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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Berlin: Our 1st stop on Big Trip 2

Great to be on the road overseas again with Steven at last!  After months and months of planning our second Big Trip, and with oodles of help from so many posters on Trip Advisor, particularly Denver based Liz T. for the Hungary portion of our adventure, we left Denver on August 3rd and aren't planning to return til November 6th, 97 days later.

We spent the first 5 days in Berlin since that was a natural stopping off point for what we wanted to see and do in what we grew up knowing as Eastern Europe. For a while I was hesitant about going to Germany on this trip as it was a country I had forever thought I would never step foot in. Growing up in Ottawa, Canada as the daughter of an Englishwoman who had spent the war years doing her part to defeat the Germans who were wreaking havoc on her homeland, I knew always how she felt about Germany and its people. Even though decades ago I had spent more than a year living in Europe and had seen much of the continent, I had consciously not wanted to go to Germany. Interestingly enough, Steven felt exactly the same way as he was brought up listening to his mother continuously talk about how much she hated everything German, especially the people.

General Observations: We were both amazed at how little traffic there was in Berlin for a city of 3.5 million people; very quiet even on the main streets; lots of bikes being ridden all over and more spots to rent bikes than you could shake a stick at; also surprised seeing so many flower shops throughout the city. 80% of Berlin was destroyed in the war so basically all new architecture and even now, new construction everywhere you look.

Our hostel was located in the heart of Central Berlin so easy to walk everywhere since most of the sights we wanted to see were in that area as well as in the former East Berlin.We figure that we certainly walked about 8 plus miles a day, not quite at my normal Denver early morning walking pace with you, Mindy and Darlene, but fast enough with backpacks in tow to be good and tired at the end of every day.

Steven and Annie on our front porch ready to hit the road on 8/3/14.
 Natalie - took one look at the graffiti by the doorway and thought this HAD to be our hostel as it reminded us of where we stayed in St. Petersburg last year!  Our hostel was just across the street and had no graffiti - phew!
Our tiny room in the Berlin hostel

No kitchen in the hostel so we 'had' to go out for dinner our 1st night- I didn't complain about not being able to make dinner after travelling from Denver to Reykjavik to Copenhagen to Berlin for the last 20 hours.  Loved flying nonstop to Reykjavik but NO snacks en route, nary a bag of pretzels. BTW - Saw more Italian restaurants in Berlin than I ever thought possible outside of Italy.

Our first morning we took a 3 hour 'free' walking tour of the city - discovered them last trip and hope to go on lots more this trip as they're a great way to get a sense of a new city and what we want to go back and see on our own.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: 2711 stelae or concrete blocks of various heights; only when walking through do you actually know that those in the middle are hugely taller as the ground in the middle of the Memorial descends several feet; we were told there is no apparent significance to 2711 stelae number; also a very informative underground Information Center which brought to life through pictures and text, stories of some who perished; 2nd most visited sight in Germany.  

Us at the Memorial
Brandenburg Tor (Gate): Inspired by the Acropolis in Athens and now symbolizing German reunification, it was completed in 1791 as the Royal City Gate; on top is the Quadriga, the sculpture of the winged goddess of victory piloting a chariot drawn by 4 horses.

Humboldt University: 1st university in the world, according to our walking tour guide, where the 
PhD was 1st introduced, lectures were given and peer review was instituted; 29 Nobel Prize laureates; on May 10, 1933 Goebbels decreed that 20,000 books by Jewish writers be thrown out. There's now an underground 'memorial' directly across the square visible only from above through a piece of see through plastic comprised of a large room comprised only of empty bookshelves

Us at the French Protestant Church in the big square also containing the German Church and Koncerthaus

Steven at the Koncerthaus.

 The building above was originally built in 1818 as a guardhouse, then became a Memorial to the Victims of World War I, then a Memorial to Victims of WW II then finally to the Victims of War and Tyranny. Sculpture/statue below is the only item in the memorial; it's of a German woman holding her dead soldier son in WW II after losing her husband in WW I.

Berlin is a city of rivers; liked seeing this on one of the many bridges we crossed.
Anyone have a clue as to what colors are in Germany's flag?!!