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In Pursuit of Vikings, Fjords and Cooler Weather, thursdaysd Goes North

In Pursuit of Vikings, Fjords and Cooler Weather, thursdaysd Goes North

Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 12:06 PM
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In Pursuit of Vikings, Fjords and Cooler Weather, thursdaysd Goes North

Since I can choose when I travel, I rarely choose to do so in July and August when I expect the crowds and the northern hemisphere heat to be at their worst. But I live in the US, and when my niece announced wedding plans in England for the end of August, I decided it was finally time to visit Scandinavia, where I could at least hope for cooler weather. Like most of my trips, though, this one grew, in several directions. I left home for Boston on July 10th, and will fly back from Barcelona on Halloween.

Although I have been traveling for a couple of weeks already, as yet there have been no Vikings, no fjords, and precious little cool weather, as I have stopped off in Boston, Potsdam and Berlin, and have three more north German towns to go before Copenhagen. I have not put up a TR for Boston on Fodors, but I have blogged it. You can find those posts, and photographs to go with the text I'll be posting here, on my blog:

mytimetotravel.wordpress.com

You'll also find a "Getting There" post, with my new travel rule: do not connect through Heathrow!

Before I left on this trip I participated in a thread on this board on whether AC was needed in Berlin in the summer. I thought at the time that the fanatical anti-AC poster was nuts. I now know he is nuts.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 12:10 PM
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<b>July 15-17, 2015: Potsdam: Sanssouci and Sans AC</b>

Potsdam was on my itinerary for getting over jet lag and trying to appreciate rococo – not one of my favorite styles. As it turned out I didn’t have any jet lag. I got just enough sleep on the short flight from Boston, that even without my usual arrival day nap I was able to stay awake until a reasonably normal bedtime, and get up with everyone else the next day.

The rococo part went better than I expected, too. Potsdam’s signature sights – Schloss Sanssouci and several related buildings – owe their existence to Frederick II, the third Hohenzollern King of Prussia. (Also known as Frederick the Great, and as Old Fritz – take your pick.) Frederick loved rococo, and was still using it well after it had gone out of fashion everywhere else and been succeeded by the more austere style of Neoclassisim. But perhaps my problems are really with baroque rather than rococo – I found Old Fritz’s decorations lighter and more playful than I expected – and that was before I trekked across the extensive park to the Chinese pavilion, a truly delicious folly.

I had bought my ticket, good for all the buildings in the park and with a timed admission to Sanssouci, a couple of months ahead of time, but it turned out that I needn’t have bothered. In fact I would have got in five minutes earlier if I had waited, but I don’t know how common that is – there were certainly plenty of people around later on. Although you need an entry time, no one seems to care how long you spend inside. You’re handed an audio guide and left to your own devices.

After the Schloss I went next door to the much less popular New Chambers, originally an orangerie, repurposed as extra quarters. But I did not visit the art gallery on the other side of the Schloss, figuring that between Boston and Berlin I didn’t need to look at any more pictures. Instead I took a bus round the outside of the estate to the New Palace (the transport pass I bought in Berlin also covered Potsdam). The cafe there was a mistake, providing a very mediocre sandwich, and the palace itself was in need of renovation.

I finished my Sanssouci visit with the Chinese pavilion, and it’s hard to say whether it was worth the trek across the park to get there – especially as there was no shade: without my umbrella/sunshade I wouldn’t have done it. The building is small, and bears little relationship to anything authentically Chinese, but it is a remarkable example of Chinoiserie. The inside isn’t very interesting, but I loved the gold statues, exemplifying western views of China, placed all round the little building on the outside.

Given the heat and the distances, I decided to skip the other attractions in the park (mainly Schloss Charlottenhof) and after making it back to the entrance took the bus into town, getting off for a welcome coffee on the edge of a park at Platz der Einheit. (Turned out that the coffee would probably have been better, although not the view, if I had walked a block north.) Consulting the map I had bought at the T.I. on arrival, I discovered that I could catch the bus to Schloss Cecilienhof right by the cafe. Cecilienhof, built for the German Crown Prince as WWI got underway, was the site of the Potsdam conference at the end of WWII. As I had previously visited the site of the Yalta conference, it seemed only fitting to add the Potsdam site.

The palace, built in fake medieval style, would not be worth the bus ride except for the historical associations, but there is plenty of information available, and the grounds are pretty. Heading out there also got me a look at one of Potsdam’s many lakes.

