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A runner with an appetite for adventure!

Fussen & Salzburg: Second Time Around October 4, 2011

Filed under: Austria,Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 11:59 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Where were we? Ah Yes. In Munich. We woke up at the crack of dawn on September 9th and made our way via subway to the airport. There, we picked up our rental car. It turned out to be outrageously expensive, but driving through the Austrian Alps sounded so romantic and I begged Irving to let us do it. I wanted to feel like I was on the Amazing Race navigating through the roads trying to translate the German signs.
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It wasn’t until we buckled our seat belts that Irving admitted he hadn’t actually driven a stick shift in about 15 years. That’s ok babe. It’s like riding a bike. BAHAHA. (spoiler alert: we only stalled twice).

We had some maps from AAA and Google to get us from Germany into Austria and I was confident we’d be fine…. but thank GOD there was a built in GPS because we wouldn’t have even made it out of the airport without that thing. Seriously. My maps were so confusing it would have been a lost cause and I’m pretty sure my plan for a romantic drive would have backfired.
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Before we made it into Salzburg, we made a detour to Fussen, home of the Neuschwanstein Castle. Sure you see gorgeous scenery from a train, but being in the car gave us so much more freedom. Plus the Autobahn is really super fun. Getting on and off the highways was hilarious for us since we don’t know how to downshift and upshift. LOL I have a video I’ll post later.
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We enjoyed the quaint towns along the road and kept giggling that it looked like a postcard.
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And finally we started to see our destination up in the mountains!
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Neuschwanstein! The castle was built by the crazy Ludwig II, a royal who lived in Munich.

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There are two ways to get up to the top. Horse and buggy….
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Or by foot… we chose to walk since we’d been in the car all morning and didn’t want to wait for 2 hours in the line.
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It was actually a pretty easy walk and soon we were up at the top.
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Does it look familiar? It’s the castle that Walt Disney modeled his castle after.
[source]

Sadly we couldn’t go inside (you can only go in with a tour and we would have had to wait a few hours for the next English one.
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But it was still fun to walk around and see the wacky architecture.
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It looks like a lego castle, doesn’t it?
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[FLASHBACK] I visited here in 2003 in the midst of winter. It looks much different now!
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The view from the top was just as impressive as the castle itself:
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And because Irving couldn’t pass up another opportunity to enjoy some Brats (and because it was lunch time), we stopped halfway down the hill for lunch. I was expecting it to be super expensive since it’s kind of a tourist trap, but it was actually quite reasonable.
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And some Pasta for the lady.

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Across the street was another cute castle that I’m sure is worth a visit, but it was time to hit the road before it got too late.
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Back in the car, we drove away from the castle.
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I kept looking back at it in the distance as it faded away. I love Europe.
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Just a few hours in the car, we made our way into the heart of Salzburg.
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Our first stop was an afternoon tour of the Hellbrunn Palace. When you visit Salzburg, people will ask you if you saw two things: 1.) The Sound of Music Tour and 2.) The Crazy Palace.
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So alas. Here we are at the Crazy Palace. Why is it called that? It looks pretty average, right?
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Until you go around the back and walk through the gardens. Then you realize how fun it is. Let me explain.
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It was built in the 1600s by Markus Sittijus von Hohenems, the Archbishop of Salzburg. And that man had an intense sense of humor. See this outdoor dining area? Seems like a good place to host your guests, right?
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Well the whole place was rigged with secret water tricks that he could turn on and off to surprise and wow his visitors. With the push of a button he could soak them while they ate. And it was all operated with non-electrical power (it was the 1600s, remember?)
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He had strange fountains and childlike displays all over the property that would dance and play on their own.
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At one point, Irving got nailed by some hidden fountains!
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There are some displays inside the palace itself but the it’s the exterior that is worth a visit.
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Know what else Hellbrunn is known for? The Sound of Music gazeebo is located on its property.
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[FLASHBACK] I came here in 2003! (I know, where didn’t I go in 2003?!)
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Oh, want to see our car?! Here she is! A Renault!
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Finally we made the drive into the city to find our hotel. On the way, we passed the fortress! Wish we would have had time to up there again. But we had a tight itinerary and couldn’t fit it in.
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We dropped off our bags at the Radisson, but turned right back around to catch some of the city before the sun set.
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Luckily our hotel was close to the river and we were able to walk into town.
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Remember the scene in The Sound of Music when the kids are frolicking in the grass? This is where that was filmed!
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We found someone who didn’t look like they’d run away with our camera to take our picture. Such a pretty backdrop.
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We had just enough time to walk through the main squares before we lost our daylight altogether.
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Finally we surrendered to the night and enjoyed a nice dinner out.
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All I wanted was veggies! We found a great place that had a salad bar for me…
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And Oh. My. God. MORE schnitzel for Irving. Believe it.
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Paired with some Austrian Beer. His and Hers.
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It was nice to walk back after dinner and take in the city at night.
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I might have to frame this one. It’s perfect. (Credit goes to Irving).
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Sorry, these posts are so long. I fell in love with our photos and had to share them. Just one more Trip Recap post left!

