Germany

Along with artistic graffiti the statues and artworks in and around the city are fantastic as well

Along with artistic graffiti, the statues and artworks in and around the city are fantastically evocative, the strip between the couple is the wall footprint

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Once more we biked into the centre of Berlin, which takes over an hour from where we parked the van.  When I say centre that’s not actually true.  Because of the history of dividing Berlin into four sectors, there is no real centre of Berlin, which does feel quite odd.  On the way into town we called in to the Fiat distributor to collect the engine mount Dennis ordered before the weekend.  What a disappointment to find that the efficient German chap had done nothing about ordering it yet!  We had never intended to stay this long in the city but now with the still strong possibility that Dennis can purchase that new part, we will wait another day.  There was another young man in the office as well today, whose English was significantly better so we are hopeful that this time tomorrow we will be on our way with the part. We really love Berlin so it is not a burden to stay another night but it is a bit of a nuisance to have to bike to this office each time as it is within the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) and we can’t take the van.  

Berlin is full of wonderful graffiti

Berlin is full of wonderful graffiti

Most of it is very clever

Most of it is very clever

Even transforming a brick shed

Even transforming a brick shed

We decided to take a free walking tour around the City and learn more about the history of the place.  I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned the idea of free walking tours or not before, but they are so good.  The guide is generally young, has a degree in History, Architecture, Political Science or the like and is passionate about his/her city.  The only money they make is by tips from the tourists at the conclusion of the tour, so they are very motivated to make a decent job of giving you lots of interesting facts, typically in a humourous way.    Matt, our guide from Liverpool, was excellent!   He was studying at the one of the many Universities in Berlin and had lived there for five years.  He condensed eight centuries of German history into eight minutes to give us a context and then we were on our way, walking through the streets of Berlin for the next four hours.   He was so passionate about his topic, feeding us ancient, and not so ancient  history throughout the afternoon.   The building of the Wall, as well as the destruction of the Wall, is still a huge topic of interest in the City today.   There’s still a line of bricks that follow the footprint of the Wall and it was amazing to see where it zigzagged around the streets.  I had imagined it would have been in nice straight lines, but no, it seems haphazard until you consider that they were trying to divide up an existing city, with parks, rivers, apartment buildings and monuments all in the way.    When the Wall was built in 1961, Germany had already been a divided country for 16 years.  At the conclusion of the War in 1945 the nation of Germany was carved up into an American, a British, a French and a Russian zone.  Before 1961, 3.5 million East Germans fled from the Soviet controlled sector for various reasons such as: they had family members in the western sectors, their property had been confiscated by the Russians, they may have been persecuted as Christians, the rationing was so severe and because they found their political freedoms systematically taken away.   On 17 June 1953, the population in the Russian sector staged a massive national strike demanding free elections, proper wages and re-unification but the response from the Russians was to quash this rebellion with tanks and guns.   Obviously the Soviets were unhappy to be losing so many people and they decided to erect a border fence and only let those East Germans through who had acquired a pass from the authorities.   Initially this barrier was made of barbed wire but it was soon replaced with concrete.  When it was finally complete and secure, it was 156 kilometres long  and left western Berlin as an island surrounded by the Communist East Germany.  Starting on the western side there was a concrete wall 3.6 metres tall, a wire mesh fence behind that, next a wide stretch of clear ground with lighting all the way along, next anti-vehicle trenches, a patrol track, a couple of electric wires with the dog patrol track between them, 217 observation towers spaced out evenly and finally a fence with a built-in alarm system on the eastern side.   And I had always imagined it was a single concrete wall!   

A few of the Watch Towers are still in place today and they look very sinister

A few of the Watch Towers are still in place today and they look very sinister

Between 1961 and 1988 they have records of over 5,000 successful escapes through the Wall and the Death Strip and 136 deaths.   People thought of ingenious ways of escaping by tunneling, bomb attacks on the Wall itself, crashing into the Wall with either a stolen armoured car, a stolen bus or a stolen bulldozer and even a Trojan Cow that was taken from one side to the other on a trailer, with people jammed inside.   90% of Berlin had been bombed throughout WW2 and 40% was left in rubble by the end.  As in other cities in Europe, they rebuilt the grand buildings from the original plans including the French and German Cathedrals, the Opera House, the Music Hall and some of the Universities.  Currently, they are rebuilding the Royal Palace at an estimated cost of 700 million Euros.  There’s ongoing controversy over this as the city of Berlin has 15% unemployment and yet the Council is prepared to spend that sort money. They seem to have a history of profligacy having gone bust three times in the last few decades and then being bailed out by the rest of Germany.

