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CAPITALIZING ON THE CAPITALS: Central Europe

CAPITALIZING ON THE CAPITALS: Central Europe

Old Nov 6th, 2015, 02:21 PM
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It was very easy to get immersed in your installment on Warsaw, tomarkot -- thanks again for this excellent TR.
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Old Nov 7th, 2015, 12:20 PM
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GinnyJo, thanks for your nice comment! It's heartening to see that some folks are still following our TR.

Normally, we do not focus so much on history in our travels. But this area held special interest for us.

We hope to have Berlin posted soon.
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Old Nov 10th, 2015, 09:17 AM
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Hi Friends, I've been trying to post our first segment on Berlin for two hours. No luck! Neither the PREVIEW nor the SUBMIT command would work on the Europe forum, nor on the Help forum. I'll keep trying. This message will be a test! If this posts, just want to let any readers know that we are pressing on with our TR. We'll keep trying. Stay tuned! Thanks!
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Old Nov 10th, 2015, 02:01 PM
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FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2015

Travel Across Poland To Germany; Warsaw Reminiscenses;

1st Evening In Berlin:
Potsdamer Platz; Brandenburg Gate

We awakened on that Friday, very aware of it being 9-11! About 13 out of 38 of us were Americans, with a number of Canadians and Aussies also. They were all very much in harmony with our remembrance of that day.

Our departure was early (7:45) for what would be the longest travel day of our trip: the ride to Berlin; 350 mi. Setting out from the Sheraton Warsaw, we made a few turns and then it was, as we say, almost “a straight shot to Berlin” on the motorway.

Aware that we were as were crossing the Vistula River for the last time and getting our last looks at the outskirts of Warsaw, we took notes about some of our impressions.

We were overwhelmed with Warsaw’s size! It’s a huge, sprawling city. It’s definitely a city that has emerged victorious from a troubled past and is recognized as a modern capital on the move. There continues to be construction and re-construction, as evidenced by the cranes which protrude among the buildings.

Their many museums and musical/entertainment venues would certainly rate high on our list to explore. There are attractions such as the Chopin Museum, the Copernicus Science Center, and the National Museum, to name but a few.

Warsaw certainly doesn’t want for restaurants, from traditional Polish to many international cuisines. And nightlife abounds! The Warsawians seem to have festivals scheduled throughout the year, including “Jazz Days”, Festival of Contemporary Music, and summer concerts in Lazienski Park. And, of course, their Christmas Villages in the winter.

Warsaw’s standard of living appears to be comfortable for most people. There are still remnants of the Soviet-style block homes in some districts. However, many of the younger folks are moving to new burgeoning districts. There are communities of ex-pats and international schools for English, France, and German.

Our initial, and all too short, visit revealed a city which offers its residents all the services, including medical care, educational and cultural advantages, employment opportunities and all types of recreation and entertainment that one would expect in a major European city, such as it has become.

Since our visit was in mid-September, we were able to enjoy the massive floral displays all over the city. The Warsawians really emphasize their parks, of which there are many, and flowers grace just about every street.

The one factor that would dampen our interest in living there are the bone chilling winter months, and many grey days, punctuated by darkness which falls by 3:30 PM! However, the city responds by having an abundance of lighting and outdoor celebrations. As someone said, “Anything that’s vertical is lit up”. Christmas, with all its festivities, including Christmas Villages, is a large seasonal celebration.

Overall, our visit to Warsaw was very enjoyable, and eye-opening. The people were very warm and friendly. Despite the Nazi’s aim of destroying Poland’s identity as a nation, followed by the Soviet’s domination, and the loss of thousands of its citizens, the country has not only survived, but is thriving.

Warsaw’s location is out of the way of our near-future travel destinations, but someday if/when we visit Russia, we would look forward to a return. And it will definitely be in their warmer months!

As we began to feel “recalled out” about our visit to Warsaw, we made our first welcome restroom/cappuccino stop at a McD’s. This stop provided a chance to switch mental gears from Warsaw to Germany, and specifically Berlin. We dug out some of our trip prep notes for review.

The travel from Warsaw to Berlin, whether by train, car, or coach, would be uneventful. It is much like driving across the farmlands of Kansas or Nebraska. A good chance to catch up on reading, or in our case, view the movie, MONUMENTS MEN, featuring George Clooney, a local boy from our Cincinnati area.

Heading into Germany, where Hitler began his infamous Nazi Party, this movie seemed to be a perfect fit for our travel. Since seeing the movie a few years back, we had learned more details about the background, and were happy to see it again. Ir provided some welcome entertainment to pass the time on the less than scenic drive. The recent movie: WOMAN IN GOLD, fits in perfectly with the theme of the Nazi art heists.

As we’re writing this TR, we noticed in the current issue of the NEW YORKER, a short review of the book: HITLER'S ART THIEF, published in 2012. The book focuses on the fourteen hundred art works more recently discovered in a Munich apartment. Apparently, the curator of a museum, Hildebrand Gurlitt, was just one of many of Hitler’s appointed men assigned to hide art which had been looted from museums and private collections. The battle to return stolen art to its rightful owners continues today. This book will be added our reading list.

When we originally saw the film, we had no idea of the size and scope of the Nazi plunder which apparently extended from 1933 to the end of WWII. This massive theft was an organized, systematic looting, planned by the Nazi party, with agents in charge of various countries. In Poland alone, it was said that the value of the art stolen was 20 billion dollars!

Of course, Hitler kept much of it for himself; and pieces were given to his officers as rewards. But the volume of art stolen was so large that storage areas began to be a problem. So later, salt mines and caves were used, with the awareness that the humidity and temperature would be appropriate for preserving the art.

The mammoth project of retrieving the thousands of stolen art pieces, and trying to return them to their rightful owners, began immediately following the war. Museums around the world have been discovering, over the years, that they had, either with full knowledge, or unknowingly, purchased some of these stolen works. Cases against them are still being brought today. It is estimated that well over 100,000 pieces are still not returned to their rightful owners.

