Tag Archives: Berlin

Berlin, Sausage and Michelin Stars

Berlin Towers

It was close to lunchtime now so we set out to find somewhere suitable to eat and made our way from the Wall to Potsdamer Platz, the modern centre of new Berlin but I found it too modern for my tastes, with glitzy buildings made of glass and steel, expensive shopping malls and restaurants with menu prices way above my modest budget.

We were looking for a simple pavement bar with a lunch time menu but found it surprisingly difficult to find one.  I imagined Berlin to be overflowing with pavement bars serving steins of foaming beer and inexpensive hearty meals but this was not the case.

Eventually we found somewhere, ordered beer and scrutinised the menu.  It has to be said that the Germans eat a lot of rubbish food!  Ninety percent of the menu consisted of various forms of sausage and unless you want sauerkraut then vegetables are completely absent.

Thanks to Wiki here for an explanation of sauerkraut – “finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive sour flavor, acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves”

That puts it on my list of things I don’t want to eat alongside liver, snails and tripe.

I Love Sausage Berlin

By way of comparison Berlin has no Michelin three star restaurants, London fares little better with only two but Paris has ten.  There is an explanation for this, Michelin is France based and has been described this way by the Guardian newspaper – “… the guide’s principal purpose is as a tool of Gallic cultural imperialism“.  I am not absolutely sure why I mention this, I have never once dined in a Michelin three star restaurant.

We took our time ordering food because any German menu conceals possibilities of unpleasant surprises and the threat of ordering and receiving something quite unexpected – almost as dangerous as trying to cross the Berlin Wall. So we stuck to sausage.  Kim had a trio and I had meat balls which are really just sausage in a ball rather than its traditional long form.  I had sauerkraut and Kim had chips.  We shared our meals on a 50/50 basis.  We ate all of the chips but left a lot of the sauerkraut.

From Potsdamer Platz we walked through the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, which is a controversial structure in terms of both concept and design – controversial mostly because no one really understands it.

The monument is composed of two thousand seven hundred and eleven rectangular concrete blocks laid out in a grid formation.  No explanations, no names and no dedications, a sort of graveyard full of stones without inscriptions.  I suppose it might be conceived as a memorial to lost people.

According to the architect the blocks are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly once orderly system that momentarily lost touch with human reason.

Berlin Holocaust Memorial

Several people have had a shot at trying to provide a more definitive explanation but I find none of them absolutely convincing. Personally I found the memorial rather bizarre and difficult to comprehend but I suppose it is a memorial to a period in history that is impossible to comprehend.  Perhaps then that is exactly the point of it, we look at it and wonder ‘how on earth did that happen?’

Several of the blocks are cracking open.  Concrete Cancer.  Appropriate I thought that the memorial should only be ultimately temporary – just like Nazi Germany.

To my mind a completely pointless memorial and a waste of valuable commercial urban space, much better to erect a vertical column and rent off the land and send the profits to the families who suffered because of the Holocaust.

From the Memorial it was just a short stroll to the Brandenburg Gate which is without doubt the most iconic symbol of Berlin.  I found it a rather underwhelming, I was expecting something like the the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (the largest in Europe, correct me if I am wrong) but I have to say that at only half the height it is nowhere near as impressive.  So we walked a while along the Unter den Linden, a wide leafy boulevard in Summer and one of the most famous streets in Berlin, in December Christmas lights replace the blossom and after a drink at a pavement café we returned to the gate passing the uneasy neighbours of the Russian and the American Embassy buildings.

On the walk back to Alexanderplatz we wandered through Museum Island, across a wide open park flanked with Museums and the City Cathedral.  Museum Island is another UNESCO World Heritage Sites but it was getting late so we didn’t have time to go inside any of the buildings and it was at this time that I thought to myself that I was so glad that I had returned to Berlin for a second visit and thought that surely I would have to return for a third.

I was born in 1954, less than ten years after World War Two had ended and grew up on stories about evil Germans.  Later that evening Kim tripped and badly sprained her ankle.  Back at the hotel staff and guests were kind and did everything they could to help.  I wondered why we had ever been in conflict with these people?  What a dreadful thirty years in European history!

