Another day with relatively no free time to myself for writing. These tours let you see a hell of a lot in a very short period of time but they tend to burn me out quickly. I'm ready to take a break & go home for a day to veg out & catch up. If this keeps up I'm going to have to try to fill out yesterday & today's reports while on the bus. I may as well since I can't write out postcards while bumping around like that. Vacations would be so much easier if I could go along with them without feeling the need to chronicle events but that's rather difficult. At least I'm trying.
There were three optional tours today & we took them all. In retrospect I could have been fine with skipping the first two during the day but they're all paid for now so I may as well follow through. The first tour was "Berlin – Secret Past: Reichstag Dome & the Wall. The Reichstag is Germany's parliament building. When Hitler became chancellor in 1933 there was a fire there. Conveniently, this gave him an excuse to beef up security, have parliament accused, arrested & executed, & begin changing policies in order to start setting up his eventual dictatorship. Later during his fall, the building suffered more extensive damage as allied forces closed in on his reported location. There are many small blemishes in the original stone walls & columns, little squares about two to four square inches. These are bullet holes from the war that have been repaired. You see these throughout the city here & there. I can't say all of them are bullet holes but considering this is Berlin, I wouldn't be surprised.
Atop the Reichstag is a new glass dome, built in the 1990s to replace the original destroyed in the war. Inside is an enormous funnel of mirrors, strategically placed to reflect light down into the fully enclosed parliament room 360 days of the year (there wasn't room for 365.) Just inside the dome is a dual spiral staircase that winds all the way up to an observation deck at the top where you can see the entire city of Berlin. Point of note: this part of Germany is very flat but as you look out over the city you see a few strange hills. They seem out of place & that's because they are. The allied bombing & raiding of the city created a great deal of debris & rubble. What couldn't be salvaged or recycled was just piled up & built over, creating these hills, each from hundreds of thousands of tons of said rubble.
Now, just a couple blocks down the street from the Reichstag is a building that stands on the spot where Hitler had his original bunker that would house him & Eva & a couple hundred other necessary people. He eventually decided that this wasn't good enough, especially as allies were getting closer by day so he had another one built. A secret bunker right across the street; gasproof, bombproof & underground. This is where he spent his last days & inevitably killed himself. It was never destroyed. It's still there & we drove right past. The Russians just covered it with sand & turned it into a parking lot. All that is visibly there is a historical marker with the story of the "Secret Bunker Myth." Misleading, because there are still crazies & neo-nazis that would want to treat those grounds as something special & march there or hold rallies or what not.
The Holocaust Memorial is not too far from the Reichstag & yes you read correctly. I was going to call it the Memorial to Irony since it was Germany after all that thought this genocide was a swell idea. But it was commissioned by the nation of Islam which makes more sense. It consists of rows & rows of thousands of blocks of rectangular blocks of concrete. They vary slightly in size & aren't spaced perfectly even which is supposed to give the viewer a sense of uneasiness. I would have liked to walk around in there to get a closer look at the whole area but the bus kept moving on.
The next destination was a bit less gloomy. We stopped at the largest section of the Berlin wall left standing. It's only a few KM long & still bears the original graffiti left by West Berliners. Of course, Berlin tolerates graffiti in general (which is obvious all over) so much more has been added to the wall since it's removal in 1990. (It was forbidden in East Berlin so since reunification they have apparently been making up for lost time.) A lot of the original artwork is beautiful & moving & I took many pictures. Unfortunately, we were given less time than the guide originally said so all too soon we were herded back on the bus.
The tour ended in the late morning but another one (also optional) began not long after. This was to Potsdam to see the former palace of Prussia's Fredrick the Great. His father was a pushy ass who wanted to make a man out of his son so he forced him to learn to fight & battle & all that macho stuff but Fredrick didn't like any of that. When he was still a child he even tried to escape the country with a friend of his. When he was caught his father threatened to disown him if he ever did that again. Then young Fredrick was forced to watch as his friend was beheaded. Later, after he rose to power & became ruler he declared that upon his passing he would never be buried near his father's grave. Unfortunately, due to politics that's exactly where his final resting place was set. Even when the graves were eventually moved (for reasons which I presently forget) they were placed together again. Until, later still, the graves were again moved, this time Fredrick finally got his wish, over 200 years later, to be buried by himself next to his 11 beloved hunting dogs.
We also toured the Cecilienhof, which witnessed the signing of the treaty by President Truman, Winston Churchill & Josef Stalin which dictated the fate of Germany following WWII. This building was also once owned by Fredrick the Great & contained a room which was modeled after the cabin of a cruise ship so his mistress could go there when she felt like "sailing." It also had the benefit of being seasick proof.
This tour ended about two o'clock giving us four hours to ourselves before the (also optional) Berlin by Night with drinking, fine dining, live music & a tour of the city after dark. Instead of going up to my room like a good boy to work on my journal or write a postcard to my mother I went out to see a couple of the sights given too little time the day before. Since they were reputed to be within walking distance I set off on foot in the direction indicated by a fellow tour member & promptly got lost. I kept seeing landmarks familiar from the constant bus riding through the area back & forth to the hotel but none seemed to be in the right place. I did find a neat old copper-roofed cathedral that I'd only seen from a distance and/or obscured by other buildings & get some good pictures of it. (Most of my vacation photos this time around are of neat old buildings.) But I decided to turn around & try to find my way back to someplace familiar & start again. It didn't take long before I saw that big statue in the middle of the street of a man on a horse on a pedestal that I knew I was in the right direction. I found the Underground Library again & finally got those photos I wanted, & also paid my respects to the tragic loss of human knowledge & humanity that burned in that square so long ago. Then I headed down another few blocks to the area that is quickly becoming my favourite in Berlin, the Brandenburg gate. It's so incredible & awe inspiring to me the history & significance of that place & is one of the sights I will remember most when reminiscing about this vacation.
The last event of the evening was the aforementioned Berlin by Night. We went to a local restaurant that, tho' small, seemed well equipped to handling large crowds. They had a limited but tasty menu for the event which included for our tour unlimited beverages (especially alcohol) so our crowd really had a good time. The live keyboardist & clarinetist that were barely audible when we first entered gradually captured everyone's spirits as they played more & more lively music, including a 30 minute medley of folk songs, both American, German & other. I was especially surprised to hear the Chicken Dance to which our tour guide Ingrid danced with a shy & quiet Australian fellow. It was a fantastic dinner & I was finally able to see the comradery & general good spirits that can flow through people in the right situations. It's times like these that return a little bit of my faith in humanity.
At eight thirty it was plenty dark, we'd all had our deserts & it was time to continue onward through the city. There was plenty to see out the windows but most of the entertainment was had on the bus itself as the somewhat less inhibited passengers told jokes, laughed it up & had a generally jovial time. It was a really good evening & some of my frustrations from earlier in the day had dropped away by the time we finally returned to our room for the night.
Now I must make a partial start on packing my bags to be ready to leave tomorrow morning for Dresdin. Highlights include the Moritzberg Castle.
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