Before our first viewing of the film, we had not been aware that, in addition to paintings, the lootings included gold, silver, currency, precious books, and as we saw dramatized in MONUMENTS MEN, religious treasures.

After viewing about ½ of the film, we made a lunch stop in Poland in a cafeteria along the motorway. It was our last chance to exchange our remaining Polish zlotys for euros. Note on currency: We found that euros were normally widely accepted, even in Hungary and Poland, although we tried to have enough local currency. But extra korunas from Hungary and Polish zlotys are only good to bring home as souvenirs!

Fortified with a surprisingly tasty lunch, we looked forward to viewing the remainder of MONUMENTS MEN.

We crossed the Oder River which has been the boundary between Poland and Germany since 1990. The territory around this area had been very contentious, formerly belonging to Germany, and many people had lost their lives with the wars that took place fighting over this region. This border was finally determined following a treaty signed by the two countries.

After continuing the drive for a while longer, we made our first stop in Germany: a McD’s. Those McCafes are great for coffee and a clean, “free” restroom!

With the MONUMENTS MEN still fresh in our minds, we learned an interesting fact relating to Berlin, which we was our destination. In 2010, as work began on an extension of an underground line through the historic center of Berlin to the Brandenburg Gate, a number of sculptures were unearthed in the cellar of a private house.

As we traveled the last segment toward Berlin, we re-oriented our thinking to a recall of a few facts which we had read. Geographically, Berlin is in Central Europe, and as the crow flies, it’s closer to Warsaw then it is to Paris. And it’s closer to Prague than to other prominent German cities like Frankfurt or Munich. In some ways, that makes Berlin a destination city!

Berlin is both the old and the new capital of Germany, with Bonn being made the capital for a time following WWII. The Berlin Wall that went up in August, 1961 marked the division of the city into east and west for three decades.

Berlin had been the center of two dictatorships in the 20th century: the Nazis and the Communists. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 provided the opportunity for Berlin to regain its status as the proper capital of Germany.

Our visit to Berlin brought us back to the roots of Hitler and the Nazi Party. We had learned of the unspeakably devastating impact of the Nazis in Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, and Warsaw. In Berlin, we would learn more of the instant and far-reaching consequences of Hitler and the Nazi Party on all of Germany.

We knew that present-day Berlin is a huge city, and that we would be focusing on its historic center. As a big foodie capital, we would not take advantage of its culinary delights. The interiors of its many museums would have to be relegated to a future visit. And we’d not enjoy its ever-popular nightlife. However, for this trip, we were satisfied to be getting an introduction to Berlin's unique, history-filled, city center.

Arriving in the busy city of Berlin about 4:30, with Tom’s adroit skill of negotiating the city traffic, we pulled right up to the Berlin Marriott, our home for the next two nights. Within a half-hour, we were settled into our hotel room, and had a quick freshening up for the evening. In the hall near our room was a large sketch of President John Kennedy, with his famous words, “Ich bin ein Berliner.”

We were happy to learn that our hotel in Berlin was in a very convenient location, at the Potsdamer Platz. In the 1920’s and 30’s, this had been the busiest and one of the liveliest squares in Berlin, having many cafes, bars, and cinemas, and even an ultra-luxury hotel. In 1924, it merited the distinction of having the first traffic light system in Europe, as it was such a busy traffic junction.

Following the war, Potsdamer Platz was located between the American, British, and Soviet sectors, and had become a no-man’s land. What was left was completely flattened by the Soviets during their construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

After the fall of the Wall, the decision was made to rebuild the whole area. Begun in 1994, for a number of years it was known to be the largest construction site in Europe. Renowned architects from around the world were brought in to complete the project which necessitated their starting from “Square One”.

Infrastructure such as streets and subway tunnels needed to be developed. Within two blocks of our hotel is the Hauptbahnhof, newly opened in 2006. This giant structure of glass and steel serves as the station for most short and long-haul trains.

What was once bisected by the Berlin Wall is now a showcase of outstanding contemporary architecture. The square, along with several adjacent blocks, was transformed into three high-rise complexes, containing office towers, a shopping arcade, residential spaces, an Imax Theatre, a Film Museum, and a giant LEGOLAND.

The most famous complex, the Sony Center, is across from our Marriott Hotel. Completed in 2000, it is Sony’s European headquarters. It contains offices and apartments, but, in addition, bars and restaurants.

We stopped by the Concierge desk, and were happy to learn from the attendant that from our hotel, we could walk to many of the famous historic sites in Berlin. We looked forward to spending our evening around the area of the Brandenburg Gate, and received a nice recommendation for a local restaurant nearby the Gate. Enroute, we would pass the Holocaust Memorial and the large Tiergarten Park, which we could see from our room #350.

The Brandenburg Gate, originally built in 1791, is situated at the end of the grand boulevard Unter den Linden, so named because it was lined with linden trees. It was originally constructed as a route for King Wilhelm I, about whom we would learn more, to travel from the city center to his hunting ground in Tiergarten.

It is said that no other structure embodies the history of Berlin, even of Germany, as well as the Brandenburg Gate. It has witnessed triumphs, hosted grand state celebrations, been shot at and repaired, and survived wars. But it has remained a symbol of Germany, both divided and reunified. It was originally part of a wall surrounding Berlin, being the main entrance into the city.

Atop the gate is a bronze four-horse chariot driven by the winged goddess of peace, symbolizing victory. This crowning piece has been a source of contention and has passed back and forth between victor and vanquished. It has been in Paris, then Germany again, then Russia, and presently where it now stands.

As we approached the square to the rear of the gate, we felt its impact. Walking through the tall arched gate to the front side, we entered the large, open cobblestone plaza called Parisier Platz. Surrounding it were architecturally attractive buildings, some contemporary.

On one side is the US Embassy fronted by a green lawn and flowers, while opposite it on the square is the French Embassy. It, too, had an attractive landscaped frontage. On the far end of the square is the luxurious Hotel Adlon, of Michael Jackson fame, when the media taped him holding his baby over the balcony in response to the crowd.