 

Munich in A Day September 27, 2011

Filed under: Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 8:07 pm
Tags: , , , ,

After a fun morning in Munich, we found ourselves back into the center of old town completely alone. What? No tourguide? No bus waiting for us? No itinerary? It’s really no wonder we love Contiki, we need a little structure to our traveling or we get anxious we’re going to wander around and miss something important. Some people like to travel like that, but I prefer to check sights off a list.
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Munich is like the crazy younger sibling to Berlin. It’s a little wild and crazy and trying to be different. Bavaria used to be it’s own state and has such unique characteristics than than the rest of Germany. It was previously ruled by a long line of crazy dukes before the outbreak of WWI.
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This is the famous Glockenspiel right in the heart of Marienplatz. It only goes off three times a day, and we weren’t there when it did, but from what we hear, we didn’t miss much. It’s cute though.
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But at the base of the clock, we met up with a free walking tour (Hooray! More tours! I was so excited!) When you have someone explaining what things are and why they are important is so much better than walking around with a map and wondering why I should care. We had a great guide.
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He was excited to point out this funny sign to us too. Parking for dogs! huh?
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One of our first stops was to see the Frauenkirche Church, also known as the Devil’s Church. There was a rumor that the devil had commissioned it and demanded it have no windows.
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However as you walk inside the church, you realize there are lots of windows hidden behind each of the pillars.

The church was bombed with the rest of Munich by the Allies in WWII. During the raids the church was destroyed. After the war, the Jews of Munich gave money to help rebuild the church. As a way of saying thanks, there is a menorah painted on the ceiling if you look closely.
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Nearby was another church that was also rebuilt after the war. Piece by piece they reassembled it exactly as it was…
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And if you look closely, you can see a medieval cannon ball lodged in the sides. They made sure to place it right back where it was.
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We also learned on our tour that the people of Munich looooove Michael Jackson. We passed a rather large memorial to him with all kinds of tributes on it.
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Then the tour took us back in time a bit to when the Nazis were vying for control of Munich. Hitler was gaining popularity and the Nazis were rallying for support. This led to the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 when Hitler tried to overthrow the government. He was later thrown in jail for his actions, at which time he wrote Mein Kampf.
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During the Putsch (which means “coup d’etat” in German), 16 Nazis were killed, along with four policemen. Later when Hitler was out of jail and clearly in control of Germany, he erected a memorial to be placed in a public square in this place.
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See below what it looked like in the 1930s. Hitler required that anyone who walked by give the Nazi salute. Of course the residents of Munich were angry about being forced to salute a regime that they didn’t support. So in protest, people started avoiding the monument by walking around it instead of past it.
[source]

Anyone caught walking the alley instead of going past the wall was then captured and probably tortured or killed. A subtle memorial now remembers those people who tried to resist the regime. It’s a path of gold bricks to represent the route they chose to take.
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Despite learning about the sad more recent history of Munich, we also learned about the happy traditions, and the city’s great love for their beer. It made sense then to head over to the Hofbrauhaus after our tour.IMG_7914

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I know it’s super touristy, but Irving and I are the ultimate tourists and were excited to eat there.  Inside, it’s set up with long tables and you are encouraged to sit next to strangers. We found a seat next to some people from the UK and had fun chatting with them about their travels.
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When in Munich… get the beer. We ordered a liter to share and it was pretty amazing.
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Irving ordered some sausages that he said were pretty great. [EDITED TO ADD:  he actually used the  phrase "amazing" and "that was the best sausage I have ever eaten, in my ENTIRE life."] I got a potato casserole that wasn’t anything special, but still pretty good. And we shared the bread basket of rolls and pretzels. Tip: Order the pretzels from the girls that walk around and not from your server. The ones from the kitchen are half the size of the ones the girls have.
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On our way out we heard some German Folk Music playing inside. Such a fun, festive night on the town. We only had one day to do Munich and I think we definitely made the most of it. Tomorrow, we rent a car… wish us luck!

