and so … home

All things must come to an end, and actually although the time away was great (especially the walking, even with its “challenging” moments!), it’s really good to get home and to be re-united with S.  The flights, via Zurich, worked well. I admit I travelled on Swissair coz it offered a “value” proposition that suited me, but certainly have no complaints.    The trips both over and back involved short transit times in Zurich, but seemingly the airport is geared to handle these and even though my incoming flight from Berlin was a few minutes late arriving and there was a bit of congestion at immigration, there didn’t seem to be any drama and Swiss efficiency prevailed.

And my reading on the flights?   V  lent me Swiss Watching (by Diccon Bewes).    It’s all about the Switzerland anIMG_9563d the Swiss from a British viewpoint.    Very appropriate given the airline I was on for the Asia/Europe sectors.

At the airport, A kindly picked me up, and arriving home, I started emptying out all the nooks and crannies of my baggage.    Great to be able to go to the drawers and have a decent choice of clean clothes to wear!  It’s also nice to be back on a full-size computer keyboard and screen.  Over 2200 photos to download and (hopefully) to label.   I may go back over this blog and insert a few more.  I’ve also got a number of Trip Advisor reviews to post (based on the notes I made at the time).

Jet-lag remains an issue.  I always struggle when travelling west to east.   It’s the price of modern travel, I suppose.

Since the trip has ended, so must this blog!    I’m going to establish a new one for my day-to-day outbursts about life in general, and will post the link to it is here:  http://mutterings2014.wordpress.com/

when I get it set up.

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Reflections on Berlin

Once you get the hang of it, Berlin is a pleasant city.   But it’s not perfect!    Yes, the S-bahn and U-bahn are good, but the signage is nowhere as good as (for example) London’s, and maps of the system are sometimes tricky to find (unlike London and Paris, where they’re everywhere).  And occasionally you have to go out on to the street to change from the S-bahn to the U-bahn.

It takes a little to get used to the idea that you just wander on to the train, bus or train:   there are no barriers.   But there are ticket inspectors.    I was checked by a man who got on the train and sat down opposite me.  In fact, I wondered whether he was unemployed.   But as soon as the doors closed, he was up checking everyone’s tickets, along with his equally unlikely-looking colleague at the other end of the carriage.   When I got off at the next station, they were having a serious discussion with a lady with a pram.

Another note-worthy point is Tegel airport.   It’s due to be replaced by a new airport at Schönefeld, but construction is way behind schedule (I glimpsed the construction work from the bus when arriving from Krakow).  In the meantime, only the Germans could get space-restricted Tegel to function!    For some flights, you check your baggage as your check in at the entrance to the gate lounge.   And if the flight is to a non-Schengen destination, immigration is also in the lounge itself.

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S-bahn train

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Communications tower at Alexanderplatz (former eastern sector)

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Part of one of several construction sites for new section of U5 line

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Rathaus

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Berlin Victory column (1873)

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Schloss Charlottenburg

“Built by Elector Friederich III in 1699 as a summer palace for his wife Sophie Charlotte, this regal estate, the largest palace in Berlin, is framed by a baroque-style garden.”

So runs one of the descriptions of the Charlottenburg palace. Wow! Words can’t describe just how ornate the palace is. You do a self-guided audio tour through the apartments of the various family members,and although it’s made clear that not everything is original, it’s claimed that, if anything, originally it was even more ornate.
Sophie only lived here for a few years (she died in 1705), but other family members also had apartments here. By the way, her elder brother became George I of England.

The gardens, too, are amazing, being laid out in formal baroque style.   Photos can’t really do them justice (at least, not mine), but I’ve tried.  Many of the rooms overlooked the gardens.  It was certainly all very impressive, which was the intention, to make guests appreciate how important the family was.   Guests were made to hang around waiting for their audience, and to be wow’d by the grandeur of it all.    Apparently, while they were waiting, they were served impressive meals!

You can’t take photos inside, but I’ve included below an image of Sophie which is just like one of the paintings of her in the schloss.

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Visiting the Reichstag

I pre-booked a tour of the Reichstag Building, which is where the plenary sessions of the Bundestag are held.    Of course, it’s famous for the dome which is right on top of the chamber.

There was a bit of bureaucracy before we started the tour, but once we met our guide, she was excellent.   She pointed out the features of the building, including the graffiti left by the Russian soldiers when they arrived at it in 1945.    However, she was quick to point out that the Third Reich never met in the building;  it was badly damaged by fire shortly after the Nazis came to power.   The fire was in fact used by the Nazis as an excuse to round up communists and other perceived opponents of their regime.

The first Bundestag elected by the whole of Germany held its inaugural meeting in the Reichstag in 1990, following which the building was reconstructed.  It includes lots of glass, signifying transparency of government, and Bundestag moved into the building from Bonn in 1999.

The dome is indeed impressive.   Inside, there’s a “cone” with 360 mirrors.    There’s an “up ramp” and a “down ramp”, and when I was there, the top was open to the sky.  You can see many landmarks around Berlin and could stay as long as you wished.

The guide made reference to the way the Bundestag is constituted.  I’ve obtained a booklet about this;   although it has some similar concepts to our Westminster-based system, such as the separation of powers and protection of the rights of the states, the details seem to be quite different.   Looks like I’ve got some reading to do!