So, Potsdam was a success? Well, not entirely. I don’t usually visit Europe in the summer, so I don’t usually worry about air conditioning when I’m in Europe. However, a memory of a very hot and uncomfortable visit to London in early July 2006, led me to do some research. Instead of reading only recent hotel reviews on tripadvisor.com, I looked at the ones from last summer, and as a result, for almost all my July and August accommodation, aside from Norway, I booked places with AC. (Thanks to the reviews I was able to avoid a place in Berlin that turned its AC off at night!) However, for Potsdam and Schwerin, where I would only spend two nights apiece, and where I found no good options in the city center with AC, I would do without. My first night in Potsdam, this turned out reasonably well – opening the window cooled my room down. The second night, not so much. It had been a very hot day, and my room was on the top floor, facing west. The room finally cooled down enough for sleep around 1:00 am, by which time I had provided dinner for an annoying insect.

I was glad to have seen Potsdam, and aside from the lack of AC, my hotel, the Am Grossen Waisenhaus, housed in a former barracks, had been fine, with helpful staff. If I forget the sandwich at the New Palace cafe, I had eaten well, with a good breakfast buffet at the hotel, pork and mushrooms just up the street, and reasonable Indian fare nearer the center. So I thought the town definitely worth a day trip, and even a stop over, but not in high summer.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 01:28 PM
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hi thursdaysd - we only spent a day and a half in Potsdam and that was about right for us - a great dinner in the traditional Stube near the Brandenburg Gate lookalike, a tour of Sanssouci and a walk round the park, [which I seem to remember they were digging up when we were there about 4 years ago].

We too stayed at Am Grossen Waisenhaus, and I too remember having one of the same attic rooms and its being very hot. However we also enjoyed a good breakfast, and the fact that there was a nice big fence around the car park.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2015, 03:39 PM
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Seems that we are, once again, indebted to you for your insightful observations as you embark upon another enviable journey -- thanks so much for making time for us, thursdaysd!

I claim no expertise in the distinction between Baroque and Rococo architecture -- I find some too ponderously ornate for my tastes, and some so joyful and playful that I would relish seeing them with frequency, even though I don't consider myself a particular fan of either. There were facades in Noto and Lecce that made me stop and literally laugh, and they bring joy to me even when I think of them. I'm glad you finally saw a bit of the more playful side.

Looking forward to hearing more!
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 08:59 AM
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Thanks, kja and ann, always nice to know someone's reading.

<b>July 17, 2015: Beginning Berlin</b>

I arrived back in Berlin at the huge, shiny new Hauptbahnhof, packed with shops, with train tracks on two levels, but oddly lacking in connections into the U-Bahn system. The T.I. sold me a map and told me which bus to take to reach my hotel. This was on Leipziger Platz, right next door to the rebuilt Potsdamer Platz and the flashy Sony Center, and was a bit of experiment. Motel One is a new German chain, budget with boutique leanings, and the hotel was bigger and more corporate than those I usually choose. But AC for a reasonable price (i.e. not over 100 euro) had been hard to find, and I liked the location.

Potsdam had been 81 F the day before, Berlin was 91 F the day I arrived. What a good thing I had booked AC! Happily, it worked very well, and the room managed to be basic and comfortable at the same time. It was also part of the expansive Mall of Berlin, with a large food court, where the hotel sent me for lunch. The resulting falafel sandwich was good and very cheap, and I ate even better Thai food for dinner there several times. (I apologize to any foodies reading, but I was in economy mode so as to bring my budget back into line after expensive Boston.) I noticed that Asian food, which I love, and Italian food, which I like rather less, were both very popular in Berlin.

Normally, I would have spent such a hot day in a museum (except that I found that Berlin's museums aren't air conditioned) but I wanted to use a three day museum pass, and I had only been able to get a reservation for the Reichstag on Saturday. So, no museum on Friday. Instead I headed for KaDeWe, a department store that claims to be largest on the Continent (don't know how it compares to Harrods). That was when I found out that the U-Bahn had no AC, and that part of the cross-town line I had expected to use was out of commission.

Aside from a massive gourmet food section, the most impressive thing about KaDeWe, to me, were its prices. I had intended to buy a new, small hairdryer there, my decades-old travel dryer having expired a few trips back, but fortunately I had checked the prices in the Mall of Berlin, and paid 16 euro there instead of the 20 euro KaDeWe would have charged. Plus, the cheapest Nespresso machine in KaDeWe was more complex and twice the price of the cheapest in the mall. On the other hand, I had coffee and cointreau on the food level for a quite reasonable price, although my espresso macchiato came with milk as well as foam.

