In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 6 of that journey (Germany).
June 11th, 2010
I have been in Germany for a little while now, first Bremen in the north and now I am now in Berlin my favourite city in Europe (a city of history, quirkiness and fun).
Whilst in Bremen I had a look around the Marktplatz area including St. Peters Cathedral (under external renovation), the Rathaus (city hall – built between 1405-1410 and given a Renaissance facade in 1608) and Roland statue (erected 1404 – Roland was a Paladin warrior of the Holy Roman Emporer Charlemagne and was seen as the protector of the city) the latter two are UNESCO heritage sites.
The next day was the graduation ceremony for the school my cousin teaches at, this was held in the main hall of the Rathaus, magnificent place – I got to tag along which was great to see and also got to eat some nice food! That night was a late one, we (my cousin and some of his expat friends – UK, Scotland, US, oh and a German!), got home about 4am after getting mixed up with drunken bucks and hens nights that seemed to be everywhere….they had all these games to play with strangers in bars along the river…i.e. us, but something got lost in the translation…”salty sticks”, “tea bagging”…alas far more innocent than we thought! The other highlight was finding a $1 Euro hotdog stand at 3am! Other days were spent taking it easy, we went for a bike ride etc. Great to catch up with family.
Then it was on to Leipzig in East Germany. I could only find one nights accommodation here, because of the worlds largest fire fighting exhibition that is held every 5 years! People from all over the world are here, its massive!
I spent my time visiting the historic churches – saw where Johann Sebastian Bach the composer was buried, wandered the sites where the quiet protest revolution started to end Communism in East Germany in 1989 and of most interest to me the Stasi Museum (in the former Leipzig headquarters of the German Democratic Republic aka GDR Stasi secret police. Ironic that they called themselves democratic!).
The Stasi Museum detailed how the secret police were set up, how they monitored the population via many spies, informants, taping devices, secret cameras i.e. hidden in street signs, briefcases, even a fake pregnant belly had a camera in it! It was a pretty full on place back in those days – paranoia must have run riot here – fear they would lose power and so on. The anti-west propoganda was interesting, my favourite included the decadence of rock music and had a picture of Twisted Sister! I also visited a really interesting museum on life during the Communist period – and for the first time got yelled at for taking photos by a security guard….ironically I was taking a photo of a spy camera! Luckily she didnt check my camera as I had already taken a number of photos where she couldnt see me. I felt like I was in Russia again!
The fun really began at night though, when what I can only describe as the “Festival of Firefighting Equipment Salespeople” begins! Huge area set aside in the Markplatz infront of the Leipzig Rathaus with food and drink stands, tables and a music stage. They put on a free rock concert, a German rock cover band – funny to hear AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” sung with a German accent. Met a lot of interesting characters that night!
Then it was on to Berlin on the ICE train – this travels at upto 200km per hour, so a nice quick trip. It has been hot here, yesterday and today particularly humid.
First day I went to all the familiar sights in both the former West and East Berlin (I was last in Berlin in 2005) – including former Communist built attractions such as the Fernsehturm TV tower, GDR world clock and Checkpoint Charlie (the former point of entry between East and West Berlin). Along with historial buildings including the Berliner Dom Cathedral, Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag (the famous parliament building destroyed in WW2 but fully restored and back in use today).
I also revisited the Topography of Terror museum at the site of the former Nazi SS/Gestapo Headquarters (1933-1945). It was also used as a prison. 5 years ago, this was only a small exhibit in the open air above the foundations of what was left of the building. Now there is a major museum there chronicles the atrocities of the Nazi’s, very interesting and sad place. The Nazi’s tended to document everything so lots of info and photos (this record keeping provided valuable evidence in prosecution of war criminals after the war). Near this museum is one of the last sections of the Berlin Wall.
Yesterday was a long trek out to the Luftwaffe Museum, past Spandau. 2 trains and a bus later got to it, massive place with West/East German and NATO aircraft on a former British airbase (Berlin Gatow). The museum had an impressive collection and lots of displays on the history of the Luftwaffe from WW1, WW2, the Cold War though to modern day aircraft.
The Berlin-Gatow air base was made famous during the Berlin Airlift in 1948-1949. In June 1948 Stalin cut West Berlin off from all road and water access in an attempt to get the Western Allies to leave the city. Diplomacy failed to resolve the issue, armed western convoys might set off WW3, so the Western Allies then decided to airlift supplies into the population instead using previously agreed air corridors. Flying operations occured 24 hours a day. By May 1949 the Soviets capitulated and stopped the blockade. 2.3 Million tons of supplies were transported on 277, 569 during that period!
On the way back from the Luftwaffe Museum I stopped at the Olympic stadium, built by the Nazi’s in their favoured Neo Classical style for the 1936 Olympic Games. Very impressive stone structure – a massive place that seats about 75,000.
Another Aussie from the hostel and I went to a restaurant that had all you can eat schnitzels for $5 euro – I ate 3, delicious, could have had more, but glad I stopped – too much food, felt like I had a football in my gut! Great bargain as they were one of the best schnitzels I have eaten. We also checked out this gothic bar, all set up with skulls, cobwebs, vampiric type atmosphere, playing hard rock, great atmosphere topped off by the barmaids dancing together and kissing each other to Rammstein (my favourite German band)! Ah good old Berlin!
Today I plan to go to the former Berlin Stasi Headquarters, then on to the Deutches Technik museum – staying out of the heat. Tomorrow more plane nerd action at the Berlin Air Show. Sunday I head for Nuremburg and then further south for a walk in the Black Forest for a couple of days.