 

Munich: Stadiums and Arenas September 26, 2011

Filed under: Contiki,Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 7:00 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

We woke up in Warsaw and prepared for our all-day drive back to Berlin. This wasn’t part of the tour, but they offered a free shuttle back to Germany if you wanted (they had to get the bus back there anyways). We extended our trip to explore Munich and Salzburg on our own after Contiki was done, so the bus back was perfect.

But first. Breakfast! We had a great breakfast spread at the Marriott that had way more options than our previous hotels. They even had a few American-style items (pancakes and omlettes) that was a nice change from the usual rolls with jam and cheese we’d had prior.
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Then it was right on the bus to hit the road as early as possible. Special thanks to our tour guide on our trip, Meitek. He was from Poland and was entirely entertaining.
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Only half of our original group opted to take the bus back to Berlin, so everyone had an entire bus row to themselves. SCORE! I lounged out and read The Hunger Games. (Don’t spoil the end for me though, I’m still reading the rest of the series!) A few hours later, we stopped for lunch at a rest area. I was surprised to actually see a decent looking salad there. It was really good!
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See! I really did tried to sneak in some healthy stuff when I could… although I did balance it out with this.
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But tried to burn them off quickly by jumping up and down numerous times to get a good bus shot.
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We love Contiki, what can we say? I am so sad this is the last bus day.
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We got into Berlin around dinnertime and headed straight for the train station. We booked an overnight train to Munich from there.
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Soon enough, our train arrived. Right on schedule. I love the European rail system.
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We booked this train months ago through Distant Lands in LA (a store that we highly recommend, by the way). We would be sleeping in a 6-bunk couchette and we were praying we wouldn’t have to share the room with wierdos or scary people.
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We each had the top two bunks and it was crazy hoisting all of our stuff up there with barely any headroom. We were laughing so hard.
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Turns out the other four beds were filled with some elderly Germans who thought it was just the funniest thing. They were laughing and talking in German to tell us to turn the light on, turn the light off, lock the door, unlock the door. I had no idea what they were saying but they were very impressed that we brought our own travel sheets. Either that or they were making fun of me for doing so. Don’t laugh. I have no regrets! (Although sleeping in your jeans really stinks. But I still slept through the night, hooray!
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When we woke up, we were just pulling into Munich. We packed our things and found our way to our hotel nearby and checked our bags. Then, map in hand, we found our way to our first stop of the day. The BMW Welt.
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Here they have one of the BMW factories and also an extensive collection of their finest cars. I sat down and let Irving do his man thing (aka look at cars).
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His favorite was this car commissioned by Steinway pianos.
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Next we made our way in the rain around the corner to the Munich Olympic Park.
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Munich was the home of the 1972 Summer Olympic games. The design was extremely modern for the times (and still looks impressive now).
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In order to get the most out of the park, we opted to do an audio tour of the grounds (well worth it too).
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The aquatic arena was exciting because this was the place that Mark Spitz won all of his medals. He was the guy that Michael Phelps was aiming to beat in Beijing.
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If you look close, you can see his name below in a few places:
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Also in the park is the big television tower that was renamed the Olympic Tower. We didn’t go inside, but we’re told it had impressive views from the top.
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When the park was built, they had long term plans in mind for making it accessible to the public. It’s really pretty now and they use it for all kids of events.
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These Olympic games were really unique because it was the first time that Germany was hosting them since WWII. The games had been in Berlin in 1936 when the Nazis were in power, and Munich was ready to show the world that this was a different Germany now.
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However the games quickly turned tragic when the Israeli Olympic team was taken hostage and then killed by a radical Palestinian group. It was a very sad event and was a great loss to the world.
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This was the apartment that the Israeli team was staying in when the kidnappers broke in.  I always think of the Olympic games as a reason for the world to come together, this tragedy is so unfortunate and I was glad we got the opportunity to pay tribute to those athletes.
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After our audio tour, we had lunch inside the commissary. Schnitzel for Irving (of course, right?!)…
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And some pasta for me.
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And then we jumped on the metro to head to our next sight: Allianz Arena. But first, a little fun in the train station!
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There was a mirror on the ceiling that we used to take some pictures!
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Someone nearby thought we looked funny and offered to take a picture of us looking at the ceiling. LOL
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Then we arrived at the stadium, just in time for the last English tour of the day.
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This is where two of Germany’s biggest soccer teams play: FC Bayern Munich and TSV Munich. It was also the site of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. As you can imagine, Irving was in heaven.
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The tour was great and we got to learn a bit about the stadium and the teams.
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After our tour, we headed back into Munich for another (!!) tour of the city. Stay tuned!

