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.