60 Day Europe Bash – Berlin

The adorable street light and beloved symbol of Eastern Germany, called the Ampelmännchen, has a souvenir store of his very own. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Ampelmännchen acquired cult status and has become a popular souvenir item for tourists...like me. April 26, 2016

That first day of crossing the Atlantic and landing in a country on the European continent is thrilling and tiring all at once. It means trying to stay awake when you really want to sleep. But you can’t sleep because even though you’re tired, you’re also too excited. And, so this was how I spent my first day in Berlin, Germany, as the second day of my 60-day Central and Eastern European trek that will take me through 11 countries and countless cities. But for now, let’s start with and stick to Berlin.

Like most of what I try to do at this point in my life, is to just move in the direction of what calls to me. Sometimes the most difficult part isn’t hearing the calling, it’s editing out all the other voices in my head and in the world that cause the congestion. And this just requires that I use my God given, super human skills to edit out the distractions, go with my gut, decide and move forward from there. Okay, that’s a long way around the block to say, I plan to travel even though this trip was initially going to start in Prague on a Rick Steves tour come May 2, I was just too close to Berlin…one of many cities that has peeked my curiosity, to not come and hang out for a few days. And, I’m so glad I did.

I love and fear going to places by myself that I’ve never been to before and finding my way around. That’s what I love about travel, the opportunity to be totally bewildered and yet somehow find your way through it. I made it. I’m in Berlin, Germany. A city with a history that once captivated the world for the atrocities committed to Jewish people and for the wall built to keep its people captive. I don’t know today’s Berlin well and that’s why I’m here. I’m exploring and while I’m exploring, I’m learning. Something that happened very quickly today, was ice rain. It rained tiny bits of ice for about 10 minutes, then it was gone and the sun came out. There’s a lot to learn about Berlin.

My 60-Day Europe Bash, April 24 to June 22, 2016, travel blog is in six parts: Berlin, Heart of Europe, Adriatic, Balkans, Vienna and Munich. This is the Berlin, Germany, portion of my trip from April 24 to April 29, 2016. Follow along through the photos and captions. 

Dropped of t DFW airport by my mom, daughter and soon to be daughter-in-law for my 60-day trek in Europe. First stop, London airport then on to my final…and beginning destination…Berlin, Germany. April 24, 2016
The remnants of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Originally built in the 1890s, it was damaged during the 1943 bombings. April 25, 2016
A close up of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church clock. April 25, 2016
I’m not sure why I’m so fascinated by these street lights, but I am. They have a history all their own in Berlin…Ampelmännchen…as being one of the few features of communism to survive unscathed. This sign obviously means stop. April 25, 2016
And, this Ampelmännchen means go. April 25, 2016
Since I didn’t get any sleep on the airplane and I needed to keep moving, hydrated and fed, I thought stopping in at this quaint little Italian restaurant down the street from the hotel would be a wise choice to end my day. How could I go wrong with a name like Mamma Monti? Sometimes the language barrier is just that, a barrier to the Italian I’m familiar with and the Italian on a German menu. Since I couldn’t read the menu, I didn’t find out until I was seated in a nice cozy corner that this is vegan Italian. Goodbye meatballs! Hello salad! April 25, 2016
My very healthy vegan Italian dinner at Mamma Monti’s in Berlin. April 25, 2016
My hotel is an old renovated 19th century apartment house on the west side of Berlin. There’s no elevator and 48 stair steps between the door to the building and the door to my room. As you can see it’s a nice sized room, but one little caveat, my private bathroom is down the hall. I love quaint, but it will be a challenge come the middle of the night when I need to make that quick bathroom run. April 25, 2016
This photo doesn’t do justice to the ornate door and the beautiful entryway to the hotel. At least I can take my time, look behind me and marvel at the beauty as I gasp for air going up the steps. April 25, 2016

It was drizzling rain for part of the day but pretty chilly most of the day and yet it felt like this is the way Berlin’s history should be seen and felt…slightly overcast and windy with a touch of rain. Today was my history lesson for the east side of Berlin and I was captivated by it. I’m sure most of us Americans have read about Berlin’s infamous and despicable past, but being here, standing on its grounds has allowed me to get a glimpse of today’s Berlin while still peeking behind the curtain at its past.

