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Friday, September 12, 2014

Our Grand Tour - Berlin

Two Grand Old Dames - with a Tennessee twist.

This is part one of my blog about the trip my sister Ann and I took to Europe and the UK.  This first section will detail our journey to Berlin and our time there.  I am borrowing heavily from wikipedia, but trying to double check facts through additional sources. 

Nashville, August 18, 2014, Monday

We arrived at the airport in Nashville a couple of hours ahead of our flight. Amanda and Jimmy dropped us off and we headed to the Delta counter. We had checked in online so we had our boarding passes in hand and checked our big bags. Ann had one and I had two. One of my checked bags was full of groceries for my friend Sabine in Berlin. She loves certain American brands and sent me a list to bring over for her. The bag was packed full, with Stove Top stuffing mix, Kraft mac & cheese, McCormick's mixes for sloppy joes, chili, tacos, Martha White corn meal, etc., etc.  My nephew, George had visited with Sabine a few months before and he clued me in that she really likes Reese's Peanut Butter Cups so I put in a few of those for good measure. 

Sabine's Goody Bag

We were supposed to leave Nashville at 6:25 CDT and arrive in Detroit at 9:00. Then leave Detroit at 9:46 EDT for Amsterdam. The plane was late arriving in Nashville. We finally got on board and took off at 7:34. This was my first flight ever and all was good.  I did not expect to be afraid but you never know. Ann had been joking with her family, that I might rent a car in Detroit and drive back to Nashville.  Ann warned me my stomach would turn over on take off and landing, but I didn't experience even that. We arrived in Detroit after the Amsterdam flight had departed. Delta was not much help. They sent us to a kiosk where we scanned our Amsterdam boarding passes and got a new boarding pass for a flight to London-Heathrow, leaving at 10:48 EDT. We ran like mad through the airport to find the gate for the London flight. The last passengers were boarding when we got there. Ann asked about our luggage, asked if we should take this flight or wait for another, would our luggage go with us. We were assured it would, so finally, late but on board, we took off at 10:59 EDT across the Atlantic.

Thanks to my very generous sister, I had the privilege of flying first class.  I probably will never have that experience again. The transatlantic flights, there and back, were quite luxurious. We were served wonderful four course meals, had access to drinks and snacks, and a received goodie bag with all sorts of handy items, like ear plugs, an eye mask and lotion. Movies and music, and seats that reclined into beds with fluffy comforters and pillows provided.


I didn't find the seats very comfortable and felt a little guilty for it. You know how it feels when a seat doesn't fit the small of your back just right? I stuffed a pillow in there but could never get it right and by the time we landed I had a pain low in my back that would last for most of the trip. We were served dinner soon after take off and then it was lights out. We had the seats that lay completely flat but I found that my seat didn't work. A flight attendant tried to make it work but finally offered to move me forward to an empty seat. That one worked but was on the front row so I had a view directly into the galley and all the activity there. I finally settled down and got a couple of hours sleep. It was quiet most of the flight. Most everyone was sleeping, all the windows were shuttered and the lights very low. I was surprised at how little movement there was to be felt, it almost seemed as if the plane was still. When it was very early in morning for us, but mid morning in London, we were served a big breakfast. We had barely finished when it was time to get ready for landing.

London, August 19, 2014, Tuesday


The plane arrived at Heathrow about 11:15 am London time. By the time we got off the plane we had about an hour and a half till the next flight boarded. The airport had good signage and everyone seemed efficient and very friendly. We found customs and the line was long but moved quickly. Our bags were supposedly going straight through to Berlin (little did we know) and all we had to manage was our carry-ons. After customs and security, we were directed through the airport to catch a shuttle to be taken to terminal 5 for our connecting flight. I don't remember much about Heathrow, except for hurrying through it. Delta had put us on a British Airways flight in economy to Berlin. The flight departed at 1:26 London time but we were busy from one flight to the next and the memory is sort of blurred. Delta first class on the smaller planes is a joke from my small experience, so economy om British Airways was probably not as downgraded as it sounds. However the price difference from first class to economy is great. I sat in aisle seat on the back row on the plane. It was noisier than the other flights and little bumpy but not bad. Ann was a few rows ahead. My seat companions were British, a married couple, from just outside London. They were going to visit Berlin for the first time.