We were shown where Hitler’s Bunker had been and told how the Russians had tried unsuccessfully to destroy it but Hitler had built it to last, using concrete four metres thick to make it bomb proof.  Eventually they filled it with rubble, sealed it, and covered the entire site with soil.  Most people want to keep it that way as they don’t want the site turned into some sort of shrine to the Nazis.  Adjacent to this cleared, vacant site are ten story apartment blocks.  In their day they were the most modern and expensive houses in the East.   As they towered over the height of the Wall they were a good way to show the West how advanced communism was.

The people are standing on the site of Hitler's Bunker with the stunning apartments behind

The people are standing on the site of Hitler’s Bunker with the ‘stunning’ apartments behind

The East German sports stars who were pumped with steroids were given leases to these apartments as their reward for world-wide fame.  They also built a 368 metre high TV tower as another symbol of their prowess but unfortunately it kept sinking in the swampy soils of Berlin and they ended up having to get Swiss engineers in to design and install better foundations to keep the thing upright! 

One building that was left standing after the War is what was then the Luftwaffe headquarters.  It is built in the typical Nazi style, enormous, grey, ugly and intimidating.  The East Germans used it as their Government Building and since re-unification it has become the home of the German Tax Department – there’s a  German saying that describes how it’s been used for three lots of misery.

What was the Luftwaffe Headquarters

What was the Luftwaffe Headquarters

The Communist masters installed a huge long mosaic piece on their Government Building to reflect the happy populace

The Communist masters installed a huge, long mosaic piece on their Government Building to reflect the happy populace (yeah right)

Our tour took us to the outside part of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews (also known as the Holocaust Memorial) again and the guide told us the story of how the supplier of the anti-graffiti surface that was sprayed on the concrete stelae, turned out to be the same company that had developed the Zyklon B poisonous gas, that was used to murder the Jews!  You can imagine the uproar when that was discovered, the company supplied at cost the coating material so they were not seen to be profiting from the descendants of those who were killed.   

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The Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church in Berlin

The famous Brandenburg Gate

The famous Brandenburg Gate

The French Protestant Cathedral and the ?? Cathedral sit facing each other

There are two Cathedrals, very much the same, sitting facing each other across the Gendarmenmarkt square, this one is the French (Reformed) one.

The concert hall also situated on the Gendarmenmarkt square

The Concert Hall also situated on the Gendarmenmarkt square

After the walking tour was over we spent the next 75 minutes walking around the History Museum.  We have been so impressed with how the German nation has recognised that acknowledging their history and speaking about it freely is the best way to deal with the legacy.  It really is the healthy way of dealing with the consequences of the previous generation’s decisions and has allowed the Nation as a whole to move on.  Even today many of the older people feel uncomfortable with all this openness and can be quite unfriendly towards tourists but the younger people are relieved that the truth of these matters are being discussed openly at last.   After almost three hours on our bikes and eight solid hours walking I had a great sleep that night.  Why aren’t I loosing weight with all this exercise?

and Dennis prefers this sort of thing

and Dennis prefers this sort of thing

I love these things

I love these things

The newer buildings

The newer buildings

are beautiful as well

are beautiful as well

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Bold statements in amongst the older buildings

Now that the

The Reichstag (name of the building) is where the Bundestag  (German Federal Parliament) meets.  It was completely restored after reunification in the 1990’s.  The newer buildings to the right are for the local Government

Although Berlin has a population of 3.5 million it still has a relaxed feel to it.  Having wide boulevards gives the impression of loads of space and they have catered well for the needs of pedestrians and cyclist, they have provided many parks and green spaces which always improves the cityscape as well.  The main city surrounds do not cover a huge area so it seems as if we have become quite familiar it, with all our walking and cycling.   We have thoroughly enjoyed our time here.

