As a side trip we wound up in Berlin for 5 days. Number 1 son Morgan lived there for a short period of time 7 years ago and joined us. He has a number of Israeli friends who have moved there recently and he went to see them.
Weather: Awful. Morgan and his friends confirmed if you are looking to move to a place do not pick Berlin if the weather is important to you. The entire time we were there it was rainy, windy and cold. Summer would be the only time to visit.
Cleanliness: As you would expect the streets and sidewalks appeared to very clean. We happened to be located in a very upscale area Charlottenburg but Morgan told us that there are plenty of other areas where it is not so nice. Most of the neighborhoods where we wandered were in the tourist sections and they were also clean.
Bike Friendliness: Berlin is a very large and mostly flat city. This would naturally lend itself to biking and there are bike lanes on most of the major sidewalks and streets. They are clearly marked with a 'purple' brick. Cars seem to be aware of bikes. Even though it was very cold and windy there were a lot of people on bikes. Morgan said when he was here in the winter he noticed that people bike all year long even in the snow. They do have a bike share system. Morgan and I opted for renting from one of the many places that rent bikes and spent one entire day biking around the center city going to different sites. Felt very safe in traffic.
Food: German food is awful but this is an international city and you can find food from everywhere. Our best meal was at a Thai restaurant (Papaya) close to our hotel. Second best meal was at a Kosher restaurant (Feinberg's) that had incredible falafel.
Transit: The train and subway system is quite extensive. Berlin is a huge city ? very spread out with virtually no tall buildings. There are many many neighborhood areas and they are all connected with transit. The trains run very smoothly and stop smoothly. We did have some problems however. We decided to take the train in from the airport to the hotel. The train that the guide book and internet told us to take we learned was not running that day. Not sure why. We had to take another train and switch lines at some point. The train ride in was supposed to take about 45 minutes. Just before we reached the station to switch the train stopped and an announcement was made in German. Everyone got off the train and went to the other side of the tracks. We followed and got on that train. Another announcement and everyone got off the train. We asked some people what was going on but no one seemed to know but some of people starting to leave. We followed them out to a bus stop where there was a long line. Not knowing the bus system we opted for a taxi for the rest of the journey.
The hotel we were in did not have a gym or pool but right next door was one that hotel guests could use. It was located on the 14th floor and had a 360 degree view of the city. Berlin is very spread out, has no hills and really no tall buildings.
Here are some brief highlights....
Dorothy - how do we know we have left Kansas?
You get to see a Wurst truck on the way to the train station at the airport.
.. or you get to see Stolperstein brass plaques but they are in German.
.. or you get to learn a new word for EXIT.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
Just down the street from our hotel is the bombed out structure of this church. Built in the 1890s it was badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943. They have left what remained of the church and built a new one around it. The tower being renovated next to it is part of the new church that was built in 1959. The new one is totally out of place there.
Built in 1907 and once one of the most famous hotels in Europe located close to the Brandenburg Gate. Bombed in 1945 and rebuilt after the war it is now famous for Michael Jackson dangling his son off one of the balconies pictured. Not so oddly, Wikipedia notes that several of the world's leading industrialists stayed there and named Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller - all anti-Semites. After the war what remained of the building was demolished by the East Germans and the area which was between East and West Berlin was part of no-mans land. The new version of the hotel was opened in 1997.
Like most major cities Berlin had a wall and gates for entry. The Brandenburg Gate was built in the late 18th century on the site of one of those gates and became part of the Berlin wall in 1961 separating East and West Berlin. The statue on the top is a Quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses. (This is added for all you crossword puzzle fans.) In 1806, when Napoleon conquered this part of Germany he took the Quadriga back with him to France. In 1814 when Napoleon was defeated the Quadriga was returned to Germany. Only the royal family could use the center portion.. citizens had to use the outer entries. The gate was one of the only things in the area to survive the bombing of 1945.
Demonstrators (Communists) were displaying their anti-USA signs at the gate.
Near the gate they had a memorial with the names of some of the people who were killed trying to leave East Berlin for the west.
East Side Gallery
When the wall was built in 1961 there was an area on the east side called 'no man's' land. If you entered this area it was assumed you were trying to escape from the East side and you were likely to be shot. On the west side the wall was covered with graffiti. After the wall was taken down and Berlin was reunited the government hired artists to paint on a one-mile long section of the wall. Hynda and I posed in front of one section where there was a huge picture of Russian President Leonoid Brezhnev kissing the head of East Germany Eric Honecker. This was done from a photo of the two men kissing in 1979 on the 30th anniversary of the founding of East Germany.
And a couple more photos of the wall.
Where ever the wall was they have put a line of stones on the ground indicating its previous location.
One tends to think of the wall as only between east and west Berlin but it was actually a wall that totally surrounded the city of Berlin so it was an oasis in the middle of East Germany. The Russians would periodically close the gates to the city so that no traffic could get in and out. That resulted in the famous Berlin Airlift where for a full year the US and its allies totally supplied West Berlin with supplies needed to survive. This was a good map of Berlin and the wall.
This is the best known point of the crossing between East and West Berlin. In the 1950s there was only a barbed wire border and it was easy to cross from East to West Berlin. By 1961 over 3.5 million Germans opted to cross into the west and most of these were young and educated. The Berlin wall was built in 1961 to stop this.