The Berlin Cathedral called the Berliner Dom may look very old but it was actually completed in 1905 to look old and as the Protestant counterpart to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. April 26, 2016
Originally built around 1818 as a guard house, this Greek looking temple is now a memorial to war victims and is called the Neue Wache, the New Guardhouse. April 26, 2016
Inside the middle of the New Guardhouse is this incredible statue called the “Mother with her Dead Son.” The original small statue was designed in 1938 by Käthe Kollwitz – who lost her youngest son in the First World War – as a sort of pietà. The statue in the Neue Wache is a copy created in 1993 by Harald Haacke who made his version much larger. April 26, 2016
Humbolt University is part of a large square called Bebelplatz, the scene of the infamous Nazi book burning campaign in 1933. April 26, 2016
This glass plate at Bebelplatz is a memorial by Micha Ullman that’s been placed into the cobble stone street and gives a view of empty bookcases…which epitomizes the lost knowledge and literature while being big enough to hold the 20,000 books burned. April 26, 2016
The adorable street light and beloved symbol of Eastern Germany, called the Ampelmännchen, has a souvenir store of his very own. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Ampelmännchen acquired cult status and has become a popular souvenir item for tourists…like me. April 26, 2016
The very famous Brandenburg Tor or Gate was originally the main entrance and part of a wall surrounding Berlin. It opened in 1871 and was built as a sign of peace. April 26, 2016
A close up of what is called the Quadriga, a chariot with four horses and what used to be the goddess of peace, Eirene. However, in 1806 when Berlin was occupied by French troops, Napoleon ordered the Quadriga to be taken to Paris. After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the Quadriga was triumphantly brought back to Berlin, and was turned into a symbol of victory instead of peace. An iron cross and eagle were added to the laurel wreath. April 26, 2016
This is all that is left of what use to be Hitler’s underground bunker. It is now a parking lot. Also, above ground were the Reich Chancellery buildings which were leveled by the Soviets in 1945 after Hitler’s suicide. April 26, 2016
Bundled up from the wind, I’m at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. It is a tribute to the Jews that died before and during World War II as part of Hitler’s extermination plan. This memorial is made up of 2,711 concrete slabs of different heights that bear no markings. I’m not sure any memorial can possibly grasp the magnitude of the suffering Hitler inflicted on so many people in his efforts towards annihilation, but I can say the coldness of these slabs made me feel even colder. I have no idea what the memorial’s creator intended, but the coldness in which so many lives were cut short so needlessly is what I saw and felt at this memorial. April 26, 2016
The colorful mural to the back is the 1950 German Democratic Republic mural created by German painter and commercial artist Max Lingner with 14 other artists. It depicts the Socialist ideal of contented East Germans facing a bright future as one big happy family. While the green photo in the foreground is of young people striking at what was called the “Uprising of 1953 in Easter Germany.” The estimate of people killed in the uprising is in the hundreds and many more were arrested. April 26, 2016
This is the German Democratic Republic mural depicting the one big happy family…which was a lie. April 26, 2016
This part of the historic Berlin Wall is the central site (and now the Berlin Wall Memorial) of German division, located in the middle of Berlin on Bernauer Strasse. But, I’ll have more on the wall and the memorial tomorrow. April 26, 2016
I was at the top of the Hop-on/Hop-off bus this afternoon when we came across this canal view on the Unter den Linden street and I just thought it was beautiful. April 26, 2016
The Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament, is one of Berlin’s most historic landmarks. The highlight of the Reichstag is its striking glass dome. April 26, 2016
This iconic television tower, called Berliner Fernsehturm, was launched in 1958 and can be seen from anywhere in the city. April 26, 2016
I love ornate bridges with beautiful carvings and the Palace Bridge is now definitely high on my list of gorgeous bridges. Located on the eastern end of the Unter den Linden street, the bridge has eight of these figures, but only four are seen here, fashioned from Carrara marble. April 26, 2016
I conquered the S-Bahn train that brought me from my hotel in Savignyplatz to the Hackerscher Markt train station for my Original Berlin Walks tour called “Discover Berlin.” April 26, 2016
Another iconic Berlin site is Checkpoint Charlie. It is an important symbol of the Cold War, because it came to epitomize the separation between east and west. After the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961 by the East German government to prevent its citizens from fleeing to the more prosperous West, President John F. Kennedy ordered the U.S. forces to build three checkpoints at different locations along the wall so diplomats and allied forces could enter West Berlin. Checkpoint Charlie became the most famous. April 26, 2016
I have a thing for functional, efficient and attractive public transportation and these trams shuttling people through Berlin city center are just beautiful to me. April 26, 2016
I was so hungry at dinner time that I started eating before I remembered to take the picture. I’m at Mar y Sol, a Spanish tapas restaurant in Savignyplatz, the section of Berlin where I’m staying. I’m enjoying chorizo, herbed potatoes and shrimp boiled with red peppers and garlic. And, to top it off, I’m having a glass…well two glasses…of Tinto de Verano…red wine with lemonade on the rock, that’s correct just one ice cube. It was all quite delicious! April 26, 2016

It was another cold and windy day in Berlin, but the weather did not stand in my way. I just zipped up my jacket, put on my hat and gloves and got on with it. And, today it was all about the Berlin Wall. Like the many other historical elements of Berlin, the wall has always fascinated me. Maybe because the wall happened in my lifetime…going up in 1961 and coming down in 1989. The thought of family and friends being divided by an actual cement wall because the government leaders said so seems impossible and yet it happened. Everyday people lost their lives trying to get over, initially a barbed wire, that was put up without warning, over night. And, even in today’s world individuals running for positions of power are still advocating for walls to go up. Haven’t they learned that walls don’t work.