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The name ‘Berlin’ means ‘town on swamp’. Our guide told us that as the water table is so high in places they need to continually pump out construction sites and that’s the reason there are so many of these temporary, overground pipes around the City

Although Berlin is so interesting to look at the smell is something else! Passing over these drain covers the smell of sewage as strong as paintstripper!

Although Berlin is so interesting to look at the smell is something else.Passing over these drain covers the smell of sewage is as strong as paint stripper.  It’s so disgusting!

The next day was a busy one getting ourselves organised before travelling on.  Dennis took the van to a garage to have the tyres rotated.  They thought he was a bit mad, I think, as they had never heard of that before (putting the front tyres onto the rear wheels, etc  to even out the wear patterns).  Next stop was to bike to the Wascher Salon that Dennis had found a few days previously and do another load of washing.  Then after biking back to the van to pack away the clean laundry, we cycled back to the Fiat place to collect the engine mount (45 minutes biking each way to the Fiat garage in a freezing wind).   What a pain to find that they had ordered the wrong bit.  It was the front engine mount this time.   We weren’t a bit pleased to remember that we had already stayed in Berlin longer than we first intended and now it was all for nothing.  It was at this point that the little German chappie who had more English than the first guy, told us that there was actually another Fiat distributor in Berlin who would probably have the correct bit on his shelves!  And to top it all off this garage was outside the LEZ so we could drive there.  He phoned the said garage and yes, they did have a rear engine mount in stock and we could come straight away to purchase it.  Thank you very much and Auf Wiedersehen to you.   We finally left the grand city of Berlin around 3.30p.m heading to Dresden, with the much-anticipated engine mount on board to be installed at a later time.

No wonder there are so many people smoking in Germany - this huge bag of tobacco

No wonder there are so many people smoking in Germany – this huge bag of tobacco offers excellent discounts, our Turkish friend assured us

100-foot Molecule Man Sculpture on the Spree River which flows through Berlin

100-foot Molecule Man Sculpture in the middle of the Spree River, which flows through the centre of Berlin

The drive to Dresden was initially very straight, very flat and very boring, with a dense pine forest planted either side of the motorway, which limited our view to about the first few metres of very thin trunks.   They plant the trees so close together that the forest is completely dark after a few more metres.   After a few years they obviously come back several times to thin out the pines, the first time when the trees have the girth of a fence post.  Even the fully grown ones are only about half the diameter we are used to in NZ, I suppose with our mild winters they’re faster growing.  Once we got clear of the pines it was beautiful.  Huge, unfenced paddocks, clearly this used to be the collective farming system while the Communists were in control. The fields were filled with the usual animal feed crops as well as hops, berries and grapes.  Around the towns along the way they had allotments, much like the English ones only larger.  

It's common to see pines planted so close together

It’s common to see pines planted so close together

So exciting to see a NZ flag fluttering in a section of German allotments

So exciting to see a NZ flag fluttering in a section of German allotments.  Instead of small hothouses as they have in England, here it’s common to see substantial buildings on each plot.

Driving around the countryside you are constantly reminded that this used to be part of a commmunist country, whether it's old watch towers or the extra large unfenced farm paddocks, part of the collective agricultural system.

Driving around the countryside you are constantly reminded that this used to be part of a Communist country, whether it’s old watch towers or the architecture.

The Lonely Planet Guide recommends that you visit Meissen before visiting Dresden.  Dresden was completely wiped off the map by the Allies in WW2 and Meissen was virtually left untouched, so if you want to see what the old Dresden looked like, visit this smaller town first.  This we did and we were enchanted with this beautiful place.    It sits on the banks of the River Elbe 25kms north-west of Dresden.  It’s famous for the high quality porcelain made here and to celebrate the occasion of the town’s 1000 year jubilee in 1929, they made the  world’s first porcelain carillon, housed in the tower of Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).   It  produces a quiet tinkling sound, they play out a familiar hymn (the name of which I’ve now forgotten) rather than the usual bing, BONG, bing, BONG type of tune.   The place was full of tourists,  German-speaking ones – no one could speak English, and they had the prices to match (that’s tourist prices not German ones).