There were seemingly hundreds of people milling around the plaza, with one group gathered around a musician and a few gathered with protest signs. But, somehow, our view of the Brandenburg Gate was unhindered by people in the square.

We shot some pics as the sun was getting lower in the sky, casting a beautiful light on the gate. After lingering a while longer in the square, taking advantage of one of the benches by the US Embassy, we were ready for dinner.

To follow the recommendation of the hotel concierge, we again walked through the gate and turned right. Only a short walk down the street was the Kundenbeleg Palais Gastronomie; at least, that was the name on “die Rechnung”. Our typical German dinner (31 euros) consisted of 2 pilsners of .5 Hopfingerbrau and an order of currywurst with pomme frites for each. Because of the German atmosphere, and the good beer, we ranked this as a repeat restaurant! It seemed like the diners were mostly locals, but if not, they seemed to be German-speaking. The waiter did present us with an English menu and was very attentive. Although German food is more favored by Tom than by Margie, we both like to focus on the local cuisine when we travel.

After that delightful meal, we enjoyed a leisurely walk back to the hotel, this time enhanced by the lighting of the buildings. Standing out from all the rest was the Reichstag dome.

Another long, but satisfying day! We were ready to turn in, glad that we had two nights at this Marriott. In the morning we would meet a local guide and do more exploration of Berlin.
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Old Nov 10th, 2015, 03:57 PM
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Still reading and enjoying! Thanks so much for sharing.
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Old Nov 10th, 2015, 07:53 PM
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Excellent as always!!! Great description of the Brandenburg Gate. Thanks.

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Old Nov 11th, 2015, 05:34 AM
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Maitaitom, yes, we really enjoyed the area around the Brandenburg Gate! Thanks for your remarks. It helps to know that we still have a few readers hanging in there with us.

Passported, great screen name! Thanks for your interest in our travels.
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Old Nov 11th, 2015, 08:22 AM
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tomarkot, another reader happily following your excellent trip report with particular interest in Prague vs Kraków.
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Old Nov 11th, 2015, 04:49 PM
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Bon_voyage, you're the second reader of the past couple of days with the great screenname!

Thanks for following along. After our Berlin visit, we'll be writing about Prague.
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Old Nov 11th, 2015, 11:51 PM
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Enjoying, Tom.
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Old Nov 12th, 2015, 12:23 AM
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Thanks for your interesting report!

BTW,

'Only a short walk down the street was the Kundenbeleg Palais Gastronomie':

the name of the pub is 'Palais Gastronomie', 'Kundenbeleg' is customer's receipt.
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Old Nov 12th, 2015, 08:33 AM
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SlaO19, thanks for your nice comment on our report!

And additional thanks for providing us with an early morning howl as we both got such a kick out of learning the meaning "Kundenbeleg". We naively thought that it was part of the restaurant name. Shows our knowledge of German, or rather, lack thereof! But we had a good laugh over it.


Adelaidean, glad you're still hanging in there. Every so often I (Margie) think about your plans for the Dolomites, and wonder if they're still in the hopper.
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Old Nov 12th, 2015, 12:16 PM
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We are booked Tom....
July it is.

It is such a long trip from Australia (25 hrs for us), we really envy travellers who can get to Europe in 10 hours.
So I have to travel vicariously through other people's TR's
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Old Nov 12th, 2015, 01:47 PM
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Hope July weather is just perfect for you to enjoy the beautiful Dolomites!

I have empathy for all of you Aussies and Kiwis who have such long travels. Our own trip to OZ and NZ a couple of years back gave us a real feel for what you experience!

Thanks for your continued reading of our report. It encourages us to press on.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 10:59 AM
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You have shared indeed a lengthy and comprehensive report. What you describe mirrors our own travel through Central Europe, starting in Warsaw and ending in Vienna via Krakow, Budapest, Prague. (And later Berlin, too). I realize now that it was ten years ago! Like you we were with a tour group and then also on our own here and there. Many Fodorites plan their own trips but we have appreciated planning by experts (Grand Circle nine times and others, Road Scholar 41 times). And we did have pleasurable side trips on our own.

It happened that our tour guide Agnes had grown up in Warsaw and talked at length about past and present in the nations. Interesting that you alluded to Communism providing secure employment but restricting freedom. For the most part those countries we visited are better off today enjoying freedom to travel, engage in business ventures, more good and prosperity. But as Agnes reminded us there is more crime and drugs, retirees, and many farmers struggling with no subsidies.

Her own parents did well under Communism, her father was an auto dealer who joined the Communist party though thought it nonsense, her mother was in tourism and believed in Communism but did not join. But like other older people life for them today is harder.

"Auschwitz is a sobering experience!" you say You can't help being moved by the stark barracks with cases containing piles of shoes, suit cases, eyeglasses of prisoners. It was moving to stand in the "shower" room and then walk to the furnaces. It was for me also moving to stand looking down the tracks into Birkenkau added because Nazis couldn't keep up with the killings! A Jewish camp survivor friend and former German remembered his father in saying when the Nazis invaded Poland, "Now they know where to put the Jews" Glad you went into some detail. Yes, it wasn't just Jews killed like you said.

Our trip had many delightful extrahighlights, including a boat trip down the Danube, professor lecturing in Krakow on Poland's future, up into the Tatra mountains to Zakopane, Chopin concert in the country, folk dancing in Holloko village, a king's feast in Szentendre, Vienna opera.

This brief report may have been my earliest on a Fodor forum: http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...pe.cfm---2.cfm
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 12:46 PM
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I see that my older report requires leaving off ---2.cfm
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 08:40 AM
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Ozarksbill, thanks for your interest in our TR.

This horrific attack in Paris occurred just as we were beginning to write about the cruel effects of the Nazis on the people of Germany! Today our hearts are with the people of France!

As indicated at the beginning of our TR, we are not usually "tour people". This was a one-off for us, and did work out to give us an overview of the cities visited. We were interested in some of the history, and it did provide the opportunity to learn valuable information first-hand from guides who were raised in the various countries.

