First off, apologies for the delay in posting the next installment. I am starting to have some real fun now and it will take discipline to make sure I keep up my stories.
I arrived in Berlin on Saturday the 28th of April. I had taken a train from Koblenz and it was a very nice carriage and there was an attendant to fetch us food and drink if we were so inclined. I spent the 4.5 hours reading and dozing as the train sped along. I am starting to get a sense of the German countryside. It is very green. There are a lot of forests of tall trees, most looking to be 20-40 years old. There were glimpses of giant windmills turning in the breeze. There were community garden plots along the rails where people had small individual plots, some with pretty nice little huts big enough for a weekend camp out. We got into some wine country where the vineyards climb up steep slopes, some at near 90 degree slopes. I spent a few delightful minutes imagining the workers harvesting their grapes next fall. The delight comes in my belief that the men must have thighs of steel to climb up and down those slopes carrying heavy baskets of grapes. Guys, you can skip trying to imagine with me.
The email with my hostel reservation confirmation had excellent directions from the main train station. I give myself props though for figuring out how to buy a ticket for the S Bahn. A day later, I found where the “English” button was for the directions in my language, however the first day, I poked away at the machine reading the German directions. For the trams/underground/buses here, you but a small paper ticket on the platform or street and then validate it by sticking the ticket in the small yellow box which time stamp it. The idea is that if you are asked for a ticket and have skipped getting a ticket or skipped validating it, you are in big trouble
I found my hostel easily. I picked this hostel due to it’s name, The Heart of Gold, which was the starship in the cult classic, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The hostel was in central Berlin in the old East German section in the section of town called “Mitte” or middle. This place is 5 minutes from Museum Island and many historical sites. I had booked a bed in a 50 bed dorm but was put in a 6 bed room with 5 young guys. One of them was in the room when I arrived and gave me some suggestions. He recommended the walking tour advertised by the hostel.
The next morning, I joined the tour – Terry Brewers Walking Tour, which was started by…drum roll….Terry Brewer. Terry is now in his 80s and has retired from active guiding and so I had a guide, Preston, who is originally from Oregon. The tour was six hours long and really gave us a great view of the city and the recent history. Preston was a fabulous guide and I really enjoyed every minute. He gave us background on a lot of the happenings and whys and wherefores of that history. I few blocks into our walk my camera gave me a “full memory” message and I had neglected to check or put an extra memory card in my pocket. Fortunately during a water/potty break, I found a store to pick up a new car
It was awesome to stand near the Brandenburg Gate and Terry showed us pictures of the area as it was just 20 years ago. There has been a lot of development and building since the wall came down and Germany reunited. There is still lots of work going on. It seems there is a museum on every corner. On Monday, I picked up a Museum Pass that gave me access to over 60 museums for 3 days. I started and finished on Museum Island. First with the Altes (Old) museum where I drooled over ancient Greek, Assyrian and Roman artifacts, then I went to the Pergamon Museum where they had the massive ruins from Pergamon (currently Bergama in Turkey). I was excited to see this exhibit as I had been to Bergama and seen what ruins remained there and seen the amphitheatre and acropolis. The Pergamon museum also had the Miletus Market Gate and a recreation of the Istar Gate from ancient Babylon. I was OD’ing on all my ancient history. This is like a triple scoop of my favorite ice cream with fudge and marshmallow sauce good. I picked up an audio guide – which was free with admittance at all the museums. Once I completely covered the Pergamon museum, I went next door to the Bode Museum which specializes more in religious statues and art. It too has a lot of ancient greek and roman art work. The building at the Bode Museum is fantastic and would be worth visiting even if all the rooms were empty. Lastly, I hit the Nues (New) Museum and it turned out that was the best. I only made it through about a quarter of the way through as the museum closed at 6 pm and by this time, I had been prowling the corridors of all the museums for over 7 hours. On the top of my list for a return visit though is the Nues museum. They have the bust of Nefretiti there and she is awesome. It was really the last thing I saw there. If you go, make sure you see the basement exhibits. They have items from Egypt of mummies from a Roman family and there was a painting, a funerary mask of a roman lady that is hauntingly beautiful. I felt a real connection to history as I looked into her eyes.
The next day was the first of May and a national holiday. I went to the zoo. Berlin has one of the largest and best zoo’s in Europe. Many of the animal enclosures are open air and have a moat to separate the visitors from the animals. The place is huge and a wonderful garden in it’s own right. There are hundreds of lilac trees in bloom and the air smelled wonderful. I got the combination ticket to both the zoo and aquarium. I really enjoyed wandering around all the fish tanks and even enjoyed the insect floor. Although one exhibit was of ants and they had a “walkway” for the ants that went around the room in a circle with clear 2″ plastic pipes. The had a small section that was open and the ants were marching along a metal rod.
I had one unpleasant experience at the museum when I took a break and had a snack in the cafe. The unpleasantness happened when my hot dog dropped a big blob of mustard on my white shirt. As soon as I noticed it, I rushed to the ladies room and attempted to get it out before the stain set. Alas, my luggage is one white shirt lighted in weight.
Berlin is on my list of places to return to for sure. There were quite a few people who spoke English so it was pretty easy to move around. The food was good, however, I have yet to try the city speciality which is currywurst. Currywurst is supposedly a sausage coated in curry and catsup. Something to look forward to.
So the next day I packed my bag and was ready to head off to my next stop…Prague. Stay tuned.