Berlin Journal

It has been almost two years since I lasted visited Germany. When I last passed through my friend Victor and I were suffering a tremendous stomach ache due to some suspect cold-cuts we had for breakfast at our hotel earlier that day on the Austrian border. As a consequence, we spent most of our visit in bed feeling miserable. We did manage to get out on the following day and visit the Brandenberg gate but that is about it.

I never did feel like I had given Berlin it's justice, all I remember is that it was quite busy and not a lot to see, I am sure I am wrong so I would like to put this to rights in the following few days. This is also the first of what I hope to be a number of visits to Europe while I am living in England.

Germany is not, surprisingly, the easiest place to get to from England. Germany is not a popular tourist destination spot. I have managed to secure tickets and a hotel right in the middle of the city.

Thursday, July 27th, 2000 - Berlin, Germany

It has been a long day. I left work at 4:00 pm to begin my trip to the airport. As I was leaving from Heathrow I had to first drive to my home in Woking (Surrey, England) then catch a coach (bus) directly to the terminal. I ended up attempting to catch the 5:00 bus but missed it and the next bus was delayed due to a massive car fire on the motorway (M25). Eventually, after soaking up some sun on a bench, the bus came and got us to the airport in about 45 minutes.

Wandering around at the terminal, eventually I checked in and picked up some German Marks (easier than finding a cash machine as soon as I get to the country - which I know will be late).

After passing through security, I waited quite some time in a “Lounge” (more like a shopping arcade) before the gate number was given for the flight. The shopping was quite something, many stores and most did not charge tax (recently, due to the lifting of “duty free” in Europe they have been allowed to sell “no tax” items, which is significant in England since tax is 17.5%). I walked the considerable distance to the gate which is in an area dedicated to Europe flights (as could be suspected). They even had the ability to check in your luggage right at the gate itself (I guess you might REALLY be in a hurry).

The flight was full but as it was on British Airways the leather seats are very comfortable. Despite this, I did not manage to sleep but did have a chance to learn a bit of German from a phrasebook I bought during my wait in the Lounge. I was suprised that they bothered to serve us dinner on the hour and a half flight. With the hour time change, we arrived in Berlin at 10:30.

Once arriving at the small airport in Berlin, I quickly picked up my luggage, found an information point (who spoke English!) and made my way to catch the bus into the city. I actually had a bit of a head start about getting around in Berlin since the last time when Victor and I visited we picked up a city map (in desperation - we were lost at the time) so I was able to find the hotel where I was booked and figure out what U-Bahn (the Berlin underground or “subway”) station was closest. The bus from the airport was an express directly to that station - Zoologischer Garten (Zoological Garden) - stopping only at a few minor stops (by comparison). There were MANY people on the bus, most were locals. I did not feel like spending the extra money and take a taxi but get right into the Berlin culture - taking local public transport. Besides, no challenge.

After arriving at the U-Bahn station I was surprised to see that the area was “a-buzz” at 11:30 at night. Many restaurants and glittering lights (never mind many people). I continued down the street to find my hotel noticing with some trepidation a number of…dodgy…establishments (including the Erotic Museum).

I turned into a quiet street (perhaps a bit TOO quiet) and eventually found my hotel about 15 minutes after arriving at the train station. The hotel is very nice, with lots of chrome and fancy carpets (even a pool and fitness club - wish I had remembered my swimsuit). I spent a bit of time talking to the receptionist and managed to pick up only 2-3 brochures for tours of the city (two are the same outfit and the third is for German language boat tours).

I watched a bit of the EXTREMELY interesting television here - you could never get away with showing what they show here on TV in England and the TV in England could never really be shown in North America – it is all degrees of acceptability I suppose…I suppose the advantage is you don't really have to understand what they are saying…

The room I have is extremely small but quite comfortable except, perhaps, for the really cramped bathroom (which I took advantage of the shower after I got into the room). The bed has a, typical, set of bedding including a duvet and large feather pillow, which I think I will now take advantage of…Tomorrow is to be a long day…I can tell…

Friday, July 28th, 2000 - Berlin, Germany

The morning started very early when I got up at 7:00 so I could have breakfast. I was quite pleased to learn that it was included in the room since the restaurant at the hotel looks quite good. I had my choice of tables and helped myself to the buffet breakfast (which seems to be typical of the hotels I have stayed at in Germany) which included small sausages, pork sausage “patties”, bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh fruit salad (and fruit, itself), cold cuts, cheese cuts, various salad elements, fresh orange juice, espresso, tea, and other coffees. I stayed away from the cold cuts which probably caused Victor and my problems from two years ago and helped myself to basically everything (except the coffee/tea which I do not drink). The sausages were very good, as might be expected, very mild and flavourful which I find to be typical of German sausages (not the spicy as you might think).

