Posts Tagged ‘Berlin’

More Berlin – Nazi Terror, Bavarian Food, and Chocolate Delight

October 14th, 2009 at 5:57 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 – Breakfast at the Hotel Adlon was included as part of the Fine Hotels and Resorts hotel package we had booked through our American Express TeamOne travel service group, and what a breakfast it was! A dozen different kinds of cold cuts, a half dozen kinds of French soft cheese (including several family favorites), a handful of different Meuslis, fresh fruit juices (such as pineapple, coconut, and ginger blended together), eggs to order, different sausages, and all sorts of fruit, as well as carb-evil pastries and breads. Champagne, coffee, and tea were available too.

By 11am we were finally on our way, with the intent to see the famed Checkpoint Charlie, and more specifically the museum there.

A performer dressed as a statue shills for for tourist tips at the Brandenburger Tor

A performer dressed as a statue shills for for tourist tips at the Brandenburger Tor

We started by tracing the path south from Brandenburg Tor where the western part of the Berlin Wall used to be, and found ourselves at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a memorial created to remember the Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Cement blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Cement blocks of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The memorial consists of 2,711 blocks of cement of identical width and depth, but varying height. These blocks fill a plain of undulating brick, spaced equally apart, thus creating walkways. The feel is that of a cemetery when you first enter it, but soon you feel like you are in an oddly symmetric warren as the rectangular blocks start to reach the height of your head and beyond. Disconcerting and eerie, which was no doubt at least part of the intent of the memorial’s designer, Peter Eisenman.

A Berlin Wall exhibit at Potsdamer Platz

A Berlin Wall exhibit at Potsdamer Platz

By the time we hit Potsdamer Platz a bit to the south we were so cold we needed to warm up, so we chose a local café for some Café American, tea, and a cookie for Bas, as well as free Internet service. After waiting through a massive rain storm, we continued on towards Checkpoint Charlie, stopping at an outdoor museum entitled “Topopgraphy of Terror”, dedicated to provided a history of the prison and torture facilities at that location, run by the SS, Gestapo, and Reichssicherheits Dienst (Empire Security Service) during World War II.

Part of the exterior exhibits at the Topography of Terror museum

Part of the exterior exhibits at the Topography of Terror museum

However, the exhibits at the Topography of Terror covered much more, explaining the evolution of the Nazi party and their plans for systematic deportation and killing of Jews, Gypsies, and other “lower races” (pretty much anyone that was not Aryan German) in order to claim their lands and property for German expansion and resettlement. It was a frightening and sobering exhibit, as well as violently graphic, picturing hangings, executions, and many photos of people being marched off to certain death. More astounding was that the Nazi bureaucracy maintained meticulous records of all their actions, and many of the ledgers and memos used to both record their actions as well as direct those actions were shown (with translations for English readers). A number of the Nazi leaders were profiled, as were dozens of victims of “Nazi justice” who were interned in the prison at the site on Prinz Albrectstrasse at the behest of the so-called “People’s Court”, a bureaucratic body used to justify arrests and executions in the name of the people of Germany, but truly to simply further personal and political goals of the Nazi leadership.

Documents at the Topography of Terror show Nazi plan of conquest by extermination

Documents at the Topography of Terror show Nazi plan of conquest by extermination

The exhibit also covered the atrocities the Nazis carried out in the territories they captured. For us, with our Czech ancestry (Jake’s parents were born in Czechoslovakia shortly before the invasion by the Germans leading up to World War II), it was particularly poignant, as the exhibit documented how the entire Czech village of Lidice was slaughtered and then taken completely apart, leaving virtually no sign that there ever had been a village there. And all this in retaliation for the attempted assassination of a high ranking Nazi officer.

