxing in her splendid city parks where ugly ducklings are beginning to turn into swans and a little mermaid looks wistfully for her prince charming...
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According to Anderson, this little mermaid swims to the surface every morning and evening to sit on the rock in the hope of catching the prince's eye. She is on the 'must see' list of every visitor and bus-loads flock here every day, but James was up before dawn to get a private audience – but did she catch her prince?

The Danes are very proud of their cultural heritage and each year at the start of the school's autumn break Copenhagan celebrates with a festival called “Culture Night” where 250 museums, theaters, libraries, churches, ministries and parks throw open their doors to celebrate the city's diverse culture. The streets were thronged as we visited one of Copenhagens cultural icons,The Danish Design Museum, which largely celebrates the Danish chair...
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The Danes love their chairs, they virtually worship their chairs, and from the temple of chairs we went on to the city's renowned temple of fun, the Tivoli Gardens, in the heart of the city...
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In 1843, King Christian VIII sought to pacify his subjects with a pleasure garden, and so was born the second oldest amusement park in the world – the Tivoli Gardens – where ordinary folk could be amused with rides, entertainment and greasy food. We had the Danish national dish of roasted pork belly with lots of crispy crackling – it was delicious. However, after such a fatty feast we felt it unwise to venture on any of these sky-high rides...
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Although Tivoli has some of the latest and scariest rides, it also has a wooden roller-coaster built in 1914 and this beautiful carousel circa 1920...
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Walt Disney used Tivoli as a model for Disneyland in 1955 and the pleasure park is Tripadvisor's No.1 pick in Copenhagen. Although people are often dissappointed because Tivoli is only open in peak holiday seasons, we were lucky. The gardens had been closed since early September to prepare for the coming Halloween and it re-opened on our last night in Copenhagen with ghostly lanterns and imaginative pumpkin displays...
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The sun was still shining as we left Copenhagen for Germany by train this morning and we had one last glimpse through the Amalienborg Palace at the lofty dome of the Marble Church as we made our way to the central station...
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Goodbye Copenhagen – a wonderful, wonderful city.
Now to continue with our views of Copenhagen please turn up your volume and click here..... https://youtu.be/iNy9Hmp2n5Y

Posted by Hawkson 07:46 Archived in Denmark Comments (7)

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