I don’t make a practice of hating, but I hate barriers. I hate being told what I can or can’t do or where I can or can’t go. And, seeing this concrete wall, meant to keep people in their place, against their will, infuriates me. On Aug. 12, 1961 the East German authorities decided to close the border around the Western sectors of Berlin in order to prevent people from fleeing. The next day, West Berlin was surrounded by barbed wire. Officially, it was an antifascist protection barrier to defend the East against Western aggression but in truth it separated families and kept people against their will. April 27, 2016
I walked through the out door Berlin Wall Memorial site, through a modern day neighborhood, and this monument for Olga Segler is part of the memorial. When the border was closed Aug. 13, 1961, Olga Segler was separated from her daughter in West Berlin. On the evening of Sept. 25, 1961, the 80-year-old Olga leapt into the fireman’s rescue net from the second floor of the apartment building at Bernauer Strasse 34. She was seriously injured and brought to the nearby Lazarus Hospital. The next day, Olga died from her injuries.
The wall ran directly in front of buildings on Bernauer Strasse. After barriers were erected, many residents living in these buildings by the wall tried to flee by sliding down ropes from their apartments or jumped into rescue nets, like Olga did, that the West Berlin fire department held ready. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to be separated from my own mother by a wall my government thinks is necessary to keep me separated from the ways of the West or from fleeing. April 27, 2016
This is a photo from 1961 that’s part of the outdoor Berlin Wall Memorial. It shows people on the east side showing their newborns to people on the west side. Imagine having to communicate with your family through a wall. April 27, 2016
Another part of the outdoor Berlin Wall Memorial are photos of individuals who died in an effort to get across the wall. April 27, 2016
This sculpture also part of the outdoor Berlin Wall Memorial is called “Reconciliation” by Josefina de Vasconcellos. It is a call for reconciliation following the devastation of World War II. April 27, 2016
This photo, which is also part of the outdoor Berlin Wall Memorial, shows the masses of people getting out during the opening of the wall on Nov. 11, 1989. April 27, 2016
Although most of the Berlin Wall has been dismantled, certain sections still exist including the most famous section of the wall called the East Side Gallery. In 1990 artists were invited to paint this part of the wall, which turned it into one large open-air art gallery with more than 100 paintings, including this one. Ironically, these paintings have been blocked off by a chained fence so I took this close up picture through the fence. April 27, 2016
This piece of art at the open-air East Side Gallery of what’s left of the Berlin Wall shows a man escaping by climbing on top the wall. April 27, 2016
Another piece of art at the open-air East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall shows a face cascade of people trying to be free. April 27, 2016
This piece of art at the open-air East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall shows the facts of the wall history. April 27, 2016
Probably the most famous piece of art at the open-air East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall is this one. Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev leaning in to kiss his East German counterpart Erich Honecker. April 27, 2016
Yes, that’s me in the left hand corner all bundled up but mesmerized by this colorful piece of art at the open-air East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall. Even though it’s colorful piece of art, the flowing figures gave me the impression of beautiful dreams and hopes being cut short. April 27, 2016
A view of a canal by the open-air art gallery known as the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall. April 27, 2016

Besides seeing incredible sites and stepping into history, another thing I love about travel is the walking. It is the most intimate way to be a part of the landscape. And, that was definitely the case today. I ventured just slightly outside of Berlin to Potsdam on an “Original Berlin Walks” tour. Potsdam is mainly known for its Sanssouci Park but it is a cornucopia of wonder from its old town to its town center and from its beautiful park to its palaces. We took the regional train from the Berlin Hauptbahnhof to Potsdam’s Hauptbahnhof (main train station) where we explored the Old Market Square, a spy bridge, the stunning Sansoucci Park (just a small portion of it), a palace where a postwar map of Europe was drawn, the pedestrian friendly town center with a Dutch Quarter, a Brandenburg Gate and ultimately the palatial palace of a King, the Sansoucci Palace. It was quite a full day, still chilly, windy with a little ice rain thrown in and even some sunshine. This walk in Potsdam capped off my time in Berlin because tomorrow, I head for Prague in the Czech Republic. And, just to keep count, Thursday is day 5 of my 60-day birthday and retirement celebration trek through Central and Eastern Europe.