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Russian graffiti which has been left in place

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Plenary chamber

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Ramps leading up/down inside dome

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View over Berlin

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Up close to the dome!

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Reichstag

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Museum Island

We have previously been to the Bode museum but not to the other museums on Berlin’s “Museum Island”.   So I bought a “Museum Island day pass”.    Well, that was indeed setting myself an ambitious target, but in hindsight, it imposed some discipline. It would be impossible to do complete justice to these museums no matter how much time you had, so I was prepared to concentrate on the areas that, to me, were of greatest interest.   Of course, most of the buildings are masterpieces in themselves, and throughout, the captions give an insight and context that I found unusually insightful.  In addition, the audio guides (no extra charge) are clear and strike the right note between detail and making sure the “big picture” emerged.

What to me were the highlights?

I started with the Pergamon.   This is not a large museum (although some rebuilding is in hand, and I don’t think all of it was open).  The terrific Roman market entrance and the Babylonian processional way were fantastic.    I didn’t spend too much time on the Islamic art floor (impressive though it was).

I spent quite some time at the large Neues Museum, which contains a lot of antiquities, with the highpoint of course being the bust of Nefertiti (photographs not allowed).   This museum has recently re-opened the top floor which amongst other things has items revealed as a result of recent digs in the city of Berlin.   It also traces the history of  humans from the Neanderthals (40,000 years ago) onwards.    But along with its collection of Egyptian, Roman, Cyprian and other items, the room dealing with the “migration period” in the first millennium greatly interested me. I hadn’t realised the extent to which migrations occurred in that era.

I paid a quick visit to the Bode, to have a look at the apse mosaic they’ve got from Ravenna (removed in 1844).    I’ve never been to Ravenna, so this mosaic is something of a substitute for me.

I didn’t think I’d need to spend much time in the Alte Nationalgalerie but in fact found its collection of 19th century art quite interesting, particularly the Barbizon school who were on to the impressionist style well before most others.   There were also some great Renoirs and Monets, amongst others.

That left only the Altes Museum.    This is in a lovely building, but I probably didn’t give the Greek and Roman decorative art the attention that they deserve, although I did walk right around both floors.

Now that I know what’s here, maybe I’ll be back for more one day?

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Market gate of Miletus (Roman), Permagon

 

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Babylonian gateway

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Old cabinets, Neuesmuseum

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Neanderthal man, Neues museum

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Detail from Ravenna mosaic, Bode

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Alte Nationalgalerie

 

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The Berlin Wall

There are a few places where you can see parts of the former Berlin Wall, but I understand the longest intact section (well, the graffiti has been added) is over the road from the Ostbahnhof. This is 1.3 km in length (it’s the “East Side Gallery”).  On the former Eastern side, you can walk alongside the wall on the footpath, but what about in the park on the former Western side? Nup, your access is blocked ….. by a 21st century style wall, where a new apartment block is being constructed! Seems nothing really changes!

Update:   This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.    To mark the occasion, there’s a good exhibition of photos and paraphernalia in the shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz.    This square, which is said used to be the heart of pre-war Berlin was the place where three zones met, and the wall went right through it.   However, you wouldn’t believe that today:   it’s surrounded by modern buildings and shops!   I’ve added some photos.

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Sections of the wall have been moved and to the right is a fence protecting the building site.

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On the street (eastern) side

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Photos commemorating 25th anniversary of fall of wall

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Hamburg

My decision to do a day excursion to Hamburg was motivated by several factors, one of which was to visit Miniator Wunderland.  I booked the train tickets well ahead of time, but it didn’t occur to me to book tickets for Miniator Wonderland itself.   Nor did it “click” with me that my day in Hamburg was Saturday. So, when I arrived and was informed that there was a waiting time of 110 minutes, I decided that although model railways are nice, I wasn’t going to spend a good portion of my limited time in Hamburg cooped up in a waiting area!

So I didn’t see the model railway, but I did see a lot of Hamburg, although I did get completely disoriented twice.    I had been told that this is one of the wealthiest parts of Germany, and judging by the retail activity, I can believe that. Pedestrian malls, shopping galleries, small streets – all full of up-market retail stores. And on a lovely warm Saturday afternoon, the crowds were out in force, many carry bags with the labels providing evidence as to where they had spent their euros.

There were people enjoying the sunshine all over the city, including on the terraces by the Binnenalster and in the square in front of the Rathaus. On my way to Miniator Wonderland, I wandered through part of the HafenCity area and saw how the old warehouses and docks were being redeveloped.  And I was at the big St Michaelis Church just in time to be present for the15 minute service at noon.    The main benefit was to hear the organ pieces (since the rest was in German). There are at least 2 organs here, and I think we heard from both.

On the train trip, I was reminded that Germans don’t waste the time during the journey: they use it to eat and drink!    Of course both ways, the train was on time to the minute, and I noticed that quite a lot (but not all) was at a speed of about 230 kmph.

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On the train at 8.16 am, off at 9.57, on the way to the football…..so why not have a drink?

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Enjoying the sunshine

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Martin Luther statue at St Michaelis

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Canal area (above).

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On the Binnenalster  – and, yes, that’s steam powered.

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Lots of impressive buildings. This is the “Justice Building” (courts?)

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Bismarck statue

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Rathaus

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