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

Berlin, The Wall

Berlin Spies

“Nobody has the intention of building a wall.” GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin, June 15th 1961

For me, for everyone I suppose, some places can have a real impact when we visit them.  They leave an impression.  The Berlin Wall was one such place. History hangs in the air, so thick you can almost touch it, almost feel it, almost smell it. Other places that I have visited that have had similar impact for me are Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne in Northern France.

Checkpoint Charlie was an obvious place to visit and every other visitor to Berlin agreed with us because this is probably the most visited attraction in the city.  It is the most famous of the fourteen previously controlled crossing points between East and West Berlin, between the Allied and the Soviet Sectors.

Today I walked along a section of the wall, I ran my fingers across its harsh, hostile, concrete surface, I read the conflicting messages of anger and hope that it been scrawled across it, I was stunned by just how grotesquely ugly it was, I remembered all of the things that frightened me about the wall when I was a young boy.

Today as tourists we have our picture taken against a souvenir section of the wall, we smiled for the camera, fifty years ago people died trying to get across it and escape to the west, they didn’t smile.  I thought about that as this picture taken.

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The Berlin Wall divided the city from 1961 to 1989.  In the German Democratic Republic it was an offence to leave the country without permission. The border guards were duty bound at all time “to arrest or eliminate border violators”. The border regime was based on barriers and border guards at regular intervals and above all on the permitted use of firearms. The border guards who successfully stopped escapes were rewarded with a decoration and a bonus.

There is no checkpoint there anymore of course just a reconstruction and men in menacing uniforms providing a photo opportunity.  It amused me that the Berlin Wall was constructed to keep out the west but at the site today is one of the most aggressive symbols of western capitalism – a McDonalds restaurant.  Walter Ulbricht is probably still spinning in his grave!

Checkpoint Charlie

I was seven years old when the German Democratic Republic began building the wall and it was barely out of the news headlines throughout the 1960s; subjugated people trying to escape, the unlucky ones being gunned down in cold blood, the menacing stare of the border guards, the impenetrable and secretive Soviet Empire.  Berlin was where East and West stood toe to toe, where the West stood firm against further Soviet expansion in Europe and where the East tried to annex the whole of Berlin by starving out the West.

Donald Trump would have been proud of a wall like this.

If World War Two and the Nazis fashioned our vision of Germany and the Germans then the Wall was something that shaped our opinions of the post war East and the Soviet domination and I spent my childhood with a morbid fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the end of the world.  This was the golden age of espionage and spies, John John le Carré and Ian Fleming.

For me this was the best moment of all in Berlin, around the site are informative displays and photographs which made me stop and think.  I was born within ten years of the end of the most appalling and destructive war in Europe, in the World, and grew up seeing the Germans as natural foes.  I soaked up my Dad’s stories of the War and read the Victor comic. When England won the Football World Cup in 1966 it was a champagne moment to beat West Germany and even in the 1970s I still carried with me my irrational dislike for sun-bed thieving Germans when on holiday in Europe.

I was forty-five when the wall came down, Germany was reunited and Europe gave a collective sigh of relief.

Charlottenburg 05

So, for the first fifty years or so of my life it would simply never have crossed my radar to visit Germany until in 2007 when cheap Ryanair flights to Friedrichshafen and Lake Constance persuaded me that I should go there and give it a chance and it turned out to be a personal pivotal moment when I discovered Germany to be relaxed, refined and cultured and I was glad of that and to have my national prejudices so quickly readjusted.

Close by to Checkpoint Charlie is one of the last remaining sections of the wall that remains intact and another series of information boards chronicling the years through the time of the Weimer Republic, the rise of Nazism, the War and the Wall.  I had imagined that this period of history might be somewhat suppressed in Berlin, it is after all nothing to be proud of. But this is not so.  It makes no excuses or apologies but sets out the history in a matter-of-fact and sensitive way.  I was impressed.

Berlin Trabant

Berlin, Statues and The Greatest German

Berlin Reichstag

“Where some states have an army, the Prussian Army has a state.”  – Voltaire

After a few stops we left the train and walked through the Tiergarten.  This was once a Royal hunting forest but was cut down for firewood during the immediate post war period when fuel was in short supply and has now been replanted as a very fine public park.