Meissen is full of the most beautiful buildings

Meissen is full of the most beautiful buildings

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Disappointingly we missed the English walking tour in Meissen so we still have many unanswered questions about all these lovely places

Albrechtsburg Castle in the foreground and Meissen Cathedral right behind it

Albrechtsburg Castle in the foreground and Meissen Cathedral right behind it

Messiem sits on either side of the River Elbe

Meissen sits on either side of the River Elbe, we were surprised at how swiftly this large river flows

Inside the tower there's a spiral staircase, nothing extraordinary about that.  It's just the windows placed to match the slant of the stairs that's unusual.

Inside the tower there’s a spiral staircase, nothing extraordinary about that. It’s just the windows placed to match the slant of the stairs that’s unusual.

It's very common to see the flood heights marked on the Church in the centre of town

It’s very common to see the flood heights marked on the side of the Church in the centre of town (which already sits quite a few metres higher than the river)

Small reminders of how old these places are

Small reminders of how old these places are

The Frauenkirche with it's porcelin clarion

The Frauenkirche with its porcelain carillon

The whole town of Messiem is filled with buildings of Renaissance architecture, sitting alonside and over the cobbled streets.

The whole town of Meissen is filled with buildings of Renaissance architecture, sitting alongside and over the cobbled streets.

The Cathedral and Castle are built on top of a hill made of rock so there's many stairs to climb getting to them

The Cathedral and Castle are built on top of a hill made of rock so there’s many steps to climb getting up to them

The view from up by the Caste shows you just how close all the houses are in the old town.

The view from up by the Caste shows you just how close all the houses are in the old town. There are narrow little cobbled lanes winding their way through this maze as well.

Everwhere you go in the old part of Messiem the buildings are amazing.  So different to what we've seen in the UK.

Everywhere you go in the old part of Meissen the buildings are amazing. So different to what we’ve seen in the UK.

I must make mention of the wonderful bread in Germany!  Holland comes a close second in the bread stakes but Germans sure know what a good loaf of bread tastes like.  The UK range is awful from start to finish, no substance to it and always stale.  In general Germany has very cheap food and oh, their sausages are so good too.

Between Messiem and Dresden small vineyards are dotted around the countryside.

Between Meissen and Dresden small vineyards are dotted around the countryside.

As I mentioned earlier, the controversial Allied aerial bombing towards the end of World War II destroyed the entire city centre and incinerated 25,000 civilians.  The impact of the bombing and 40 years of urban development during the East German communist era have considerably changed the face of this city.  The Soviets only restored a few of the old landmarks, preferring to remove the bombed out remains of the others and replace them with Soviet styled structures.  After reunification the German nation made it a priority to repair and rebuild many of the old favourites, reusing as much of the old stone as possible.   What a wonderful job they have made, truly beautiful.

The contrast between what the Soviets built in their day to the beautiful older ornate buildings is stark

The contrast between what the Soviets built in their day to the beautiful older ornate buildings is stark

Now some modern buildings try to combine the Soviet style of a stone box and add a bit of decoration in places

Now some modern buildings try to combine the Soviet style of a stone box and add a bit of decoration in places

Surprisingly the Katholische Hofkirche in Dresden was rebuilt during the Soviet era.

Surprisingly the Katholische Hofkirche in Dresden was rebuilt during the Soviet era.

The Opera House (Semperoper) was also rebuilt when this was still East Germany terrority

The Opera House (Semperoper) was also rebuilt when this was still East Germany

We loved it in Dresden.  We parked the van in a supermarket car park way out in the suburbs and walked into the city for two and a half days exploring

We loved it in Dresden. We parked the van in a supermarket car park way out in the suburbs for three nights and walked into the city to explore

The inner courtyard of the @@ Castle is now @@

The Stables of the original Castle

The outer wall of the Castle stables was decorated with a fresco when it was built in 1589.  By 1876 it was redone and enlarged.  Since the picture rapidly deteriorated, it was replaced with about 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles between 1904 and 1907.[3] The mural depicts the 35 Saxon margraves, electors, dukes and kings from Conrad, Margrave of Meissen, who ruled in the 12th century, to George of Saxony who was king for only two years in the 20th century. The only ones missing are Heinrich I von Eilenburg (c. 1089) and the last king of Saxony, Frederick Augustus III, who ruled from 1904 to 1918. Also shown are 59 scientists, artisans, craftsmen, children and farmers.[2]Only minimal damage to the tiles resulted from the February 13, 1945 bombing of Dresden.