I walked to the train station in a bit of a hurry since I knew that there was a train leaving at 8:21 to Hanover…or at least I THOUGHT I knew…I had to wait in a “Expo-only” (I assumed it was – it had “Expo” in the name…) line for quite some time behind two families planning their travel arrangements for what seemed to be the next two weeks. I was surprised to hear how much my tickets cost but I noticed that the ticket was on the super-fast, super-new ICE (Inter- City Express) trains and it was an all-day ticket at the fair – besides, I am on holiday and, as mother says, you are supposed to spend too much money.

Some people have asked why I like to visit shows such as Expo or the Millennium Dome in London due to recent criticisms of such events. The criticisms have been along the idea that they are frivolous, lacking in any real substance and, therefore, a waste of time. I have always seen such events as a draw for precisely those reasons - a break from the seriousness of life - the impractical displays, the awe-inspiring details. This always seems to stimulate my mind artistically and entertain. Many of the people I have met that have gone to such events tend to agree, only those that have not been tend to think that they are a waste (or those that take such negative attitudes to the exhibits which, of course, taints any impression that the event may have had on them).

Expos are interesting in that they serve as a tourism event for the world - many countries enticing you with their impressive pavilions and information about their county. Expos truly do give you a good view of a lot of different places and peoples. This is the second expo, after the one in 1986 in Vancouver (Canada), which my family drove too from our home in Winnipeg (a 24 hour drive).

As I mentioned early, the ticket I had was for a special fast train to Hanover and it was that - an express, tilting train. I made my way to my seat which looked a lot nicer than it was comfortable. We left at 8:50 and made our way relatively slowly through Berlin and continued west. We wound our way past many industrial areas and into the surrounding countryside (which seemed to appear quite quickly – Berlin is not all THAT big). Germany has a LOT of farmland and we passed very quickly by quite a lot. We passed by quite a number of wind farms (to generate electricity) which is quite good to see since there is still quite a reliance in Europe on coal for energy.

I was surprised when we stopped a place called Wolfsburg which seems to be the home of Volkswagon, where “Autostadt” - a massive theme park dedicated to the automobile - is located. We could see this from the train - very impressive and very large. Interesting to see that it has a canal that runs along side it that they actually load cars onto and ferry them about…

After arriving at the special station at Expo, we took a free bus to the Expo site itself, only about 2-3 minutes away.

I was getting pretty excited by now, a bit daunted by the lines for tickets, I passed right by with my ticket from the train station in Berlin and continued directly through the gates into a massive entrance hall with these huge TV screens suspended from the ceiling. There were MANY people there and my first task was to get an English map (as they seem to be only SOLD within the grounds at the souvenir shops). Quite annoying that you had to pay for it but it truly was necessary as I looked at it and saw that it is VERY big. Evidently, there are more than 190 groups (countries, companies and other organizations) represented at this Expo, so, therefore, more than 190 pavilions/exhibits.

When researching my visit to Expo I had picked up a quick “to see in one day” list from a web site so I referenced this and used it as a guide to what I would see in the day, starting with their first recommendation - Cyclebowl. A short walk along a wide avenue I marvelled at the fantastic architecture of the various pavilions along the way. Many places to eat (though most fast food such as McDonalds and Coke). I found the Cyclebowl as a huge, blue, round building with a massive queue (line) out front(!). I stood in line as we slowly walked up a winding path to the main entrance. Along the way we were told about the environment and recycling as this pavilion is sponsored by a group that is recycling all the rubbish from Expo itself. The inside was a series of exhibits spiralling up the outside of the inner walls of the building with a large open area in the middle. As you walked around a number of exhibits along the way discussed food (healthy living), the environment and recycling. I was surprised to see everyone stop and crowd around the edge of the walkway, looking into the middle. A few minutes later the lights were dimmed and a small wind started up, driven by fans all around the inside of the building. As the fans increased in speed smoke was released from near the floor of the building, spinning faster and faster until it turned into a small, concentrated, cylinder of smoke – a tornado, winding it's way to the ceiling which had a VERY large fan sucking the smoke out of the building. Truly incredible - all to the strains of very heavy, majestic, music. I can see why they stopped to look…

Inside the Cyclebowl

I continued my way to the top of the pavilion then walked back down the stairs to leave. A very interesting visit.

The next place was just across the road – The Japan Pavilion. Another daunting line but we moved quickly – being told along the way about how the pavilion had been built - which is really the special bit of the pavilion. The whole pavilion is made of recycled paper and wood products (covered with plastic to keep it standing), with very heavy paper rolls bound together with strong rope) into a elongated igloo shape then covered with a paper covering. We proceeded through the main level and then through a series of small rooms with information about how Japan is investigating and using alternate means of generating power, and with a bit of information about the future that they see (including an interesting display about the idea of a automated motorway – all cars/lorries being computer controlled). Quite interesting.