Late afternoon and it was beginning to get dark.  The park is nice but a bit edgy with little gangs of dangerous looking men and we witnessed at least two dodgy transactions – drugs we imagined.  To be on the safe side we stayed on the well lit footpaths and didn’t risk the shadows of the woodland tracks.

Berlin was once the capital city of Prussia and then Germany after 1871.

Prussia had become a modern European State in 1701 and for the next one hundred and seventy years was at war with someone or another for a total of ninety years, or over half of its existence.  Not surprisingly Prussia was seen as a militaristic threat to the stability of Europe and so was abolished by the victorious allies in 1947.  This wasn’t especially difficult, two years earlier the Russian offensive in the Battle of Berlin had demolished and removed almost all Prussian heritage.  East Prussia was absorbed into a redefined Poland and the remainder became East Germany.

As a consequence Berlin has little history.  The entire city by necessity is modern, it has only been rebuilt over the last seventy-five years so is quite contemporary and lacks charm.  There are no grand palaces, cathedrals, stately homes or castles because they have all been swept away.  Even the trams are brand-spanking new.  A lot of central and eastern European cities continue to preserve fifty year old vehicles but not so in Berlin.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

It is as though Germany doesn’t want to recognise its short and unhappy existence which after all has included a belligerent monarchy, an economic crisis, a failed republic and a totalitarian dictator.

Not really surprising then that Germany looks mostly to the future.  In 2003 in a television poll  German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck (voting for Adolf Hitler was not allowed) and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer?  It would be like voting Theresa May as the Greatest Briton. I mention this now just as a comparison, if you think Adenauer is an odd choice, in a similar poll in the USA they voted Ronald Reagan the Greatest American!

Back to Germany – Reformation monk Martin Luther came second, with communist philosopher Karl Marx third.

Another feature that I noticed that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe. I understand that there is a statue of the greatest German, Konrad Adenauer but this is some way out of the city centre on the edge of Charlottenburg and we didn’t get to see it.  It seems that they are not so proud of him either.

To some extent this is explained by Germany’s post war efforts to confront its past.  It took Germans some time to learn this after the second world war, but they finally invented a concept for it: Vergangenheitsaufarbeitungwhich translates as “working off the past”.

Berlin Column of Victory

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  Prussia did like going to war it seems. It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Even though it was getting mid Winter late and the light was fading we paid the entrance fee and climbed the two hundred and thirty steps to the top and were rewarded with good views from the observation deck.

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war – the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914.  The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.  A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten adjacent to the Victory Column.

Berlin Otto Von Bismarck

In the USA there are Towns and cities called Bismarck in Arkansas, Illinois, Michegan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota (The State Capital*) and West Virginia.  As far as I am aware there are no towns or cities called Adenauer.

I would have really  expected Bismarck to have been voted the ‘Greatest German’ but it seems that for many he is too closely associated with establishing a Teutonic military regime based on Prussian aggression which led directly to two European villains, two World Wars and the biggest battleship ever in the German Navy and the largest in any European fleet in World-War-Two.

What a beast…

Battleship Bismarck

After walking the entire length of the Tiergarten we returned by a different path and made our way back to Alexanderplatz where we finished our ten mike walk (a distance we hadn’t really anticipated at breakfast) with a well earned beer and a glass of wine close to our hotel.

Berlin Hoff Hause

* Bismarck was named after the Prussian statesman in an attempt to attract German investors to the Northern Pacific Railroad, for which Bismarck served as terminus. While the bid for investors was unsuccessful, Otto sent the railroad an autographed note of acknowledgement.

A Look Back at 2019

After a slow start to the year we finally got started in…

April

12 Cornwall

Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren.  In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West.  An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning

May

Valencia Spain

I like Valencia and this was my second visit, it is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona and just ahead of Bilbao and Malaga and after we had got our bearings we set off to explore the heart of the old city and started first at a tapas bar in the “Plaza de la Vergen” in a gloriously sunny spot overlooking the east door of the Cathedral.

June

Berlin Spies

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

Madrid Postcard

According to official statistics, after London, Paris, Rome and Barcelona, Madrid is the fifth most visited city in Europe (in that order) but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Compared to London, Paris and Rome it only achieved capital status relatively recently, and there is no iconic building to define it, no Eiffel Tower, no Colosseum and no Westminster Abbey and no famous cathedral or castle either so I was curious about what we were likely to see.  Hemingway liked it so I was sure that I would too.

