Whit Monday is a holiday in Berlin – Another surprise!


All the stores are closed – as are the banks, the post office, most offices – and I’m guessing government buildings. Good news for the tourists – at least most restaurants are open – and museums normally open on Monday are open today too. Whew – for a minute I thought I was back in Bali celebrating Nyepi – only with less preperation!

We’d planned to do the Berlin Basics today – Check-point Charlie and the Topography of Terror Exhibit being first and foremost on our list. Check-point Charlie is silly – 2 guys dressed up as soliders – posing with any tourist willing to tip them. I guess the good news is they are being nice about it – smiling or being serious as the tourist requests. But it’s really silly stuff.

More interesting – and well worth reading – are all the official signs talking about where the wall was – and tracing the route down Zimmerstrasse thru the carefully placed cobble stones. We walk the Wall to the Topography of Terror – a free exhibit that traces the history of Hilter and the SS from 1933 till the end of the war. Stunning, informative, horrifying, intriging, alarming – and unforgetable. The mood in the large space is somber – as befits the topic – and the timeline starts off like Hilter did – slow and careful – picking up speed and horror as time moved on. A must see exhibit.

We leave there to check out the Gropius House – but the special exhibits on this month don’t appeal to us. Next stop – a quick peak into Potsdammer Plaza – and then a stroll towards Brandenburg Gate.

A wildly unique building attracts our eyes – that plus a sign that says free Science Museum. Even better – it’s open. So we stroll on in. It’s a display put together by Otto Bock Inc. – famous for prosthetics. And it’s all about the human body and how our brain controls our legs and hands. It’s fascinating. I particularly found the beam walk simulaton intriguing. It’s really easy to walk a beam that appears to be flat on the ground – another story altogether to walk that beam when the visual tells you that you are high above a city scape.

Walking on – we admire the Brandenburg gate – and the crowds of tourists admiring the gate. Been there – seen it. We move on.

Our next stop is a fabulous mini art museum – The Guggeneim – Deuche Bank Museum. It’s a modern art exhibit space – free on Monday’s – that this time is featuring an artist who asks questions and then attempts to get the audience involved in his answers via video footage.

One stunner – he goes to a flea market and displays a collection of palm tree branches for sale. Full sized palm tree fronds. Eventually – after a lot of curious looks from the passers by – the organizers ask him nicely to leave. Granted the palm tree branches are used – but hardly the stuff of yard sales. He morfs this experience into a discussion on group definitions. What is – and What isn’t – a flea market appropriate item.

Another challenge has 5 people trying to play one piano at the same time. In another video – 4 potters try to make a single pot together – with strange results. I’m not going to describe the rest of his work – but you get the idea. Challenging questions – with probably no really good answers.

Moving on – we opt to collapse into “The Digital Eatery”, which kindly gives us hot water for free to go with our slice of cake. They have a virtual reality simulator – which of course I must try! The first program is a jet fighter in outerspace – Once I put on the glasses – I can see my body wearing a space suit, my arms manipulating the controls of the space ship – and of course my surroundings – a meteor shower with targets to hit.

I loved it – even if I couldn’t actually hit any of the targets – in fact – I never even found them! But it was still very very cool.

We continue our walk – ending the day at the Haut Banholf – and eat a surprising great dinner at the Tex-Mex Cantina. 6.90 Euro (about $8 Canadian) for a fried chicken dinner large enough to feed 2. But we didn’t know that – so I ordered Pork Chops – same price – same huge size. Well – it’s going to be left overs for dinner tomorrow.

We drag out tired bodies back to the metro and head home to the Cat’s Pajama’s. Tea, Blog and Bed for Bozo….

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

From the Reign of Terror to the Berlin Wall – One day in Berlin


That’s a lot of history to explore in just one day – but in Berlin, it’s not that hard to quickly cover at least most of the major sites for history that I for one clearly remember.

I was born in 1948 – three years after the allies split up Berlin, and just one year after the “Cold War” started. So I was always aware that there were 2 Berlins – an East and a West. I was too young to remember the Berlin Airlift of course – but I was traveling in this part of Europe in 1969 – and the ‘Iron Curtain’ was of course very real to me. I crossed over in Czechoslovakia, had to exchange a specific amount of money at the ‘legal’ rate for every day I would be behind the curtain, and experienced for myself the very real, very popular, black market in currency. In those days $1 US would buy you enough money to live very nicely for a day.

So a huge reason for me to even be in Berlin was the opportunity to see for myself places I’d only read about.

We started the day by walking to the Brandenburg Gate. For my husband, the fact that Napoleon entered Berlin through this gate was of prime importance. For me it was the memory of Ronald Regan challenging Gorbachev to open this gate that made my seeing the gate so impressive.

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After the gate – which is, in the end, only a gate – we walked the Holocaust Memorial. The 2711 concrete blocks evoke a feeling of both mystery and intense sadness. You can walk the maze considering the fate of so many people killed in the name of baseless hatred – or you can do what so many young people were doing – using the blocks to play hide and seek.

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We skipped the information center – we have our own personal history to remember.

From the memorial – we walked to Checkpoint Charlie. For me – this was another must see site.

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The free outdoor exhibit was both informative and interesting. I do not remember how large that Checkpoint had become before the Berlin Wall came crashing down in 1989. At the peak – it was at least 10 lanes wide. It was particularly chilling to read the accounts of each of the known successful – and un-successful attempts to get over the wall – the last one of which happened just 2 months before the wall fell.

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At Checkpoint Charlie – they direct you 500 meters North to the last remaining section of the wall still standing – kept in respect at the “Topographie des Terrors” – an absolutely must see and read and remember account of what happened in Germany from 1933 (the year Hitler became Chancellor) to 1945 (the end of the war).

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Using photographs taken by members of the Gestapo and multitudes of original documents, including most chillingly – instructions from Berlin to Cologne on how to behaving during ‘Crystal Night’. The increasingly rapid decent from reasonable to rabid is traced in detail in both German and English. A must see display.

A chilling way to spend most of a day – but well worth it.

After a late lunch, we opted to spend the rest of the day doing something a little more upbeat – so we walked to the Gemaldegalerie. This is Berlin’s Grand Survey of Old Masters – and it is awesome. We only managed to hit the highlights – but what highlights they were!

Caravaggio’s Amor Victorius, Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Dutch Proverbs, a room full of Rembrandt’s – including the famous helmeted man – a painting no longer attributed to the master. All perfectly displayed, and excellent described in the audio guide.

But my top favorites were the Botticelli’s – interestingly enough NOT described in the Lonely Planet guide we’ve been using – but of course described in loving detail in the free with admission Audio Guide.

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Speaking of Admission – we invested in the Museum Pass – which listed this museum as ‘included’. And the permanent exhibition was included. Unfortunately – the special exhibit on Picasso was not included, so we opted to save money and energy – and not go. But it is annoying to have a pass that covers some but not all. Oh well – I guess museums must make money somehow.

We ended the day by trying to see Neue Nationalgalarie – modern art housed in a building designed by Miles van de Robe. Unfortunately – that’s all we go to see – the building. The permanent collection is undergoing refurbishment, and the Museum Pass doesn’t cover the Special Exhibit. Neat building though.

Bottom line – a very interesting, albeit long, day in Berlin.