Normally our travel is more relaxed and fun-filled. As we plan future trips, probably on our own, we'd like to incorporate more extended stays in some of the places we visited.

Thanks, again, for your interest!
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Old Nov 16th, 2015, 05:17 PM
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SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2015

Pt. 1 BERLIN EXPLORATIONE-Historic Sights with Local Guide

Although the typical German breakfast might normally consist of cold cuts and cheese, the spread at the Marriott was fit for gala event. After that tasty beginning, we were ready to meet our guide, Katrin at 9 AM for our day of discovery. We looked forward to learning more about the German culture and history as we delved into the capital city Berlin.

The day consisted of a combo of coach/walking sightseeing which provided us with an overview of this sprawling city. We had the advantage of Katrin’s informative commentary as we visited all the important sights around Berlin. As we went along, she filled in with sketchy facts and details about the history of the German people. Since she had grown up in Berlin, her personal observations were really interesting.

Initially, the inhabitants of Germany were of Scandinavian descent. Romans made their way into the area and remained until the fall of the empire when they retreated. Charlemagne, a Catholic monarch of the Holy Roman Empire was dominant…King Conrad followed from 900 to 1100.

In 1517, Martin Luther became the leader of the German Reformation. He protested against the Catholic Church by affixing his 95 Theses to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenburg, Germany, SW of Berlin. Luther gained the support of German princes which helped him gain followers. Hence Protestantism arose in what had been a heavily Catholic country, influenced by the powerful Hapsburgs. Luther’s views were considered heretical, and he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

The 30 years’ war followed. It began as a “religious war” (which sounds like an oxymoron to us) and it soon became political. From 1680 to 1748, absolutism, that is, a monarchy having absolute power, and nationalism grew.

Napoleon conquered part of the area of Prussia. Then, victory in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) brought the southern German states into the Prussian led federation. In 1871 Wilhelm I was proclaimed German Emperor. Otto von Bismarck was named First Chancellor of the Empire. This is the beginning of Germany as the country we know today. Wow! 1871 Germany is the country we know today.

In 1882, Wilhelm I formed the Triple Alliance with Austro-Hungary and Italy.

Germany is made up of sixteen states. Five of these were formerly part of East Berlin. The country is about the size of Texas but has four times its population, with 83 million residents. Germany is the most developed and economically strong country of the EU. They pay more into the EU and thus have a larger “say” in what happens.

Germans pay 50% income taxes but receive free education, medicine, highways, etc. They have one month of paid holidays. Germany’s high GDP is due, in large part, to auto makers: VW, Porsche, BMW, and Audi. Tourism is important to the German economy.

The autobahn, built by Hitler in the ‘30’s, has a 130 kilometer (a little over 80 mph) speed limit. It was completed in 1941, with Polish prisoners of war doing the labor at the end.

Germany is famous for many well-known names: among them, Birkenstock shoes and Bayer Pharma, formula I driver Michael Schumacher, Katerina Witt, David Hasselhoff of Baywatch fame, and Marlena Dietrich, an actress of the mid-1940’s.

Lunch is the German’s main meal, with food like pork knuckles, schnitzel, wurst, and currywurst being popular. Dinner is a lesser meal.

Germans are an active people having lots of sports clubs. Football (soccer) is big and they have won the world cup a couple of times.

As we toured the city, although we knew we had no time to visit the interiors of the museums, seeing the layout and the exterior architecture of the impressive structures was well worth it. And witnessing the crowds lined up at several of the museums, we were convinced that for a future visit, we would definitely check into a Museum Pass!

Some of the key sites we visited were:

THE GOVERNMENT QUARTER: Political Heart of Germany
The Reichstag: In close proximity to the Brandenburg Gate, it serves as a reference point for all the ups and downs of German history.

This building has seen the creation of a parliamentary democracy, the seizure of power by the Nazis, desperate fighting in the final days of WWII in 1945, the blockade of Berlin in 1948, and the pain of the division of Germany followed by the euphoria of its reunification after the Fall of the Wall in 1989.

An interesting historical note is that at the end of WWII, as the Soviets were declaring victory, and heavy bombing had been levied by them, their servicemen climbed to the top of the Reichstag and planted the Red Flag.

From the heavy damage suffered, the Reichstag has emerged as another important landmark in Berlin. The most noteworthy feature of the reconstructed Reichstag is its impressive glass cupola which is open daily for visitors to ascend and enjoy a sweeping view of Berlin, include the Spree River which runs right through the heart of the historic center.

Another unique feature of the view from the glass dome is an inside view of the Parliament, even while it is in session. The lines to gain admittance to the Reichstag dome are normally long, and were such at the time of our visit.

The nighttime lighting, which we had witnessed last evening, only increases the Reichstag’s prominence as a significant landmark in Berlin.

Federal Chancellery and Parliamentary Buildings: very contemporary designs. Within these buildings of government, which include the Reichstag described above, lie the center of executive power in the German government.
Together, these buildings form part of the so-called “federal ribbon”, a unique concept in siting and design for which the creators won the 1993 competition for the project from among 835 submissions. The buildings stretch 1.5 km. east to west and cross the Spree River twice, symbolizing the two halves of the city back together.

