River Spree cruise

Our final full day of Berlin sightseeing has to include a river cruise as we must always sit on a boat where ever we go.

Before we head off though we indulge in our favourite German tradition – caffee und kuchen.

Then it’s off to board our boat for a float along the River Spree. Taking in some of the most iconic sights of Berlin including the Reichstag.

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The floating man admires the Berliner Dom through the window of the boat.

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The cruise took us through some of the impressive Government quarter with huge glass fronted offices. Below is the Kronprinzenbrücke, designed by Santiago Calatrava.

Below is the Bode Museum – one of the group of museums on the Museum Island. It was designed by architect Ernst von Ihne and completed in 1904.

Later on that day we visit the poignant Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. The original church on the site was built in the 1890s.

It was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943 and the original spire and foyer have been left as it is as a memorial with a new church built around it on the site.

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The new church was designed by Eiermann and consists of four buildings grouped around the remaining ruins of the old church.

The initial design included the demolition of the spire of the old church but following pressure from the public, it was decided to incorporate it into the new design.

 

Above is the ornate, damaged ceiling of the original church and to the right is the interior of the new one.

Because of the distinctive appearance of the new buildings, it is sometimes nicknamed “Lippenstift und Puderdose” (the lipstick and the powder box) by Berliners.

 

 

Fernsehturm Berlin

As we have a obsessive desire to venture up every tall building that we encounter it is a no brainer that we have to head up the Fernsehturm Berlin TV tower.

Close to Alexanderplatz in Berlin-Mitte, the imposing tower was constructed between 1965-69 by the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

It was intended to be both a symbol of Communist power and of Berlin.

With its height of 368 metres (including antenna) it is the tallest structure in Germany, and the second-tallest structure in the European Union.

When the sun shines on the Fernsehturm’s tiled stainless steel dome, the reflection usually appears in the form of a cross. Berliners nicknamed the shining cross Rache des Papstes, or the “Pope’s Revenge”.

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The very distinctive city landmark has undergone a symbolic transformation.

After German reunification, it changed from a politically charged, national symbol of the GDR into a citywide symbol of a reunited Berlin.

The view from the top of the tower is somewhat hazy but still incredible. The whole of Berlin is laid out beneath you.

After enjoying the bird’s eye views we head to the Berliner Republik.

It’s a type of beer stock market where prices go up and down dependant on demand. Prices are updated on screen in the pub.

More murals

A few more shots of the colourful East Side Gallery. Whether its pastel positivity or more serious political messages.

In more than a hundred paintings on what was the east side of the Berlin wall, the artists commented on the political changes in 1989/90.

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To get to the gallery either Warschauer Straße and Ostbahnhof railway stations are the perfect starting points for a walk along the East Side Gallery.

East Side Gallery

Taking in some of the more colourful sights of Berlin now we head to the East Side Gallery.

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This colourful site is an outdoor gallery that covers one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall.

At 1.3 kilometre it’s the longest open air art gallery in the world and features work from over 118 artists from 21 countries.

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One of my personal favourites is the image below – Danke, Andrej Sacharow.

This haunting, disembodied head portrait was painted by Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeeva, in honour of Andrej Sacharow. A Soviet nuclear physicist and human rights activist, Sacharow died in 1989, just a few weeks after the wall fell.

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Immediately after the wall came down artists began painting, and it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990.

There’s over 100 paintings and many of them examine the changing political situation in Berlin at the time and reflected on the country’s recent history.

Below is Mikhail Serebrjakow’s mural,  ‘Diagonal Solution to A Problem,’ which shows a thumb being held up by a chain to hold it in a positive, thumbs-up position.

The mural shows the forceful nature of the East German government and their attempts to preserve Communist ideals in the country.

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The murals are under constant attack from development, the weather and the scribbles of visitors. A non profit organisation aim to restore many of the paintings to their former glory.

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Below is another section of the wall, captured on very shaky camera video footage!!