After two winners one would expect a loser, I proceeded to Singapore. The visit started very promising with an older gentleman painting Chinese characters onto paper fans for anyone who wanted them but quickly as I proceeded into the pavilion which was filled with a lot of material about how great it was to live and work in Singapore. It was not presented in a very good way - LOTS of reading (in German and English) and not a lot of interest really. The roof-top garden that the path wound it's way through was quite nice though…We ended up having to exit through the souvenir shop (another bad sign).

Nepal, just next door, was quite impressive with a reconstruction of a temple, complete with inner shrine. An impressive display of wood carving (the whole pavilion was carved) in a walkway around a small water feature with a temple in one of the corners. There was even a carver doing his trade (and selling some of it on the side). The souvenir shop here was off to the side and contained a large number of items actually from the country and hand made. I noticed a little café in the back so I ordered some of what they were selling - a speciality of meat dumplings with a chili sauce. Very good.

Next was a bit of a strange pavilion - It was a large blue cube with water flowing down the sides (in the wind it meant that standing too close was out of the question!). Inside the pavilion was rather odd with another spiral walkway and the center displaying images (on the floor). Once in a while the relative silence would be disturbed when a powerful jet of water would shoot up the 50-60 feet to the ceiling. Other than that, there was not much here except for a large number of computers displaying software about the country. The souvenirs here included various things done with herring…

Next I proceeded to one of the next pavilions on my recommended list which was in one of the massive show halls (Hall 21) – Brazil. A very strange pavilion which was very heavy into the abstractness of art. The whole area was surrounded by a lattice with wooden dowels sticking out of each hole (hundreds of thousands, must have been) which could be pushed in or out (with ends that prevented them from being pushed through). You could go up to the wall and put any design you wanted on it by moving the dowels in and out. Many people were doing this and it was interesting to see what they had done (the bits too high to get to had been set up by the people running the pavilion - spelling out the name and impressions of various bodies - including one with 6 arms!), some were having fun pressing them in on one side of the wall and in on the other side at the same time (see who can “win”!). The pavilion itself had a small show of images from the country where you sat on successive “step” seats with large, comfy, pillows, surrounded above with two walls of headphones playing various music groups from the country. Throughout the rest of the exhibit were various pieces of art, abstract as well as local craft-work. Following no set path, you could wander around the area for quite some time.

I continued wandering around the hall, passing by a large number of small groups, but nothing particularly grabbing me.

I continued out of the hall pausing outside of Hall 22 which is Canada. I decided not to go in as I wanted to see a few other, different, things before, if ever, I go into that pavilion since I will no doubt be aware of the content (being Canadian). Instead I took a brief break to take a picture of the area which was quite impressive – massive buildings all around and cone-sculptured bushes.

Next was hall 26 which had a large number of the middle-east countries such as Iran and further east, Malaysia. It was quite interesting with a few countries almost having a bazaar selling various speciality goods…Some of the pavilions were overly political such as Iran, which I tended to stay clear of. It was interesting to walk around and see the colours and different people. Very interesting.

After leaving that hall I was in the “Expo Roof” area which is truly impressive – a massive area that is used for the fireworks (and fire) exhibit every night with seating for many thousands surrounding an area of water with a tall tower in the middle (part of the fireworks display) and surrounded by a series of building cranes (also part of the display). At the south side though is the most impressive part - a massive roof made of wood arches, a lot like looking up under a canopy of trees, VERY high trees. Quite something.

Expo Roof at Night

The next pavilion I wanted to visit was at the far end of the park, about a mile from the Expo Roof area though I did not realize this at the time…At the far end was “Estland” (Estonia) which was recommended as it was an extremely unusual design. The pavilion is basically a large box suspended up above the ground about 12 feet and above it is a grid of rope holding, at each junction, an evergreen tree. Each tree has a rope leading down from it, through the pavilion and below to stones tied at the end of each rope. As the wind moves the trees around the ropes rise and fall (along with the rocks). In the pavilion three areas show movies about the country and each room has the ropes running through it in the grid pattern, rising and lowering all the time (“Do not touch!”).

Next door was a quiet pavilion by Latvia whose main claim to fame was a room that was surrounded by a thatched roof on all four sides sloped towards you. Nothing like Estland…

Just down the square (as it goes) I visited Switzerland which was comprised of a series of wood piles arranged in a maze pattern (open to the outside which was starting to drizzle). There were groups of musicians throughout the area and various small places to eat…Very odd.

The whole “pavilions East” area (which I was in) is quite large and is basically a long boulevard with a series of pavilions solidly on one side and only a few, scattered, pavilions on the other. On the other side of the solid line is another pathway but it does not have any trees or parkland. Each end of the area has a cable-car station (to travel above the area), the north side a link to where I was earlier in the day, the “pavilions West” area.