Since I was in the neighborhood I took a look at the twin Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial churches. As with the bombed out cathedral in Coventry, which I had seen many years before, the original building had been left in ruins, and a new companion church built next door. Some nice mosaics in the old church, some OK blue stained glass in the new, but the most moving sight was a small sketch of the Madonna and child. Drawn by a German doctor at the Stalingrad front, it had made it out while he had not. Although I read about the contacts for peace between this church and Coventry, I kept remembering that while responsibility for WWI may be in doubt, responsibility for WWII is all too clear.

Still in pursuit of relief from the heat, I headed for the Tiergarten. I wound up walking the entire length, from west to east. For an urban park, the Tiergarten seemed surprisingly untamed, with plenty of trees and water along with the cycling paths. The Victory Column, an overly large and heavily gilded commemoration of the 1870-71 war against the French, seemed quite out of place, and had originally been over by the Brandenburg Gate (it was moved by Speer to be the centerpiece of the Third Reich's new Berlin). Just like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it was the center of a roundabout, although the traffic here seemed more sedate.

Thanks to the AC, I slept both earlier and better than the night before, for which I was especially grateful as I had to be at the Reichstag at an early hour the next morning. Well, early for me. The tour was at 9:00, but the cover letter said to get there at 8:30.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 09:27 AM
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on for the ride
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 09:27 AM
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thursdaysd - I don't often read mention of my home town, [Coventry] so thanks. I was equally moved when seeing the Frauenkirche in Dresden which also has links with Coventry Cathedral.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 11:48 AM
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Annhig - it was a shockingly long time ago, but I remember really liking the stained glass - very controversial at the time, I believe. Didn't care so much for the tapestry.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 01:56 PM
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Thursdays - I have always loved the stained glass and even the tapestry but the lights over the choir stalls that look like coat hangers not so much.

a big problem with the building is/are the acoustics - they are truly terrible. You can be in there singing along with 2000 people and it sounds as if you are singing by yourself.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 03:05 PM
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Thursdaysd, Just got in and am enjoying following around. Thanks for sharing your adventures and thoughts with us.

I remember being in Germany during the heat wave in 2003 and it was miserable! I had gone for a wedding and the hotel was not airconditioned. It was the last summer trip I took. Being a teacher, I always had to travel in summer, but since retirement I have joined all of you who have the luxury of traveling out of summer!

Annhig, I was at Coventry thirty years ago and expected to hate the new cathedral, but I did find that it was strangely moving along with the ruins.

Sorry, Thursday, for getting off topic. Again, many thanks for your report which I will continue to read.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 03:50 PM
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Also on board for the ride and eager to hear any and all details.....best regards....eks..
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Old Jul 23rd, 2015, 03:52 PM
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Just to add to the fun:

http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-september.cfm
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 01:33 AM
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Annhig, I was at Coventry thirty years ago and expected to hate the new cathedral, but I did find that it was strangely moving along with the ruins.>>

Irishface, I had never thought about the ruins very much until my german pen friend and her family came to visit for my wedding. Seeing her father, [who had fought on the Russian front and been a British POW], weeping in the ruins was a very moving moment for both of us.

[sorry for continuing the diversion, Thursdaysd].
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 02:41 AM
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Hi eks, nice to see you!

Thanks for the link, nyse - had totally forgotten that classic!

annhig - diversion no problem. I think those churches were left that way to cause diversions.
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 03:38 AM
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Interesting. I haven't been to Berlin since 1986. Have been back to Chemnitz (Karl Marx Stadt) and a few other places since though.
My father escaped from East Germany and didn't see his parents again for 25 years, so an emotional history there.

Looking forward to reading about your experiences.
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 04:20 AM
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Adelaidean - we found ourselves in Jena recently - which turned out rather to my surprise to have a pleasant town centre, and an excellent 500 year old Gaststube, der Roter Hirsch. Sadly the rain stopped us exploring much further but this part of Germany is full of interest, and I'm keen to go back.

What is Chemnitz like?

[oh dear, there I go again!]
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 11:07 AM
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Berlin had a rough 20th century. This post may lead to more diversions.

<b>July 18, 2015: Berlin: Now and Then</b>

Reservations for the visits to the Reichstag dome were hard to come by for July, even booking a couple of months ahead. Not only was it high season, but the dome is closed for a couple of weeks in July for maintenance. I had to book a ninety minute tour of the building in order to gain access to the dome. I picked the earliest time available on the only day available, in the (well-founded) expectation that the dome would get hot if the sun was out. The tour was fairly interesting, but I learned that quite aside from the war damage, a renovation in the 60s had removed much of the remaining historic fabric. The latest renovation had uncovered not only bullet holes from WWII, but Soviet graffiti from the same period - preserved for the future. I did not much care for our guide. Not content with some militant (and particularly ill-timed) arguments against air conditioning, he actually made some quite unnecessary sexist remarks. (Note that while I obeyed the instructions on bag size and took my handbag, my day bag was in fact no bigger than others that were allowed.)

