Monday, April 02, 2007

Berlin

As well as doing a lot of traveling with the coaster club, I thought I might as well see how I get on on my own and to give me motivation I thought I'd see how many capital cities I could visit.

So far in my life I had done the following.

Amsterdam
Brussels
Budapest
Cardiff
Copenhagen
Dublin
Edinburgh
Helsinki
London
Madrid
Nicosia
Oslo
Paris
Rome
Stockholm
Tokyo
Vatican City
Vienna
Washington DC

I'd realised that I've never visited the German capital Berlin, so with a week off work and nothing planned, I decided to spend a few days there.

After a short trip from the airport I made my way to the hotel, just a short walk from the city centre. The city is undergoing some radical change since the wall came down, and whilst most of the wall has now gone, some of it still remains, like this piece.

As well as remnants of the wall, some ruins of buildings bombed during the wall still remain as permanent mementos of the past.

I don't recall seeing a billboard being so...........three dimensional.

Potsdamer platz is the main entertainment district district in Berlin.

Not far from Potsdamer is Marlene Dietrich Platz dedicated to the famous actress. This Flower Ballon art was created by Jeff Koons. As I was getting a nice reflection of it I thought I'd go for a HDR photo, and I think it came out not too bad.

The giraffe was there to attract passers by to the new Legoland complex that was being built within the Potsdamer platz complex. Behind it lies the Sony Center, where I had a quick go on a PS3, I can wait til the Autum to get mine I think.

I knew that the lego place wouldn't be open until the week after my visit but I thought I'd be able to get some pictures of it at least. However I hadn't appreciated that most of the complex was underground, so this was all I could get really.

Oh, I got some flags as well as the entrance hall.

This is the centre of the Sony Centre complex, with an absolutely amazing ceiling designed by Helmut Jahn.

Back to Marlene Dietrich plaza to see The Blue Men Group. Having seen them in both Vegas and London previously I knew that given most of the show is mime I'd be able to enjoy it in German, and I did. The show is pretty much the same as the London one with I think one Scorpions joke that might have been new. Great show even if the TV skit had to be aborted when one of the screens failed to change channel, also with few people sat behind me the finale wasn't as good as I'd experienced before (those that have seen the show, will know what I'm on about)

The platz looked nicer lit up to be honest, so I thought I'd go and see how the Sony Center looked at night.

Really cool in fact, I didn't think they'd light up the umbrella bit but they did. Lots of people were starting to gather here for the restaurants and cinema shows.

I could have benefited from taking a tripod to get some nice pics, but I'm pleased with this one which was from taken by lying the camera on a seat.

Why can't we have interesting architecture like this in London? Imagine if there was something like this over Leicester Square?

The building in the pink light is the Emperors Hall, which the government forced Sony to preserve as part of the agreement for them to build their complex, which they've done in a glass box.

Potsdamer Platz, the building in the background uses the room lights to run animations at night time, you can just make out a mouse pointer moving around.

This is the Brandenburg Gate that used to be part of the wall. I always assumed the statues on the top faced West, but here I am on the western half and the statues are facing East. Ah well.

So my first foray into the former Eastern half to take pictures of the gate the right way around

This is the Reichstag, the main government building in Germany. The lit dome on the top is the cuppola, added by Sir Norman Foster quite recently. There was quite a queue to go up there for a look (its open to the public) so I left it and went exploring.

This is the Spree River, one of two that chops the city up. The pink neon on the right was from some tacky looking bar which reminded me GTA Vice City.

This massive Blade Runner looking building is actually the main train station into the city. I had no idea until I got closer but I was attracted by the amount of light it was giving out, like some sort of beacon.

Inside the structure are loads of train platforms and a massive shopping centre. I hadn't seen this since Tokyo.

but Tokyo didn't have a massive egg! Looks like the station is getting read for Easter.

Back into the main part of the city and this building sits next to the Reichstag. The Paul Lobe Haus building is used by the government, but I think there are some skateboarders that might want to try grinding the handrail on that staircase.

Behind that sits the Marie Elisabeth Luders Haus, again another buildling used by the Government. Stunning building!!

Heading south to Unter der Linden the main road on the Eastern half that runs from the Brandenburg gate to Alexanderplatz (which I'll be visiting tomorrow). The white pillars give a history of Berlin.

Back to the Brandenburg and a rather crappy shot taken by sitting the camera on some barriers, which explains the metal in the foreground. I need to bring my tripod in future.