As we traveled around the center of Berlin, we observed many buildings of interest.
Hamburger Bahnhof: This building is the oldest in Berlin, originally completed in 1847. As its name suggests, it was used for transportation to and from Hamburg. In 1906, it served as a museum of transportation and construction. It received extensive renovation in 1996, and is now known as the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Nikolai Quarter: Most buildings dating from the Middle Ages have been destroyed. Hardly any remnants are left. One exception is the Nikolaikirche, originally built in 13th century, with renovations and the addition of double spires at the end of the 19th century. Though most of it was destroyed in the war, the main part of the structure survived destruction. For the 750th anniversary of Berlin in 1987, both halves of the divided city contributed to the work of rebuilding.
Surprisingly, the East German regime undertook the rebuilding of the entire “Nikolaiviertel” or quarter around the church. This re-building was intended to revive the charm of former days with its winding streets, small houses, and medieval atmosphere. Its significance lies in the fact that this area is the very cradle of Berlin. There are varying opinions as to the effectiveness of its goal.
The Marienkirche: built around 1270. Originally, it was at the center of a densely built-up area until 1945 when East German planners razed the houses. Following the style of Socialist town planning, they created a huge open space with a Neptune Fountain in the center.
The TV Tower: One of the proudest achievements of the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic government. A Soviet designer had the idea for this 365 metre tower which, in 1969, ranked as Europe’s second tallest building. After the fall of the Wall, 3 more metres were added. This TV Tower is a landmark in Berlin’s skyline, compared by some to the Eiffel Tower’s prominence in Paris. The top level includes a revolving restaurant.
Schauspielhaus or Konzerthaus: Leonard Bernstein celebrated the fall of the Wall with a concert here in 1989. A ceremony was held on the square in front on August 31, 1994, signaling the formal withdrawal of all Russian troops from Germany.
This hall, along with the surrounding area, is the venue for the award ceremony for the Goldene Kamera, a prestigious TV and film honor. For this occasion, the surrounding area, called the Gendarmenmarkt, becomes a red-carpeted catwalk for the stars. In the summer, the area is used for open air concerts, galas, and other big events.
Deutscher Dom: houses an exhibition on the development of parliamentary democracy. For us, the exterior would hold more interest.

MUSEUM ISLAND was an ensemble of five museums on an island in the Spree River. In 1999, all were declared a “UNESCO World Heritage Sites.” With our exploration of Berlin, we expected only to get an appreciation of the architecture of all these museums, and learn a bit about their focus. Doing justice to interior visits definitely warrants a return visit for a several day period. And, considering the long lines we witnessed, advanced planning and a pass would be a must!
Bodemuseum: Contains one of the world’s most significant Egyptian collections, ranging from a huge sphinx of a ruler from 1490 BC, to a Burial Cult room where coffins, mummies, and grave objects are displayed, a papyrus collections, and early Christian and Byzantine Art. Clearly, this museum alone would consume the better part of a day!
Pergamonmuseum: This museum is well-known for housing the famous Pergamon Altar, built between 164-156 B. C, and discovered in 1878 in Turkey. However, the Pergamonmuseum is really three museums: the Antiquities collection , of which the Pergamon Altar is a part, the Museum of the Near East, and the Museum of Islamic Art. Another impressive museum for future exploration!
Neues Museum: Contains the famous Queen Nefertiti bust. It’s closed for renovation until 2018-2019. Since our overview of Berlin includes enjoyment only of the exteriors of these buildings, we’ll plan our return longer visit when this museum is re-opened.
By coincidence, we have plans to visit the Neue Museum in New York City in early December! However, there is a similarity in name only. The NYC museum focuses on Austrian and German art. The “Woman in Gold” painting is on display there. Also there is a special exhibit: ”Berlin”. How timely!
Altes Museum: Originally constructed between 1823 and 1830 to house the art collection of the Prussian royal family, making it accessible to the public. Following the war damage, it was restored in 2010-2011.
It, too, has an impressive dome modeled on the Pantheon.



Another structure of significance on Museum Island:
Berlin Dom: This huge, main Lutheran cathedral is a museum in its own right. It, too, received massive destruction in the war, and remained a ruined shell until 1993. In the re-building, the cathedral was conceived as “Protestantism’s main church-the counterpart of St. Peter’s in Rome”. Someone described the interior as “gilt to the hilt”. It is so massive that when we were taking photos, we had to move a far distance across the street.

Moving on from Museum Island, we visited a few other of Berlin’s overwhelming number of attractions. Including a few outstanding structures on Unter Den Linden, known as the “noblest boulevard in Berlin”. Frederick the Great (1712-1786) had a large influence on the development, resulting in a magnificent group of buildings, among them the following:
The State Opera House (staatsoper): It was begun in 1741, a year after Frederick the Great ascended the throne. It has a seating capacity of 2000. Following the war, it was restructured and is now one of Berlin’s three big opera houses. Having three opera houses gives a hint to Berlin’s size, and the city’s appreciation of the arts.
St. Hedwig’s Cathedral – This Catholic Cathedral is much under-stated compared to the huge Berlin Dom. At the time of its construction in 1747, while Germany was still part of Prussia, there was much resistance to building a Catholic house of worship in staunchly Protestant Prussia, and in such a prominent place. It resulted in a concession by Frederick to the Catholic population of Silesia which he had only recently conquered.
The Pantheon in Rome was a model for the dome, as well as its colonnaded portico and triangular impediment. Apparently, the interior is known for its sparseness of decorations.
In the crypt is a memorial to those killed by the Nazis. The Dean of the cathedral supported the Jewish people and died in 1943 as he was being taken to a concentration camp.

