Europe 2006, Berlin

Here is my narrative about my trip to Europe in October 2006.


Monday, October 23

Berlin seen from elevated train platform
First view of Berlin.
I took a morning train to Berlin, and here is my first view of the city. The dome on the right is the parliament building, and the tower in the left is the television tower.

Train platform
Platform at top of Hauptbahnhof.
I am in the new Hauptbahnhof (just opened a few months before), and it is big. The image on the right shows the track I just disembarked onto. It is is on the fourth floor of the Hauptbahnhof. Or maybe it was the fifth.

Interior of train station, with four levels visible
Hauptbahnhof interior.
Here is the inside of the Hauptbahnhof. The top floor has tracks; the middle three floors have travel services, shops, entrances and exits to the street; and the bottom floor has more tracks. The top and bottom tracks are perpendicular, and there are elevators where the platforms intersect (as seen from above), so you can go directly from one of the lower platforms to one of the upper platforms.

At the Hauptbahnhof, I bought a Berlin Welcome card. (Or it may be called the City Tour Card. Whatever, you can buy it in the S-Bahn office.) As I mentioned earlier, just get the standard card that covers only transit. Skip the premium version.

I made my way to my hotel. That was not hard; using public transit is generally easy in Europe. However, it is not seamless in Berlin. You have to go outside to transfer from the U-Bahn to the S-Bahn, they need more and better signs, and some of the walks are too long (but not as bad as Stalingrad in Paris).

Thousands of stone slabs covering a city block
Holocaust memorial.
I found my hotel, checked in, and headed back out. Since it was near the hotel, I walked down Kurfürstendamm, a main shopping street. My first purchase was from Leysieffer, a chocolatier chain. My second was at the Hard Rock Cafe, to add another shot glass to Cathleen’s collection.

I was headed for Brandenburger Tor when I happened across the new Holocaust memorial, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. (Memorials for other victims are also being built.) This was not in my plans because my guide book made little mention of it, saying it was under construction. However, it had been completed.

Aisle through slabs with stone paving, with small dips and hills
An aisle with uneven ground.
Deep in aisle inside slabs, with sunlight filtering in from above
Inside Holocaust memorial.
This was the most effective and affective memorial I have experienced. It consists of 2,711 blocks placed on uneven ground. The number of blocks has no particular meaning; it is just how the work turned out in the space. I walked through the memorial, and there is an overpowering feeling there. For one thing, the blocks are uneven, so they do not merge into an anonymous array; they remain individuals. The ground goes up and down through the memorial, so you do not simply walk straight through it. The blocks appear shallow at the edges, but the ground is low in the center, so a few seconds’ walk immerses you inside the memorial. The blocks rise above your head, and the sun is blocked out. There are no words; it is just feelings. The memorial fills an entire city block. You can see how large it is from the satellite view.

Thousands of irregular slabs
Irregular slabs.
Cross-shaped view of sky and clouds seen straight up between four slabs
View of sky from inside Holocaust memorial.
The view from the street, seen in the first image, is deceptive. Inside, the columns are tall, imposing, and solemn. The ground is deep and irregular, and it is very moving to walk through. The irregularity in the ground and in the block sizes breaks up the rows, so the blocks have some individuality, and you see many blocks, not just one array. That gives some effect to the number of blocks.

There is more information in Wikipedia. There is a museum underground. There was a long line to get in, and I was there near closing time, so I came back another day.

Large city street with monument visible in distance
Straße Des 17 Juni.
Here is a view from Brandenburger Tor looking down Straße Des 17 Juni, June 17th Street. (The street commemorates the uprising of East Berliners on June 17, 1953.)

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburger Tor.
To the right is Brandenburger Tor. I bought some pieces of the Berlin Wall here, for souvenirs and gifts. They were in the package that never arrived home, so they are gone.

Inscribed metal and stones marking former path of Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall marker.
Military at booth in street
“Checkpoint Charlie.”
Almost all of the Berlin Wall was torn down, and it is being replaced by markers (far left image) showing where it was.

At near left is a fake Checkpoint Charlie, maintained in the original location for tourists.

Volkswagen with hidden compartment
Berlin Wall museum.
Here is an exhibit in the Berlin Wall Museum that I photographed before they told me photographs were not allowed. The museum is good but repetitive. The same text appears in multiple places. Also, it is scattered; the museum does not present a cohesive story.

Segment of Berlin Wall outside museum
Berlin Wall segment.
A segment of the wall the museum snagged is shown on the right. The museum may have been founded by activists and earnest people who sacrificed to help rescue people while the wall was up, but I think it is a profit-making enterprise now.

Sign announcing end of city sector
Leaving sector.
Here is another thing maintained for tourists, the sign indicator the sector border.

Unlike Essen’s two-way escalators, the escalators in Berlin are mostly one-way. And I observed they were mostly the wrong way, at least in the U-Bahn. That is puzzling because I am pretty sure I exited the U-Bahn as often as I entered it. I did not count, though.

