We're back from our week in Germany and once again had a great time. This time we flew from Avoca to Philly to Munich to Berlin, and spent all of our time "behind the Iron Curtain" in the old GDR (East Germany). We had purchased a 5 day rail pass good for all of Germany before we left the states. This is a different Germany from the Bavarian region near Munich. Some differences were small, but immediately noticeable - like Danka for thanks changing to Feelun Dank or Danka Shane ( <- phonetic spellings!), and Gutten Morgan for Good Morning being shortened to Morgan. In Berlin, there were a lot of English speakers, and the younger people used "Hello" a lot, but in the rest of the places we visited, it was often hard to find an English speaker, or copies of English papers.
DAY ONE -Friday - Berlin We arrived in Berlin and took a cab to our hotel in West Berlin by noon on Friday. Our hotel was a little pension one block from the Ku'Dam, a street that makes up one of the main shopping districts in West Berlin. The lady running the hotel spoke no English, but we managed to get settled in to our room. We unpacked our luggage and then went out to explore our neighborhood. We walked the mile down to the FraunKirche, the remains of the church that was bombed (as was most of Berlin) during WWII. The church was never rebuilt, but stands in ruin as a reminder of the war. A new church was built next to it, and together they are the centerpiece of a plaza that includes the railway station and the Europa Center. After looking in the church, we bought the first of our "must have " souvenirs from some nearby vendors - a piece of the Berlin Wall, and an East German Communist military medal for meritorious service from 1956.
Next stop was the Europa Center, the first "mall" in West Germany, and the KaDaWe, the Department store of the West. During the cold war, the US made sure that West Berliners had access to any and every kind of consumer goods that any free capitalistic society should have. They felt it was important in the battle for "hearts and minds" that the besieged citizens of West Berlin could still have all of the American products they wanted. So many of them were subsidized so everybody could enjoy the fruits of a free society - I guess it also helped to rub it into the noses of the Communist East Berliners, to show them what they were missing. In effect, West Berlin ended up looking more like downtown America then anything else we had seen in Germany.
The Europa Center had a large, 4 story water clock in the center of the mall. It used water pressure and containers to tell time. Each container slowly filled up, counting minutes. When enough containers were filled, it would overflow into a larger container, for 5 minutes. They in turn flowed into a container for hours. To tell the time, you just looked at the filled containers and the numbers next to them. Every 12 hours, all of the containers would empty themselves, and the whole thing started over. Another impressive example of German engineering.
The KaDaWe is the largest department store in Europe - a whole 3 square meters larger than Harrods! The name is an abbreviation for Department Store of the West. We mainly went to the top two floors that have food. There were whole sections devoted to baked goods, pastries, deserts, fish, candy, meats, and cheeses, all interspersed with eating areas for the same product, so you could eat there, or take it to go, cooked or uncooked. There was even a section of "must haves" for any Americans living in the city - shelves of Oreo's, Pringles, salsa, and other American brands. They even had Philadelphia cake (Cream cheese) - even the McDonald's called their bagel with cream cheese a Philadelphia Bagel. We found a few tempting German deserts, and the obligatory pretzel (Brezel) to take home for later that night.
After a dinner of bratwursts and brockwursts at a local sausage stand, we went to "The Story of Berlin", a new multi media exhibit that follows the story of Berlin through the ages. From the middle ages to the creation of a German state in 1850, through both WWs and the cold war, the exhibit did a good job of telling the story while keeping you entertained. The part of the exhibit dealing with Hitler's rise to power was especially dark, but they held nothing back. It took a step by step look at how he went from a nobody to finally consolidating all power in Germany, and showed the mistakes made in trying to contain him or manage him, and how he was constantly "underestimated" or written off as a "delusional but harmless" man. It proved the old cliche that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.
