Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Berlin, Day 1
With precision, all went as planned. Amazing how things work in Germany. The train was on time and we arrived at the new (3 years old ) Berlin Hauptbahnhof. We read that 300,000 people come through this station every day and it is punctual to the minute.
Things work here. Everything is well-planned but you have to know how things work. We bought a Berlin Card for unlimited transportation and steep discounts at shows and museums. Everybody speaks English. The vibrancy and energy in Berlin is palatable. There is so much so see and so much to do that it defies description.
We started off taking a local bus to see the now freely accessible Brandenburg Gate. I remember the Gate being blocked off by barbed wire and ‘You are now leaving the American Sector’ signs. Perfectly restored, the Brandenburg Gate is now the heart of Berlin. Built between 1788 and 1791, it was outside the wall of the old city of Berlin and was actually a gate. Now it is almost in the center of the new city.
Twenty-seven districts were incorporated into what is now Berlin. Due to god planning, Berlin does not feel cramped. The layout is such that almost every point can be reached via U-Bahn (Subway) or S-Bahn (Local train Service) or bus or tram. We made good use of our Berlin Card and used this system frequently. By asking a few questions in English, we found everything. It is easy to get around.
Yes, Berlin is a bit touristy in some spots and to get over this feeling we bought a trip ticket for a sightseeing bus tour, just to get a feel for the layout of monuments, for what is worth seeing and revisiting. This was the on/off trip we all know. Get off anyplace and get on anyplace within a certain circuit.
During the train ride in we read about a museum that shows the history of Berlin called “The Story of Berlin” and this exhibit was well done. It included a trip into an nuclear bomb shelter, located right under the busy Kurfuerstendamm shopping street. Three thousand, six hundred people could survive there for 2 weeks after a nuclear bomb blast, or so it was thought in the 1970’s during the Cold War when the place was built. It is still ready for occupation at any time but after seeing the conditions under which life would continue, I’ll pass. I would rather light up quick and get it over with than perish below in a place like this. It was a shocking, surreal experience, something I don’t think about every day. Berlin thought about this for years and for generations as the preparation and the public location for these 16 bunkers throughout the city, shows. This museum esxhibit also shows living conditions in Berlin before WW2 and the total destruction during and after WW2. “The Story of Berlin” is informative yet not pretentious. Berlin does not shy away from its dark side during the Nazi period either. It is open and discusses the terrible side of its past freely.
Berlin is an amazing place. We visited the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, the bombed out shell of a church that was turned into a memorial. Not much is left of this once splendid, almost flamboyant Cathedral. The left over pieces of the tiled murals shows the past splendor.
Right next to the cathedral, on an open plaza, Fire Departments from cities throughout Germany had a timed, rescue competition. Haul a pack of large hoses up 3 stories, then pull up one more bundle via a rope, run down the stairs, use a sledge hammer to move a heavy object, run thru a maze, use a fire hose to hit a target
and then pull a 180 lbs dummy across the parking lot; all that with full gear on, using only the oxygen provided by the breathing apparatus on your back and in rather warm, humid weather. I think the best time was 2 minutes, 20 seconds or something like it. It is a hard job being a fire fighter. I am thinking of my daughter Michelle who has chosen this job as her life time occupation. Not easy to do, you have to be in great physical and mental condition. These are the preparations needed when you are called to save a house or a person within a burning house; these games prove to be invaluable when really needed. I was fascinated by what I saw and how it was done.
We spent our first day here just getting a feel for this amazing city. Yes, we were tourists, but also observers of the life around us. Not only did we see the buildings but we watched and interacted with the people. We had a discussion with a Motorcycle Police Officer about BMW bikes and he let Carol sit on his bike. We spoke with Special Police Force Units trained to deal with the 8.3 protests that happen somewhere in Berlin daily. We heard people shouting against the fur industry and the use of animals in test labs. We were detoured because a demonstration blocked off some streets altogether. Berlin is an active place politically. I don’t think that I have ever seen a place as interested in political or world issues as I have in Berlin.
We visited ‘Hackersche Markt”, a place of mixed old and new buildings where a green grocer market is held, giving a feeling of small town living. Some people call Berlin a ‘Dorf’; small town within a large area. Whatever it is called, Berlin is a great town to visit.