Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Finally, a few moments of peace and quiet to work on uploading our pictures from Berlin!

We left Mannheim the morning of Saturday, March 13, and pointed the minivan northeast. It doesn't take very long before you're driving through what used to be East Germany. The vast amounts of money that were poured into unifying the east with the west are most apparent when you look at their highways. Having grown up hearing in school hearing about these amazing German superhighways, I must admit that I have never been overly impressed by the German Autobahns. Sure, you can go fast, but they're generally in no better repair than our own overworked interstate system. Well, the Autobahns in the former east are simply amazing--brand new, lots of places where there are 3 lanes in each direction, and only a fraction of the traffic that we have on our Autobahns closer to home.

We opted to stay in Potsdam, which is about a half hour outside of Berlin, in order to stretch our hotel money. That turned out to be a good choice. Our hotel was brand-spankin'-new and laughably cheap. We had a 2-bedroom apartment with complete kitchen for us and a 2-room suite for Don and Mary. Here's a picture from our room:

After we dropped off our luggage, we did a little touring around Potsdam. Potsdam has enough to see that we could have easily spent the whole weekend there and never even ventured into Berlin. Instead, we had to quickly enjoy what we could in the remaining hours of daylight on Saturday and our final hours in town Monday morning.

First we drove out to the Cecilienhof. The Cecilienhof was the scene of the 1945 Potsdam Conference, in which Churchill, Truman, and Stalin met to settle details associated with the end of the war.

Here's a Russian house that is just one part of a whole small Russian village:

The village was built in 1826 to house members of a choir made up of Russian POWs who had fought with Napoleon.

I'm not sure what this next building is, but we drove past it every time we went anywhere in Potsdam, and I really liked the paintjob:

We capped off our first night in Potsdam with a really disappointing seafood dinner. Don and Mary and I all splurged on the garlic shrimp, with visions of shrimp scampi dancing in our heads. Imagine our chagrin when the plates arrived and we were each greeted by 4 of the largest water cockroaches I have ever seen, staring up at us from a bed of salad greens. The only way to approach these suckers was to stab them in the underbelly with a fork and twist violently to release the thumb-size piece of meat within. The only neat part was that they weren't just food--the heads made entertaining finger puppets.

We had arrived in town too late on Saturday to shop for groceries, so Sunday morning we headed for Berlin in search of breakfast. We stopped at the Kaiser-Wilhem-Gedächtniskirche, which was destroyed by bombs in 1943:

Here's our little group standing in front of the church:

We had breakfast at an Italian restaurant across the street from the church and then set off to explore the city. There were bus companies lined up all along the main street, offering sightseeing tours . . . for a price. We opted instead to get day passes on the local transportation system, which gave us full access to the bus and the subway network. We set off from the Zoo Bahnhof by bus.

Our first stop was the Siegessäule, a triumphal column in the middle of a huge traffic circle:

As we were standing on the sidewalk trying to get our bearings, a group of young women approached us and started speaking in German. The only part I caught was, "We come from Britain," so we quickly moved the conversation in English. They were on some sort of a scavenger hunt and needed to find somebody to give a huge inflatable globe to. We were the lucky somebodies, so we got to have our picture taken with the globe, some of the girls, and a stuffed critter whose species escapes me. Best of all, we had to keep the globe, though they did say we could deflate it. First though we had a little fun taking pictures with it:

From there, we continued on by bus to the Reichstag:

And from there, it was just a pleasent stroll over to the Brandenburg gate. Here is a man with 3 monkeys just inside the gate:

After stopping for sodas and postcards at the souvenir stands, we headed underground to make our way over to Checkpoint Charlie:

We had lunch around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie and then hopped back on the subway and went out to the airport to see the Luftbrücke, which commmemorates the Berlin Airlift. The other half of the arch is at the Frankfurt airport, and I am told (by Fred--every time we drive past the western half) that the two arches set a trajectory that meets in the middle, thus forming one complete arch.

We took the bus from the airport to Postdamer Platz, where we saw this remnant of the Berlin wall:

By this point, our feet were killing us, so we made our way out of the city and back into Potsdam for dinner. In spite of the debacle with the talking shrimp the previous night, Don dubbed me the Kraut Scout, and I acted as the advance party for the selection of all restaurants. I redeemed myself that night by stumbling on a wonderfully cozy traditional German restaurant down the street from our hotel. Go, Kraut Scout!!

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