Next was one of the big pavilions of the show - Germany. It was nice that while I was waiting in line we were treated to some opera being performed under a large tent right outside (Aida). Germany is truly a massive pavilion and we were first told to make a choice about what tier we wanted (5m, 8m or 11m - for the show to follow…) and we were led along a pathway surrounded by massive sculptures of famous German people (and write-ups to explain). I was disappointed when I first got in and we were shown a small, but quite good show (with no speaking) about Germany and it's people. I was wondering if that was all there was to the show but I was pleasantly surprised when after we left that hall we were in another, larger hall that was showing a slide show of images from Germany around a large semi-circular room. In the middle of the room were a series of large, flat, screens that raised and lowered throughout the show, along with exhibits displaying important artefacts from Germany's past - The Gutenburg Press (including a Gutenburg bible), the VW bug, a piece of the Berlin Wall, a portion of the space station they helped build, etc. You are able to walk around the whole area and read what they had to say about it. On the edges were two rooms showing minor exhibits about how to be a successful entrepreneur (for locals, I would assume) very well put on with a combination of physical props and animation displayed on a screen in front.

The German pavilion

France was right opposite so I went in – it seemed to be particular popular and I was a bit curious…This pavilion was basically devoted to celebrating their technology and arts. The arts area was quite good with a large screen showing highlights from their famous films and a series of large books which periodically opened themselves to show a scene from the country (for example: a 3-D view of the landscape of France, including mountains, streams, etc) - a big version of a pop-up book.

The rain was really starting to come down hard now so I decided to go inside for a bit and go onto the roof of one of the highest buildings at Expo (!), the Post Box (run by Deutsche Post). This is a massive building that looks a lot like – you guessed it – a post box. Luckily, we were able to take a lift up to the top (9 floors up) but we did have to walk back down…The view was truly great, being able to see the whole site and even into Hanover itself (Expo is quite a distance away from the centre of town). Other than the view, the pavilion did not have anything else of interest (though there was the display of postboxes from all sorts of different countries - including Canada - outside the main entrance…).

The Western pavilions from the Post Box

Next on the (already busy) agenda was Greece. I just decided to visit as I passed by because it looked interesting - a long wood walkway into a big rectangular building. I was quite disappointed that there was not a lot of content and not terribly interesting what was there. They seemed to want to celebrate the technology of Greece but showed a lot of inventions from other countries in doing so…(you can't expect me to believe that they invented the pulley and screw…). The remaining was devoted to a fairly small collection of art works (nothing very spectacular).

From the disappointment of Greece I was looking forward to a better experience in Italy which I had noticed earlier when I was at the Estland pavilion. There was a long line – always a good sign of whether or not it is any good, well, that or they don't know how to handle people (GRIN). In this case I was again disappointed. I started off on a good note by helping myself to some Gelati only to be told to wait on the side before they would let me in the pavilion (fair enough). Once I climbed up the spiral external staircase up to the main part of the building - a large squashed ball shape suspended about 40 feet above the ground - we were led into one large room with a series of exhibits about inventions from the past (and for the future) in Italy. Quite stale (though the bit about Da Vinci was quite good). A few small rooms to the side showed a show of pictures from the sets of famous movies filmed in Italy and the other was a room for tourist information (which had about only 5 different brochures but a cool display featuring two talking - German - busts of famous people - done with projecting images on them of moving faces).

The rain was really coming down again so I decided to make it a bit easier for myself and get the cable car as I made my way back to the other side of the park on my way back to catch the train. I passed by the United Emirates which had a good looking pavilion shaped like a desert palace, complete with a tent housing singing natives around a fire at the end of the display. The only things that put me off from going in was the long line and the fact that they seemed to emphasize the museum aspects of the pavilion (not exactly appealing - I had seen a lot by that point). I picked up my ticket for the cable car and eventually shared the small car with two other German speaking people and we enjoyed the view (though not good enough for pictures due to the rain on the windows) to the middle station near the Germany pavilion.

Actually, all the time I was in this area I was looking at the Netherlands pavilion – it was hard to miss. A massive column structure with a central section you could see through with trees in it and a walkway all around the outside to the top – VERY high up. Quite impressive but my feet would kill me.