The Traveling Richters pose with Maximilian the Bavarian

The Traveling Richters pose with Maximilian the Bavarian

Jake’s brother Mike joined us as we finished going through the exhibition and we proceeded to Checkpoint Charlie, passed it by to get on the U-Bahn (Berlin’s subway) for one stop and then have a late lunch at Maximilian’s, a Bavarian restaurant. We gorged ourselves on Bavarian food – Schweinshaxe (pig knuckles with crispy skin), wurst (sausages) of all kinds with both sharp and sweet mustard, leberkäse (a slice of a loaf of meat made with liver), and goulasch of two sorts. And beer, of course. For Jake, this brought back memories of his childhood, growing up in Munich. We finished up with coffee and tea at the Café Einstein (a coffee shop chain which appears to be Starbuck’s main competition in Berlin) next door.

A model of the Titanic in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch

A model of the Titanic in chocolate at Fassbender & Rausch

Instead of actually going back to Checkpoint Charlie, our intended destination for the day, Mike instead gave us a personal tour of other nearby parts of Berlin (and we managed to hit Checkpoint Charlie a couple of days later instead). We visited Berlin’s biggest chocolate shop, Fassbender & Rausch, followed by a walk around a plaza called the Gendarmenmarkt (police market). The Gendarmenmarkt features a number of large historic buildings from the 19th century, including a church, a performance hall, and a government building, surrounded by “plattenbau” apartment buildings. These were apartments built by the East Germans using a modular construction methodology which allowed for buildings to go up very quickly. Functional but rather unattractive.

From there we moved on to a collection of three buildings known as the Galeries Lafayette. These buildings feature high-end fashion shops and a delicatessen area, all connected via an underground shopping passage.

Tne New Synagogue in Berlin - note the Moorish archictecture

Tne New Synagogue in Berlin - note the Moorish archictecture

Mike then took us to Oranienburger Strasse, an area featuring a synagogue with Moorish architecture, as well as an artists’ commune and numerous coffee shops and eateries. At a small Italian restaurant in one of the many small courtyards, we enjoyed some Glühwein (hot spiced wine – great in cold weather) while we waited for Mike’s son Mat to join us. Mat is 21 and is training in the field of event management, and also has his own band called “Danke” (“thank you” in German).

We continued our walking tour with our personal family guides, exploring more courtyards and sights, including an old dance hall that is still in use today, ending up for dinner at Pan Asia, a restaurant with Asian-themed food. Quite good and enjoyable, with a great ambiance.

Unter den Linden in Berlin lit up during the Festival of Lights

Unter den Linden in Berlin lit up during the Festival of Lights

We walked all the way back to our hotel, enjoying the lighting of various buildings and objects as part of the Festival of lights that had just started in Berlin that night (and running for a full week). Again, as we strolled, Mike and Mat both gave us some history of the parts of Berlin we were walking through, helping feed our ever present desire for knowledge about the places we visit. We arrived back at the Hotel Adlon full (both food and information-wise), tired, and happy.

Brandenburger Tor lit up at night for the Festival of Lights

Brandenburger Tor lit up at night for the Festival of Lights

Our final achievement for the day was discovering that our shower in the Hotel Adlon also featured a steam bath button, allowing us to thoroughly warm up after freezing all day long. What a brilliant feature for showers in cold climates! (Note: The kids’ shower did not have this feature – something we teased them about incessantly.)

Note: Larger versions of the above photos as well as a dozen additional images can be found at Jake’s Flickr Page.

 

We Meet In Berlin

October 12th, 2009 at 5:05 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Monday, October 12, 2009 – After some hearty coffee, tea, and hot chocolate in Schipol airport, we had a leisurely hour long flight to Berlin on a half empty plane.

Hot chocolate on a stick at Cafe Chocolat at Schipol Airport

Hot chocolate on a stick at Cafe Chocolat at Schipol Airport

All of our bags made it and we grabbed a taxi to our hotel while Jake conversed in German with our taxi driver, learning about various sites we were passing as well as other local color.