The weirdest thing happened as we boarded the plane. Walking down the aisle toward the back I noticed a woman sitting about midways. She looked very familiar and I realized I had seen her face on Sabine's facebook page. I spoke, "Are you Sabine's friend?" She replied yes and gave me a strange look, then with recognition, she asked, "are you the friend coming from America?" I told her yes and that we had missed a flight and were late and I had no way to contact Sabine. Terri, Sabine's friend, came back after we were in the air to tell me that she had sent a text to Sabine and told her when and where we would arrive. I don't know what we would have done if we had not met Terri on the plane.  I have never been happier to see someone.

Sabine's friend Teresa "Terri" Galloway.  That is one beautiful face. 

Berlin, August 19, 2014, Tuesday

We were originally supposed to have arrived in Berlin at 1:45 in the afternoon, their time. Our reassigned flight got us there at 4:08. Sabine was waiting with her friend Caryn who had come to pick up Terri. It was the first time in 39 years that Sabine and I had seen one another.  We have known each other since about 1973 and have kept in touch through letters and later email and now facebook.  We only met face to face once before, in 1975, while Sabine was living in the U.S.

Then and Now - 1975 and 2014

We waited and waited for our luggage but it did not come. Finally we went, with Sabine, to the office to report lost luggage and discovered that it was still in Detroit. It was such  help to be in company of Sabine, who is a native of Germany, and could converse so easily with the baggage people.  Disappointed but hopeful, we left the airport and took a taxi to Sabine's apartment.

We were so tired and it was good to be somewhere to relax. We had a great dinner that included wonderful bread and two kinds of potato salad.  Very yummy.  We had both packed extra clothes in our carry-ons, so we got cleaned up and took a walk through Sabine's neighborhood. She took us to Ruedesheimer Platz, which is about a half mile from her apartment. It was a park, with a wine bar, gardens, statues, fountains. The wine bar was sort of a wooden hut and there were tables around to sit. Some had brought their dinner, picnic style, to enjoy with the wine. In summer a wine festival  takes place there.  I have to admit I am not much for wine, or any sort of liquor. I just do not like the taste. Sabine got me a glass of wine, diluted with water. I did manage to get it down but water alone would have been more enjoyable. Ann and Sabine enjoyed their wine.  There was a soft rain falling. After we finished our wine we walked through the park, where there were flower beds and the Siegfried Fountain, built in 1911 by Emil Cauer Jr. It was so nice to finally get to bed. The cool weather was welcome and we slept with the windows open.

Ruedesheimer Platz

Berlin, August 20, 2014, Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, we were up early.  While we showered and got ready for the day, Sabine headed out.  Sabine goes every morning to visit with her mother and on her way she picked up fresh rolls at a neighborhood bakery.  When she returned we had a yummy breakfast of rolls, jams, cold cuts of ham and cheese, tomatoes, and best of all, good hot coffee.  Before we left the apartment, Sabine called the airport and spoke with someone about our bags.  She was told that the bags were in Berlin, having arrived about 2 a.m. but it would be about 30 hours before we would get them.  Ann checked online with Delta and their site also showed that the bags had been flown from Detroit to Amsterdam and then to Berlin. 

We started out on foot, walking through Sabine's neighborhood.  We took a shortcut through a shopping mall and stopped to buy tickets for the bus/u-bahn/s-bahn. Over the next two days we would take a ride on all three.  Four tickets cost 8.8 euros and a ticket was good as long as we kept going in the same direction, no matter the mode of transportation.  When we boarded going in the opposite direction a new ticket was used. Much different than driving everywhere in Nashville.

We came out on a busy street and boarded a bus, with the goal to find the Brandenburg Gate. We saw so much this day. We were soon at Potsdamer Platz where we saw a remaining section of the Berlin wall. We spent some time here.  There was lots to see and read about the wall that had divided Berlin.  This area was very modern and very busy.   

