We are planning a week long road trip to three cities in Eastern Germany. As we travel by car we will make a few stop on the way as well. This part of Germany is rather unknown to us. For Carolina it will be her first visit whereas I have been in Berlin just after the wall fell so in the early nineties. At the time I found it a dirty and messy city. The other two cities, Leipzig and Dresden are new to both of us. We have been to many places in Germany and it is our experience that in general Germany is more charming outside the big cities. The cities in Germany have suffered a lot during WWII and its inner cities are more rebuilt with an eye towards efficiency than towards beauty. Everybody tells me that the cities we are planning to visit are different.
This part of Germany was known as Deutsche Democratische Republic, the DDR. After the fall of the Wall in November 1991 it re-united with der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. In Western Europe, the DDR was known for its ugly cars, athletes that used doping and people that never smiled. Not a fun country. These prejudices are probably the reason why it took so long before we make this trip. First stop: Berlin
After a six hour drive over the German autobahn we arrived in our hotel in Berlin. Sometimes you forget how much fun it is to drive fast. We all know that driving 160 kilometers an hour, for some of us who are a bit more conservative, is not good for the environment but it feels great. We are staying in the Intercontinental Hotel which is normally outside our holiday budget but now it fits thanks to Corona and the lower number of tourist.
As it is already late afternoon we decided to just take a stroll and before we knew it we arrived at the first monument in Berlin. It is the Holocaust Memorial or in good German: “Denkmal fur die ermordeten Juden Europas”.
It is a bit of a strange monument, 2710 concrete slabs of different heights. Impressive. Another 5 minutes walk and we arrive at the heart of Berlin: “Der Brandenburger Tor”. I remember this place as a tourist trap where shady sales people tried to sell you pieces of the Wall and Russian army hats. The place is cleaned up and once again the centre of German power.
Close to Der Brandenburger Tor you find Der Bundertag (parlement / home of Frau Merkel) and a piece of old communism, the Russian embassy on the old East Berlin street “Under den Linden”
I am a big fan of the writer Philip Kerr and his thriller novels involving Bernie Gunther. The novels are set before WWII, during and after the war. Great reading. After Bernie left the police he worked for a while in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin. It is still (again?) standing.
When in Berlin one should do as the Berliners. So we found ourselves a nice Beer Garten next to the river Spree and had a standard German dinner: Currywurst with a nice glass (or in my case glasses) of beer.
German beer is produced according to the Reinheitsgebot, a law from 1516 that determines that only water, barley and hop can be used. Notwithstanding the healthiness of the beer, the walk back to the hotel felt significantly longer than the walk to the beer garten.
Our second day we started with figuring out the underground system. Berlin has a great metro network and we used it extensively. To our surprise nobody is checking tickets and maybe therefore, nobody seems to buy tickets (except us). I wonder if we will buy a day card again tomorrow or if we will do as all the Berliners seem to do.
The first landmark we encountered was the Gedächtniskirche on the corner of Kurfürstendamm. It is a church that was bombed during WWII and remains as a monument. It is one of the landmark buildings of the city and it is nicknamed “the hollow tooth”
We changed to the Eastern part of the city. Since the reunification the city has changed / modernized a lot but some things have remained the same. The tall television tower at Alexanderplatz is still standing and especially from close by I consider it an eye sore.
In order to somewhat understand life in former East Germany, we visited the DDR museum. It was the first time in quite a while that we encountered a crowd. The little museum was packed with people which felt strange in these pandemic days. We had bought tickets in advance and therefore we could skip the large waiting line outside this museum. I was wondering if they had this waiting line on purpose for people to get the “DDR feeling” where such lines were common. We shot a nice picture of Carolina as a communist executive with Lenin, Engels and Marx all looking over her shoulder. Very close to the museum we found a statue of the old communist comrades Marx and Engel. It would probably be more appropriate to replace the comrades with statues of Helmut Kohl and Michael Gorbatjov who made the reunification possible.
In my younger days I saw the iron curtain several times which made a big impression. I could not understand why you needed such a wall as the world is for all of us and travel should be open in order to get a better understanding of other nations and cultures. Basically I still feel the same and it was therefore great to see that the Berlin Wall has become a museum piece.
The above picture shows how the Wall functioned. On the East-Berlin side, there was a first, so called, inner-wall followed by empty space and watch towers. Next, you had the real wall which formed the border with West Berlin. The nearby documentation centre gives a very good explanation how the Wall affected people’s life.
After a day of learning, walking and sight seeing we needed to taste more of the German cuisine. We treated ourselves to some local pastry: the Berliner Sturmsack. Not sure about the calories but it tastes great. In the evening we again ate too much meat. I had a huge schnitzel and Carolina had eisbein. Carolina grew up in southern Chile so she knows eisbein as “pernil de cerdo con chucrut y papas” and considers it Chilean food.
Our final full day started with a visit to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the old crossings between the US and Soviet zones in Berlin. The wooden barrack where visitors to the Soviet Sector (East Berlin) were once obliged to pass through for vetting was removed. Reconstruction has included a US Army guardhouse and a copy of the original border sign. The original white booth can be seen in a museum.
From Check Point Charley we decided to take a long walk through Kreuzberg. My recollection of this place, of some 30 years ago, was as a run down neighborhood but we had read that it was all trendy now with hipster restaurants and coffee shops. Unfortunately, it is not! In fact it is still a run down place with ugly graffiti on the walls and poorly kept shops. Only when you want to go back into the dark days of the 80’s it is worthwhile a visit.
The afternoon we spent with walking through town, taking a boat trip on the river spree and visiting the Alte Nationalgalerie. The boat trip was excellent especially because it showed some of the newer parts of Berlin.
Tomorrow we will leave Berlin and drive to our next destination. Our departure will have to be earlier than expected because Berlin is hosting a half marathon run and our hotel is located within the running course. Sadly our Intercontinental experience will come to an end a few hours earlier than expected.
Before leaving the Berlin area, we visited one more sight: The Glienicke Bridge in Potsdam. This bridge is better known as the “Bridge of Spies”. During the cold war, this formed the border between West-Berlin and East Germany, the bridge was used several times for the exchange of captured spies. The Glienicke Bridge appeared frequently in books, tv serials and movies, most famously in the Steven Spielberg movie “Bridge of Spies” starring Tom Hanks.