Rain awaits us as we arrive at Tegel Airport in Berlin

Rain awaits us as we arrive at Tegel Airport in Berlin

We got to our hotel around 10:30am, and our rooms were not yet ready, so the guest relations manager showed us to the spa, had our luggage delivered and we were able to take a swim (only Jake, since he was the only who brought his bathing suit on this trip) and showers to freshen (and wake) up.

Krystyana and Bas collapse from jet lag at our hotel in Berlin

Krystyana and Bas collapse from jet lag at our hotel in Berlin

Our rooms still were not quite ready an hour later so we grabbed a small (and unbelievable pricey – a 200 ml / 8 oz. diet Coke was about $11!) lunch in the lobby lounge, and then finally settled into our rooms. The kids were so exhausted from jet lag that they collapsed in bed and slept before even unpacking. We followed their lead a short while later and enjoyed a couple of hours of blissful sleep.

View from our hotel window of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin

View from our hotel window of the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin

Krystyana, Mike, Linda, and Bas before the Reichstag in Berlin

Krystyana, Mike, Linda, and Bas before the Reichstag in Berlin

At 4pm Jake’s brother Mike, a Berlin-native for more than the last decade, met us at the hotel and gave us a short walking tour of the surrounding area, which includes the famous Brandenburger Tor (gate), the Reichstag, the Bundestag, and more of the Unter den Linden street our hotel is located on. We were not quite prepared for how cold and wet Berlin was, so we found it necessary to stop for tea and coffee, as well as some “kuchen” (cake) at a local café.

Bas cannot wait to eat the poppy seed tart at the German cafe

Bas cannot wait to eat the poppy seed tart at the German cafe

Mike had to get back to work after that, so we parted ways and grabbed dinner at the first available non-Italian restaurant we found. That was at the Bollywood Restaurant, purveyors of fine Indian cuisine, just a few blocks from our hotel. It was a great meal, albeit not particularly German in nature.

We found a bottle of Sekt (German sparkling wine) waiting for us in the room, along with a few treats, compliments of hotel management, all of which we enjoyed while winding our way down to try and sleep through the night and sync up our body clocks with the local one – a six hour time difference from home on Bonaire.

The champagne, along with a nice bath, helped Linda and I quickly fall into restful slumber, and amazingly we all slept until mid-morning the next day, with no ill jet lag effects.

 

Wie Geht’s? Hoe Gaat Het?

October 10th, 2009 at 5:10 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The title of this entry is in German and Dutch for those not familiar with those phrases. In English it’s “How’s it going?”. We’re doing well, and hope you are too!

But the main reason for this post is to share that tomorrow we’re off to Germany and Holland.

Our trip starts with a flight from Bonaire to Berlin, Germany to see family. Jake’s older brother and nephew live there, and his parents will be coming in from Prague to meet up with us. We also plan on learning about Germany’s history, with a particular focus on World War II, which Krystyana is now studying in depth. We also plan on exploring and learning more about the Cold War and the various aspects of how half of Berlin came to be an island of democracy in a sea of Communism, and how that impacted the lives of Berliners on both sides of the infamous Berlin Wall.

We’ll be in Berlin until October 20th, when we fly up to Amsterdam to explore a few corners of Holland. For all that we’ve lived on Bonaire, part of the Dutch Kingdom, for nearly twelve and a half years, the only time we’ve ever spent in Holland was at Schipol Airport. While it is a nice airport, we’re pretty certain there’s a lot more to see outside its confines. We plan on learning all we can about Dutch history first hand, as best we can in Amsterdam, and will then bop over to Rotterdam for a long weekend to spend time with our friends Martin and Angela (who have promised to show us the sites in their city, including a sea-based tour of one of the world’s largest ports).

Krystyana says she will post images and blog entries during this trip, and with my mini-notebook in hand, I hope to be able to provide a few updates as well. Hopefully we’ll do better than during our recent four week exploration in middle America, which brought us a new understanding of everything from civil rights and discrimination to bluegrass and country music. But we didn’t post much because we were so very busy morning to night (and probably a wee bit lazy too).

So, wish us a Schöne Reise! (“nice trip” in German)