July

Skipsea Cornfield

School holidays mean visiting grandchildren so to save the house and garden from being trashed I booked a few days away in a holiday home (caravan) in a part of Yorkshire that I have so far never felt inclined to visit.  Tucked away in the south east of the county is a stretch of coastline between the city of Hull and the town of Bridlington and this was our destination.  A holiday park at Skipsea Sands

September

Algarve Postcard Map 3

We generally take our main annual holiday in September. Sometimes we go to the sea, usually the Greek Islands which are our favourites and sometimes we travel.  This year we decided to travel and we chose to go to Portugal.

In 2017 we travelled through Northern Portugal using the trains but this time we planned to go South where the railway network is difficult or practically non-existent, so this time we were driving.  Our plan was to visit the Algarve region and visit the towns and beaches of the south and west and then head inland to the historic towns of Beja, Evora, Estremoz and Elvas and also to spend a few days in Extremadura in Spain.

October

Corfu Map

I have been to the Greek Island of Corfu several times, I have stayed at the village of Kalami several times but this didn’t stop me going again and we travelled on this occasion with our good friends Mike and Margaret.

I first visited Corfu thirty-five years previously and spent a couple of days driving around the island and secretively I had a plan to do so again this time and see what changes there have been over the years.

December

Berlin Hoff Hause

I visited Berlin six months ago and came away disappointed.  After a short period of reflection I came to the conclusion that this was an unfair assessment, I was on a stag party weekend and it is difficult to fully appreciate a city when you only see it through the bottom of a beer glass.  This time I liked it a whole lot better – I was right to go back.

All in all, a very good year!

Berlin, A Pledge to Return

I may have been a bit negative about Berlin so I have booked return flight tickets for December.  I have conceded that I may not have been in the right frame of mind to appreciate the city as this visit was a boozy stag weekend.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Berlin, In Search of History

Berlin Brandenburg Gate Statue

From Potsdamer Platz we walked through the ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe’, which is a controversial structure in terms of both concept and design –  controversial mostly because no one really understands it.

The monument is composed of two thousand seven hundred and eleven rectangular concrete blocks laid out in a grid formation.  No explanations, no names and no dedications, a sort of graveyard full of stones without inscriptions.  I suppose it might be conceived as a memorial to lost people.

According to the architect the blocks are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly once orderly system that momentarily lost touch with human reason.

Several people have had a shot at trying to provide a more definitive explanation but I find none of them absolutely convincing. Personally I found the memorial rather bizarre and difficult to comprehend but I suppose it is a memorial to a period in history that is impossible to comprehend.  Perhaps then that is exactly the point of it, we look at it and wonder ‘how on earth did that happen?’

Berlin Jewish Memorial

To my mind a completely pointless memorial and a waste of valuable commercial urban space, much better to erect a vertical column and rent off the land and send the profits to the families who suffered because of the Holocaust.

From the Memorial it was just a short stroll to the Brandenburg Gate which is without doubt the most iconic symbol of Berlin.  I found it a rather underwhelming, I was expecting something like the the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but I have to say that at only half the height it is nowhere near as impressive.  So we walked a while along the Unter den Linden, a wide leafy boulevard and one of the most famous streets in Berlin and after a drink at a pavement café returned to the gate passing the uneasy neighbours of the Russian and the American Embassy buildings and crossed a busy road into Berlin’s premier park and green space, The Tiergarten.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate

I confess that by this time that I was becoming disappointed with Berlin and I suddenly realised why this was.  Berlin has no history.  The entire city by necessity is modern, it has only been rebuilt over the last seventy-five years so is quite contemporary and lacks charm.  There are no grand palaces, cathedrals, stately homes or castles because they have all been swept away.  Even the trams are brand-spanking new.  A lot of central and eastern European cities continue to preserve fifty year old vehicles but not so in Berlin.

