Friday, June 10, 2016

Ich bin ein Berliner (a weekend resident of Berlin, not the jelly donut)

We have lived in Germany for more than two and a half years--and still hadn't visited Berlin.  Or any of the former East Germany, for that matter.  So we decided it was an omission that needed to be corrected immediately and headed northeast for a quick weekend trip.  And for once we weren't crashing someone else's vacation!
Strangely cropped photo.  Not my fault.
Our hotel was conveniently located near Potsdamer Platz, so we were able to hit the ground running after being delayed a bit by a canceled flight.  Our first stop was the Brandenburg Gate, the last surviving gate from the wall that protected the city starting in the 1700s.  It sat unused for more than 25 years when it was part of the wall separating East Berlin and West Berlin.

It has become an iconic symbol of Germany.  So much so that while we were visiting, the gate and much of the nearby Tiergarten Park were closed while they set up a huge viewing party for the Euro Cup football tournament in its shadow.  Spoiler alert:  Defending Wold Cup champ Germany lost to France and failed to make it to the championship match.

Germans get to see football.  But it means my pictures have these ugly barricades.  Bummer.
Friday was a bit frustrating between the canceled flight and the abundant security gates.  But it was light outside until almost 11 pm and the weather was perfect, so we were just happy to wander around and enjoy what we could see of the sites.
The Reichstag (the German parliament building for the Bundestag) was pretty empty that late in the day, so it gave us a chance to let Natalie explore.  She couldn't have cared less about the building, but was super excited about picking up all of the pebbles between the cobblestones.  Mom and dad did not share her excitement.

Out of my way!  There are millions of tiny rocks to collect!
We started Saturday with a hop on-hop off bus tour of the city.  Natalie loved it, mostly because she was asleep for nearly all of it.  It was a good way to get in all of the major Berlin sites without a ton of walking--even though we ended up walking around and seeing a many of the places again.  But it helped to have the tour's overview to know what we were looking at.  And to wrap our heads around what was formerly East and West Berlin.  It was fascinating to see the remnants of the divide and the rebuilding, especially in the East, that has come with the unification.  Even today, 27 years later, there is lots of major construction downtown.

If you are going to see the kitsch that is Checkpoint Charlie, might as well do it from an open top bus.
If I had listened more intently on the bus tour, I'd probably know what this building was.  It is old and pretty though.
Note from Matt: I did pay's the Berliner Dom (aka Berlin Cathedral) and along with the nearby Franzosischer Dom (French Cathedral), they host lots of classical concerts
The German version of the White House.

After a failed attempt to get Kristin the burrito she'd been craving for months (why was this placed closed on Saturdays?  and why doesn't Stuttgart have any good Mexican food??), we headed back to the Reichstag for a tour of the dome.  

Luckily our friend Abigail had let us know that they often make day-of tickets available for the dome online, so we were able to grab 3 tickets when we woke up and avoid the really long line for day-of tickets.  Win!

Working on piggy backs.  Natalie is ambivalent.  

The Reichstag building (officially Deutscher Bundestag - Plenarbereich Reichstagsgebäude) wasn't used from 1933 until 1999, but was rebuilt starting in 1995 after the 1989 reunification of Germany moved the capital back to Berlin.  It was closed in 1933 due to an arson attack that ended up being key to the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.  It is still unknown if the arson was truly an attack by Communists or a false flag operation of the Nazis.  

While being rebuilt in the 1990s, the beautiful glass cupola was added to the top.  Visitors are able to use long ramps to walk up and down the dome, taking in great views of the city and listening to an audio guide describing the views, dome and Reichstag.  

Inside the dome is a large glass cone that reflects sunlight into the Bundestag and also circulates air for natural air conditioning.  All of the glass and windows are a symbol that the German government will be open to the people. During active sessions, you can even look down the middle and see the representatives on the floor conducting business. 

Natalie enjoyed the long walk to the top and back down again.   Living in Stuttgart has trained her for hills.

We lucked out with beautiful weather while it was 60 and rainy all weekend in Stuttgart

Spot Natalie, Matt & Kristin!
Our next stop was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  Opened in 2005, it was the first Holocaust memorial sponsored by the German government, while others since recognize additional oppressed groups such as Gypsies, homosexuals, and physically/mentally disabled.  

The memorial is a collection of thousands of tall pillars that surround you as you walk through.  Despite lots of other people exploring it at the same time, you feel very alone walking through it.  It was quite the contradiction to be in such a sobering place on such a beautiful day.

That's the American Embassy on the right, with the dome of the Reichstag peeking out to the left of it.
After a wonderful dinner, we took a leisurely walk back to our hotel, stopping at Checkpoint Charlie and a remaining section of the Berlin Wall.
Of course the American Sector is the gateway to a McDonald's and KFC.

The wall was a lot shorter than I expected.  Amazing to think how close and tantalizing freedom was to the East Berliners.

On our last day, our first stop was the Topography of Terror Museum.  Built in the shadows of one of the few remaining sections of the Berlin Wall and above the former headquarters of the SS and Gestapo, the museum presented an interesting history of the Nazi government through photos and text.  We appreciated that the museum was both indoors and out, which made it a much easier visit with a toddler who is more into smiles and giggles than quiet time.

The museum sits on the East German side of the Wall.

We decided to wrap up our trip by taking Natalie on her first bike ride.  Her mom was terrified, but it really was a fun way to explore the park and riverside, especially in such a flat city.  Not that Natalie really cared--she was asleep for most of it!
Passed out.

Behind us is the Marie-Elisabeth-Lüders-Steg connecting the two major German parliament buildings over the river that used to divide East and West Berlin.

Thanks for reading about our quick trip to Berlin.
Of course they have kid-sized pieces of the Berlin Wall with cartoon characters your toddlers can pose with.