Before heading back to the other side of the park (the “Pavilions East” and “Pavilions West/Centre Area” are separated from one another with a long walkway above a busy motorway) I decided to help myself to one of the magnificent 50cm bratwurst that were sold throughout the site. This is one of the few times I have had trouble with language - first I did not know what she was asking me (evidently it was “Is that only one sausage?” – I repeated that I wanted a coke!) then I did not know how much to pay her (“elf!” she said rather upset, of course, meaning 11 as I had read on the plane, after I gave her only 10 Marks). To make matters worse, as I collected everything so I could put some mustard on it - I dropped on the ground one of the pieces of the sausage (which, at 50cm, they had to split in half to fit in the bun)! VERY embarrassing. I made up for it by using a LOT of mustard - not the same though…

Next I headed off to the final stop in my “recommended” list (many of the places I had stopped in the day were, of course, NOT on the recommended list which only included: Cyclebowl, Japan, Brazil, Estland, Germany and…) Austria. This was quite something, in Halls 14-17, Austria is an exhibit with a series of computer screens on rotating rings that you can rotate (horizontally) and see on the screens all around an area of landscape (as if you were there and looking all around you). Of course, there were some kids being silly and simply spinning these constructs quickly but…They were quite good. Proceeding into the main area of the exhibit, up a ramp, the walkway grew steadily more “spongy” and the walls were made of leather. In the main area people were sprawled everywhere as this was the pavilion for relaxation - quiet music playing, the ground very soft and leather on every raised surface meant that you could lay down and take it easy for quite some time. I did just that for a few minutes before having to push on - the pavilions all close at 9:30 at night.

I continued through halls 14-17 stopping here and there, just generally wandering. I crossed outside of the building to a “Thematic Area” which were a series of areas not sponsored by any particular country or company but based upon a particular theme – in this case, energy. The exhibit was truly massive with a series of rooms showing images about the various methods of obtaining energy (now and in the future). One interesting area was showing how they extract coal from a mine. It was interesting to hear that the machine they use can be fully automated to extract the coal and it is VERY quick, just eating into the rock. I was also interested in a small exhibit that discussed nuclear fusion and another discussing fuel cells. The whole area was quite well done and ended in a “feel good” show held in a large circular room with images projected on all the walls (most people were sitting at this point - it had been a long day) and culminated in the floor turning transparent, showing an image of the earth and the stars coming out above our heads. Quite good.

From here I suspected I might want to finally get to the Canadian pavilion but, after standing in line for about 10 minutes, I left. I was thinking it would be good to see what the government says about Canada but since I was at Expo I felt I should best spend my time looking at things I do not know about (never mind the fact that they seemed to be emphasising the more populous areas of the country - namely - Ontario which always upsets me a bit - there are more than two provinces!). I headed off across to Hall 26 which I quickly realized I had visited earlier (the one with Iran) so I left and walked through the Expo Roof area again and entered into the African hall (Hall 12). This was quite an experience with a lot of bright colours, loud music, many people. A large number of the areas were filled with people selling their wares - all African. Quite good. Each country seemed to blend into others but a few, unnaturally it seemed, stood apart, aloof, from the others – like South Africa which had a technically superior area with computers and the like.

It was interesting to see that there was a “Lego Safari” exhibit at the one end of the hall. Interesting that 1) Lego is from Sweden, not Africa, 2) it seemed extremely commercial in nature compared with the rest of the exhibits. If I was running a pavilion their espousing the true nature of Africa I would be offended by the Lego exhibit. Maybe I am too sensitive though.

By now, the pavilions were about to close so I slowly made my way across (yet again) the Expo Roof area, stopping to pick up a few souvenirs, briefly stopping to watch the large video screen outside the Australia pavilion (which was in English with German subtitles - for the most part). I noticed a rather lively looking place just opposite selling (of all things) Mexican food which I have been missing recently so…Off I went. I helped myself to shrimp cakes and curly fries (though how Mexican it is, is VERY debatable) and sat down to enjoy the Mexican ensemble. Very good (and also happened to catch a bit of CNN on some TVs at the bar area).

I was quite supervised to be allowed into the Sri Lanka building since every- thing was closing (but, having been let in, they promptly started to shut it down) but it was good to see a few people working on crafts and a few exhibits.

Taking a short walk to just after the Cyclebowl I turned around to return to catch the bus back to the train station. I was lucky that I just had to go to the same spot (not speaking the language sometimes makes life interesting - I get by by just pretending I know exactly what they are saying – in truth I can normally figure it out pretty easily never mind with the similarities in English/French and German). We waited for a bit before the bus returned (full) to the train station where the train was waiting for us. At 11:20 we started on our return to Berlin. I was a bit upset because this meant we missed the fireworks display that started at 10:45 in the Expo Roof area (as mentioned earlier). This is supposed to be something else…The only thing I saw from the bus as we drove to catch the train was a laser beam leading out for the top of the tour in the middle of the area).

The trip back was relatively uneventful - at 230 km/hr. Not much to see out of the windows. The train is really quite high-tech with digital readouts above the doors at each end of the coach with information about what time it was, what coach you are on, the name and number of the train, periodically information on speed, next station, etc. The displays were neat in that they were “invisible” with the numbers magically appearing behind a mirror. There were touch-screen computers throughout the train where you could get information about the service and other services offered by DB (Die Bahn).