Humboldt University: This is the oldest of several large universities in Berlin. It is a sprawling city campus with a number of colleges. Originally established between 1748 and 1753 as a palace for Frederick the Great’s brother, the building was used after 1810 as the newly founded Friedrich Wilhelm University. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was greatly extended and today houses many departments.
One thing we found of special interest was the fact that on May 10, 1933, by order of the Nazis, the students were required to publicly burn all works from the extensive library determined to be “un-German”, so many famous works were destroyed.
We moved on to Tiergarten Park, the largest of Berlin’s many parks. Located in the center of the city, it covers a square mile. It was originally a forest, and over many years was developed with trees, shrubs, and plants of many varieties; also walking paths, lakes, etc. Unfortunately, the trees were cut down during the war to provide firewood for the freezing people.
Tiergarten Park contains the world famous Berlin Zoological Garden, begun in 1844. Before WWII it was known to contain 1500 species of animals, with a total count of 20,500 animals. In 1938, all Jewish board members were replaced in order to “Aryanize the institution”. Most of the animals suffered and died horrible deaths, from bombing and starvation, with only 90 animals remaining at the end of the war.
Today Tiergarten is again filled with tree species from all over the world, even some contributed by Queen Elizabeth. The park has great paths, lakes, and the Lion’s Bridge. The Berlin Zoo, together with its Aquarium, has again taken its place as the most outstanding zoo in Europe.
We have a wonderful Cincinnati Zoo close to our home, and normally do not choose to visit zoos while traveling to other cities. But the outstanding Berlin Zoo would be an exception.!
Also in Tiergarten Park are many memorials to different groups of people who died in war. One outstanding memorial is that dedicated to the Soviet soldiers who died in the Battle of Berlin. Interesting to note that it was constructed from marble taken from Hitler’s Chancellery.
In Tiergarten Park, we saw Schloss Bellevue, the stately presidential mansion which has been the official residence since 1994. The sprawling white buildings are constructed in a “U” fronted by a large, green lawn.
It felt a bit like looking at the White House in DC, but not having tickets to enter.
We saw the very modern Museum of World Cultures, designed by a U.S. architect. It was selected from an entry into an architectural competition in 1957. It is an eye-catcher with its curved roof. It currently serves as the Exhibition on World Cultures.
In the center of Tiergarten Park is the prominent Victory Column, celebrating the
Near the area of Potsdamer Platz and our hotel:
Holocaust Museum:
Taking 17 years of discussion, planning and construction, this Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was officially dedicated on May 10, 2005. Since the Holocaust Museum is very close to our hotel, we would later visit it.
Hitler’s Bunker:
As Berlin was burning and Soviet tanks were advancing, Hitler and his long-time female companion committed suicide on April 30, 1945. We had read that Hitler’s Bunker is difficult to locate. We learned that it’s near to Potsdamer Platz. But it’s well camoflouged next to some non-descript apartments with a parking lot built over it. According to our guide, the Geman citizens wanted to pre-empt any attempts at making this a shrine. The country’s dark history is revealed only by an informational panel with a diagram of the vast bunker network.
It was at this point that we would learn more details to help us understand how Hitler’s atrocities could be committed without the knowledge or protests of the German people.
The Nazis had been working on their insidious plans, in subtle and guarded ways, for a number of years. One of the goals was to keep their ultimate plans as quiet as possible, working surreptiously, to consolidate power and win over the German people.
Jews were being eliminated from professions, like doctors and teachers. Jewish businesses were being closed. The Nuremburg laws of 1935 prohibited intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.
Great emphasis was placed on the indoctrination of youth. Athletic training with rewards for excellence was very important. In order to provide a parallel program of physical development and training for students, to compete with Hitler’s movement, the Catholic Schools began their own athletic programs. However, it wasn’t long before the Nazis closed all religious schools.
Membership in the Nazi Youth Organization became a requirement. Parents had no choice but to have their children participate. Hitler wanted the youth to excel in the 1936 Olympics which were held in Berlin.
Teachers preaching the “Nazi” doctrine were employed to replace the regular academic teachers in all the schools, some of whom were Jewish. A German man noted that the quality of the academics declined substantially during that time, as the emphasis was on Nazi philosophy indoctrination. Heavy emphasis was placed on the concept of a superior Aryan race.
“You are a member of the master race” was inculcated. Hatred of the Jews was fostered, through textbooks in schools, and posters displayed in public. The Jews were portrayed as the cause of all Germany’s economic problems.
Resentment was stirred up throughout Germany as the Nazi’s capitalized on the outcome Treaty of Versailles following WWI. Through it, Germany was cast as the sole aggressor, lost territory to France; namely, Alsace-Loraine area, and had to pay huge reparations. The people were understandably war-weary, having endured, among other things, the loss of so many of their sons and husbands. And their economy was declining, along with that of many parts of the world. Many Germans were suffering.
Hitler promoted himself as the builder of a New Europe. His public-relations manager would control outlets such as newspaper and radio, dictating what news to print or suppress, how to write the headlines, etc. This control was particularly useful when deportations and exterminations began.
Hitler’s well-publicized rallies, where he was known to whip the citizens into a frenzy, gained him support. He was able to get “religious” backing by having some of his followers unite the Protestant churches to form the Protestant Reich Church, called the German Evangelical Church. This church was known to promote and support the doctrine of a superior race. Clergy who spoke out in disagreement were arrested.
And Hitler was known to quote from a book written by Martin Luther back in 1543, titled THE JEWS AND THEIR LIES, an attempt to assure the people of the righteousness of the Nazi Party. (We trust that Martin Luther later retracted those words, and think that he would “turn over in his grave” to know that Hitler, 400 years later, would use quotes from his book to validate his diabolical ends).
Hitler appointed henchmen, who were judged to have good public speaking skills, in all areas of Germany. Their assigned task was to enthrall and excite crowds. The focus was on anti-Semitic propaganda which was promulgated as a major deterrent in the Nazi goal of restructuring German society. The loyalties of individuals to a class or religion would be replaced by a new national awareness and dedication to a new national community.
All of the above tactics were employed over a period of years in order to gain the vote of the people. But Hitler never trusted the German people, and therefore there was an extensive network of surveillance developed-down to each town. Party members were always lurking, often imbedded in families. Children were encouraged to report on parents who expressed anything negative about the government. People were known to be executed for making a bad joke about Hitler.
One wonders how the German people would not have been aware of the targeting of Jewish people, of their businesses, of their removal from neighborhood. How could they not have known about the concentration camps? As with other tactics, the Nazi were very cunning, using the euphemism of “re-location”. Although many of the citizens became suspicious, as long as there was no violence, there was no outward protest. And the people were afraid to ask!
All that changed on the night of November 9-10, 1938, “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass”. Joseph Goebbels, of noted infamy, and several other top party leaders, encouraged the violent destruction of Jewish businesses. Until the Jewish shops were attacked, the violence against them was “off camera”. But with Kristallnacht, a collective unease permeated the people. They sensed that it was the beginning of war; that peace was finished. The anti-Semitic propaganda of Hitler’s Nazis had begun to take hold among many of the people.
The German Army was successful in conquering many neighboring countries, and a feeling of national pride was promoted. However, the moment Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, a change was palpable. Doubts about Hitler being their savior were vanishing.
Following the involvement of the Soviet Union, Pearl Harbor happened. The Soviets were in cahoots with the Japanese, and Hitler knew the power and potential of the United States.
When the Allies started bombing Germany, the people forgot about the Jews. They themselves were suffering; some starving. Goebbels had announced total war. There was a pervasive feeling among the German people that everyone was against them: the Communists, the Slavs, and the Jews.
And what about the Jews? There were some rumors in circulation about what may have happened to them. The real truth didn’t get out to most of the people. Or if it had, it would have been dangerous, even fatal, to say it. Stories are told about pastors who preached about the atrocities against the Jews, and they were soon arrested and hauled off to a concentration camp. And there were many other heroes who risked a lot to save Jews.
Earlier in our report, we detailed the horrors of the Nazi regime in Hungary and Poland, and the above information, learned from the guide and from reading, provided some insight into the effect of Hitler and the Nazi Party on the German people.
By this point in our exploration of Berlin, we were more than ready for a cappuccino/pastry break.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 01:00 PM
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FRIENDS, we regret the lack of spacing on our Pt. 1 of BERLIN above. As I was editing, I must have accidentally hit SUBMIT. Apologies, as it is difficult to read, and I didn't have a chance to delete extraneous details.