 

Eye Spy Berlin – Living Under the Stasi September 13, 2011

Filed under: Contiki,Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 1:01 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Berlin is now a young, vibrant town that has previously been clouded by a dark history. First with the Nazis in WWII, and then again 20 years later by the Communists during the Cold War.
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Our walking tour jumped back and forth between the 1940s and the 1960s. From one terrible regime to the next. It was amazing to me how much the histories intertwined with each other. How the effects of WWII could be seen directly relating to the Berlin Wall.

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In history books in school, WWII was one chapter, and the Cold War was another separate event. I wish we were taught how connected the two really were. Berlin is definitely the best place to really understand it all.
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After dinner, we did an optional Contiki excustion called “Eye Spy Berlin”. it was an evening walking tour where we learned about the Stasi (the secret police) and a little bit more about life inside the Berlin wall.
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Our first stop was a Berlin wall Memorial.
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This is also the largest intact piece of the wall (with the inner and outer walls together) still standing as it did 20 years ago.
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The wall you see above is what it looked like to the people in East Berlin. Very plain and no graffiti.
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Then about 50 meters beyond the inner wall was another wall. The space in between was called the death strip.
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This area in between the walls was patrolled by watch towers, trip wires, attack dogs and police who had orders to shoot to kill if anyone tried to escape. And if that wasn’t enough, the ground was covered in sand to slow down anyone attempting to run across.
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Then we walked down the road to see a section of the wall that literally divided an apartment building in half.
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Basically if your front door faced the east, you became an East Berliner, and if it faced the west, you were able to escape. Some people even jumped from windows as the wall was being built below them to try and make it to the West.
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The wall also divided a church in this area as well. Whether or not you became an East or West Berliner depended on where you were at the time the wall went up. Some people went out with friends after dinner and came out and found themselves on the opposite side from their home and their families. It stayed that way for 28 years.
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Nearby was the famous Tunnel 57. Friends on opposite sides planned for years to dig a tunnel and 57 people successfully escaped that way. Just two days later, the Stasi discovered it.
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Then we hopped on the Coach and began a Stasi-themed bar crawl.
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The first bar was CCCP (which means USSR in Russian).
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The inside glowed a deep communist red.
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After a while, our group got split into two and we had to find our way to the next bar by solving a few clues. The Stasi was notorious for encouraging snitching on your family and friends. They monitored mail, phone calls and daily life. People learned to write and speak in code to avoid Stasi discovery.

We had to use similar methods to find our way to our destination. One clue led to another.
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Then we found it! A small bar under the street.
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A drink was included at each of the stops.

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In between this bar and the last one, we were surprised with giant pretzels! Berlin for the Win!
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To get to the last club, we jumped on the metro.
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And arrived at Matrix (a club underneath the train tracks).

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It was the perfect way to cap off a great day in Berlin. I will definitely be back someday, there was way too much to see and do in just two days.

Next stop: Dresden!

 

Ich Bin Ein Berliner!

Filed under: Contiki,Europe,Germany,Travel — Kelocity @ 7:05 am
Tags: , , , ,

Originally from August 28, 2011

Here we are. The Contiki tour officially begins! And it started out with a bang. Every day the tour manager hangs up a “Day Sheet” so you know what’s going on.
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After breakfast, we jumped on the coach bus and began with a driving tour of Berlin.
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I instantly fell in love with the city. Everything from the architecture to the history to the locals was impressive. We knew right away this would be a city we’d have to come back to some day.
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First stop was the Reichstag building, now an official government building. It was used by the Nazis for military propaganda and was slated to become a part of Hitler’s kingdom. After the war, it fell into disarray and later, when they rebuilt the roof, they made the dome open to visitors who can look below and see congress in session. The idea was that any decision the government now makes, the public will be watching from above. It was meant to be a powerful statement.
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The bus tour continued, and we noticed that there are these pink pipes all over the city. They’re literally everywhere and they pump out ground water so the buildings don’t get swamped out. Our tour manager compared them to “The pipes from the Windows 95 screen saver”. LOL
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Then we came up to the famous TV Tower. It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. It was built during the cold war by East Berlin to prove to the west that they were “more technologically advanced” than the west.