Potsdamer Platz

After Potsdamer Platz we walked to Brandenburg Gate.  It was along the way that we saw our first Buddy Bear.  The Buddy Bears began in 2001 as a Berlin street art project, inspired by the cow parade in New York a couple of years earlier.  Berliners loved the bears and the project was expanded to more than 100 Buddy Bears.  Not only are they all over Berlin, they have gone on world wide tours and promote tolerance everywhere.

Buddy Bear - Marriott

 As we walked along Ebertstrasse I saw some beautiful golden statues.  I snapped a photo, but I haven't been able to discover what they were.

We continued a short distance and came to the Holocaust Memorial, literally named, a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial is a maze of concrete slabs that gives one the feeling of standing in the middle of a field of tombstones.  We didn't know, while we were there, that there is an underground museum beneath the memorial, which details the lives of Jewish families and individuals who were killed by the Nazi party. 

The Holocaust Memorial

Next we came to the Brandenburg Gate. Our brother Ernest, was stationed with the U. S. Army in Berlin 1962-63 and the Brandenburg Gate is something we remember him talking about.  The gate was built in the late 18th century and is one of the most well known landmarks in Europe.  It was used in the 20th century to represent the separation between East and West Berlin and has become a symbol of unity since the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Bradenburg Gate

We crossed a wide boulevard in front of the  Brandenburg Gate into a large park that Sabine called Tiergarten.  Along the path were musicians and entertainers who wore military costumes and makeup that made them appear to be statues.  For one euro they would pose for a photo.  

It was near here that we saw the Sinti and Roma Memorial. Around 500,000 Sinti and Roma were persecuted and murdered under Nazi rule.

Sinti and Roma Memorial

We followed Sabine along to the The Reichstag building.  It was built in the 1890's as a German government building. It fell into disuse after WWII.   The building was fully restored after the German reunification in 1990 and was completed in 1999.  It is now the meeting place of the German parliament.  The building has a large glass dome where visitors can get a panoramic view of the surrounding area.  Sabine planned to take us there but said when she called to make reservations there was a waiting period of several months.

The Reichstag

As we walked around the building we soon had a view of the a beautiful river.  Sabine said this was the Spree.

Spree River

We walked along the river for awhile and stopped in a restaurant to have a Coke.  So many interesting buildings, old and new.  This one at Wilhelmstrasse 65 caught my eye.

Wilhelmstrasse 65

As we walked, Brandenburg Gate came back into view, but we were on the opposite side from before.  We could also see the U. S. Embassy building from here. 

U. S. Emabassy and Brandenburg Gate

We went along the Unter Den Linden, a street with a wide pedestrian walkway in the middle, that is lined with Linden trees.  A lot to see here.  This large Equestrian Statue of Frederick the Great appeared to be under renovation of some sort.

Equestrian Statue of Frederick the Great

Here also is the Humboldt University, which counts among it alumni Albert Einstein, W. E. B Du Bois and Karl Marx.

Humboldt University

The Neue Wache Memorial building, erected in 1816, was originally a guard house for the troops of the crown prince of Prussia.  Since 1931 the building has been used as a memorial. Inside is an enlarged version of Käthe Kollwitz's sculpture, Mother with her Dead Son.  Placed under the oculus, an open circular skylight, the sculpture is exposed to the elements of the Berlin climate, symbolizing the suffering of civilians during World War II.

A little further along, we walked on a bridge that was over a channel of the Spree River, to Museum Island.  The first building we saw was a beautiful old cathedral, "Berliner Dom" or the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church in Berlin.  It opened in 1905.

Berliner Dom

 As we walked, we could see the Altes or Old Museum ahead.  It was built in the late 1820's and this Greek style building bears this dedication inscription -
FRIDERICVS GVILHELMVS III. STVDIO ANTIQVITATIS OMNIGENAE ET ARTIVM LIBERALIVM MVSEVM CONSTITVIT MDCCCXXVIIIFriedrich Wilhelm III founded this museum for the study of all forms of antiquities and of the liberal arts in 1828.