Pt. 2 BERLIN WALL/ CHECKPOINT CHARLIE
LATE AFTERNOON/EVENING, BERLIN FINALE

After that welcome cappuccino break, we switched gears and traveled to the Eastside Gallery, learning more about the Berlin Wall, pieces of which we had seen around the entrance to the Hauptbahnhof, just up the street from our hotel.

Among all the fabulous museums, parks, concert halls, and other sites of Berlin, apparently one of the biggest attractions is the former border control guard post named “Checkpoint Charlie”. This was the point where two superpowers stood implacably toe to toe for over 40 years. It was one crossing which marked the dividing line between East Germany, awarded to the Soviets, and West Germany, under the wing of the Americans and the British.

This spot marked a near boiling point for war as American tanks lined up in position on the western side, while the Soviets called up armored vehicles on their side. The stand-off lasted for three days until October 28, 1961 when Khrushchev and President Kennedy defused the tension by telephone.

The Soviets had become increasingly angered that so many of its people were leaving their Eastern side in search of a better life in the West. Many people saw their Western counterparts living in a free society, with opportunities to better themselves. They saw their access to better products, as the East Berliners had access to only Soviet, inferior, goods. They wanted what they saw in West Berlin!

In order to prevent more defections from the East, the Soviets, without warning, erected the Berlin Wall during the night of August 13, 1961, while most of the people were asleep. The first wall was constructed in succeeding stages of barbed wire and fences, then large blocks, and concrete elements.

In June of the following year, a second Wall was added as an extra barrier to prevent any escape to the West. Around 1965, a 3rd generation of Wall was replaced by a 4th, consisting of concrete slabs between steel girders and concrete posts. The wall was capped with round pipe to prevent would-be escapees from getting a good grip.

Along the Wall’s east side ran a ‘death strip’, an area controlled by guards. 302 watch towers and 2 bunkers were built along the 155 km. (approx.. 96 mi.) long border. There were floodlights all throughout, and guard dogs. As a further escalation, the face of the second wall was painted white. The guards were given the order to shoot at escapees. And, further, if any guard observed another not shooting to kill, he was trained to kill his fellow guard. The Brandenburg Gate stood between these two walls.

There are many heart-wrenching stories about the Wall’s effect on peoples’ lives. Stories like the engaged girl who traveled to East Berlin to work, staying with relatives, and could no longer return to her fiancé or her parents at home in the West. Or the East German parents whose dying newborn son had been taken to a hospital in the West for care. After applying for a pass to visit their son, only the mother was permitted a few hours. The father was kept in the East. After that visit, they didn’t see their until he was a young adult. He didn’t know them. These were just two examples of the effects on peoples’ lives.

Just like the Gestapo of the Nazis, the Soviets had their armies of Stasis or Secret Police. Our guide in Poland, plus our guide in Berlin, told us of the fear of the Stasis. Homes were “bugged”. They felt as if there movements were all watched.

In order to communicate, family members and friends often wrote notes. Anyone suspected of either planning to escape, helping someone else to do so, or saying something negative against the government was taken away. People were encouraged to report others, even within their own families.

Our guide in Berlin, Katrin, described her fear as a young girl when they tried to visit her grandparents who were in East Berlin. They would apply for a border permit to travel East, and it would sometimes take weeks for approval. Lining up at the checkpoint would take hours. Her father had to remove many parts of the car: the seats, the trunk, the hood, to the satisfaction of the guards that they were not bringing in goods from the West, nor hiding anyone from the East upon their return to the West.

Several U.S. bands traveled to East Berlin to perform for the young people. Among them was Bruce Springsteen and his E-Street Band who drew a crowd of 300,000 on July 19, 1988, sixteen months before the fall.

The people lived under the Soviet Regime until the Fall of the Wall on November 9, 1989. The Communist economy had been collapsing, and in May, 1989 Soviet President Gorbachev had allowed the border between Hungary and Austria to be opened. This allowed East Germans access to the West by way of Hungary. Protests by more and more people were putting pressure on the East German government.

Finally, on November 9, 1989, travel restrictions were lifted. Word spread quickly, and crowds of people gathered at the border gates, pressuring the guards. The gates were opened and the people flooded into West Berlin. It was the “Fall of the Wall”.

Although most of the Wall has been dismantled, the actual route of it has been replaced by a double row of cobblestones. In fact, the cobblestone path runs through our Marriott Hotel property, and we followed part of it as we walked to the Brandenburg Gate.