Just south of the Brandenburg is a Holocaust Memorial consisting of hundreds of different sized concrete blocks. What makes this quite odd is that the ground isn't level and those blocks that tower over others when you look at them might not be the biggest when you get to them. When I got to it is was being used for some massive game of hide and seek by some italian kids.

I couldn't resist popping past the Sony Center again, and the ceiling was giving an even better lightshow now.

More eggs, this time in a shopping complex south of Potsdamer.

With midnight approaching I had got a feel for the scale of the city and I knew it would be very easy to get around. The next day I had planned to do most of the sightseeing, starting in the East and heading West.

After a good night's kip I set off towards Alexandraplatz. Along the way I came across more of the wall.

This is the former Air Ministry but now serves as the main police headquarters and Finance Ministry.

This is the Museum of Communications, and as you walk past the building speaks to you. A bit freaky at the best of times, more so first thing in the morning.

This is Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous and notorious of checkpoints between the East and West. I had intended on going to a museum here but there whole area was covered in billboards and posters giving you the full history anyway.

The American still have a presence at the Checkpoint in the form of this ugly looking marine guy.

Nice to see local hotels, cashing in on the area.

From the Checkpoint I headed east along Leipziger Strasse. I quite liked the artwork over this bike shop.

Crossing Gertrauden Brucke (bridge) I made my way into Nikolaiviertel, which is a little pocket of Bavaria within the heart of Berlin.

Funky architecture including this wonderful twin spired church, named after St Nikolai, in fact this whole little area was named after him.

I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a statue of him, although I doubt a statue of St George slaying the dragon would make much sense.

Weird bay windows on the edge of Nikolaiviertel and Rathaus Strasse.

The tower is the Berlin Fernsehturm. I'm going to be going up it in a bit!

The Neptune fountain by Klaus Voigt sits beneath the shadow.
This part of the city is clearly for the people, why they've even built a volleyball court.

One of the landmarks of Berlin, which I remember seeing as a kid. This world clock is in Alexanderplatz. As you can see in the background, there's a lot of construction going on all over this city.

Well into the former Communist bit looking back at Alexandraplatz.

Its actually a mosaic going round the centre of the building on the left, which is the main teaching centre in the city.

There are big attempts to try to get Alexanderplatz to be the hub of the city as it used to be years and years ago. On the day I was there they'd erected these Bavarian style buildings as part of a large food market.

This is the Marienkirche originally built in 1270 but remodeled some 300 years later. One of the largest churches I've ever come across. You'd probably have cathedrals this big in some places.

This is taken from the viewing gallery up the tower (as if you hadn't guessed already). Looking East you can see the tower blocks or "Palaces to the People" as the communist regime labeled them. The square below is Alexanderplatz.

This is Berlin Dom, the main cathedral in the city.

The building in the foreground are the city museums, located conveniently on what the locals call Museum Island. I'll be heading over that way next.

There's the Nikolaikirche

The pie dish building is the Congress Center and the building beside it is that training building with the mosaic.

Back on Terra Firma, as well as Volleyball we appear to have Basketball.

Looking back at the church and tower.

Fathers of Socialism Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, with friends.

The Berliner Dom built in 1905 but looking older than that. Like St Peters in the Vatican this has crypts below and you're able to ascend the dome. However on this occasion I chose not to bother as there was another dome I wanted to ascend a little later on. This the back end of the cathedral.

On museum island now, this is the Alte National Gallery. One of the main museums in the city, the other main one was undergoing a massive renovation and was closed to the public. Behind these two is situated the Pergamon which is the biggest and most popular museum in the city.

and here it is, even the Swans like it.

Inside the Pokemon museum (my nick name for it) you are greeted by the Pergamon Altar, which was excavated by a German guy from what was the Greek city of Pergamon (somewhere in Turkey now). It was built in 160BC and is an amazing structure, which begs the question, why are they letting every climb all over it?

Some Roman pieces again opened up to be climbed over. Having already been to Rome these didn't hold much interest to be honest.

but the Assyrian pieces were amazing. This is the Ishtar gate originally built in the 6th century in Babylon but now stunningly restored in Berlin.

A couple of Assyrian tigers, tigers with rounded corners appear cute.

Back in the Roman bit this is part of the Temple of Athena where people would pray to the god of 80s posters and gift wrap.

Although not as rounded as the Assyrians, the Roman lion still looked cute.

How's this for getting the right camera angle? I've turned a bland Roman statue into a parody of the Statue of Liberty.

Ornate Roman carvings from the side of a tomb.

Back to the entrance and another shot of the Altar. The museum kills an hour and has some amazing pieces in it. However be prepared to have to deal with lots of noisy school parties.

