Day 15: Our last day in Germany had us taking in a few more sights in Berlin. First, we walked a few blocks to Fassbender & Rausch, a chocolate shop that has scale-sized chocolate models of the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag and the Titanic, along with an enormous erupting chocolate volcano. We picked up some treats and took the U- Bahn to Alexanderplatz to hop on an hour-long boat trip on the Spree river through Berlin. After cruising we visited the captivating DDR Museum (Deutsche Demokratische Republik aka East Germany). It was an interactive museum that explained many aspects of life in East Berlin between 1961 and 1989. I enjoyed it very much. After a quick spin around “Museum Island” we headed back to the hotel for more pool time, another dinner in and the process of cramming all of our stuff back into our suitcases. We were all exhausted and ready to head home. I was especially thankful that my one and only blister waited until the last day to arrive. I was also very glad that our trip home did not involve a lot of walking (and NO detour through Norway).
Day 14: The kids are starting to ask when we get to go home. Luckily, today was a kid-centered day at the Berlin Zoo. We took an above ground train (U-Bahn) and an underground train (S-Bahn) and followed the signs to the zoo. Overall, it was nice. Large with over 19,000 animals. Many of the enclosures make it seem like there is no division between you and the animals. That’s pretty cool. There seem to be no maps so we wander and see lots of interesting animals, including Bao Bao the panda. We happen to catch feeding time in the nocturnal house and lunch preparation for the carnivores (yuck) including rats, chicks and giant slabs of meat. (The guy wasn’t even wearing gloves. Blech.) After that, it’s time for lunch (stuffed pepper with rice) more animals and, of course, the speilplatz (playground). There seems to be a playground just about everywhere. From the zoo, we head a few blocks down the street to Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) the largest department store in Germany. It’s six floors of designer everything, including one whole floor of gourmet food with several fancy food stations (even a champagne bar!). The top floor is a super fancy cafeteria style restaurant. We had some coffee and desserts, but as far as the store is concerned, the only thing we could afford was the free Wi-Fi. We walked up West Berlin’s trendy shopping street, Tauentzienstrasse in a last ditch effort to find “Berlin” Starbuck’s mugs for my collection (no luck) and then train back to the hotel for another dinner, pool time and bed. One more day to go…
Day 13: Breakfast in hotel and then Jeff is off to the Checkpoint Charlie museum and Topography of Terror exhibit in the old Gestapo headquarters. The girls and I head to Potsdamer Platz, once one of the busiest intersections in Europe, but left a wasteland during the Cold War because of the Berlin Wall. It is now a busy hub for transit, shopping and business. Somewhere along the way we took Panoramapunkt, “Europe’s Fastest Elevator” up twenty four floors in 20 seconds. At the top we took in an outstanding 360 degree view of Berlin. Through Potsdamer Platz we followed the line on the sidewalk that signified where the Berlin Wall once stood and saw some of the segments of the old wall. I read the historical information while trying to keep the girls from running into the street.
At the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe we listened in on a tour group. (I’ve found that is a good way to get information that is a bit more in-depth than the guidebook.) The memorial is a poignant tribute to Jewish victims of the holocaust. It consists of 2,711 pillars organized over an area about as big as a city block. To me, it seemed like a cemetery, but the meaning is left to individuals to interpret. We finally met up with Jeff at the Brandenburg Gate, built in 1791, it is one of the original gates in Berlin’s old city wall and once separated Prussia from Brandenburg. It sat unused for 25 years, another victim of the Cold War’s Berlin Wall.
We mingled about Pariser Platz directly adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate, also part of the no-man’s land created by the wall, but now a busy tourist spot and home to the US, French, British and Russian embassies. We found out too late that we needed to request reservations to the popular Reichstag (parliament building), with it’s notorious glass dome, so we took pictures from outside. The glass dome was built in 1999 to replace the original dome that was set on fire during WWII. The building was not used between 1933 and 1999. From the Reichstag we followed the Unter Den Linden (the main drag) through the heart of former East Berlin, across the Spree river and on to Alexanderplatz just beyond the TV Tower (very, very similar to the Pearl Tower in Shanghai). In Alexanderplatz we stopped in the Galeria Kaufhof department store (with a full gourmet grocery store on the main level) and picked up some food to cook for breakfast and dinner. Exhausted, we took a stab at the underground train and get back to the hotel without a hitch. Berlin is a fabulous city, much different than the Bavarian cities and towns we have visited thus far, but still fascinating in its own right. I’m glad we’ve got a few more days to explore.