We visited the Museum of Checkpoint Charlie, begun in 1962 by a human rights activist. From its beginning in two and half rooms, it has evolved into a two-story fairly spacious exhibition. In it are objects used to escape over, under, and through the Berlin Wall, and stories of escapees who risked their lives to win their freedom. Cars were shown with “dummies” in all kinds of contorted positions, in different sections of small cars, to illustrate the extent to which people went to gain freedom.

The museum also focuses on keeping alive the memory of those who died in their attempts. It aims to be not only a testament to the past, but an evolving reminder of the present and the challenges facing us today to stand up for human rights and freedom.

Next to the Museum is a large sports/concert venue, the Mercedes Center. Toward the front of its sprawling lawn is a large colorfully-painted bear, the symbol of Berlin. Our guide, Katrin, expressed that seeing that lawn makes her sad, because it is the burial ground of hundreds killed.

The most famous section of the wall that is still standing is the 1316 meter long East Side Gallery. In 1990, artists were invited to paint this part of the wall. It is now one large open-air graffiti art gallery detailing aspects of the wall’s history.

Since the wall was so long, pieces of it have been on display in countries around the world. We viewed one such piece in the Newseum in Washington DC and in the Ronald Reagon Presidential Library in California. A piece of the wall is imbedded in the façade of the Chicago Tribune Building.

Much of East Berlin was in a very run-down condition. Under the re-construction, near the area of Checkpoint Charlie is the newly developed Quartier, the “Q” as it is called. It was one of Berlin’s biggest construction projects in the 1990’s. The “Q” is a series of buildings with facades of block and cube forms. The buildings in the “Q” house some of the most exclusive fashion boutiques. One building is devoted to the Berlin branch of the French Galeries Lafayette.

Our heads were saturated with all the information learned from our discoveries around Berlin, and we had focused on a relatively small area of this magnificent city. But, by now, we were ready to get back to our home base, re-group, have a late lunch, and plan the remainder of our day.

We talked a longer time with Katrina at the end of the tour, and have incorporated details she shared in our notes above.

At this point, we intended to have a repeat dinner at the Palais Gastronomie, where the menu was German. So for a light lunch we went for a little Indian cuisine. The Amrits Restaurant, near our hotel, had an inviting outdoor patio. We ordered the Shish Kebab to share. Served with a fairly ample salad, it was tasty, but more than we had planned on eating, especially in view of our plans for dinner.

We walked around the area, enjoying the bustling activity around the Potsdamer Platz. It was difficult to comprehend that this area was a virtual wasteland with the Berlin Wall running right through it. The impressive Sony Building was not to be missed. That would have been an option for lunch, but we liked the idea of enjoying the outdoors on what was a beautiful day.

Never ones to pass up a HaagenDazs, especially at an outdoor setting, we had just placed our order for cappuccino and ice cream when a couple from our group that we especially liked,Val and Mario, passed by and joined us. We enjoyed some good conversation and laughs, as we enjoyed Mario’s great sense of humor.

Re-energized, we headed in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate, via the Holocaust Memorial and Tiergarten Park.

The idea for the Holocaust Memorial was first proposed in 1986, intended to be Germany’s central memorial to the victims of genocide by the Nazi regime. It took until 1999 for plans to be approved. The design finally chosen, that of U.S. architect Peter Eisenman, was controversial. Occupying almost five acres of space, just a short distance from Hitler’s bunker, the memorial is made up of 2,711 concrete slabs that have no names or dates. The slabs undulate in a wave-like pattern, as the memorial is unevenly sloped throughout. Each is a five-sided monolith, varying from ankle height to some that tower over the heads of people. It was intended to be evocative of groundlessness, instability, and disorientation.

There is no set pattern or plan to the memorial. Each individual determines his or her own path, and leaves with individual reactions. We did experience, among other feelings, the uneasiness of getting lost and being separated. Since the memorial is open on a city block, it can be visited anytime during the day or night.

After our busy day of touring and learning, we appreciated some relaxation in the large Tiergarten Park. The feeling is similar to what one experiences walking from the busy streets of Manhattan into Central Park. We had seen many monuments earlier in the day. Our relaxing stroll in Tiergarten included passing only one monument, that of Goethe, the German poet.

Following our “time-out” in Tiergarten, we left by the exit closest to the Brandenburg Gate. We took more pics of the Gate and had an interesting stop in the Tourist Info Center where we spoke with a young woman employee who had lived in East Berlin as a young girl. She described having better living conditions than we had heard from others.

After hearing so many stories about the fear under which people lived because of the SS police, we were kind of taken aback when the young woman told us that her dad had been an SS Stasis. She said that her parents believed in the system and liked it because of the security. Because of her father’s position, they had a little easier life. After the reunification of Germany, her dad could not find a job (given he had been a Stazi), but had to take a “hard job” driving an ambulance.

The one lighter topic which we discussed was the popularity of “apelmann”, the red and green little men which served as traffic signals in East Berlin. After the fall of the Wall, there was a public outcry for keeping the “apelmann” signals. T-shirts from the Apelmann store, which was near our hotel, became a status symbol among the guys in the group, displayed at breakfast. Since the store had closed before we returned, Tom missed out on that purchase. So we put that on our list to keep our eyes open for another chance at purchasing “apelmann”.

Other souvenirs of Berlin which were seen all over were colorfully painted bears of all sizes.

Strolling back to the hotel, we decided to end the evening with a drink in the Marriott Bar, the Catwalk. We enjoyed the nice window seat, just watching the world go by.

As we were returning to our room, we ran into Robyn and Bryan, an Aussie couple whom we liked. They were on their way to meet Hola in the Executive Lounge. Hola, who was a lot of fun, was traveling on her own. Through her business travel, she had become a Premier Marriott member. They invited us to party with them. Nice group, nice camaraderie. A fun finale to our stay in Berlin!

11:15 seemed to come quickly! Guten Nacht! Morning comes early!

Tomorrow we’re off to PRAGUE!
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Old Nov 19th, 2015, 02:25 AM
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After my father escaped from East Germany he didn't see his parents for 25 years.

Thanks for the write up Tom.
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