Here's the Berliner Dom from the front. A wonderful building. Whenever you shoot East however be prepared to have that tower in your shot.

This is the Altes museum which I'm sure was great but I didn't go to look. As you can see we were having glorious weather and a lot of people were making use of the open spaces, which has to be said are in abundance in Berlin. I guess a plus side to having all your buildings bombed.

This is Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, which I'll remember for having the longest name.

The open space is Bebelplatz and the building is a judicial building.

On the southeastern corner of Bebelplatz is St Hedwigs Cathedral the largest Catholic church in Berlin. Built in the 18th Century it was inspired by the Parthenon in Rome.

I've no idea what this building is on the Northern side of Under Den Linden, but I think it's missing the dome off it's roof. It looks incomplete.

This is the Berlin Guggelheim museum.

One thing that I thought was quite odd about Berlin is that their fuel pipes were often above ground as can be seen here. I guess if it saves digging the road up to maintain them then its a good reason to have them like this, just not what I'm used to seeing.

Back to the Brandenburg and unlike late at night the moneygrabbing statues and guys dressed as Bears are out to cash in on the tourists naivety. At least here there are no Aztec pipe players or Chinese people bending metal to spell your name; the first time I've been to a major city for some time and failed to find either.

Back over on the Western half and I found these mullet-haired guys making off with a statue. Actually before I'm sued, they weren't. They did have mullets but they were erecting the head, not taking it away.

Back to the Reichstag to ascend the Cuppola dome on its roof. Alas I had to queue to get in and because its so popular it took around an hour to get in. A little tip, if you're going to do this and don't like queuing get there early.

I'm nearly at the entrance and this is facing West. During the 2006 world cup there was a stadium where the grass is now. I wonder why they got rid of it? In fact considering I'm in the middle of the city and outside the main Government building I'm amazed at how much open space there was. The strange looking building to the right is Bundeskanzleramt building or to those who speak English the Chancellor's Office. Most Germans hate this building, ironic given that its the only modern development designed by a local.

On the roof of the Reichstag and this is the Cuppola. There are two spiral walkways one that people follow to ascend it and another to descend. It is built directly above the main Government hall where the politicians gather and is designed to allow the public to view their government at work.

The centre of the cuppola where you can see the windows looking down. The central piece symbolises the idea of collecting what the politicians say and allowing the words to escape from the top of the cuppola for all the city to hear. Like a big ear trumpet, only much prettier.

Having left the Reichstag I continued heading west through the Tiergarten, the main park in the city. The structure on the left is Carillon, or bell tower, and from my trip at least seems to be the main gathering place for the city's alcoholics.

This is the Kongresshalle Berlin, one of the main music venues in the city. I don't know if the city was imposing a water shortage but where I was standing to take this picture should have been full of water. I did manage to find a camera as a result, which I handed in to the authorities before I left. If you were in Berlin and lost a red pocket camera with some pictures taken from of a coach of German chalets its been handed in. Go get it!

Its hard to believe that I'm in one of the most powerful capitals in Europe. So much peace and quiet here.

This ridiculously long road is the Strasse des 17 Juni and runs from the Brandenburg Gate to the centre of Tiergarten. In the distance you can just make out the Siegessaule monument where I was heading.

And here it is. I've seen this many a time as it features as the centrepiece of the Berlin Love Parade, which I have to attend one day. From here I headed South West through the remainder of the park into the main touristy bit within the Western half of Berlin.

This is the Berlin zoo, actually to be facetious I think this building is the Aquarium but its part of the zoo. Now the zoo was getting a lot of attention because they'd recently become home to a baby Polar Bear called Knut. I had planned on seeing what all the fuss was about but when I got to the zoo there were signs saying that he was only available to the public between 11 and 1. I'd missed him today. I was flying back tomorrow but I may be able to pop in on the way to the airport.

This is the Europa Center, one of the main shopping places in the area. On the day I was there some breakdancers and skateboarders were putting on a show for the public.

Inside the center is actually quite nice but at the same time there's an air of low-budget running through it.

This is a view of the zoo from the restaurant where I stopped off for lunch. This place had 3 pages in the menu dedicated to schnitzel variations. Think pizza toppings but served with pork cutlet. I went for the farmers option (schnitzel, mushrooms and onions)

Some weird art thing on Tauentzienstrasse, the road south of the Europa Center that runs into the main shopping street Kurfurstendamm (K'Damm to the locals)

As a permanent reminder to the war the Kaiser Willhelm Gedachtniskirche stands along the K'Damm for all to see, and photograph.

