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Sept. 11, 2017

Our ship docked at Warnemunde, Germany. We decided to join a private tour of Berlin which was a 3 hour bus ride away. Berlin is the capital of Germany. It is huge in area (8 times larger than Paris) but with 1/4 the number of people (3.5M). Our tour guide, Heather, was a young woman who was born and educated in the United States but fell in love with Berlin and moved there 11 years ago. She majored in History and Jewish Studies in college and then immersed herself in German history. So she was an excellent guide and gave us a great understanding of Berlin's history. Go to history to read a brief summary of Berlin's history.


Our first stop was the Olympic Stadium. It is located in the former West Berlin but on the outskirts of the city. It was built for the 1936 Berlin Games. Originally it held 110,000 people but today only 75,000 for safety reasons. Hitler wanted the Berlin games to showcase Germany but Jesse Owens stole the show. 90% of Berlin was damaged during WWII but the Olympic stadium was not bombed. Pilots used it as a navigation point to lead them to the heart of the city.

We stopped at one of the squares in the former W. Berlin. The square is the place where the attack ocurred during the Christmas Market in 2016. There we visited the old Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was built in 1890 but heavily bombed during WWII. The Germans decided not to restore it as a reminder of the horrors of war. However in 1950 they built an addition where services are held. It contains a beautiful blue stained glass window that was a gift from France. The light shines from the inside during the day and glows at night when viewed from the outside. The old section of the church is now a museum.






Our bus then drove into the city and dropped us off near the Brandenburg Gate. We walked across the double row of cobblestones which goes about 25 miles around the city marking where the Wall used to stand. We then walked from the former West Berlin, through the Gate and into the former East Berlin. The Brandenburg Gate was built in 1791. It was the symbol of Prussian Berlin and later the symbol of a divided Berlin. When the wall came down in 1989, Berliners jammed the gate to celebrate. The four horse chariot on top is named the Goddess of Victory.


On the Eastern side of the gate is the US Embassy. It reopened in 2008 at its pre WWII location. It is quite unusual to see the embassy so open as American embassies are usually the most fortified buildings in town. In this case the security is built into the structure.



Down the street from the embassy is the ritzy Hotel Adlon. Before the war, it hosted such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein and Greta Garbo. It was closed with the construction of the wall, then demolished and rebuilt in 1997. It was here that Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the railing on the second floor balcony.


We stopped in front of the Reichstag, or parliament building. It was inaugurated in 1890 but hardly used from 1933 to 1999. In 1999 the German parliament convened here for the first time in 66 years.



We wandered through the Holocaust memorial, named "The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe." It was completed in 2005 and consists of 2711 gravestone-like pillars made of hollow concrete. They are all about the same size but of differing heights. Everyone is left to their own interpretation and feelings about the memorial. Is it a symbolic cemetery, a disorienting labyrinth? It is certainly a place for contemplation of the horrible chapter in human history.

We stopped for a quick photograph at Checkpoint Charlie. This is a mockup of the original border crossing between the American and Soviet sectors. There's even two actors dressed as American guards. Very disappointing!

Finally, we visited one of the few remaining remnants of the Wall. The wall was actually two walls, with a death strip in the middle. It was built in 1961 and was 100 miles long, completely encircling West Berlin. Originally it was topped with barbed wire but people threw blankets over the wire to climb over. Later it was topped with rounded pipes. It fell in 1989. Since then, Berlin has been rebuilt as a unified, and dynamic city.

Though our time in Berlin was short (about 5 hours), we saw alot of sites and got a good feel for the history of the area. There is alot of construction going on both to restore old buildings and build new. But the once-divided city is thoroughly woven back together.



To view more photos from our visit to Berlin, please go to Berlin Photo Gallery. To read about other locations visited, go to Baltic Locations.

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