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Berlin, Germany

Evening near the Berlin Cathedral
Deciding where to stay in Berlin was a challenge.  Hundreds of hotels and other accommodations are available in the city, but typically as we travel we opt for something near an “historic district”.  But with the city heavily bombarded during World War 2, and subsequent demolition projects by the communists during their reign over Eastern Germany, there is no historic area.  We choose the Mitte district for its central location and proximity to popular tourist destinations.  

Due to our late arrival, we walked to dinner but saved the beginning of our sightseeing for the next day.  The rains we had successfully dodged in Krakow followed us to Berlin, and we spent much of our time huddled under our umbrellas. 

Our first morning, we walked to the Brandenburg Gates, completed in 1791, which was the
The Victory Column
entry point to the city in that era.  At the Gates in June of 1987, President Reagan had implored the Communists to tear down the Berlin Wall (erected in 1961 and torn down in 1989).  Tiegarten, located near the Gates, is now a large urban park, but in the 1800’s the land was private hunting grounds for a wealthy few.  The Victory Column was erected in the 1800’s to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War.  Visitors can climb the 270 steps in a spiral staircase for a prime overview of the city, but we passed up on that opportunity.  Walking next to the replica of Checkpoint Charlie, we reviewed the nearby plaques explaining the history and fall of the Berlin Wall.  Rains, strong winds and chilly temperatures through the rest of the afternoon put a damper on our exploring, so we returned to the hotel to dry out and warm up.

On Museum Island
With 40 museums in the city, years could be spent exploring them all.  The nearby Museum Island offered 5 museums, including the Pergamon, considered to be one of the top 10 museums in the world.  In the end, we decided on the DDR Museum which recounts, in a hands-on format, what it was like to live in Eastern Germany during the communist rule from 1948-1989.  It was a perfect rainy day activity.  Arriving at opening time, we were able to see much of the small museum before it was overwhelmed by crowds that made it challenging to see the displays as the morning progressed.  The difficulties of living under communists domination and the socialist ideology are well presented.  The fact that around 10,000 Party elite lived a totally different life style than the rest of their countrymen,  showed the inability of those pushing the party line to see the disparity between what they were saying and what they were living.  The general population could wait up to 16 years for a vehicle, known for its poor quality, while the elite drove (or were driven) in Mercedes or the like.    

The nearby Berlin Cathedral (completed in 1905 and repaired  after WW 2) was a structure we passed multiple times in our travels.  Frequently, there were musicians playing in the grassy lawn.  One afternoon we heard a man playing the garbage can with sticks (which was surprisingly entertaining) and on other pass-bys we heard classical music.

In spite of the bad weather, we managed to explore a lot of the city.  Next we are moving on to Amsterdam, a 6 1/2 hour train trip.  Unfortunately, the rains are forecast to follow us.
Brandenburg Gate
Bell organ tower next to the Tiergarten comprised of 68 bells.
Tiergarten walkway 
At replica of Checkpoint Charlie, where foreigners
passed between East and West Berlin
Remnant of the Wall

Tours on the Spree River with Berlin Cathedral in the background
St. Mary's Church built in the early 13th century
Musician on bridge at Museum Island. 
Construction was going on everywhere in the city. 

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