It is as though Germany doesn’t want to recognise its short and unhappy history which after all has included a belligerent monarchy, a failed republic and a totalitarian dictator.  Not really surprising then that Germany looks mostly to the future.  In 2003 in a television poll  German viewers bypassed Otto Von Bismarck and voted post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as the greatest German of all time. Hands up anyone who has heard of Konrad Adenauer?  It would be like voting John major as the Greatest Briton. Reformation Monk Martin Luther came second, with communist philosopher Karl Marx third.

So we walked now past the Reichstag which is perhaps the grandest building in all of Berlin and then  west through the Tiergarten which was once a forest but it was cut down for firewood during the immediate post war period and has now been replanted as a very fine public park.

Another feature that I noticed that makes Berlin stand out against other grand European cities is that it has very few statues; it is that history thing again, Berlin can’t very well have statues of Kaiser Wilhelm II or Adolf Hitler because they were both responsible for unleashing hell in Europe. I understand that there is a statue of the greatest German, Konrad Adenauer but this is some way out of the city centre and we didn’t get to see it.  It seems that they are not so proud of him either.

Berlin Column of Victory

Midway along the Tiergarten we did eventually come across a famous monument, the Berlin Victory Column, commissioned in 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War and later dedicated also to victory in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War and then the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.  It is indeed a grand column that soars into the sky and at the very top stands a golden statue of the Roman God Victory.

Nearby we found a statue of a man that I was expecting to find – Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of modern Germany who was responsible for the creation of the country in 1871 following the defeat of France in a short-sharp war, the sort of quick victory Germany expected again in 1914.  The sort of victory, it has to be said, that Great Britain also anticipated.  A grand statue but not on prominent display but instead tucked discreetly inside a corner of the Tiergarten adjacent to the Victory Column.

Berlin Bismarck Statue

I would have really  expected Bismarck to have been voted the ‘Greatest German’ but it seems that for many he is too closely associated with establishing a Teutonic military regime based on Prussian aggression which led directly to two European villains, two World Wars and the biggest battleship ever in the German Navy.

After walking the entire length of the Tiergarten we returned by a different path and made our way back to Alexanderplatz where we finished our thirteen mike walk with a well earned beer close to our hotel.

Even after all that walking Richard still had the strength to fetch the beers…

I like drinking beer

Berlin, Living Behind A Wall

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“Nobody has the intention of building a wall.” GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin, June 15th 1961

For me, for everyone I suppose, some places can have a real impact when we visit them. The Berlin Wall was one such place. History hangs in the air, so thick you can almost touch it, almost feel it, almost smell it. Other places that I have visited that have had similar impact for me are Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne in Northern France.

Today I walked along a section of the wall, I ran my fingers across its harsh, hostile, concrete surface, I read the conflicting messages of anger and hope that it been scrawled across it, I was stunned by just how grotesquely ugly it was, I remembered all of the things that frightened me about the wall when I was a young boy.

Today as tourists we have our picture taken against a souvenir section of the wall, we smiled for the camera, fifty years ago people died trying to get across it and escape to the west, they didn’t smile.  I thought about that as we had this picture taken.

Berlin Wall 04

The Berlin Wall divided the city from 1961 to 1989.  In the German Democratic Republic it was an offence to leave the country without permission. The border guards were duty bound at all time “to arrest or eliminate border violators. The border regime was based on barriers and border guards at regular intervals and above all on the permitted use of firearms. The border guards who successfully stopped escapes were rewarded with a decoration and a bonus.

Berlin Wall 01The Wall explained

This extract is taken from one of the information boards…

Between the construction and removal of the wall, in twenty-eight years approximately forty-thousand East Germans managed to escape to the west. Several hundred were shot dead by border guards or suffered fatal accidents whilst trying to do so.

At least one hundred and forty people died whist trying to cross the Berlin Wall. One hundred and one were either gunned down, had an accident or committed suicide. Thirty one people from both sides of the wall who were simply curious and had no intention of crossing were also shot dead. Two hundred and fifty one died whilst being controlled at the border crossings and untold numbers died from grief and despair as an indirect consequence of the wall and the impact that it had on their lives.

I couldn’t help wondering what I would have done.  I almost certainly wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and escape so I guess that that like thousands of others I would have accepted life under a secretive and brutal totalitarian regime.  Most likely I would have shot my mouth off and found myself in prison.