The west responded by building a giant shopping mall visible to the East to show off their flourishing free economy.
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Then we jumped off the bus and met our local guide who would take us on a historical walking tour. He was a PhD student studying the effects on the youth after WWII and the Cold War. He was fantastic and full of great stories and information.
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One of the funny stories he told us was about when John F. Kennedy came to Germany during the Cold War to make a speech in 1963 to show his support for West Berlin. In his speech, he said these words in German: “Ich bin ein Berliner”. It was intended to mean “Let them come to Berlin”, but because of his Boston accent, he ended up saying “I am a Berliner”…. A Berliner is actually a Jelly Donut, so the people thought it was very funny at the time.

 

This church is called the Berliner Dome… it was originally supposed to have just one dome, but it ended up having quite a few.

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This is one of the museums next to the Berliner Dome. I wish we had more time to explore, there is a lot of art to see in Berlin.

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The architect was good, but not great because he built the outside columns before he could move this giant bowl inside to the atrium. So it has remained outside ever since.
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This is a pieta of an anonymous mother holding her son, a solder who was killed in battle. It was a tribute to mothers everywhere who lost their children to the wars.
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Near the university is Babelplaz. This was the site of a massive book burning of any literature that wasn’t directly supportive of the Nazi regime. Now there is a monument there below the street at the spot that it happened. If you look down, you see empty book shelves where 20,000 volumes would fit.
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It’s a powerful statement because you can see the reflection of the people looking down at it.
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Our tour then led us in the direction of the Brandenburg Gate.

But first, a quick story about life in Berlin during the Cold War. Each side obviously had a quite different and distinctive way of life. But during those 28 years of the Berlin Wall, an entire generation was born and grew up to become adults.

In West Berlin, things changed with the advancement of technology, industry and freedom of speech. Even the street lights were modernized over time. But in the East, their pedestrian lights still looked like this:
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When the wall came down in 1989, they went through and updated lots of things in the East. Including the street lights. That little green man was called “Ampelmann” and when he disappeared, people were kind of sad. They were, of course, happy the wall was down, but nostalgic about a life they didn’t have anymore. So they put Ample Man back and he’s now an icon in Berlin. They have souvenirs everywhere where you can get things with his image on them.
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We collect Christmas ornaments when we travel, so we were excited to find some that represent an important time in history that has a somewhat nice story with it.

When the Berlin wall was up, it divided the city in half. Even the subway was stopped at the wall and the stations in between were cemented up and became “ghost stations”. The train still went through, but the doors didn’t open and an armed guard was watching the platforms as a show of force. We walked through it and it definitely had an eerie feel to it.
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On a lighter note, right across from the Brandenburg gate was the Hotel Adlon.
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This was made famous when Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony window (as demonstrated here by my travel gnome).
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And finally, we arrived at the Brandenburg gate.

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When the wall was up, the gate actually became a part of the wall. And there weren’t any other buildings around it. Now, there are a few embassies (including the United States).

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Around the back, they even had a statue of the Berlin Bear dressed up as the Statue of Liberty! Cute!
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Then we walked over to the Holocaust Memorial. This dark part of history now weighs heavy on the German people so they really wanted to create a memorial that would be large in size, significance and emotion.
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I don’t think anyone has ever explained the exact description and explanation of it, they left it open to the interpretation of each person who sees it.
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There is no right or wrong way to view it, but here is my understanding of it. Each one of these 2,000+ stones is exactly the same depth and width….
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But when you view them at different angles, you realize that each one is a little different and has a unique height and angle.
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I think it represents that even though groups of people look the same (or are classified a certain way), when you really look at it, they are each unique individuals with something different to offer. A statement that characteristics or groups such as Jews, Gays, Gypsies, etc do not solely define a person.

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Directly below the monument is a Holocaust Museum dedicated to the victims. You can read about individual families, see their photos, read their stories and learn about their lives.
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The ceiling represents all the stones above, as if to show that each of these individuals is unique and has story, a family, a home and a history. Above the ground you can see just the tip of who a person really was (the superficial appearance), but as you go deeper, you really can understand that who they were. It was very powerful.
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The exhibits were simple in design, but incredibly complex in concept. It was one of the most powerful memorials we have ever seen.

 

 
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