Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Warnemunde/Berlin, Germany

Map picture

Berlin, Germany; A Long, Hot Day

Lisa and I visited the city of Berlin on Saturday July 10th; however I am just now on Tuesday the 13th getting to write about our experience. That is a indication of just how busy this cruise has been. Since we went to Berlin, we have been to Hamburg and spent two days in Copenhagen. So I apologize for getting so far behind, and in an effort to get caught up, I will try to make my updates a little more brief than usual.

Our ship actually docked at the port city of Warnemunde, which is a good two hours or more from the city of Berlin. By the time you start with a five hour roundtrip drive, throw in a lunch and tour for any length of time, you end up with a 12 hour day. Add to that the fact that Berlin was experiencing an unprecedented heat wave with temperatures hovering over 100 degrees and absolutely no winds, and you can see why Lisa and I quickly wilted.

We departed Warnemunde around 8:30 and quickly headed out of town for the autobahn to Berlin. In Germany, with the exception of certain controlled zones, you can drive as fast as you wish, provided you can get the cars in front of you to move over so that you can speed by. Within an hour of leaving the ship, the traffic lanes coming out of Berlin were filling to capacity and before long, traffic coming out of the city was at a standstill. On ramps had become parking lots, and cars could be seen lined up for miles to enter the autobahn. It looked all the world as if an evacuation of the city had been ordered. When I asked our driver what in the world was going on he laughed and explained that it was just “Germans being Germans!” You see “Holiday” starts today, and for Germans that means being packed and on the road by 9am on Saturday morning. Now the fact that everyone else will also be leaving on holidays at exactly the same time never enters a German’s mind – holiday equals on the road at 9am Saturday. If they delayed just a few hours the roads would be back to normal. This line of cars persisted until we arrived into Berlin itself, but just as our driver had predicted, when we made the return trip to our ship later that afternoon, traffic was light and we had no problem.

It is difficult to put into words everything that we saw in Berlin, but I can share some impressions. We visited all of the tourist sites; the Brandenburg Gate, DSC_0942

Checkpoint Charlie, DSC_1004

remnants of “The Wall,” DSC_1007

the old Reichstag Parliament Building, DSC_1034 the Tiergarten (a huge park in the center of Berlin), a memorial to the victims of the holocaust, etc. It all became a blur of buildings and avenues and construction sites. Two things struck me as interesting. Pictures we were shown of the city of Berlin after the War showed a city that was mostly in ruins. As the city has been rebuilt, the Germans have been careful to preserve as much of the old structures as they can, building around and on to the destroyed edifices. Wherever original structure remains it is quite literally covered with bullet holes and shrapnel marks. So much so that the effect is overwhelming! The second thing that struck me is that Berlin is still a city under reconstruction. Our guide went to great lengths to show us large areas of the city that are simply vacant lots left from the war. At the same time he wanted to show the many new and reconstructed buildings that are being restored from the past. In fact this seemed to be the focus of our guides. I found it strange that over 60 years have passed since the war, and cities such as London which were also heavily damaged, have moved on with their lives, while Berlin stills seems fixated by its history.

The one fact which I found really interesting is that while virtually the entire city of Berlin was destroyed during the war, curiously one building remained untouched. That building was home to the German Air Force, and as such it is still in use today by the Government. All of the buildings on every side were completely destroyed however. Go figure?

I am glad I got to see Berlin. It is an interesting city. Parts of it are quite modern, and it seems to have an excellent mass transit system. The shops were filled with high price items and the streets were lined with small cafes and coffee shops.


PS There is one small footnote to our trip that you mighty find of interest. It is ironic that in years past, people could not wait to tear down the Wall. Today however there are so few sections of the original Wall remaining, that they are protected by high fences to keep people from trying to take a chunk as a souvenir. Interestingly, I have a very good friend who at the time of the collapse of the Wall was in the Air Force and who was in Berlin. Before the Wall came down he had taken some pictures, including one which showed a huge zipper painted on the Wall from the Western side. After the wall came down, he returned and gathered some of the fragments, one of which included a portion of that very zipper. He gave that to Lisa and me as a gift, and it is one of our treasures!

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