Old Museum

Next we came to the Alte Nationalgalerie or Old National Gallery.  This building was opened in 1876 and was to be a place to exhibit modern art.  Today the gallery contains collections of Neoclassical and Romantic eras and early Modernism.  The gallery houses one of the largest collections of 19th-century sculptures and paintings in Germany.

Next was the Pergamon Museum which was constructed over a period of twenty years from 191-1930.  I regret that we did not have an opportunity to visit inside the museum, especially this one.  A reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate is exhibited at the Pergamon.  The Ishtar Gate was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, constructed in about 575 BC by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II.  The Neues Museum or New Museum is also on Museum Island.  Construction began in 1841 but the building was not opened until 1855.  Neues Museum was heavily damaged during the bombing of WWII and sat in ruins for many years.  After reconstruction the museum was reopened in 2009.  We saw the Bode Museum, in the distance, but did not walk to that end of the island.

We crossed  back on Bodestrasse.  As we came out on a main street, where there was a carriage taking tourists for a ride along the street.  Reminded me of Nashville.

We cut through a narrow street and parking lot, passing the Maxim Gorki Theater.

Maxim Gorki Theater.

Ahead, we could see the Collegium Hungaricum which was established in 1924 and re-opened its doors on historical grounds in Berlin-Mitte, Dorotheenstraße 12, in November 2007. The institute is a center for art and media in Berlin. Sabine was delighted by the giant statue that had it's head poked through a window on an upper floor of the Collegium Hungaricum.

Collegium Hungaricum

Next we headed toward Friedrickstrasse where Sabine took us into the Galleries Lafayette, a Berlin branch of a high end Parisian department store.  The focal point of the store is a giant replica of the Eiffel Tower.  The exterior of the building is very modern, lots of glass.

Galleries Lafayette

 Next we walked to Checkpoint Charlie.  There was a display, relating the history of the Berlin Wall with photographs of important milestones.  One showed President Kennedy at Checkpoint Charlie in June of 1963.  Our brother Ernest, was stationed in Berlin at that time.

Checkpoint Charlie

On our way we passed an interesting sculpture called "Houseball,"  located on Bethlehemkirchplatz.  the artwork serves as a reminder of the suffering of  Bohemian Protestant refugees who came to Berlin in the 18th century.


We walked to Leipziger Platz which is an octagonal square in the center  of Berlin.  It is just across from Potsdamer Platz where we started our walking tour, many hours earlier.  

Here we saw the Dali Buddy Bear outside the Dali Museum.  It was at Leipziger Platz, where we took the S-Bahn, I believe, and headed back to Sabine's home.  When we got to Sabine's neighborhood we walked to a grocery store where she picked up a few things. 

Dali Buddy Bear

After we arrived at Sabine's she got our dinner ready while we freshened up.  The potato salads were better the second time around, as was everything she had prepared. We finished up with some watermelon.  It had been a long time since breakfast and I ate way too much.  After we ate Sabine took us to a pub in her neighborhood.  She and Ann had a beer, but I opted for Sprite.  Ann and I were absolutely ready for bed when we got back. 

Berlin, August 21, 2014, Thursday

Sabine went off to visit her mother, while we got dressed.  When she returned we once again had a delicious breakfast of rolls, jams, cold cuts of ham and cheese, and coffee.  We also finished off the container of watermelon that we had opened at dinner the night before. 

We were concerned about our luggage and Sabine carried her cell phone when we went out, in case the airport called.  We headed out with Sabine for the East Side Gallery.  To be honest, at this point, I was suffering greatly from jet lag.  I think we took the U-bahn, but we could have flown, haha, for all I remember.  

Our first stop was the Kaufhaus des Westens usually shortened to KaDeWe.  


This huge department store, with almost 650,000 square feet, is the largest in Continental Europe.  The store, originally founded in 1905, was damaged badly during WWII. It reopened with two floors in 1950 and by 1956 all seven floors had been reconstructed.  There are some very upscale vendors in the store, such Tiffany, Rolex and Mont Blanc.