DAY TWO - Saturday - Wittenberg (Lutherstadt) The next morning, Saturday, we set off to go to Ribnitz-Damgarten, a small city on an inlet on the Baltic Coast in North Germany. It was our first day using the subway system (U-bahn), and we had a few technical difficulties :) After I misread the subway map, we went to a wrong station to catch a train to the next station, which was just as close to our hotel! Plus, the symbol that we thought meant "connects by tunnel" between stations actually meant "tunnel coming next year - until then, go outside and walk to the next station!". By the time we figured out the ticket buying machines (which weren't very confusing to use, but the first time is always the hardest, and we were already feeling the stress of being late for our train) and got on the right train (U-bahn is underground, S-bahn is above ground / suburban line), we realized that we would be late for the train. But, this is exactly why we bought a rail pass and made no set plans. We looked at the information we bought with us, and decided to go to Wittenburg (Lutherstadt) today, and save Ribnitz-Damgarten for tomorrow.
We had a little bit of time before the train arrived, so we wandered around the train station looking at all of the shops. There was a Dunkin Donuts, but they did not have "Berliners" - sugared, jelly donuts, most famous for being invoked by JFK when he said "Ich bin ein Berliner" -in fact, we never found a Berliner in all of Berlin! If anybody doesn't understand JFK's statement, and why Germans think it is so funny, email me and I'll explain :)
Wittenberg is an old German town best known for Martin Luther and the start of the Reformation. It has since been renamed to Lutherstadt in his honor, but most maps still show both names. We arrived to find that everything at the train station was closed, including the tourist information office. Like most of Germany, everything was closed for the weekend. I think that the tourist attractions and the restaurant we ate at where the only two places open in town.
Fortunately, the tourist information center in town was open, so we took a cab there and started our tour. Right next to the center is the castle church were Martin posted his 97 thesis or grievances with the church on the doors. Most people agree now that Martin probably never did this himself - he was too mild mannered and believed that the church problems could and should be solved internally by the church. Scholars think that somebody took his paper and nailed it to the church door (a common "bulletin board" in those days) in order to force open discussion of the issue. Either way, the old doors have long since burned down, and they have been replaced by iron doors with the 979 thesis' carved on them. The church itself was beautiful, and contained Martin's grave.
Since it was a castle church (connected to the local lord's castle), we were able to climb up the tower/steeple for a great view of the city. The circular staircase was small and cramped and when it finally ended, it led to a room with another set of circular stairs in the center that finally led to the top. The view was well worth the 200+ steps - the town still has a very medieval look to it, and we were able to see most of the city and the large open square that was our next destination.
The first restaurant we saw was open, so we stopped in for lunch. The waitress did not speak English, but they had an English menu. I ordered a special from the chalkboard out front, only recognizing two words - WeinerSchnitzel and Hollandaise :) The "spagers" were in hollandaise sauce, and that turned out to be asparagus. The other long, untranslatable word must have meant boiled potatoes, a very common side dish. Adam had another kind of sausage "mit Pomme frite" (with French Fries). Being adventurous in ordering has always worked before, and this was another good meal.
We walked a few more blocks past the closed stores and the bicycle riders (including a lot of senior citizens riding bikes that all looked like they were the same brand/make/model) and found the town square. There was a nice fountain and a few statues in the center, and the University and Church on two sides. The University was one of the first in Germany, and now houses a collection of artifacts from Martin's time, including the first "community chest" - a poorbox where people from the town could make donations, and accept "grants" - not welfare, but loans that were paid back for schooling or emergency living expenses. The museum told the story of Luther as you viewed objects from the early 16th century.
On the other side of the square was the town church (St. Thomas?). When we went inside to look, there were not a lot of people in the square. When we were done, though, we noticed a lot of people standing around looking up at the twin steeples. One of the steeples had a clock, and since it was almost 2:00, we figured that something like Munich's Glockenspiel was about to happen. So we sat by the fountain, and waited. The clock turned 2:01, and nothing happened, but everyone was still staring up. We finally found someone who spoke a little English and asked her what we were looking at! After looking at us like we were from Mars, she told us there was a German "pop-star" filming a video in the church, and he was going to be on the bridge between the steeples! She told us his name, but we couldn't understand her. In a few minutes though, some loud Pop music started blaring from near the church, and this guy with platinum blond hair started walking across the bridge. This repeated itself a half dozen times (start the music, see the guy walk across, stop the music, walk back). We have a picture, and you can see a dot of yellow where the "Popstar" is!! Maybe if we blow it up, we can find out who he is :)
Everybody else in town was going to wait for "Popstar" to come back down and sign autographs, but we were on our way again. After another hour and a half of wandering around the old town, and seeing the other historical buildings (Martin's house, the house of his benefactor, etc) we walked back to the train station and went back to Berlin. After another dinner of sausages we went back to the hotel.
