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Berlin, a City Truly Divided: Bunkers to Beautiful

Visiting what's left of the Berlin Wall.  Without the barbed wire, attack dogs, and guards with an easy trigger finger . . . .

Visiting what’s left of the Berlin Wall. Without the barbed wire, attack dogs, and guards with an easy trigger finger . . . .

The famous "Checkpoint Charlie".  Is anybody else bothered by the fact that German's are dressing up like American servicemen and posing for photos?

The famous “Checkpoint Charlie”. Is anybody else bothered by the fact that German’s are dressing up like American servicemen and posing for photos?

What a way to start the day – with a tour of a WW2 civilian bomb shelter.  Berliner Unterwelten (run by the Berlin Underworld Association), offers tours of this often forgotten part of Berlin’s past.  We took tour #1, “Dark Worlds” and were led by our cute Israeli guide Ca’nan, through a maze of underground rooms, walls of phosphorescent paint, and displays of artifacts and weaponry from the era.

Eighty percent of central Berlin was destroyed during the war and 40% of the entire city. The wall went up in 1966, and we happened to be there on “Unification Day” when they celebrate East and West Berlin being back together. Because it was a major holiday, stores were closed and there were massive street fairs as well as smaller celebrations.

Because the Underworld tour was at a subway station, cabs were plentiful when we were finished.  Of course you could take the subway, but it was too beautiful a day to spend any more time underground.

We had the cab drop us at Adenauer Platz and walked down Kurfurstendamm, with its closed high-end stores, and enjoyed a nice lunch at the outdoor café, Redeksheimer.

Then we walked until we reached a stop for the Hop-On bus, which we took to Checkpoint Charlie for what used to be the entrance to the American part of Berlin.  Now a sort of seedy looking area.

No visit to Berlin would feel complete if we didn’t see and touch a part of the original Berlin Wall, and that was next up on our agenda. We had been tipped off by our Berlin Underground guide about the Legend of Hitler’s Bunker and its central location. A sign/exhibit titled “Mythos und Geschichtszeugis Fuhrerbunker” is all that remains to explain the history of Hilter’s final resting place in his specially built bunker with walls almost 13’ thick. Today, the area is a parking lot. Once again, kudos to the Berlin Underground group for doing the research and placing the marker of this significant historical location.

We then made our way towards the Holocaust Memorial, just one block south of the Brandenburg Gate and near the US Embassy. Even though this sobering memorial covers 4.7 acres, visitors might pass right by without noticing it or understanding what it symbolizes.  Designed by an American architect, it features 2,711 gray concrete slabs (stelae), all the same casket-like size, but varying in height from 8” to 15’.  The site also has an undulating base and much symbolism; the effect is disturbing on many levels. What disturbed me most, however, was the lack of appropriate signage and the hundreds of laughing people swarming over the area as an extension of the local Unification celebrations. BTW – the official name is “A Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe”.  No mention of the Holocaust or Germany’s role in those murders; there has been much controversy.

After a pretty exhausting day, we stuck close to home for another typical German beer and dinner (Bavarian, this time) at Augstiner am Gendarmenmarkt.

 

Important Info: The Berlin Underworld tours are daily, but are not offered as often in English.  There is generally an 11AM tour, and some days more tours are scheduled. You can check their website for details, although it is a bit confusing.  I’ve included a map with the photos to help clarify the location.  Other tours include: one of Hitler’s fortresses built to protect the city; “Subways and Bunkers of the Cold War”; “Under the Berlin Wall”, stories of those who tunneled to freedom.  http://berliner-unterwelten.de

Pointing the way to the ticket office.

Pointing the way to the ticket office.

Subway entrance for the start of the "Dark Worlds" bunker tour with Berliner Unterwelten.  Down the hall and then some stairs and through a large, bolted metal doorway it's a different world.  We weren't allowed to take pictures, so my description above will have to suffice.

Subway entrance for the start of the “Dark Worlds” bunker tour with Berliner Unterwelten. Down the hall and then some stairs and through a large, bolted metal doorway it’s a different world. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, so my description above will have to suffice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map of Berliner Unterwelten tours.  This place can be hard to find and you have to get your tickets in person, cash only.  It's about a 20 minute taxi ride from the center of town (or you could take the subway). The experience is worth the effort.

Map of Berliner Unterwelten tours. This place can be hard to find and you have to get your tickets in person, cash only. It’s about a 20 minute taxi ride from the center of town (or you could take the subway). The experience is worth the effort.

 

Berlin, a City of Contrasts

The Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Train Station), where we arrived from Hamburg, after a nice 90 minute trip. Be sure to get off at the right Berlin station - HBF!

The Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Train Station), where we arrived from Hamburg, after a nice 90 minute trip. Be sure to get off at the right Berlin station – HBF!

We were only in Berlin minutes before we’d found a famous Chocolate Café! Fassbender & Rausch, Chocolatiers am Gendarmenmarkt is the largest Chocolaterie in the world. Their café is located on the second floor over the shop (featuring 300 different types of treats).  We decided to skip the chocolate infused dishes and go directly to dessert, feasting on chocolate with cherries and cherry ice cream, as well as dark chocolate fondue and fruit.

Dark chocolate and cherries, yum! Enjoyed at the chocolate cafe at Fassbender & Rausch the world's largest Chocolaterie.

Dark chocolate and cherries, yum! Enjoyed at the chocolate cafe at Fassbender & Rausch the world’s largest Chocolaterie.

The efficient, 90-minute train ride from Hamburg, got us in town comfortably, gliding into the new glass and steel, multi-level central train station.

Much of our day was spent touring some of the city’s highlights and taking an interesting boat trip on the Spree River.  You can easily pick-up a ticket for one extra attraction with the purchase of the Hop-on bus tour.  As is most cities today, there are a number of companies operating these bus tours, and they seem pretty equitable. We also opted to pay four additional Euros for the two-day pass. It’s an easy and convenient way to get around and orient yourself to a new city.

Unlike Hamburg with its tree-line streets, Berlin has bigger buildings and lots of parks. Some of the parks date back to imperial hunting days and others to areas bombed during the war.  We saw grand government buildings, new and restored, as well as embassies, the Siegessaule Victory Column, churches and beautiful residential and shopping areas. This city is home to a multitude of different neighborhoods and cultures; it begs to be classified as a European capital rather than merely German.

We wrung out every ounce of daylight before grabbing a cab back to our hotel on Charlottenstrasse, and just a few steps away from Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, a beautiful square in an area with lots of shops and restaurants.

For dinner we ate typically German fare at nearby Lutter & Wegner, where we had goulash & sauerbraten (winner of the German Sauerbraten Championship) and really delicious warm apple strudel with vanilla ice cream.

For chocoholics: www.fassbender-rausch.de

 An enjoyable river cruise on the Spree; trips last about an hour.

An enjoyable river cruise on the Spree; trips last about an hour.