All in all, Expo was really quite a good experience with far more than anyone can see in a day (though I made a REALLY good try, the 6 pavilions recommended to me to visit in one day I visited plus about another 20 or so, in depth, that is). I was warned about the food on the site because a lot of it is fast food but I found that a lot of the pavilions sold their local cuisine and it was not that bad - if you were not afraid to try it (even a suishi bar somewhere - I never did find it - all you can eat too!). Computers were used throughout the site (all flat screen - VERY expensive, very nice) and to great effect. Signage was really good, making it easy to get around and not so easy to get lost though really a map was required to plan your day (though maps, also, were throughout the site, even maps for the blind - relief maps). Everything was well organized though, with the rain, many events had to be cancelled leading to some confusion. Information booths with people manning them were throughout the site and were very helpful. I had to use them a few times and every time the person in the booth knew English. Each booth also had a number of computers and detailed information about what events were on where.

I could not sleep though I did take the opportunity to dry out my jacket - it gets quite wet from sweat on the inside since it is waterproof (too waterproof). At 1:00 we arrived in Berlin and I was (just) able to stagger back to the hotel after having walked what must have been 20-25 miles today. I am truly beat. Tomorrow I am visiting Berlin…Oh joy, more walking…

Saturday, July 29th, 2000 - Berlin, Germany

My legs are killing me. The weather has not been all that nice either. Today, after my breakfast (having to share a table because of the people here on the weekend), I headed down the street to catch a “hop-on, hop-off” tour bus which has a set route around the city and allows you to get on or off as many times as you wish in a day. I had read about this particular outfit on one of the few brochures at the hotel.

I walked only a few blocks north of my hotel (on Augsburger Strasse) to Tauentzien Strasse to catch the bus, picking up a ticket for a boat trip at the same time. This group also gives translations for 8 languages, all via head- sets which is not my preference (I like listening to flesh and blood) but where you do not speak the language…you take what you can get. From Europa Centre we continued along Tauentzien past KaDeWe (sort of the Berlin equivalent of Harrods in London - 8 floors of department store, food floor is 6). We past a fair number of massive art pieces which seem to be all over the city though we also past a large number of construction sites. Every where you look there seems to be a number of cranes obstructing your view. As we passed along Tiergarten Strasse we passed by a large number of sites where they are building all new embassies (many for the various German states) – where they were prior to the war (as I understand) and the dividing of the city.

Passing by Potsdamer Platz (evidently, the former heart of the city) the massive Sony Centre with it's strange dish-like structure on the roof of a massive glass, irregular-shaped building – evidently this centre has an IMAX theatre and a number of offices and shopping areas. At the far end of the area we passed the strange structure known as the “Info Box” which is a big red box of a building on stilted legs which contains the plans for the various new developments in the city (including the yet-to-be 100% completed Sony Centre) and has great views from the roof (oh yes, it is free as well).

Potsdamer Platz - The Sony Centre

Continuing into the East we passed by Checkpoint Charlie which quite surprised me since it is in the middle of a bunch of buildings all built up around it, I was expecting great open areas where the wall once stood but the construction…We passed by in the bus a remaining section of the wall (which has a park beyond it with an exhibit called the “Topography of Terror” regarding the wall and it's constructions) and, of course, the checkpoint itself with the warning that “You are leaving the American Sector” still displayed on a placard. There is a single building in the middle of a otherwise unoccupied lot which is all that remains of the checkpoint. Seeing this really brings the whole story to life for me. Very strange.

We proceeded just around the corner to a place called the Gendarmenmarkt which is really the first view of some of the older buildings of the city - a large square with two churches at either end and a, I believe, concert hall of to one side in the middle. A nice fountain in the middle also…Lots of people.

Berliner Dom

The next stop was on Karl Liebknecht Strasse right near “Museum Island” and the Berliner Dom where I disembarked to catch my boat trip. The rain chose to pick this time to come down…I figured that I should have the tour when I had the time rather than rushing to get it in later (the complete time of the bus is 2 hours all around…quite some time to get back to this spot in the tour again later…). I walked along a path beside the river (the Spree) with views of all the old buildings around me (the Berliner Dom is QUITE an impressive church with a large gold dome, very old). I finally figured out what boat I was to catch and I was amused to find that it was in German (having read in the brochure it was offered in German AND English). Oh well, I just enjoyed the views as we passed along past the Reichstag (which is also quite impressive from the river) and continued to see a lot of construction all along. I really enjoyed seeing the sites from the river – a nice leisurely pace, much quieter than on the street. There is an awful lot of park land in the city and it was very obvious from the water.