DAY THREE - Sunday - Ribnitz-Damgarten / Rostock Sunday morning we made sure we left early enough so we would not miss the train again. It ended up that on our whole trip, we never had problems with the subway or trains again, except for that first time. We arrived at the station with plenty of time to spare, and boarded the train for the 3 hour journey to Ribnitz-Damgarten. This was going to be our longest day on the trains - 6 hours total for the day. The scenery on the trip was fantastic. The area between Berlin and the Baltic is a land of forests and lakes, and contains a lot of national parks.
We arrived at the tiny train station of Ribnitz-Damgarten West and it was becoming clear that this part of Germany is very different than anything we had seen before. The train stations store and cafe were open, but no one spoke English, and there were no English books or magazines for sale. There were plenty of Russian newspapers though - I guess that ten years after reunification more people probably still speak Russian as a second language rather than English.
We took a cab to the Bernstein (Amber) Museum, since we did not have a good map, and none was available at the train station. Fortunately, the town is small, and we were able to walk every place after that. The town has been associated with amber for a long time - it washes up on its beaches after storms, and is also dug out from the sea. The museum had some good artifacts from prehistoric times through modern times, showing how long man has used amber. It also showed how the amber is mined and worked - sandpaper will shape it, and a toothbrush will polish it. After we looked at the exhibits, we bought some cool souvenirs, including my "inclusion" (a gnat in a chunk of polished amber) and Adam's necklace.
We spent some time walking through the town, but since it was Sunday, everything was closed - including the church! We made our way down to the sea front, and found a floating ship restaurant and an open restaurant on the next dock. Once again, there were no English speakers, but it was no problem. The waitress, who spoke a little English, showed us the fresh, raw fish, and pointed out what was from the local waters. We just pointed at what we wanted and shook our heads up and down! And once again, we were treated to a fabulous meal. My fish was fried with a sweet mustard sauce on top, with the obligatory boiled potatoes and salad. Adam had a shrimp scampi with garlic toast.
After lunch, we walked back through town to the train station, just missing our train. We'd have to wait an hour for the next one. Once again, there was no one at the station when we arrived, but soon it started to fill up with young (probably college) kids. By the time the train to Rostock came, there were at least 50 of them waiting to go. My best guess is they were local students home for a weekend who were now returning to school. The station at Rostock was also crowded with a lot of students. We never did figure out where they were going - by the time we left Rostock, most of the young crowd was gone.
Rostock is another former Hanseatic League town on the Baltic coast. We didn't think we were going to stop, but we had plenty of time left in the day, and the guide books claim that it had a beautiful 17th century downtown. We were certainly glad we did. Even though all of the stores were closed, and it was still raining, it was worth the walk through the AldStadt (Old Town). It was obviously a very rich city at one time, judging from the size of its cathedral and town hall and the gigantic guild hall. And we even found some very nice modern touches to some of the courtyards - including a nice waterfall and waterwheel. Included in the rebuilding of the harbor was a newer outside shopping mall (closed for Sunday). We made our way to the harbor, and managed to see the Baltic Sea through all of the fog. The few hours we spent here were not enough, but I'm glad that we decided to stop for a visit.