The outer wall of the Castle stables was decorated with a fresco when it was built in 1589.   By 1876 it was redone and enlarged but since the picture deteriorated, it was replaced in 1907 with about 23,000 Meissen porcelain tiles.   The mural depicts the 35 Saxon margraves, electors, dukes and kings from the 12th century to the beginning of the  20th century.   59 scientists, artisans, craftsmen, children and farmers are also shown.  Remarkably only minimal damage to the tiles resulted by the bombing of Dresden.

I just love all the details

I just love all the details

Magnificant

Magnificent

The Dresden Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is actually a Lutheran Church.  It wasn't unitl 2005 that it was rebuilt again after the War.  The were meticulous about reusing all the old stone blocks where possible, that's why the colour is patchy.  We stopped to enjoy the free organ recital they have every day at 3p.m.

The Dresden Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is actually a Lutheran Church. It wasn’t until 2005 that it was rebuilt again after the War. They were meticulous about reusing all the old stone blocks where possible, that’s why the colour is patchy. We stopped to enjoy the free organ recital they have here every day at 3p.m.

How amazing the transformation as this photo of a photo shows the terrible devestration

How amazing the transformation as this photo of a photo shows.  The terrible devastation of Dresden after WW2

We decided to get our computer repaired, I couldn’t get it to run the portable DVD writer anymore, to make copies of all the photos we’ve taken.  We’re keen to send copies back to NZ “just in case”.  We found a repair place and I tried hard to explain my problem to the repairman.  I wasn’t sure if it was a problem in the computer itself or the DVD writer but I was fairly confident I had explained this adequately to him.  A sign on the wall informed us that his services were one Euro per minute so we were getting more and more alarmed the longer he took.  He was serving other customers in between tinkering with our Netbook and each time we asked how it was going he indicated he was nearly finished.  After 45 minutes Dennis started getting a bit anxious with him and made it clear with hand signals, a stern face and a raised voice that it was definitely time to stop whatever it was he was up to!  “Nein, nein!” was his reply with a smile, “Yah, Yah!” says Dennis getting more forceful, “Nein, nein.  In a minute.”  So we had to wait and hope it wasn’t too much longer, it’s not something we can just remove from his grip and walk out, we know our limitations as far as computer repairs go.  But it wasn’t that much longer and he motioned me over and showed me that he had indeed fixed the problem and gave me a demonstration of it working well.  Dennis came over with his wallet opened to which the man said, “Nein, nein!”  he didn’t want any money at all for his time and wished us happy travelling.  Wow!  We felt we were on a roll now so we decided to get the next technical problem fixed.  We had been unable to figure out how to put more money on our cell phones that have English SIM cards.  It seems like a simple problem but we couldn’t figure it out after many attempts of trying it online.  For some reason I couldn’t get the website to recognise me, my phone or my password though I had used it in the UK before and when I tried to register again it told me someone else had the same name and/or password as me!   Turned out T-Mobile might have the same name in Germany but it’s a completely separate company with no relationship to the British one so we had to buy a German SIM card as the English one only took pounds, not Euros, to reload.  As a consequence, all the texts I get for T-Mobile are now in German and I can’t understand a word.   We do feel it’s important to have at least one phone that words, even if the instructions are in German, in case of an emergency when we’re somewhere out in the wop-wops.

Autumn has arrived with the changing leaves and shortening days

Autumn has arrived with the changing leaves, drop in temperatures and shortening days

The Elbe has been navigable by commercial vessels since 1842, and provides important trade links as far inland as Prague.  The river is linked by canals (Elbe-Seitenkanal, Elbe-Havel Canal, Mittellandkanal) to the industrial areas of Germany and to Berlin.  When the two nations were reunited, works were begun to improve and restore the original links: the Magdeburg Water Bridge now allows large barges to cross the Elbe without having to enter   We saw similair

The Elbe has been navigable for about 100okms by commercial vessels since 1842. This gets you as far as Prague.  The river is linked by canals  to the industrial areas of Germany and also to Berlin. After reunification work was begun to improve and restore the original links: the Magdeburg Water Bridge now allows large barges to cross the Elbe in a giant aqueduct.  We saw aqueducts for the barges in the canal system in the UK but never anything so modern or large as this one.   (This is also a photo of a photo)