Potsdam was a residence of the Prussian kings and the German Kaiser, until 1918. This is St. Nicholas’ Church, built in 1837, in the Old Market Square and is part of Potsdam’s historical center. April 28, 2016
Potsdam, south-west of Berlin, lay just outside West Berlin after the construction of the Berlin Wall. This marble obelisk and the old city hall behind it is in the Old Market Square and part of Potsdam’s historical center. April 28, 2016
The Glienicke Bridge over the Havel River connects the Wannsee district of Berlin with the Brandenburg capital Potsdam. The current bridge, the fourth on the site, was completed in 1907, although major reconstruction was necessary after it was damaged during World War II. During the Cold War, as this portion of the Havel River formed the border between West Berlin and East Germany, the bridge was used several times for the exchange of captured spies and thus became known as the Bridge of Spies. There’s a movie, starring Tom Hanks, regarding a spy exchange and the bridge. April 28, 2016
The Cecilienhof Palace was the scene of the Potsdam Conference from July 17 to Aug. 2, 1945, at which Allied leaders (Harry S. Truman; Winston Churchill and his successor, Clement Attlee; and Joseph Stalin) met to decide the future of Germany and post-World War II Europe in general. The conference ended with the Potsdam Agreement. Along with the reconstruction of Germany, the agreement included Germany’s demilitarisation, reparations and the prosecution of war criminals. April 28, 2016
Another landmark of Potsdam is the two-street Dutch Quarter with its ensemble of about 150 houses built of red bricks in the Dutch style. It was built between 1734 and 1742 under the direction of Jan Bouman to be used by Dutch artisans and craftsmen who had been invited to settle here by King Frederick Wilhelm I. April 28, 2016
The Dutch Quarter in Potsdam with its small shops, cafés and bars housed out of red bricks in the Dutch style. April 28, 2016
A Starbucks in Potsdam’s pedestrian town center. I didn’t stop in this Starbucks but I’m oddly happy to see something so iconic from home during my travels. April 28, 2016
The pedestrian friendly, shopping and eating town center in Potsdam that leads to its own Brandenburg Gate. April 28, 2016
The Potsdam Brandenburg Gate. April 28, 2016
A beautiful tree lined street on the way to one of Potsdam’s prominent sites, the Sanssouci Palace. April 28, 2016
On top of this hill of stairs is the Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam. Sanssouci is the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. The single-story palace was designed and built between 1745 and 1747. April 28, 2016
This is the terraced garden of the Sansoucci Palace in Potsdam as you look down from the palace. April 28, 2016
One of the many statues of the Sansoucci Palace terraced garden in Potsdam. April 28, 2016
The gazebo trellis is on each of the Sansoucci Palace garden front. They are beautifully decorated with gilded ornaments, statues and these unusual trees. April 28, 2016
Here’s a side view of the Sansoucci Place and this statue marks the spot where King of Prussia, Frederick the Great’s body is buried. Sanssouci and its extensive gardens is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. April 28, 2016
This sculpture is featured in the Marble Hall of the Sansoucci Palace in Potsdam. The Marble Hall has the interior oval look of Rome’s Pantheon with columns but it’s on a much smaller yet more grander scale. April 28, 2016
One of the 10 principal rooms inside the Sansoucci Palace in Potsdam is this art strewn audience chamber and dining room. April 28, 2016
Another room in the Sansoucci Palace is this music room. April 28, 2016
Yes, that’s me at the garden facade of the Sansoucci Palace in Potsdam. April 28, 2016

There are several things about this trip that really hit me and one of them is how very white Berlin is. I honestly did see many people of color, German or otherwise. That’s neither a good or bad thing, I just expected to see more people of color in Berlin. I never felt uncomfortable. When I had questions, people were kind, receptive and helpful. But on the train rides around Berlin, on the walking tours, eating dinner at restaurants and the hotel where I stayed, I was the only person of color. Maybe the people of color live in the suburbs of Berlin, I honestly did not venture out that way so I may have missed my opportunity.

I also didn’t see the usual selfie stick sales people at the tourist sites like I did in Rome, Florence and Pisa. Fact is, I didn’t see much in the way of what I call “trashy, tacky touristy kiosks trying to sell crap you don’t want or need.” And, just as importantly, I was not accosted by people trying to hand me or sell me things I don’t want or need.

Four days is just not enough to really dig into Berlin. There’s just so much history to uncover but I leave with more knowledge and understanding than I had before I got here and for me, that’s always good. Auf Wiedershen Berlin and Germany for now; and Ahoj Prague! And, the next leg of my 60-day Central and Eastern European trek in celebration of turning 60 and retiring continues with 60 Day Europe Bash – Heart of Europe Tour in Parts 1 and 2.