DAY FOUR - Monday - Decin, Cz / Dresden After three nights in our hotel in Berlin we left for our next three nights in Dresden. We left half of our luggage and only took the things we'd need, since we'd be returning to the same hotel in Berlin. Our rail pass was only good in Germany, and we had decided that we wanted to go onto the Czech Republic today, so we needed to stop at the ticket office in the rail station. We bought our tickets from the German border to the first stop in the CR, a town called Decin, for 10 euros and boarded the train. About a half hour after we passed Dresden, the train stopped and German border police came on board to check passports. They all carry hand scanning devices to read the passports, although they did not use them for us. The delay took about fifteen minutes, but then we were on our way, and in Decin in another 15 minutes.
The train station at Decin was dilapidated and either being rebuilt or torn down - it was hard to tell. All of the offices had been moved from the building to a set of trailers at the end of the platform. I have to admit that it was a little intimidating - the language looks a lot different than English, and none of the signs were recognizable. We finally stumbled into one of the trailers for information, and even though no one spoke English, we were pointed to the luggage storage area, where we checked our one bag. We had no luck getting a map or any other information, so we just left the station, and crossed the street to an open plaza where we saw a bank.
We had no Cz money, so we went to the bank to exchange some Euros. The line for the one teller was long, and there was an open MAC machine in the lobby, so we tried that instead. Fortunately, all newer MAC machines have instructions in many different languages, so I was able to understand what I was doing. Unfortunately, we had no idea what the exchange rate was for Czech currency. When the withdrawal screen came up, I was presented with choices starting at 500 and ending with 10,000! I choose 500, got our bills, and went back outside the bank. Since we were hungry, we decided to grab a sausage and a coke at a nearby vendor. This cost 70, which still didn't help us figure out how much we really spent. It was about this time that my brain started working again, and we walked back into the bank and looked around the teller who was exchanging money. Sure enough, the rate was on the wall - 33cz to 1 USD. Our large sausage and coke cost less than $2.00 of the roughly $15.00 I withdrew from MAC!
We started to walk around the town center, and stopped in some of the stores. IT was soon obvious that we were not in a tourist type of town - you can tell quickly when you see no souvenirs for sale. There were a lot of stores with homemade crafts or ceramic ( a lot of these were "blue" or sexually oriented jokes), and even more bakeries. We tried at least three bakeries while we were in town, getting a different cake or pastry at each one. Adam found a pair of "skateboarder sneakers" for 450cz ($15) that would sell for $90 in the USA. I found a nice small globe on a wooden stand for $3.00, and Adam purchased a pocket watch and a kiddy watch from the same jeweler at a great price. Since we had run out of money, we found another currency exchange place in town to turn some more euros into cz's.
We continued to walk around town and take pictures of the unique buildings that we saw - some were built into the hills, and had steep stairs on the outside of the building to get up to the next street. There is a castle in town, but it is closed for repair. When it was time to eat, we found the world's largest "Doner kebap" for 50 cz - you needed two hands to hold it. I also purchased a couple of "shots to go", plastic shotglasses filled with flavored vodka that you could purchase at any cigarette/paper stand - a reminder, i think, of the high alcoholism rate of the former Soviet block countries, where vodka was always cheap and available. My last souvenir was a small bottle of "Pushkin", a vodka with fruit, sugar, and "Kaffein" added - it must be for your morning pick me up :)
Our last stop was a building across from the train station. It looked like it was once a large state run department store, but now it was filled with individual vendors, like a flea market - the product of a new capitalist system that has been growing for the last ten years. While most of the items we saw were inexpensive, we noticed a few American imports that were very pricey - American candy was 5-10 times more expensive than local candy, and even the guy selling hats would only come down to 400cz (from a start of 600cz) for American baseball caps.
We went back to the train station and boarded our train back to Dresden. This time at the border, our passports were checked by both German and Czech police. The Czech police had a few questions for us, and seemed to find it hard to believe we had only come in from Germany to the Czech Republic for a few hours to see Decin. But after scanning our passports, and (presumably) not finding us on any Interpol wanted lists, we were on our way. After a beautiful train ride (the tracks follow the Elbe river through the area known as Saxony-Switzerland, named for its unusual rock formations) we were in Dresden, and shortly thereafter, checked into our new hotel.
