Monday May 30
We arrived at a railway station (Ostbahnhof) in Berlin and were given a bus tour which we, or at least Heather, was not expecting. As an introduction to the tour, our guide (Jens) explained that when the Berlin Wall was in place, the total distance it travelled around the city was 155 kilometres. Our trip started in old East Berlin. With exception of several display sites, the wall was torn down in 1989. Throughout the city, the route of the wall (where it is not still presented) is indicated in the sidewalks or streets by a double row of small inlaid paving stones.
The first stop of out tour was at part of the Berlin Wall that is still standing as a monument, now covered in painted murals. We disembarked for ten minutes and were able to walk along this part of the wall; at a gap we had a photo taken with each of out feet on opposite sides of the former wall. Our bus drove into to city centre along Holzmarktstrasse, parallel to the Spree River, through a section of Berlin in which several embassies are located, past the Bundestag and the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and the Holocaust Memorial consisting of 2711 dark-coloured concrete plinths. The bus tour continued onto Unter den Linden Street and past the French Cathedral (Französischer Dom) and New Church (Deutscher Dom), ending at the Gendarmenmarkt where we were to use the Hilton Hotel as our meeting point after our time on our own for the next three or more hours.
Leaving Gendarmenmarkt on our own, we walked three or four blocks to Checkpoint Charlie (approaching it from the “eastern’ side”). This former crossing is a very popular tourist site and is somewhat “recreated” to give the tourist an idea of what the site might have looked like during the Cold War. Walking towards our next destination, we took a short cut through the Mall of Berlin: a modern shopping mall with more than three hundred trendy and very expensive shops. Exiting the other side of the mall, we felt a few drops of rain so we dashed into a small coffee shop to wait until the quickly approaching cloud burst passed. The weather cleared in the amount of time it takes to enjoy a really good cup of coffee!
We continued our walk to the Holocaust Memorial (which was extremely interesting to see!) and on to the Brandenburg Gate. From a vantage point on the former “western” side of the Gate, one can see the location of the Wall displayed in the stones of the sidewalk and roadway.
From the Gate we walked through the Tiergarten Park, passing a memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe, murdered under the National Socialist Regime (1933-1945). Berlin is full of memorials and reminders of WW II. Our next site to visit was the German Bundestag. We walked around the outside of the building which is surrounded by many modern office buildings housing offices of the various government departments. Just across the river from the Bundestag on the banks of the River Spree is a very striking modern building that is the home of the Parliamentary Library (the Marie-Elizabeth Luders Building). Along the way we found ourselves in from of a store dedicated to “Ampelmann”, the iconic the little green man from the former east Berlin traffic signals – cult-like and everywhere.
From here, we slowly made our way back to our meeting place enjoying a young man creating large soap bubbles in Gendarmenmarkt Square. We arrived at the Hilton Hotel with enough time to enjoy a beer before boarding the bus. The time spent in Berlin was quite short, but we were fortunate to have a chance to see some of the sights that have played a part in recent history.
On the return journey on the train, we were offered beer or wine and a few snacks to keep us going till we reached the ship.