One of the most famous images on the wall is The Kiss. It depicts an embrace, known as the Socialist Fraternal Kiss, between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker. It took place in 1979 in honour of the 30th anniversary of the German Demonstrated Republic, or East Germany.

The mural was painted by Dmitri Wrubel, and under the image is a slogan reading, “My God Help me to Survive this Deadly Love.”

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The image to the right below is called It’s Happened in November.

Berlin artist Kani Alavi painted this mural in 1990. The  painting depicts Checkpoint Charlie the day the wall fell, with thousands of East German faces, crossing to the West.

It’s a colourful, must see sight and well worth taking a few hours to explore.

Concerts and chow

On-route back to our hotel for food we swing by the impressive Concert hall.

The Konzerthaus Berlin is a concert hall situated on the Gendarmenmarkt square in the central Mitte district of Berlin housing the German orchestra Konzerthausorchester Berlin.

Built as a theatre from 1818 to 1821 under the name of the Schauspielhaus Berlin, later also known as the Theater am Gendarmenmarkt and Komödie, its usage changed to a concert hall after the Second World War.

The Gendarmenmarkt was first built in 1688 as a marketplace and other notable buildings include Französischer Dom (French church) and the Deutscher Dom (German church).

The German church was completely destroyed by fire but was rebuilt and re-opened in 1996 as a museum of German history.

After working up an appetite we held to another tasty restaurant just around the corner from our hotel. La Cantina is a cozy Italian with a homely vibe.

 

 

Walls and terror

One of the best ways to get to grips with the rich and layered history of Berlin, and Germany as a whole, is to take part in one of the many free walking tours on offer.

There are so many to chose from but we opted for the Original Free Berlin Tour here.

This tour covers many of the darkest days of Berlin’s history from the horror of Nazi Germany to the division of the country post war and the history of the infamous Berlin Wall.

One of the most saddening, and poignant stops on the tour is the memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe.

Also known as the Holocaust Memorial is was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It is a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”.

Eisenman’s project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.

However individual interpretations of the meaning behind the memorial are very varied. Regardless of the original idea behind the project, the whole place evoked in me a sense of growing claustrophobia and panic as you began to feel lost amongst the every bigger, formidable, grey stones. The feeling of being trapped in an inhuman, alien landscape.

Moving on from the memorial we get our first glimpse of one of the most complete lengths of the Berlin wall. Now many removed, there are still a few places where complete pieces remain.

This stretch runs alongside the former site of the SS. Now appropriately housing a museum called the Topography of Terror.

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The wall divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989 and was constructed by the German Democratic Republic in an attempt to stop the intellectual ‘brain drain’ of people fleeing the repressive East German sector into the more liberal and well off West.

The Eastern bloc portrayed the Wall as protecting its population from fascist elements conspiring to prevent the “will of the people” in building a socialist state in East Germany.

Regardless of the difficulties, people continued to find ever more daring ways of trying to escape over the wall including hot air balloons, driving cars at full speed through the border, swimming canals and even jumping out of buildings close to the wall and into the other side.

As time went on the fortifications of the wall, and its policing, became ever more draconian. This did not stop people from trying however and official figures claim 140 deaths throughout the wall’s history, mainly a result of the shoot to kill policy put in place by the East German government.

 

Having seen our first glimpse of the wall we are heading to one of the most well known sections now – Check Point Charlie. On-route we pass by a tethered balloon that offers amazing views of the city.

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Checkpoint Charlie (or “Checkpoint C”) was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.

Checkpoint Charlie was designated as the single crossing point for foreigners and members of the Allied forces who could not use any of the other crossings.

What is left now is basically a reconstruction and a bit of a tourist trap but it does give you a sense of how restrictive life would have been.

After a good four hours of walking we are more than ready for one of our favourite German traditions – Cafe und Kuchen!

Lots more to come from this fascinating city!

Berlin by day

We’re up and out early to cram in lots and lots of walking and history. Before heading out I pause to enjoy this incredible example of extreme flyposting!