DAY FIVE - Tuesday - Gorlitz / Poland We woke up to a pleasant surprise this morning - no rain for the first time in the last 4 days. We decided to go to Gorlitz, a tiny town on the river Niesse. The river is now the boundary between Germany and Poland, but before WWII, the town was on both sides of the river. We never did find out what the town on the Polish side of the river is called. But we made our way to the train station, bought our morning brezels, and boarded the train east to Gorlitz.
The Gorlitz train station was much larger than we expected, but there was no tourist information located there, and we could not purchase a map. This was the one town that we knew very little about before arriving. The guide book undersold it as an out of the way quaint town that time forgot, and we had not found a web site for the town on the internet. We looked at the map on the wall of the train station, found the old town and a tourist information center, and started walking down the main pedestrian only street to find them. The town itself was beautiful, with a mixture of wide open streets and plazas intermixed with narrow alleys, all lined with early 19th century houses. There was a time when this town was rich and prosperous, as seen in the large cathedrals and the sculptures and ornate carvings on the house.
We found the first section of the old town, and decided to head to the bridge on the Neisse to cross into Poland. Without a map, we had to rely on my direction sense, so we immediately got lost! We kept walking in the direction where the river should be, but the twisting alleys made it hard. When we finally found the river, we were about 3 kilometers away from the bridge we needed to cross. At least we saw Poland across the river, and some relic border markers from the GDR. There was even a unique wooden tube that stretched out into the river before ending, but another like tube on the other side. There was a marker explaining it, but it was in German. It appeared to be some kind of statement about the town being divided into two nationalities now.
We walked along the river and its park before finding the bridge crossing. After showing our passports to the German guards, we walked along the pedestrian path, and crossed into Poland. There were a lot of people crossing by foot and car in either direction. We found the first MAC machine, and withdrew some Zlotskies, then found an exchange booth to see what they were worth - 4 Z to 1 USD. Much easier to work with - every Z is worth a quarter.
Once again, this was not a tourist town - there were no souvenirs to be found, just normal shops and eating places. We immediately saw that the Polish people seemed much happier than the Germans - everybody was smiling, which was something we rarely saw in Germany. I had read that Germans found the American habit of smiling for no reason to be annoying at least, and insincere at worst. If there is nothing to smile about, then you must have an ulterior motive. Anytime we needed to ask a German for help, they were never rude, and usually helpful - the Poles just seemed to be happier, returning smiles and nods to strangers.
As usual, we started our routine of walking around the center of town, stopping at whatever caught our attention. We stopped for food at the first little shop we saw, and ordered 2 cheeseburgers and 2 cokes for the low price of 14 z! The burgers came on buns that were 6 inches across - you needed two hands to hold them. They were filled with lettuce, cabbage, pickles, onions, sauce, and somewhere in there was a tiny hamburger patty with cheese! This would have been totally unacceptable in America (where's the beef???), but was really delicious. I have to think its better for you, too - maybe this is why we hardly ever see overweight people overseas. But after that, being the Americans that we are, we had to stop at the next kiosk for dessert, a couple of chocolate donuts!
We wandered around the town for a while, checking out the stores, and stopping in a small video arcade. We found a nice porcelain shop were we purchased a large painted mug for $5. I also found the Zumbrowski that I was looking for. It is a brand of vodka made with an herb that grows in the southwestern part of Poland. It is advertised with a bison - there is still a wildlife preserve in Poland with the last of the native European bison, and they seem to prefer this grass like herb. Each bottle has a light green tint to it. A half litre bottle was only $1.50.
Crossing the border back into Germany was just as easy as getting in. There was a window for customs, if you had made large purchases, and another window for immigration control, this time on the Polish side of the river. They scanned the passports, and we were on our way back across the bridge and into Germany. When we reached the other side, we asked one of the German soldiers if it was ok to take a picture of the border crossing - a big no-no in former Communist days. He said it was no problem, so we did.