On the Spree

After the nice tour on the water I again picked up the bus and passed by some of the museums on the “Museum Island” (so-called because of the many museums on it, as if it wasn't obvious…) and the old Humboldt University. All the buildings are in very good repair - some even getting restoration work done. We dodged the construction on the street and passed eventually through Brandenburg Gate, continuing past the area I had seen when we had visited previously - the Aeroflot flight centre right beside the Russian Embassy. I hoped out of the bus right after the gate because I wanted to get to see the Reichstag having heard about the reconstruction and the wonderful glass atrium on the roof. I got into the line outside the entrance as we slowly made our way to the door, passing by one guy selling bratwurst (“rosti”), another selling pretzels (the big ones), a Russian couple (him on the accordion) signing Russian folk songs and a guy playing the saxophone. Made the time pass quickly. As we got to the door we grew quite impatient as we had to wait 45 minutes just standing since they said that there was a large number of people in the building (whatever that might mean, we were never told). Eventually, despite people pushing their way ahead (seems to be what many people say the German people do, I prefer to keep an open mind – many nationalities can be rude) I got in and passed through the metal detectors and into the lift which took us directly up to the roof.

Inside the Reichstag Atrium

It was pretty obvious immediately why there was a delay - a large group of singers had taken up residence in the massive glass atrium on the roof and were practising their music. Quite impressive sound in the cone-shaped area. The atrium is truly magnificent - a large dome with a cone spreading up and out from the base, encircled with horizontal strips of mirrors. The inside of the dome has two spiral walk-ways all the way to the top of the dome where there is a small area you can walk around in. All the while this whole thing is on the top of the building, offering tremendous views of the city. Really quite an experience. The rain was a bit annoying though, luckily it was quite light. I was a bit disappointed that we did not get into the main building itself (other than the lift) to see what the dome looks like from below…Perhaps next time.

The top of the Reichstag Atrium

After returning to the outside the rain REALLY started coming down and I counted myself lucky to be able to get into the bus which was really quite crowded (and has been all day), so I sat on the main floor (the buses are all double-deckers), grabbing a head set and enjoyed being reasonably dry for the next few minutes as we continued along past Schloff Bellevue and then past the Siegessaule (tall pillar with statue of freedom at the top - celebrating the victory of Germany over a few countries including the French in previous centuries). We then continued quite some way in the direction of the airport and past the Palace Charlottenburg which is a museum. Very beautiful.

Eventually we returned to where I had begun at Europa Centre (which, by the way, is a large shopping centre surrounded by a large public paved area and the remains of a church bombed in the war - as a memorial – the whole thing a lot like Liecester Square in London, a very public place). I was finally able to go the Tourist Information “booth” (more like a store selling a lot of souvenirs and the like and offering little in the way of information, telling me only a bit more than what I did not already know about the city and what was going on).

I was tired and I gave up when I found that everything was closed (I was planning a trip to KaDeWe to see what they had on their food floor…I guess this will have to wait for another trip). Back at the hotel I just relaxed while the rain came down. Luckily a few hours later the rain stopped though it was dark at the time I headed out in search of dinner and to just look around – a good choice as the area was definitely awake with a few stores open (the Post Office there is open until midnight EVERY day, including Sundays!) and many people about. This area of the city was very much alive though not many other areas were.

I finally helped myself to some REALLY authentic fare – a chicken doner – actually, it REALLY was good and different than any I had had before in England with a toasted bun and much more salad than chicken (VERY good), and a lot more care in making it…Quite tasty with really good sauce also…Low in fat, I am sure. I was also quite pleased that I found a bakery open at this late hour and picked up a few things (one thing being a REALLY good cherry concoction - cherry in jelly on top of a thin layer of cake). A busy day and tomorrow is my last day. Can't imagine it will get any easier…

Sunday, July 30th, 2000 - Woking, Surrey, England

Once again breakfast started by wandering around the restaurant looking for a place to eat - this time I gave up and returned to my room, returning later to find that half of the tables were now free (my luck seemed to have improved). I left my luggage with the hotel and set out on my day of walking. You might say “Oy! Hasn't he been doing that EVERY day, especially at Expo?” and you would be right but today was my last day in Berlin and I wanted to see, close up, the sites I had passed by yesterday on the bus so I set out to retrace the route that we used, skipping corners where I could and only going to those places that interested me from the trip (you will also recall, the total trip by BUS is 2 hours…walking is…how long?).

I began by walking along the quiet Tiergarten Strasse beside the park of the same name, passing by the various construction sites but meeting few people along the way though there did seem to be a fair number of cyclists about – the city has a large number of dedicated lanes on the roads and beside paths which I had to be careful with since many cyclists seem to think it is safe to go very fast along them…So, watch for cars and cyclists.

I passed by the Berlin Philharmonie building, strangely shaped but, evidently, very acoustically sound (in an awful yellow coloured exterior) and continued on to Sony Plaza where I was going to continue but I caught a glimpse of the inside and decided to go in. The main area is open and is covered by a massive roof structure with what I can only describe as rigging from a ship (on a HUGE scale) with a large metal spike suspended downwards and many structural support elements leading to the roof. Very odd and a massive open space with many people staring at the water fountain. This seems to be a phenomenon I have noticed with many of these mall fountains where many people will stand around and watch the various squirts of water do things they don't expect - or, worse, do expect. Not terribly thrilling to me so I moved on and continued past the Info Box I saw yesterday and continued down to the Checkpoint Charlie area.