We swing by the Berliner Dom again to enjoy it in the light before heading to The sunken library.

This poignant memorial shows what is missing. Underground, almost out of sight, no books, empty white shelves, directly under the Bebelplatz.

Symbolically, the underground bookshelves have space for around 20,000 books, as a reminder of the 20,000 books that went up in flames here on 10 May 1933

A plaque also commerates the site of the Nazi book burnings. “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people.”German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine.

More recent history can be seen close to the Brandenburg Gate as a line of bricks in the road denotes where the Berlin Wall once stood.

Then we feel the need to indulge in some stereotypical German food – pretzels, Gluhwein and currywurst! Plus an additional bonus East German stereotype – The Trabant.

 

Historic Berlin

After checking out the bang up to date street art of the Mitte district we head out to see a whistle stop tour of some of the older sights of Berlin.


First up is Berlin Cathedral AKA Berliner Dom AKA the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church which is located on Museum Island in the Mitte borough.

The current building was finished in 1905 but suffered heavy damage during the Second World War.

Another iconic sight on the Berlin skyline is the TV Tower, the Berliner Fernsehturm.

The tower was built by the government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It was intended to be both a symbol of Communist power and of Berlin and sat close to the wall.

It is 368 metres high and is the tallest structure in Germany, and the second-tallest structure in the European Union. More of this later as naturally we will be heading up!

Next up our Berlin by night tour takes us by the iconic Brandenburg Gate. This impressive 18th-century neoclassical monument was built on the orders of Prussian king Frederick William II.

 

Vehicles and pedestrians could travel freely through the gate, located in East Berlin, until the Berlin Wall was built and the border crossing was closed on 14 August 1961.

More heavyweight history can be found at the imposing Reichstag building just around the corner from the gate.

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The Reichstag was opened in 1894 and housed the Imperial Diet (the highest representative assembly in an empire) until 1933.

It was then severely damaged after being set on fire – an act that was used by the Nazi party as an excuse to crack down on communism. This event is seen as being pivotal in the establishment of Nazi Germany.

After this brief foray into the wealth of Berlin’s history we head onwards to do a bit more street art spotting. We’ll dig deeper into the chequered past of the city during a walking tour later on.

We finish off the evening with a HUGE burger from the tasty Krauts Burger joint in Mitte.

We’ve got a packed itinerary to get through so stick with us! We’ll head back to see the sights in the daylight tomorrow!

Battered yet beautiful

Finally I’m getting around to documenting our first ever trip to Germany for the man’s birthday last November.

We plumped for the hip capital city of Berlin for our first ever trip to Deutschland and a fab choice it was too.

We stayed in the Ibis Mitte hotel, perfectly placed to explore the city with a tram stop just around the corner.

There’s a bewildering choice of cafes, bars and restaurants all within a stones throw of the hotel, not surprising for a city that has 100s of choices from filling quick burgers to Vietnamese, sushi and Italian to traditional German sausage and beer halls !

Once we’d settled in, the stomach on legs was keen to sample his first ever currywurst and naturally there was a little shop and cafe just around the corner for him to get his fix!

We then take one of those fortuitous turns down a little dark alleyway that leads us to the quirky Cafe Cinema.

This electic cafe / bar has an intriguing open air courtyard splashed in colourful street art.

Whether it’s cute kittens or political satire, the walls are a vivid and mind boggling mas of murals and mayhem!

I force the man to spend a good half an hour here as I meticulously detail every little scrap of paint.

 

There is no escape once I spot painted walls!! I have a particular fetish for spraypaint..

It is also home to the Anne Frank Zentrum which houses a permanent exhibition about the young girl and the world she inhabited. The Zentrum is the German partner organisation of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

The exhibition focuses on the diary and the story of the life of Anne Frank. But also looks at contemporary life via the young people of Berlin.

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Next up we’re heading to see Berlin by night including the Berliner Dom and the Brandenburg gate.