Back in Germany we started to try and find the old town again. Since we had been lost when we arrived at the bridge from the left, we decided to go right. We tried to "dead reckon" our way back, but ended up on a road that circled the town and followed the river, so we ended up back at the Hauptbaunhopf (main train station). Did I mention that we really could have used a map? We walked down the pedestrian zone again, and stopped for pizza - the very thin crust kind that we've loved since Rome. We finally found the churches and old plazas we were looking for. You'll have to see the pictures to truly appreciate it. I am surprised that the guide book gave it such a short review. While there were no large or grandiose buildings like in Dresden, it was still filled with stunning architecture, and gave us a feeling that we were transported back in time. All of this was combined with outdoor open air markets and plenty of shops.
We returned to Dresden later that night, and Adam went out to the half-pipe that was set up outside of the hotel. There were no skaters there, just a few kids on bikes. They told Adam to come back tomorrow at 4:00 and some of the skateboarders should be there.
DAY SIX - Dresden For the first time on our trip, we were not going to take a train anywhere, so we had the chance to sleep in until 7:30! We ate breakfast - the same at both hotels, mostly deli meats and cheeses with rolls, hard boiled eggs, and cereal - and walked into downtown Dresden. Our hotel in Dresden was a huge, Soviet era, block style building, in a neighborhood of other huge block style buildings. It was only a kilometer to the old section of town, and another kilometer to the river, but it was such a drastic difference. The rebuilt parts of Dresden near the river were breathtakingly beautiful - it is known as the Paris of the Elbe, but in our opinion, was much more scenic than Paris. It's even more amazing when you see pictures from the late 19th century and realize that everything looks the same, even though 95% of the town was destroyed with one night of Allied bombings in WWII.
We found a tour operator, and signed on for the boat/bus tour of the city. The boat would take us down the Elbe to the "blue Wonder" a large bright blue suspension bridge, and then we could use the bus to see the rest of the city. We went to the street that ran along the river, and found a dozen steam or paddle boats all lined up. We found ours, and boarded for our short journey. After getting a cup of coffee and a few "berliners", we noticed that the boat had already gone under the Blue Wonder, and hadn't stopped. The next stop was Pillnitz, the palace of one of the German princes from the early 19th century. We got off the boat there, walked through the palace gardens, and then bought tickets back to the bridge. This time we ordered lunch on the boat (more sausages!), and once again, missed the stop at the bridge! We couldn't even tell that the boat had stopped and docked - it was because the river was running so fast from all of the recent rain that even when you were stopped, it felt like you were going. We made sure we didn't miss the stop at Dresden by standing on the outside of the cabin!
The river de-tour was worth the extra time, since a few rich princes had built there castles on the banks of the river, slowly spreading out from the city. It was a very different view that we could not get on land.
Having finally departed the boat, we caught the bus and took the overwhelming city tour. There are so many large, grand buildings in Dresden that it is hard to keep track. Most were originally built between 1650-1750, the height of the Prussian Empire under (Frederick?). He built an opera house, a new church, a new palace, a new city hall, and another building with a large crown supported by eagles - a reminder that he was also the king of Poland at the time. The river bank is a pleasant walk of old plazas and great sculptures, all with the background scenery of there impressive buildings. Once again, it is hard to believe that it is all a faithful reconstruction started in 1946.
After the bus showed us all of the city, we concentrated on the river area, just taking in all of the old buildings and churches. We wandered around in awe - every corner bought a new statue or garden or ornately carved building. I made sure that I bought a book at the souvenir stand that was filled with pictures of Dresden.
We went home early that day, and Adam went back outside to see if there were any skateboarders. This time, he met a teenager his age who spoke English and rode a skateboard. They hung around the half pipe for a while, and then went to check out the local skater store. Adam and his new friend exchanged addresses, and hopefully he'll be writing to his new friend.
DAY SEVEN - Leipzig This was our last day in Dresden - we had hotel reservations for Berlin for this night. We had never really decided what to do on this day. Since we went to all of the places we wanted to go, this day was open. We had to go back to Berlin today, but didn't know if we'd go early and spend the day in Berlin, or go later and spend the day in Dresden. It was also the last day of our rail pass. So we decided to go with another option. We would go spend the day in Leipzig, and then head back to Berlin. Leipzig is the second largest city in East Germany, and has been widely known as a publishing center, and the home of Bach. So we went to the Dresden train station, and hopped on the first train to Leipzig.