The signs are replicas of the signs that used to be there.
Germany, of all the countries in Europe, has come to terms with their role in the Holocaust unlike Austria and Hungary to name two. We visited a number of Jewish sites. Prior to World War II there were about 160,000 Jews living in Berlin making up more than 5 percent of the population. Only about 7,000 survived - either in hiding or married to non-Jews. Jews had been living in Berlin since the 13th century and in Germany since the 5th century. Like most European countries Jews were expelled at some point. This happened in Germany in the 16th century - returning later. Today there are about 50,000 Jews in Berlin. There was a large surge in Jewish population after 1989 when Russian Jews could leave the Soviet Union and opted to come to Berlin.
This synagogue was built in 1859. The architect used some of the features from the Alhambra so it looks Moorish in style. It was the largest synagogue in Germany at the time seating over 3,000 in the main chapel. On November 9, 1938 when all the synagogues in Germany were destroyed this one was saved by a local policeman who determined that it was a historic site and guarded it from a mob that started to burn it down. Services were held there until 1940 when the Nazis did not allow its use as a synagogue. In 1943 it was heavily damaged in a bombing raid. At the end of the war this Jewish section was in East Berlin and no attempt to restore or use it could be made.
Then in 1989 with the reunification renovation started but the large chapel in the back could not be restored so only the front was done. The area in the back is outlined so you can stand there and get some idea of the size. The little person in the photo is Morgan to give perspective.
This now famous memorial occupies one square block and contains 2,711 stones of various sizes. The ground is sloped and a walk through is very disorientating.
Hynda, Morgan and I spent over 3 hours touring the museum.
Otto Weidt Museum
Another of those fascinating World War II stories. Otto Weidt was an visually impaired person who owned a brush and brooms factory. He was not Jewish but most of his 100 employees were visually and hearing impaired Jews who he trained. He protected them after the Nazis took over Germany by bribing the Gestapo in the neighborhood and finding shelter for several of them. He eventually could not protect them and most of them were deported. Learning some were in Theresienstadt he mailed packages to them and even managed to visit some in Auschwitz.
Of the workers pictured in the photo only 4 survived.
Alter Jüdischer Friedhof Cemetery
Probably this is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin. After being expelled the Jews were allowed back into Berlin in the 17th century. The Jews were given a small piece of land outside the city walls for a cemetery and between 1672 and 1827 many thousands were buried in this small cemetery. The cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis in WWII. After the war the cemetery was returned to the Jewish community and converted into a small park with a limited number of headstones that remained intact.
There are some memorials and plaques.
On the river that flows through a part of Berlin there are a number of museums. The island is known as Museum Island. The blue pipes to the right are all over Berlin and we were told they carry beer.
One of the best museums was closed for renovation but we did go to the New Museum which was opened in 2009 after renovation following its destruction in World War II. It has a huge Egyptian collection stolen from Egypt. The highlight of the collection is the bust of Nefertiti done in 1345 BCE by the sculpture Thutmose. It was discovered in 1912 and somehow the Germans convinced the Egyptians to let it go to Germany.
Random Buildings and Things
Post Office Building: This old building is now used as an art gallery. It is just down the street from the New Synagogue in the Mitte section of Berlin.
Reichstag Parliament Building: Opened in 1894 it was the home of the Parliament of Germany until it was burned in 1933. The Nazis accused the Communists of the fire but history showed the Nazis did it. It was not used after the war as the capital of West Germany was in Bonn. It was only repaired and renovated in 1990 when the wall came down and Germany was reunified. At that time it became the home of the Parliament again.
Yitzchak Rabin Street: A street sign near the Reichstag.
Spree River: Berlin has a number of rivers and tributaries that flow through it. There is life on the river with many cruise boats and restaurants. This is a photo of part of the Spree River.
Tachlis Department Store: One of the many buildings in Berlin with incredible history. Originally built by a Jewish family in 1907 as a department store in the Mitte section of Berlin which was a largely Jewish area, it became a prominent Nazi building during the war. Damaged after the war and located in East Berlin it remained mostly empty. After Germany was reunified in 1989 it became a squatter's home for artists. Morgan saw some art exhibitions there seven years ago when he lived in Berlin. The artists have been kicked out and with a lot of construction around it looks like it is about to be renovated…probably into a condo bulding.
Hackescher Market: This is one of the many neighborhood areas of Berlin that have a large open plaza with lots of shops and restaurants. The building in the background is the s-bahn train station. The station opened in 1882 and is one of two of the original stations that have survived and has been renovated.
This is the other one.
Berlin Cathedral: This building is located on Museum Island and is not actually a cathedral since it was never the seat of a bishop. It is massive. It was closed when we were there so we could not go in.
Berlin Opera House: Located on a square in Berlin with a French and German church.
Kathe Wohlfahrt: How would you like to go through life with this name.
Marc O'Polo: Did not know he was Irish.
Zugverkehr im Gasemtem: This sign means on the S-bahn line (above ground) the trains are halted due to trees on the tracks. It was very windy one day.
Out that night we decided with a lot of other people to take a taxi. This was the taxi stand when we got out of the train station. We went to dinner and then plotted how to get home. Morgan managed to get us home on a very circuitous route of the underground train that went all around the city instead of just through it.
The underground train station was packed all night as the above ground trains did not run.