Perhaps Donald Trump should visit the site and see for himself the dreadful consequences of building a wall to separate people.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie and Sausages

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was an obvious place to visit and every other visitor to Berlin agreed with us because this is probably the most visited attraction in the city.  It is the most famous of the fourteen previously controlled crossing points between East and West Berlin.

There is no checkpoint there anymore of course just a reconstruction and men in menacing uniforms providing a photo opportunity.  It amused me that the Berlin Wall was constructed to keep out the west but at the site today is one of the most aggressive symbols of western capitalism – a McDonalds restaurant.  Walter Ulbricht is probably still spinning in his grave!

I was seven years old when the German Democratic Republic began building the wall and it was barely out of the news headlines throughout the 1960s; subjugated people trying to escape, the unlucky ones being gunned down in cold blood, the menacing stare of the border guards, the impenetrable and secretive Soviet Empire.  Berlin was where East and West stood toe to toe, where the West stood firm against further Soviet expansion in Europe and where the East tried to annex the whole of Berlin by starving out the West.

Donald Trump would have been proud of a wall like this.

005

If World War Two and the Nazis fashioned our vision of Germany and the Germans then the Wall was something that shaped our opinions of the post war East and the Soviet domination and I spent my childhood with a morbid fear of the USSR and in an environment preparing for imminent nuclear conflict and the end of the world.  This was the golden age of espionage and spies, John John le Carré and Ian Fleming.

Berlin Spies

For me this was the best moment of all in Berlin, around the site are informative displays and photographs which made me stop and think.  I was born within ten years of the end of the most appalling and destructive war in Europe, in the World, and grew up seeing the Germans as natural foes.  I soaked up my Dad’s stories of the War and read the Victor comic. When England won the Football World Cup in 1966 it was a champagne moment to beat West Germany and even in the 1970s I still carried with me my irrational dislike for sun-bed thieving Germans when on holiday in Europe.

I was forty-five when the wall came down, Germany was reunited and Europe gave a collective sigh of relief.

So, for the first fifty years or so of my life it would simply never have crossed my radar to visit Germany until 2007 when cheap Ryanair flights to Friedrichshafen and Lake Constance persuaded me that I should go there and give it a chance and it turned out to be a personal pivotal moment when I discovered Germany to be relaxed, refined and cultured and I was glad of that and to have my national prejudices so quickly readjusted.

Berlin Wall 04

Close by to Checkpoint Charlie is one of the last remaining sections of the wall that remains intact and another series of information boards chronicling the years through the time of the Weimer Republic, the rise of Nazism, the War and the Wall.  I had imagined that this period of history might be somewhat suppressed in Berlin, it is after all nothing to be proud of. But this is not so.  It makes no excuses or apologies but sets out the history in a matter-of-fact and sensitive way.  I was impressed.

Berlin Wall 03

It was close to lunchtime now so we set out to find somewhere suitable to eat and made our way from the wall to Potsdamer Platz, the modern centre of new Berlin but I found it too modern for my tastes, with glitzy buildings made of glass and steel, expensive shopping malls and restaurants with menu prices way above my modest budget.

We were looking for a simple pavement bar with a lunch time menu but found it surprisingly difficult to find one.  I imagined Berlin to be overflowing with pavement bars serving steins of foaming beer and inexpensive hearty meals but this was not the case.

Eventually we found somewhere, ordered beer and scrutinised the menu.  It has to be said that the Germans eat a lot of rubbish food!  Ninety percent of the menu consisted of various forms of sausage and unless you want sauerkraut then vegetables are completely absent.

Thanks to Wiki here for an explanation of sauerkraut – “finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive sour flavor, acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves”

We took our time ordering food because any German menu conceals distinct possibilities of nasty surprises and the threat of ordering and receiving something quite unexpected – almost as dangerous as trying to cross the Berlin Wall frontier. So we stuck to sausage.  Richard had a trio and I had meat balls which are really just sausage in a ball rather than its traditional long form.  I had sauerkraut and Richard had chips.  We shared our meals on a 50/50 basis.  We left a lot of the sauerkraut.

I Love Sausage Berlin

Berlin, Alexanderplatz and East German Style

Alexanderplatz postcard

I had considered visiting Berlin several times over the last ten years, there are nearly always cheap flights available but for some reason I have never made it there.  I had often come very close to booking flights but then somewhere more appealing has nicked in ahead of the German capital at the last minute and I have made alternative plans.  Berlin would always have to wait.