Leipzig's train station now has a new 150 shop mall underneath of it. We spent half of our day just wandering around the mall, and the other half wandering around the town. Our first stop was the "Museum in the Round Corner". Located in a former police headquarters, it is a museum dedicated to the Stasi, or East German Secret Police. Although everything was in German, it gave a very chilling picture of the kind of abusive power that was wielded by these thugs in the name of state security. There is still a long list of names under the category "missing". Nobody really expects to see them again, but I guess they just want to know what happened to them.
Our next stop was Thomaskirke (St. Thomas church), a very old, very large cathedral best known for its boys choir, and for its one time choir master, Bach. A replica of the large organ used by Bach is in the church, replacing the old one that was destroyed in a fire. Around the neighborhood of the church is the Bach museum, and several old buildings from his time. We continued to aimlessly wander the city streets, admiring the old, beautiful buildings, and stopping at the bakeries! We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the mall before catching the train to Berlin. We ate dinner that night in a restaurant called WeinerWald, that served nothing but chicken! It was the first time on our vacation that we saw chicken served (except for KFC, and McDonald's).
DAY EIGHT - Berlin Back in Berlin, but this time we were going to see the city! We started with a comprehensive bus tour. That was a very good idea, since Berlin is so large and spread out that we at least got to see some things that we never would have had time for otherwise. Our guide gave commentary in English and German, and had a sense of humor about her city. She pointed out a lot of new construction, just starting since Berlin again became the capital of a united Germany, as well as a lot of it's history, good and bad. When we had finished the bus tour, we had a few places that we wanted to revisit.
Our first stop was Checkpoint Charlie, the infamous crossing point between the American sector of free West Berlin and Communist East Berlin. The checkpoint is still there, although the wall is torn down, and there is no longer any border to cross. The museum was very informative, and we spent a lot of time learning about the history of the Berlin Wall, and the many escape attempts made by East Germans.
The museum had another section dedicated to civil rights, showing how the concept of nonviolent revolution and civil disobedience was used first by Ghandi, then by Martin Luther King, and finally by the Eastern European states under Communist rule. It's amazing to think that most of the Soviet block fell apart by people gathering in stadiums to sing old national anthems (Latvia), or gathering outside churches on Sundays to protest (Leipzig), or gathering in the town squares to demand civil rights (Czechoslovakia) - and of course, the East Germans that just picked up chisels and hammers and started banging on the wall while soldiers watched, or cheered them on.
Our next stop on the subway was the old TV tower. It's about 800 feet above the city, in what was East Germany, and was a favorite spying place during the cold war. Now it has a revolving restaurant and an observation deck that makes for a great view of the city. The plaza that surrounds it, Alexanderplatz, is filled with shops and is a popular meeting place for Germans.
We went back to the hotel and packed, then went out again to explore the other side of the Ku'dam. We made one more stop for some last minute chocolates, and then called it a vacation.
DAY NINE - Home again Berlin to Munich to Philly to Avoca. When we stopped in Munich, we spent the last of our Euros on two 5 liter kegs of Lowenbrau :) At only $6.00 a keg, the price couldn't be beat, and I've never seen keg that small. It also provided endless entertainment, as we had to carry them on the plane, and stow them, and then lug them through the immigration line in Philly :)
A quick note on German trains. They are efficient, timely, and very comfortable. The stations are usually works of art and located right in the center of the town. Deutsch Bahn, the company that runs the railroads, have computerized touch screen kiosks all over the stations where you can get schedule information in English for any train, any time, from any station. They will even let you print out the information and purchase tickets. Most trains have some kind of food service, and all allow pets and bicycles. Some have folding tables and radio headphone jacks.
There are private compartments of 4 and 6 seats, and even family areas, - soundproof rooms for people with small children!