The whole area where the checkpoint is located is built up with turn of the century buildings with very few new buildings (though that is changing with every passing day - much like the rest of the centre of the city) and these strange icons of a by-gone era - the remains of a wall - left to remind us - itself behind it's own wall of chain link fence to keep the tourists from picking at it's decaying carcass. The museum at the checkpoint is very good if not a bit odd. The structure is completely free-form covering everything from what you might expect, namely, escapes over the wall, to what you might not expect, a history of Ghandi, an art show to name a few. It all, I suppose, ties together with the idea of human rights but these topics seem to be interspersed and not well joined together, quite often with different topics side by side with no relevance between the two. The layout is also quite strange as you make your way on no pre-defined path from room to room primarily on the second floor of two to three buildings. I had to retrace my way a few times to continue viewing the museum. The insights it provides are far from confusing and are very heartfelt…I was a bit disturbed when a visitor from America was talking to her (I can only guess) boyfriend, “How can I feel any sympathy for these people, look what they were doing just a few years earlier to other people?”, she said, “Do you not feel anything?” he replied.

I felt a shiver as I walked over the line which used to split East and West German continuing just a few blocks to the Gendarmen Market. The area is quite large and the churches are very impressive, I sat and enjoyed the atmosphere for a few minutes, marvelling at the carvings and sheer immensity of the place.

I continued along on my tour and the furthest east I got today - Museum Island. I was lucky as today there was a craft market set up along the edge of the canal (river) so I wandered along the stalls selling the obsequious bratwurst as well as t-shirts, handicrafts, pictures, etc. Many people were out and about as the rain seemed to be holding and never did seem to come down like yesterday (only a few times could I feel a light sprinkling of rain - or it could have been me - I think I have caught a minor cold from all the wet weather). I picked up a few things and then continued along what becomes the Strasse des 17 Juni, the main street through Berlin, passing by Humboldt University and then through the Brandenburg Gate which also still gives me the chills…A site of such importance and significance…

With all of this travelling you might wonder why I walked and did not take the U-Bahn (Underground, even called that here). I asked myself the same question and I suppose there are a few answers 1) I like to look around which you can do much better above ground on your own two feet 2) I can go any time on the Underground in London (they are much the same as any other Underground system in the world) and 3) I was not in a hurry. I think part of it is I get a sense of accomplishment from travelling the vast distances I did, for example, today. It makes me feel better about myself also and I think I experienced a bit more of the city than I could feel on a train.

I eventually got to Siegessaule, walking under the street using the Subway system there (a bit dodgy if you are afraid of tight dark areas), and relaxed on the steps up to the magnificent monument, looking back towards Brandenburg Gate and where I had walked from, quite some distance on the horizon (it had to have taken an hour of steady walking from the gate alone to the monument).

I continued back by passing through Tiergarten park which is right near the zoo. It was good to see a lot of people out and about enjoying the parks (at one point playing what has to be the only place I have ever seen outdoor ping-pong on permanent, metal, tables and nets), watching a boat go through a small lock system, feeding the birds, cycling (look out!), etc. After the relative serenity of the park I entered the Zoological Garden U-Bahn station which is just down the road from where my hotel is (the station is right near the Europa Centre).

I picked up my luggage and lugged it (noticeably heavier than when I first arrived) and caught the bus to get to the airport. I was a bit early there so I was able to read for a bit, send some postcards and make my way to the plane. The airport is REALLY small and quite quaint the way each gate has it's own entrance where you have to go through security into a small room before you get on the plane. Strange.

We arrived early into Heathrow though eventually had to wait for a gate to disembark from (one of the disadvantages about being earlier than expected). I finished up by returning via bus to my home in Woking - quite tired but all geared up for work tomorrow…maybe not. I need a holiday…

Berlin is a wonderful city and one that I would love to return to though it seems to be one in the process of rebuilding and, perhaps, reclaiming itself. It does not seem to have an identity yet but it seems that the new construction really seems to be defining a city of culture - art and people-based. Many of the side streets and housing areas are signs of the past - looking very much like Eastern-block countries with box-like buildings showing little, if any, imagination (with even the same method of numbering the buildings - illuminated squares of white with black numbers). The people are fiercely German and do not seem to be terribly welcoming to tourists though they don't seem to be actively discouraging them, making it a bit difficult to get around and visit. I should be interested to return in about 5 or so years to see what they have done to make their “New Berlin”.

While in Berlin, Steve stayed at the Alsterhof Hotel (Ihr Hotel Fur Berlin) at Augsburger Strasse 5, D-10789 Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Telephone: +49 30 212 42-0 or see their web site at

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