This time I had no excuse not to go because I was invited to a gentlemen’s weekend away (ok, a stag party) so together with my brother Richard a party of boys several years younger than me, I left East Midlands Airport early one morning and two hours later was drinking beer at Schoenefeld Flughafen.

My travelling companions…

Berlin Beer

The remainder of the first day was mostly spent drinking beer the details of which I won’t bore you with but on the second day while the boys went off to do boy’s stuff Richard and I planned a walking tour of the city.  The third most visited city in Europe (31m) after London (80m) and then Paris (48m).

We were staying at a hotel in Alexanderplatz so our tour began right there.  Not the most thrilling place in the World I have to say, a large concrete public square and transport hub that was once a main square of the ex German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The place is vast and soulless, a sprawling mass of functional concrete, glass and steel.  It is completely without charm or anything remotely pleasing to the eye.  I have to take into consideration of course that only seventy-five years ago Berlin was practically a wasteland courtesy of the Soviet Red Army but there seems to have been a collective agreement in Germany not to build anything that could ever be accused of being attractive.

A block of abandoned flats awaiting demolition makes my point for me…

Alexanderplatz derelict flats

I contrast this with the reconstruction work in other European countries.  In Poland for example it seems to me have made a much better job of putting things back together in the major cities of Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw.  But for me France stands out in the matter of restoration as they took time and imagination to rebuild their ruined infrastructure.  Even earlier, after the siege of Paris in 1871 they built a grand city to replace the ruins of the Prussian bombardment and post 1945 they rebuilt towns and cities with style.  St Malo in Brittany stands out for me as a perfect example.

Trains, trams and cars all busily converge at Alexanderplatz and people hurry through past the homeless people in their temporary cardboard homes underneath a concrete railway bridge decorated with graffiti, there are no pavement bars and cafés because it simply isn’t an pleasing place to stop or linger.  It is stripped bare of vivacity, a cheerless place that lacks any sparkle, a rather dreary place to live I imagine.

Alexanderplatz World Clock

For anyone that does want to loiter there is the World Clock that tells the current time in nearly one hundred and fifty major cities from around the world and which in 2015 the German government declared to be a historical and culturally significant monument.  Really?  It isn’t the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye that’s for sure and Alexanderplatz is neither an elegant Spanish plaza or a cultured Italian piazza.

In the centre of Alexanderplatz I concede there is one very impressive structure, the Fernsehturm, a television tower, which at three hundred and seventy metres high is the tallest structure in Germany, and the third-tallest in the European Union two metres shorter than the Torreta de Guardamar in Spain and half a metre shorter than the Riga Radio and TV Tower in Latvia.  Once a symbol of Communist power it has now been adopted as a trademark of the unified city and enjoys National Monument status.

Alexanderplatz Tower

We found a busy restaurant and had an excellent breakfast even though we had to pay for the tea and coffee on top of the food bill and then without regret we slipped out of Alexanderplatz heading south.

Soon after we came across the Red Town Hall, a brutal building built in a style representing Teutonic muscle, German authority and Prussian power.  It was badly damaged during the Second World War but was quickly restored to original plans soon after by the East German regime.  I didn’t care for it I have to say.

At this point we were still in what was East Berlin and our plan, such as we had one was to make our way to what was once Check Point Charlie, where east met west and then cross to what was West Berlin and make our way steadily west towards the Reichstag building and the Tiergarten.

I hoped that Berlin might improve as we went along, after all it has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, just one less than London, one more than Rome (surprising) and two more than Paris which has only one.

Welcome to Berlin

Wroclaw, A Lucky Escape and A Museum

Following the coffee break we returned to the streets, walked through the Market Square and out the other side and at this point alarm bells started to ring because it soon became obvious to me that Kim was leading us directly towards the shopping arcades.  I knew the signs, I have seen them many times before, the sniff of the perfume, the glitter of the sparkly things catching the corner of the eye  and the smell of shoe leather.