Day 12: Raining this morning in Nuremberg. Quick breakfast and then we checkout to hit the road for the 400km/240 mile drive to Berlin. Once outside town the rain clears up, but it’s still dreary and overcast. As we enter Berlin, it starts to rain. We arrive at the hotel at 4 pm and are pleasantly surprised to find a swimming pool (very rare), and a two room apartment with a kitchen and a washer and dryer. Once we get settled (and throw a load of laundry in) we head out to the surrounding neighborhood. We’re in central Berlin just a few blocks from the notorious “Checkpoint Charlie.” After dinner (penne with gorgonzola sauce), we stroll a few blocks to check it out. Although now it is largely a tourist attraction, it remains a symbol of the Cold War. It’s a popular spot for American tourists (like us). We’ll head back in the morning to take in the museum. For tonight it’s off to the pool, more laundry and off to bed.
Day 11: Today we slept in a bit because it’s Sunday and the things that are open (not much) don’t open until 10 am. Pastries and coffee for breakfast, then a stroll through the old town (altstadt) of Nuremberg. The city is an interesting mix of old and new. It dates back to medieval times. Parts of the old town wall and guard towers are still standing. There are also many churches and other buildings that date back to Pre-Reformation times. Aside from Dresden, Nuremberg was the hardest hit of German cities during WWII. If a building was damaged, it was repaired in the original Gothic style. If a building was completely destroyed, it was rebuilt in a style that was traditional, yet modern. There was a big bike race today, so the Market Square (Hauptmarkt) was full of vendors, biergartens and entertainment for the kids, including a bouncy house and small train ride. We had another death march through town dragging the kids up to the Kaiserburg (Imperial Castle) that over looks the city and offers spectacular views. Lunch at Burgwachter restaurant is (my favorite) Colaweizen, cola mixed with wheat beer and Nurnburg sausages (tiny breakfast sausage-like sausages that Nuremberg is famous for) with potato salad. I’m still trying to get used to eating while everyone around is smoking. Yuck. After lunch we walked through Old Town some more and then back to the hotel for some R&R. In search of WI-Fi, I ducked into the Burger King in the train station, paid €.50 to use the WC and hid out while I checked my email. Much better than the €6 that the hotel wanted to charge for 30 minutes. While at the train station, I stopped by the variety store Müller to pick up snacks for our road trip to Berlin. For dinner we took a walk into town for some non-Bavarian food. For me it was pasta with mushroom sauce and chicken along with a wine spritzer and Caprese salad. During dinner it started to pour down rain. Looks like we’re in for mostly wet weather from here on out.
Day 10: We started off the morning with pastries and coffee at the coffee shop across from the hotel. First stop for the day was the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum. They had an extensive collection of torture devices and explanations of different punishments. My favorite part was the section on how naughty school children were punished, particularly the “ass of shame” a painting of a donkey that was to be worn around the child’s neck (sometimes with accompanying donkey hat). After the museum we took another walk along the city wall and wandered through some of the booths that were set up for their Reichsstadt festival. Around noon we hit the road to journey to Herzogenerach, the home of Adidas and Puma. I am not sure about Adidas, but Puma still has its headquarters here. Otherwise, it’s outlet stores in the middle of corn fields Overall, the outlets were a big disappointment. Massively expensive. Jeff and I each got a pair of shoes and some socks. Jeff also got a few soccer jerseys. Then, back in the car for a short drive to Nuremburg (Nürnberg). We check-in to the biggest fanciest hotel that we’ve seen so far and are disappointed to find there is no pool (as listed in the guidebook). In fact, it is not kid friendly at all. 😦 After getting settled, we wandered into town for some dinner and found a sushi restaurant (a welcome change after all of the schnitzel we’ve been eating). After dinner we wandered back to the hotel and hit the sack.
Day 9: What a day! Continental breakfast, then hit the road for another hour and a half drive. This time we’re headed to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Europe’s most well-preserved medieval walled city. We had lunch in the town square and then I split from the gang to get some much needed alone time. I followed the Rick Steves walking tour from my book and enjoyed leisurely strolling about the sites dodging hordes of tourists. I find everything about Rothenburg absolutely fascinating. It’s exciting to imagine people living here 700 years ago. We happened to arrive on the first day of Reichsstadt, a festival celebrating the history of the town. Because of the occasion, there were many people wandering the streets in medieval garb throughout the day. I once again tested my fear of heights and climbed 135 steps to the top of Rodertor (one of the city gates/watchtowers). The climb was worth it as the tower offered sweeping views in every direction. I met back up with Jeff and the girls for a Chinese meal. We tried to impress the restaurant lady with our limited Chinese.
After dinner, we wandered back to the town square for the Night Watchman’s tour. George, the watchman led us around and told us a lot of interesting tid-bits about Rothenburg’s long and varied history. After the tour, we had to rush the kids to the “WC” (toilet) and accidentally stumbled upon a front row seat for the parade of villagers (hundreds and hundreds including many children) in an array of costumes representing different periods throughout history. Many of them spoke to the girls (although we had no idea what they were saying) and gave them their own torches and chocolate coins. They loved it! We waded through the crowd (hundreds of people) and back to the hotel just before the fireworks. I can still hear chanting and singing and drumming out in the streets. What an awesome day!