Day 3--Cologne to Berlin (THE AUTOBAHN)
(Berlin Cathedral from the Spree River)
Day 3 we were supposed to take a high speed train to Berlin followed by an orientation tour of the city. Instead the train was cancelled due to technical difficulties. They also found a WWII bomb near the main train station in Berlin, so there were delays anyway while officials worked on defusing it. Our tour guide, Mario, had to implement the backup plan--the bus. I'm sure the driver, Pasquale, was disappointed he had to make the drive with us and not without. We should have gotten to Berlin in four hours with time for an included tour of the city, but, alas, it took us 9ish hours of the Autobahn (with three breaks at truck stops along the way...including for lunch) and staus, lots of staus.
We didn't arrive in Berlin (and our hotel in East Berlin) until close to 7. We immediately had dinner with the tour group--chicken! There was some grumblings from the rest of the group since apparently the dinner Katherine and I skipped the day before was basically the same--we definitely made the right decision to go exploring in Cologne.
After dinner it was full dark, and we could only take a quick picture of the Berlin cathedral at night, not too far from the hotel,
and do a quick walk back through the Bebelplatz
(Berlin State Opera)
(Former State Library, now a university building)
So a pretty disappointing day.
Day 4--Berlin & Potsdam
Day 4 and we finally got to really see Berlin! We started by leaving Berlin for the (now free) excursion to Potsdam (for the Rhine River delays we just got free beer, for 9 hours on the autobahn, we got a free excursion).
(The Soviets planted a red star in front of the Palace)
We went to Cecilienhof Palace, built in 1912 for Crown Prince Wilhelm, who would have been king of German--if not for WWI, and his wife Cecilie.
Its major claim to fame however, is 1945, when it was the setting of the Potsdam convention at the end of WWII, with Churchill, Truman, and Stalin in attendance, setting up the split between East and West Berlin.
(Great Hall, and the place the Conference was held)
Soviet soldiers repaired the roads to and in Potsdam, and renovated (and furnished) 36 rooms and the great hall in Celilienhof. They used Cecilie's former music room as a reception room,
and they appointed the Red Salon (appropriate), as a study for their use.
The Americans were set up in Wilhelm's smoking room,
While the British delegation were in Wilhelm's library.
(Wilhelm's breakfast room, probably used as a secretary's office)
From there we took a quick look around the outside of Sanssouci Palace, Frederick the Great of Prussia's palace. I would have loved to go inside, but it was not part of the excursion.
(sans souci, without care)
We drove a bit, past Potsdam's town center
(Taken from the bus window--I think there was a market!)
then to the bridge of spies, where spies were exchanged during the cold war.
I would have loved to have had more time to explore Potsdam.
Next back to Berlin, where we separated from the tour group for time on our own! We rushed to Museumsinsel (museum island) to wait in line to get into the Pergamon Museum, home to Berlin's collection of Classical Antiquities, featuring full sized buildings from the ancient world. We were determined to see the Ishtar gate of Babylon, circa 575 BC (reconstructed with original bricks in the museum).
We walked under the gate and 700 years into the future to see the Roman market gate of Miletus (circa 200s AD).
Assyrian Artifacts rounded out the rest of the ground floor (U.S. first floor),
and the Museum of Islamic Art the first (US second floor).
Very cool museum although its big exhibit, the Pergamon Altar, is under renovation until 2025 and off limits.
From there to the Neues Museum next door,
where we saw Egyptian artifacts,
including the famous bust of Nefertiti.
(unfortunately, no pictures allowed in the room with the bust)
Then on to the Berlin Cathedral, which was pretty ornate.
(Is that Martin Luther, I see?)
We ended up climbing 246 to the top for views since it was included in the entry price. I think we had originally thought we wouldn't do it--but we do love climbing for views!
(Looking behind the Cathedral towards the TV Tower in Alexanderplatz)
(looking down at the Spree River)
Back outside, we wandered over to an art market we had passed earlier in the day that had some food stalls so we could get some lunch.
I had a currywust, which is a sausage in curry sauce. Currywurst are a big deal in Berlin. It was a bit to spicy (and messy) for me.
On the way back to the hotel, we ended up waiting it felt like forever to cross the Unter den Linden--there was some type of motorcycle/car parade.
(A little touch of the US in front of the Bebelplatz in Berlin)
Once managing to dart across, it was time for our hotel bar drinks--we had a buy one get one free coupon, that felt like it needed to be used and we practically had to pass the hotel to get to our next stop.
After some much needed refreshment, we were back out, and off to a beautiful square not far from our hotel, the Gendarmenmarkt, where the French Huguenots build their church when they settled in Berlin.
The square is anchored by the Berlin Symphony's Concert hall with two matching Churches, one the German Cathedral and the other the French Cathedral, make up the square.
(The Berlin Symphony's Concert Hall)
Next down to Checkpoint Charlie from the Cold War,
(Very appropriate McDonald's placement)
followed by an attempt to see the Jewish museum, but it had unexpectedly closed early.
Picture taken to prove we really were there. Katherine was bummed and we were annoyed we walked that far for nothing (especially since we had double checked times--today's intinerary plans were very detailed). There really wasn't anything else in that area we were interested in seeing, so back to Gendarmen Markt for dinner!
(sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes with a Reisling this time--remembered Germany is also known for wine, so avoiding beer for now!).
(one last look at Gendarmenmarkt)
Next to Potsdamer Platz to see some remaining slices of the Berlin Wall
before heading past the Brandenburg gate
on the way to the Reichstag, Germany's parliament building.
The Reichstag was built in 1894, but fell into disuse after a fire in 1933 (and WWII). During the cold war it was not in use--although located in West Berlin, it was right next to the Berlin wall. In fact, the Berlin wall would have separated the Reichstag from the Brandenburg gate. It was partially restored in 1960 (just enough to protect it from the elements), but, after the reunification, was rebuilt in the 1990s.
The Reichstag was free to enter to go up to its glass dome, but you have to get tickets in advance. When Katherine and I tried to get tickets, there were none available that day for two. We were able to get single tickets pretty close together after 9 pm, so we decided to see if they would let us in together, or the person who went first would just wait a bit longer at the top.
Luckily they let us both (even with my later time) and we walked up to the roof, and were able to watch the last bit of the sun set on Berlin!
It was definitely worthwhile going at night for the beautiful views.
Just a bit about the Dome itself.
It was built with mirrors that reflect light into the parliment, and also show the reflections of the lawmakers.
Next back under the under the Brandenberg Gate again
(looking back towards the Reichstag)
to start the long walk up Unter Den Linden back to our hotel. We were pretty beat.