The dome, designed to cool the building beneath, as well as provide a look into the parliamentary chamber, does a fairly good job of the former, but I found it difficult to see into the chamber. Since the public galleries are always open, I figured it was the symbolism that counted. As I had suspected, the dome itself was very hot, even at 11:00, on the sunny side, and I don't find the Berlin roof tops especially scenic. Very intereslting architecture, glad I've seen it, no need to see it again.

Getting from my hotel to the Reichstag seemed simplest on foot, a route that took me past both the Memorial to the Murdered Jews Of Europe and the Brandenburg Gate, an interesting juxtaposition. I had not been impressed by the photographs of the memorial, and was even less so when I realized the blank grey slabs are in strict rows. I walked through it on my way back to the hotel one evening, and found it impossible to get lost. But the newer memorial to the Sinti and Roma, also victims of the "Final Solution", was even less impressive.

The Brandenburg Gate, on the other hand, was plenty impressive, and by arriving at 8:30 in morning I was able to get photographs with very few people. Later I would find that it was where some of the younger tourists congregated in the evening. The Gate anchors Unter den Linden in the same way that the Arc de Triomphe anchors the Champs Elysses in Paris. I tried to think of a similar triumphalist scenario in London, and failed. I had looked forward to walking Unter den Linden, and did really like the famous trees, but much of the street was a construction zone.

So I spent the morning visiting the center of modern, democratic Germany. In the afternoon I visited the Third Reich at the Topography of Terror, a dispiriting array of photographs at the site of the former Gestapo, SS and SD headquarters. After an emotionally draining visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau in 2004 I had avoided other Holocaust sights, but felt a need to visit the location. While the site held no resonances for me, the exhibition was worthwhile. At one time I read a lot of WWII history, and memoirs, but I had not previously known of the "pillory walks" to which early opponents of the regime were subjected on their way to internment camps.

The photographs of happy, laughing, SS squads, enjoying themselves in close proximity to death camps were particularly disturbing, although given all the photos of cheering, adoring crowds greeting Hitler I suppose I should not have been surprised. Anyone who read "Mein Kampf", as I once did, could have been in no doubt of the Fuhrer's intentions. More upsetting, in fact infuriating, was the discovery of how many active participants in the excesses of the regime walked free afterwards, and how many who were imprisoned were released early.

Rain started as I left the building with the main display, so I skipped the outside section devoted to Berlin itself, instead heading north past the sole remaining Third Reich building, the former Luftwaffe HQ, still a government building. According to one of my guidebooks this exemplified the regime, but I found it no different from many other government buildings, firmly routed in the brutalist modern tradition. At the next intersection I stopped to check out a mural left over from the East German communist regime and a perfect example of socialist realist art, a wall of happy members of the proletariat.

My hotel was just in the former East Berlin, a line of cobbles marking the inner line of the Berlin Wall ran diagonally across Leipziger Platz. The mural, and an isolated watch tower, were lone survivors of the DDR near the soaring new glass-clad buildings on Potsdamer Platz.
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 11:58 AM
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Finally catching up with you. Enjoying your report as always, thursdays.
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 01:51 PM
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Very sobering, but interesting chapter in your journey. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Jul 24th, 2015, 04:18 PM
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thursdaysd... I am going to assume you don't mind the diversions....

annhig, we stayed with family in Chemnitz, some lovely areas especially the tiny 'bungalow' at the forest edge to which they retreat in summer or on weekends, pretty walks (apart from the tick check afterwards, and yes, we both had ticks which were duly extracted with special tick tweezers), a beautiful town hall and churches, a lot of typically ugly grey apartment blocks. My mothers' family home is also at the edge of town, lovely forest/ meadows, can still see the mortar shell marks on the walls.
My father was 7 when they evacuated their village during the war (in now Poland), walked for 6 weeks in the winter with his mother and sister, trying to keep ahead of the Russians. His mother finally settled in a little town in what became East Germany. So lived through war, evacuation, post war, Communism. He doesn't recall much of Nazism, apart from the forced 'Heil Hitler' in the classroom, and fear. Then the fear with the new regime. And hunger. But of course, it was the 'workers paradise'. Why would anybody want to leave? Better build a wall ...

thursdaysd, Berlin was divided when I was last there, so am enjoying reading about your experiences.
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