Even the K'Damm is seeing modern developments, such as this big glass beast. It was at this point that what I thought was a good lunch turned to be a bad one. My stomach wasn't holding up and I needed to find a toilet, the nearest one was half a mile away in a place called Savignyplatz. As I hurried along to that there was no way I was going to make it so I had to run into a hotel and plead food poisoning. Fortunately the receptionist allowed me to use the toilet. Phew!!

This is Savignyplatz and as it turned out, had I ran up here I'd have found the toilets closed for renovation. This area is apparently known for being the place where people end up when they've had a good night out because they get lost and a lot of roads end up here. Perhaps they're all looking for the toilet.

Continuing my hike west I left the main heart of the city and after some time came across the second tower in the City, the Funkturm. However when I got to it I couldn't see anyway of getting closer than this as it appeared to be behind some closed gate. Speaking to a local later it turns out that its not open to the general public.

Next to the tower is the Messe, a massive conference type complex building. Thinking I could get to the tower this way I ambled on in only to get weird looks from the other, admittedly more in shape people in there. I'd apparently stumbled into the sign-up session for the Berlin Marathon. Having realised the error of my ways I swiftly departed.

Close to the Messe is the city's Eternal Flame.

and this weird blue perspex piece of art thing. As you can see from the shot the sun was starting to go down and the opportunity to take good pictures becoming less and less possible. but there was one more landmark I wanted to get before I gave up for the day.

and here it is the Berlin Olympic stadium, famous for the games held by Hitler where Jesse Owens showed defiance to the fuhrer, to honour that there is a street named after him close by. When I got there I had just missed the opportunity to enter the complex and take pictures, but the security guard I spoke to said it was a rip-off anyway as you paid quite a bit of cash for twenty minutes only. I was pleased with the picture I got and started making my way back.

This is the Olympic Station. Dead isn't it? This is what's looming for Statford unfortunately. Rather than walk back into town (I'd covered about 15 miles today) I decided to catch the wonderful public transport system back, but before returning to the hotel I had one more place to visit.

No, not this building, although I liked the zip grafitti on it. If you catch the bus from the airport watch out for another wonderful piece of an ocean liner, its amazing. Just a shame I didn't react with the camera quick enough.

This is the Schloss Charlottenburg. A wonderful palace, that has some of the most stunning gardens in the city.

This is Alexanderplatz station and is that a teacups ride pictured on the left? I have to say that the transport system in Berlin is great. It all runs on time and is very easy to use. I bought a 3 day card at the airport and once stamped on the bus it remained in my wallet the remainder of my stay. In a stark comparison to the big brother system we have in the UK there are no ticket barriers at any of the stations, its all done on trust, although I suspect there's a massive fine if you get caught.

We used to have C&A in the UK but they disappeared, with campaigns like this however I'm sure they'd become popular again!

The final day I wanted to get some pictures of the main bits I'd missed but it meant going back to Potsdamer, no bad thing admittedly. Legoland seemed to be ahead of schedule and rather than opening next week was actually going to open on the next day.

I found a Banksy piece!! Completely unexpected, this was near one of the main gallery buildings.

This is the home of the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra. A weirdly shaped building that is probably designed like that for the acoustics, or something.

Yet another Banksy piece although in some state of ruin.

This is the Matthaikirche. Couldn't find much out about this place.

This is the Neue National Gallery, replacing the older one back on museum island. A very low building with a strange oversized flat roof, but it looks alright. At least there's plenty of shelter from the rain.

Some weird paste piece of grafitti actually on the door to one of the city's techno clubs.

Having realised I was walking away from the underground network I took a detour and found a station, then having got to the zoo to see that stupid bear was faced with a huge crowd all waiting to see it too. Needing to get to the airport and acknowledging that its just a bear I decided to leave.

You'd never get posters like that back in the UK. How can you not like Berlin?

Having got to the airport our flight was delayed when it was discovered that there were 2 more pieces of luggage than there should have been. We then had this rather funny moment where we all had to go out and identify our luggage before reboarding. As it turns out the check-in people failed to count luggage belonging to two people transferring from another flight. Ah well!!

Berlin is a nice city but isn't as vibrant as I thought it would be. Its obvious that its still shaping itself after the whole wall thing. Rather disappointingly I saw no mention of David Hasslehoff anywhere so I suspect his claim that he's responsible for the wall coming down is unfounded. There are however some wonderful modern buldings being built here with the Sony Center and the Riechstag Cuppola standing out as being the best. I do need to come back here for a Love Parade sometime!
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