Another thing I noticed in Berlin is that when I asked questions in German, people more frequently answered me in German rather than switching to English. In 2003, they used to answer mostly in English. That may be a sign my German has gotten a little better.

It was getting a bit late, and I headed south to find International Veld Schokoladen, a chocolate store. I bought a few things, nothing spectacular. One was a bar with Sandborn berries. Or maybe it is Sanborn. Googling either of those does not turn up anything relevant, so I do not know what they are called in English.

I finished the day at Amrit, a good Indian restaurant not far from Veld.

Tuesday, October 24

Preserved section of Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall Memorial.
In the morning, I went to the Berlin Wall Memorial, north of the city. There is a part of the wall in its original location and a museum/information building. The wall went through several generations, being remade over the years, so this is of course the last generation, the fourth generation in 1975.

View through Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall Memorial.
View of Berlin Wall from a height
View through Berlin Wall.
The near-right photograph is taken through a crack on the East German side of the wall, showing a view people there would have had. The “wall” is actually a wall, an empty zone, and another wall.

Train crossing river
Train crossing the Spree.
Boat on river
Boat on the Spree.
I went back to the center of Berlin for more tourist things. Here is the Spree river.

Television tower
On the right is the Fernsehturm (television tower), which is a tourist draw. I do not see much reason to be interested in the tower, except there is a few of Berlin from the top. There was a long line of people waiting to get in, so I left and came back at opening time the next day.

Parliament building with glass and metal dome
Here is the Bundestag, the German parliament building. The dome is a landmark seen in most newscasts from Berlin. It is open to the public but, like the television tower, there was a long line. I checked my guidebook for the opening hours and planned to come back. Fortunately, the opening times of the Bundestag and the television tower are staggered, so I was able to get to the opening of each one the next morning.

Government building by river Government building by river Memorial crosses for Berlin Wall victims
Parliament buildings and memorials to victims of the Berlin Wall.
The parliament includes some other buildings with nice architecture for government buildings.

I spent a while in Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum), which is newly opened or reopened or something, but I do not have any photographs for you, sorry.

Gaststätte Zum Nussbaum.
Street lined with trees illuminated in blue
Unter Den Linden.
I had dinner in Gaststätte Zum Nussbaum, which is Berlin’s oldest restaurant (as a business; the building is new). It opened in 1571.

Unter Den Linden street is lit up. Unter Den Linden means under the Linden trees.

Back of Brandenburg Gate lit in red and blue
Back of Brandenburger Tor.
Front of Brandenburg Gate lit in white
Front of Brandenburger Tor.
Brandenburger Tor is at the end of Unter Den Linden, and it is also lit up. In Passport to Europe, a Travel Channel show, Samantha Brown said the top of Brandenburger Tor was destroyed (in World War II?) and remade from the original mold. I cannot find corroboration of that, though.

Wednesday, October 25

So, it is morning, and I was in the first batch of people in the dome.

Curved conical column decorated with mirrors
Inside the Bundestag dome.
Curved conical column decorated with mirrors
Lots of mirrors.
Mirrored column above windows offering view into parliament chamber
Looking down into the chamber.

View of Berlin including television tower
Fernsehturm area.
City park with autumn trees
Here are two views from inside the Bundestag. The near right is a view of the Tiergarten (southwest), a large park in Berlin. The far right looks over to the Fernsehturm (southeast).

Below are several views inside the dome.

A few people inside metal and glass dome Close-up of part of metal and glass dome Steep view down into parliament chamber, through windows
Closer view into parliament chamber Spiral ramp inside metal and glass dome
Views inside the Bundestag dome.

The seats down there are where parliamentarians sit.

Below are views from the roof. The first two are the Tiergarten and the Fernsehturm again. The third is the Hauptbahnhof. On the right side, you can see the end of the building, and there are some white spots that are signs or something that I think are roughly people-size. That gives you an idea how big the building is.

City park with autumn trees View of Berlin including television tower Huge train station seen from a distance
Tiergarten. Fernsehturm area. Hauptbahnhof.

View of part of Berlin from television tower
Berlin from Fernsehturm.
View of oldest part of Berlin from television tower
Nicolai quarter.
Next, I crossed town and was in the first batch of people up the television tower. At near right is a view of the Nicolai quarter, which is the oldest part of Berlin, where its markets and gathering places started, in the 1100s (more than a century after Ulm was established). The area was razed in World War II, though, so these buildings are reconstructions. The far right view is to the southeast.

Primo Levi: “It happened, therefore it can happen again.”
I visited the museum at the Holocaust memorial. It is a good museum. Among the exhibits are fifteen personal stories, which are compelling.

The museum has a database of Holocaust memorials. The map showed something near Ulm, so I looked into that and found there are two memorials in Ulm. One is an exhibit in the Volkshochschule where I studied German. Another is in an old fort outside of town. I made notes to visit both when I went to Ulm.