For a while I fell behind after stopping to buy a doughnut from a shop with a long and patient queue but after the purchase I caught her up and queried this but was received an assurance that this was a complete coincidence – but I wasn’t entirely convinced. And as it turned out I had good reason not to be entirely convinced because suddenly we were outside the entrance to a modern shopping mall and the tractor beam that attracts women into shops was working on maximum draw power.

I had fallen for it again but I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to shop so while Kim, Margaret and Sue went inside Mike, Christine and I declined and returned to the streets and relieved to have got away with it to a delightful linear park which was built on the site of the old city walls, demolished in 1814 by Napoleon Bonaparte until we came to the Wroclaw Municipal Museum.

The Museum is housed in a former Palace of the Hohenzollern Prussian Royal Family and has been restored to something of its former grandeur since being mostly destroyed in the fighting of 1945.

The Prussian Kings and the German Emperors rather liked Breslau (Wroclaw), spent some considerable time there and had monuments of themselves erected in prominent places to record the fact like these two of Wilhelm I and Wilhelm II…

This one was at a place called Partisan Hill a once elegant recreational area with a grandiose crescent-shaped structure like something that might be found in Baden-Baden or Bath but is now sadly neglected, forlorn and forgotten with crumbling masonry and cracked pavements, a once gleaming construction littered with smashed bottles and spray can squiggles and the only hope is that it stays standing long enough until someone restores it.

By the time the monarchy was abolished in 1918 the German Kaiser had quite a few royal palaces to choose from.  In Berlin he had the City Palace which was badly damaged by Allied bombing and despite the protests of West Germany demolished by the German Democratic Republic in 1950.  In the city of Posen (now Polish Poznań) he had the Imperial Castle, which during World-War-Two became Hitler’s residence in Poland and in Potsdam he had the New Palace, which was used as a Museum and was looted and badly damaged by Russian troops in the Red Army invasion and nearby Cecilienhof Palace which was used as the venue for the Potsdam Conference where Breslau eventually became Wroclaw.

Germany and Russia were always pinching each other’s treasure and all this thieving was a two-way thing and among the Red Army troops who entered Berlin in 1945 were experts sent to establish “trophy commissions.”

Their official mission was to look for Russian cultural property stolen by the Nazis when they had invaded the Soviet Union a few years earlier but Red Army officers widened their brief and started removing the large art collections and treasures from anywhere in Europe that had been stored in bunkers and railway depots during the war and transported them home in retaliation for the looting places like the Grand Palace at Peterhof in St. Petersburg and other museums by the Nazis a few years earlier.

In 1992, after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the German and Russian governments made an agreement of cultural cooperation and both countries are now bogged down in the process of returning stolen treasures to their rightful owners but inevitably a lot of these items have found their way into private collections and are difficult to track down.

In addition to the stately palaces in Berlin, Breslau (Wroclaw), Posen (Poznań) and Potsdam the Kaiser also had a nice summer holiday palace called the Achilleion on the Greek island of Corfu which I visited a few years ago and is now an up-market casino that was used as a location for the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

Four Palaces and a summer home might sound extravagant but compare that to the present King of Spain, Juan Carlos, who has seven palaces in mainland Spain and a summer home on the island of Majorca.

There were no temporary exhibitions today to slow us down so we went straight ahead into the permanent museum display ‘1000 years of Wroclaw’ which starts on the ground floor at around the year 1000 and ascends through three floors and two extensive wings right up to the present day.

We quickly passed through the first two hundred years or so but the pace slowed down through the medieval armoury section because I do admit fascination with those early weapons of mass destruction and through into the seventeenth century.

Then we crawled through one of my favourite periods of European history, the eighteenth century and took our time too through the nineteenth and the period of German unification and Prussian expansion and here in the Yellow Living Room I unearthed my favourite fact about the Palace for it was here in 1813 that King Frederic William III made the Proclamation of the Iron Cross as a war medal.

We spent most time however on the top floor in the twentieth century with exhibits and photographs from the two world wars, the siege of Breslau, the expulsion of the German population, the communist era and then modern-day Wroclaw.

An hour in the Museum was just about right and then we left and returned to the Market Square to meet up with the shoppers at the appointed time and place.

You might like to check out this website all about Wroclaw…

http://wroclawuncut.com/2017/01/31/city-museum-discover-the-history-of-wroclaw/