The store continued to expand through the years, reaching the current size in 1996.  The store sells, clothing, jewelry, groceries, and baked goods.  Just about anything one might need.


The graffiti in Berlin is startling, at first.  It seems to be everywhere.  Some of it is beautiful.  It apparently started as an expression of freedom and is tolerated for that reason.  The area around the wall on the west side, was inhabited by squatters and the homeless, in the early years.  They began to paint the wall with political symbols and statements.  Eventually, artists, looking for an outlet, found the wall to be a handy canvas, and political themes were dominant.  Today, art work and graffiti also cover the east side of the remaining wall.

Still suffering from jet lag, I have only a vague memory of how we got from the KaDeWe to the East Side Gallery, possibly by U-bahn.  Once we were on foot we crossed the the Oberbaum Bridge over the Spree river to the East Side Gallery and began to walk the length of it.

East Side Gallery

The Gallery consists of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall.  It is possibly the largest and longest-lasting open air gallery in the world. The paintings at the East Side Gallery document a time of change and express the euphoria and great hopes for a better, more free future for all people of the world.  Many of the paintings have been badly damaged by graffiti, the elements and vandalism.  A restoration effort has been underway since 2000.  (I borrowed heavily from wikipedia for the information here.)

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

East Side Gallery

We walked from the East Side Gallery to Alexander Platz.  We saw this building as we walked along the Holzmarktstrasse.


We turned right when we got to Alexanderstrasse.  We soon crossed Voltairestrasse and continued along Alexanderstrasse until we reached Alexanderplatz.


We walked across Alexanderplatz, past the world clock and went to a street on the other side.

Here we caught a bus to Tegel airport.  It was a long trip to the airport and as we went along the bus started to fill up with passengers and luggage.  Sabine, Ann and I were sitting in the back.

We went once again to the lost luggage office and waited in line to talk to one of the agents.  When our turn came, the agent said she did not find our luggage with a computer search.  When we told her that we had called on Wednesday and and agent told us the luggage was at Tegel, she sent us to the customs area where luggage is held. 

Looking for lost luggage

It was a small crowded room in a sort of prefab building.  Lots of people with lost luggage.  Every time one of airport staff would come into view, the people would crowd to the small window, all talking at once.  The staff spoke German and a little English.  Most of the people waiting, spoke a little German and varied other languages.  We were so fortunate to have Sabine with us.  After a long wait, she was finally able to speak to one of employees and give him the claim tags for our bags.  He took them and went through a door and was gone a long time.  Finally he came back with all three bags in hand!  We got the bags, went through a door where we spoke to a customs officer and answered some questions and then we were able to find a taxi and head back to Sabine's apartment. 

I think we all were completely worn out at this point.  Sabine had made the main dish for dinner, the night before.  I believe she called it Macaroni Alemana.  It was very good.  We had salad with lettuce, tomatoes and cheese with dill dressing also.

Macaroni Alemana

After dinner, we took a short walk through the neighborhood, then came back and talked and talked.  We were all so relieved that the luggage had finally been found.  Went to bed knowing I would sleep soundly.

Potsdam, August 22, 2014, Friday

Sabine's friend, Caryn came this morning to pick us up, in her car.  We rode with her to Potsdam, a small town near Berlin.  I made photos from the car as we rode along.  I saw a McDonalds on the way that was like the building used in the U.S. in 1950's and 60's.

McDonalds near Potsdam

Caryn pointed out the Glienicke Bridge and said it was here that the exchange of prisoners took place, between the U.S. and the Soviet Union

Glienicke Bridge

The Glienicke Bridge was a restricted border crossing between the Eastern Bloc (namely Potsdam in East Germany) and territory affiliated with the Western powers (namely the American sector of West Berlin), the Americans and Soviets used it for the exchange of captured spies during the Cold War. Reporters began calling it the "Bridge of Spies."   The first prisoner exchange took place on 10 February 1962. The Americans released Soviet spy Colonel Rudolf Abel in exchange for American spy-plane pilot Francis Gary Powers captured by the USSR following the U-2 Crisis of 1960.

