Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tour around Berlin

Finally, a post about the interesting (i.e., non-science-conferency) parts of my trip to Berlin, Germany. I arrived in Berlin around 8 am Sunday morning (25 hours after my plane had left Honolulu Friday night [sic]). My task was to stay awake the entire day in order to adjust myself to the 12 hour time difference. That meant I had to get moving.

Luckily, I was able to connect with a friend who was staying at the same hotel for the conference. I had met her in France, though she's originally from Canada and is doing a postdoc in Denmark. So she and a friend of hers who was visiting from Canada walked around Berlin with me that day and tried to keep me awake.

That Sunday happened to be the day of the annual Berlin marathon, which I knew nothing about but is a really big thing, claiming about 40,000 enrolled starters (so says Wikipedia). The marathon made walking around some parts of the city very convenient, since the roads were blocked off, but crossing the path of the marathon was a bit more complicated, though still possible. We saw the marathon, the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building, the Holocaust memorial, a bit of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie (reconstructed in situ), and the area where Hitler committed suicide. Unfortunately, I had taken so many pictures in the Reichstag that I'd used up my camera's memory, and since the screen was not working I couldn't tell. I thought the Holocaust memorial was particularly interesting, so I'm sorry I didn't get photos from that. Anyway, from that first day, I only have photos of the gate, the marathon (which we watched right at the gate) and the Reichstag.

On Tuesday, I took the whole day off from the conference to go on a 6.5 hour bus tour of Berlin. We visited the Reichstag, but that was the only real repeat from the day before. We also got off the bus for a one hour river boat tour on the Spree (sounds something like "Shpray"). There is only so much information that my brain can take in in a day-long tour, but I came away from the Berlin tour with two general impressions.

Firstly, Berlin does not seem nearly as old as other famous cities I've been to in Europe (which really just would include London and Paris). Coming from the U.S., where any building from the 18th Century seems so very old, I was always struck when seeing something in London or Paris and realizing that it was really, really, really old. What? That's a piece of wall that the Romans built?! Holy crap. Berlin was not a major city until it was the capital of Prussia in the 18th Century. Thus, the earliest buildings of importance date back only to the 1700s. Furthermore, a lot of these old (but not that old) buildings of importance are now lost. A LOT of them. We looked at a scaled down replica of what a portion of the city used to look like. There's so much that isn't there anymore. I guess some stuff was destroyed in the war, but also there were old palaces and churches that the GDR (DDR in German, haha) didn't like--palaces are symbols of monarchy, churches are symbols of religion--and they razed them. Kind of sad.

The second thing that stuck with me is how very recent the division of East and West Germany was. I was born well before the wall fell. I have memories from the time when they were still divided. People not much older than me surely can remember what life was like in East Germany. Our not-old tour guide explained that had Berlin remained divided, he would not have been allowed to leave East Berlin until 2038 (age 65 for men, 60 for women). This is not ancient history. You can see memorials set up for people who were killed trying to cross the wall. One was some kid who was shot in fall of 1989. If he'd just waited a little longer... The tour guide explained that the center of Berlin has more open spaces, and some wider roads thanks to the wall, since it wasn't just a thin little wall but also a wide open strip of nothing but guard towers that you'd have to cross if you wanted to escape. There were clear places where old buildings should have been. There were lots of similar looking apartment buildings. And there were lots of very new buildings, new architecture--stuff built after the reunification, in the 1990s and 2000s.

Berlin is a fascinating, lovely place. Here are some of my photos from my touring.

The Reichstag building, which houses Berlin's parliament (the Bundestag), originally opened in 1894 but has had much reconstruction along the way. I mainly like this photo of the exterior because it's a two-photo panoramic stitch, and the woman towards the foreground walking behind her identical twin really amuses me.

Here I am standing outside the glass dome on top of the Reichstag, barely visible in the above photo. This new dome was completed in 1999 and is meant to symbolize the new government's transparency.

Ramps spiral around up and down the interior of the glass dome. They have fun audio guide ear phone sets that detect where you're standing in the dome automatically and tell you to look out at various sites visible from the dome as you walk around. (Spot any more sets of twins?)

The mirrors in the center catch light coming through the dome and reflect it down into the Bundestag chamber below. Helps save some energy. Can you spot me? (The photo is from my second trip to the Reichstag, so it's a different outfit)

From the top of the Reichstag, I glimpsed some fall colors! Yay! That's all I'll get of fall colors this year.

Some remainder of the Berlin wall that has been painted.

I don't remember what building this is, and it's hard to see the features of the roof, particularly the second, ah, dome behind the first, but the tour guide amusingly called it the most "feminine" roof in Berlin.

A marathoner heads towards the Brandenburg Gate, very close to the race's finish. The gate is the only remaining one of a series that led towards the palace of the Prussian monarchs. Constructed in the late 18th Century, it's one of the iconic structures of Berlin (it appears on some of their Euros).

And now my favorite. I wanted my friend to take a photo of me in front of the Brandenburg Gate, but since it was the day of the marathon, I got a couple random marathon completers in the photo as a bonus.


Sebastian said...

'Oooh ja, das foto mit eine Hawaiian hottie! Ja ja!'

The Reichstag is beautiful, eh!

Still never visited Germany. Really ought to.

Always got the feeling it was a little dull though -- rejected monarchy, rejected religion... years of East/West segregation and awful oppression...

Can't imagine it would be the most wild holiday destination.

Eleni said...

Haha. I'm glad I got that last photo because, unbeknownst to me at the time thanks to my blank camera screen, it was the last photo before my camera memory was used up. I would have been very disappointed if it hadn't come out.

I don't know if all those things make it dull. I understand the nightlife is supposed to be great in Berlin--the clubbing scene is really good. So if you want that kind of wild holiday, it's a good spot.