Segment of Berlin Wall in a city plaza
Berlin Wall segment in Potsdamer Platz.
This is a segment of the Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, which is a primary meeting place of former East Berlin and former West Berlin. Major reconstruction has made the intersection a showpiece of reunification.

Old computer
Zuse Z23.
I went to Deutsches Technikmuseum, the German technology museum. On the right is the Zuse Z23. Zuse was an early computer pioneer. This specific one was delivered in 1962, but the Z23 model dates from 1960. The Z23 was backward-compatible with the Z22.

The museum also had a Z1 on display, but I think it was recreated, and it was encased in some box that was mostly transparent but still reflected too much light to take a flash photograph of it. (Somebody got a good picture, though.)

Spiral staircase with shallow steps
Horse staircase.
This is a spiral staircase for horses.

Locomotive on turntable

I was not impressed with most of the museum, but they seem to have a good collection of trains.

A section of the technology museum on stilts
Technology Museum.
There were lots of boats too.

Spinning lights
Spinning lights.
At another building, the museum has the Spectrum, which I think is trying to be like San Francisco’s excellent Exploratorium. However, it does not do as good a job—too many flashing lights or other entertainments and not enough hands-on science. I even saw one exhibit that seemed to be inspired by one of my favorite Exploratorium exhibits, a demonstration of the effect of eddy currents in a magnetic field, but the Spectrum’s version was much weaker.

Spinning lights
Are you learning anything?
Spinning lights
More spinning lights.
At the Exploratorium, there is a strong horseshoe-shaped magnet and several disks. When you put a normal conductive disk between the poles and pull it out, you can feel quite a bit of resistance. The movement of the disk in the magnetic field causes an electric current which causes its own magnetic field. The exhibit has other disks to try, including one with radial slots cut into the disk, and that one is much easier to pull out, because the currents cannot flow around the disk. Another disk is nonconductive, so you feel no force when pulling it out.

It is a great exhibit; you get a direct feel for the force. At the Spectrum, their version is weaker and is indirect—as I recall, you do not pull on the disk directly, but only watch as it drops or something. (Unfortunately, I am writing this several months later and do not recall the details.)

Right triangle with connected square water tanks on each side and enough colored fluid to fill up the large tank or both small tanks, all mounted on a vertical wheel
Demonstration of Pythagorean Theorem.
This is a good exhibit. It demonstrates the Pythagorean Theorem. You can see the water flow from the square tank by the hypoteneuse to the other two tanks, showing the amount of water is the same.

Pool table with a hyperbola bank
Hyperbolic pool table.
I named the image at the right Elliptical Pool, but it is actually hyperbolic. A ball rolling along any of the lines will be bounced into the pocket.

Plasma sphere
Short exposure.
Plasma sphere
Long exposure.
The sphere is just eye candy, but I played with the camera to get a quick exposure and a several-second exposure.

Median of a city street with a sculpture and a church in the background
Wilhelm Memorial Church and “Berlin” sculpture.
Sculpture of two huge chains links interwined
On the left is a view down Tauenzienstraße. The church is Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (Emperor Wilhelm Memorial Church). It was damaged in World War II and deliberately left not fully repaired. Nearby is Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), shop of the West, which I hear is the biggest department store on the continent. The top floor has a good selection of chocolates from several chocolatiers.

At right is the “Berlin” sculpture, on Tauentzienstraße. It was designed for the city’s 750th anniversary in 1987. Its two halves are very close but do not connect.

Incidentally, while riding around in Essen and Berlin, my ticket was checked three times in Essen and twice in Berlin. That is more than the entire nine months I lived in Ulm.

I visited a couple of chocolate stores and KaDeWe, that huge department store. Actually, I visited a number of chocolate stores while I was in Berlin, but I will just tell you about the highlights. Nibs Cacao was hard to find. I was walking along the correct street looking for the address, and I was surprise to find the building numbers went up one side of the street and down the other, instead of alternating even and odd across the street. I do not recall seeing that before. Nibs Cacao sells fancy hot chocolate drinks, like a chocolate Starbucks. They also have some pralines, which I definitely recommend.

Another interesting store is Confiserie Melanie. They are on their own path, with flavors such as Knoblauch, Spargel, and Saffron. That is garlic, asparagus, and saffron. I cannot say whether you will like the white chocolate and garlic truffle, but it was well done.

KaDeWe retails many finite chocolatiers, including Lênotre, Neuhaus, Valrhona, Teuscher, Godiva, Niederegger, and Fassbaum & Rausch. The patisserie and gourmet foods are on the sixth floor, so just get in the elevator when you enter.

Later, I noticed two streets, one in Ulm and one in Neu-Ulm, where the building numbers were non-sequential—not just skipping some numbers but out of order.

That wrapped up Berlin, and Ulm was next. I saved the best for last!

⇐ Back to EssenOn to Ulm ⇒

© Copyright 2007 by Eric Postpischil.