Lienhard Schulz at the German language Wikipedia




Pay toilet  - Potsdam




Sanssoucci Palace and Park is located in Potsdam.  Caryn parked on a nearby street and we walked to the entrance of the park.

Our tour guide Sabine and our driver Caryn.

As you enter the grounds you are walking through a path amid statues that look as if they should be in museum.

There is a great fountain along the way.

Sanssouci was the summer home of  Friedrich the Great.


The original palace was built 1745-47 and though much smaller, it is often considered the German rival to the palace of Versailles.

Ann at Sanssouci
 The beautiful park and gardens surrounding Sanssouci covers 724 acres, and has three palaces: Schloss Sanssouci (Sanssouci Palace), the Neues Palais (New Palace) and Schloss Charlottenhof (Charlottenhof Palace). 

Neues Palais (New Palace)

The Chinese House, built as a garden pavilion and finished in 1764, has the shape of a trefoil. The rounded central building contains three cabinet rooms regularly interspersed with free spaces.

Chinese House

Chinese House exterior detail

The Chinese Kitchen built nearby was remodeled in 1789 and the Oriental design of the building was changed.

Chinese Kitchen

The park is beautiful and filled with statuary, flowers, and magnificent trees.

Large Sycamore Tree in Sanssouci Park

This freestanding gazebo is richly decorated with gilded ornaments.


The Temple of Friendship was constructed south of the main avenue from 1768 to 1770 by Carl von Gontard in memory of Frederick the Great's favorite sister, Margravine Wilhelmine of Bayreuth. 

Temple of Friendship

  At the end of our walk through Sanssouci Park we went back to Karen's car and rode a short distance through Potsdam to a small cafe where Sabine's friend, Molly volunteers.  Molly lived in Hendersonville, while growing up and graduated from Beech High School.  Her grandparents lived in Inglewood just a few blocks from our house.  The cafe is coffee shop ministry,called Zweitwohnsitz, which means second home.  You can learn more about the ministry by clicking here.  Molly and her husband John moved to Potsdam to help with a church called mittendrin.  They share their Christian beliefs through working with a youth group and activities at Zweitwohnsitz.

Ann, Debie, Molly and Caryn at Zweitwohnsitz

Sabine on left and Molly or right at Zweitwohnsitz
It was time to head back to Berlin. Sabine directed to Caryn dropped us at a busy corner on Schloss Strasse.  She went into a shop to buy flowers for her mother.  We were near Karstadt, the department store where Sabine works.


We walked back towards Sabine's neighborhood and she took us to visit with her mother on the way.

Ann, Mo and Debie.

Soon we were back at Sabine's.  As usual, she served us a wonderful dinner.  The main dish was a cheese pie with three kinds of cheese.  I also had a serving of the Macaroni Alemana from the night before, so good.  Later we finally got to meet the beautiful Maren.  She is so pretty and so sweet.  Maren and my Amanda are only a few weeks apart in age.

Ann, Maren and Debie

We stayed up late, past midnight, talking and visiting.  We leave in the morning for London.

Berlin, August 23, 2014, Saturday

The time in Berlin passed quickly.  Ann and I made sure we had everything packed and had our last breakfast with Sabine.  Caryn and her husband Wayne had volunteered to drive us to the airport.  We had a flight booked with German Wings to leave Tegel at 12:55.  We carried everything downstairs a few minutes early to wait for Caryn and Wayne.

On the Road Again.

Caryn and Wayne got us to the airport quickly.  Not much traffic on a Saturday morning.  We found the German Wings counter and got into a line waiting for check in to begin.  We got our bags checked and went through security.  We were soon notified that our plane would be late in arriving and a new departure time was posted for 3:10.  We were given vouchers for five euros each to use in the snack bar so we got something to drink.  The plane was even later than expected and we finally took off to London about 4:00.

Part two =  London at Last