Sunday, October 18, 2015

Berlin Blog 14-21 September 2015

We departed Sydney on Sunday evening on Etihad.  In what must be one of the more pleasurable experiences in life we were upgraded to first for the first leg (15 hours) to Abu Dhabi.  The adverts with Nicole Kidman are not a lie.  You do get a seat and separate bed!  The food is terrific.  Etihad is a dime = New York vernacular for a 10 out of 10.

We reached our hotel (the Arte Luise Kundtshotel)  in the afternoon to discover we were right next to the train lines, no sound proofing, and the trains ran every 4 minutes.  The room had complimentary earplugs and half the room had a lowered ceiling plus the carpets were wet from a recent cleaning.  Needless to say the Welsh dragon arose and two room switches later we made it to room 522 which was a great room.  No noise, high ceilings, dry carpets. 

The hotel was located in Mitte about a 10 minute walk from the Brandenburg gate.  We went to see it and then strolled down the Main Street Unter der Linden till we found some where to eat.  We lucked out and found the Café Einstein a classic old style German restaurant which is actually in Tripadvisor’s list of top 20 attractions.  Probably the best German food we had all week.  My schnitzel was superb if enormous.

The next day we our first tour of Berlin.  All the sights are in the old east Berlin and that is where you want to stay.  The tour was done by a New Zealander Mike who works for Insider tours and he was terrific.  We finished at around 4 which gave us time for a short rest before going to the Philomonic to hear our first concert.  We had tapas at Volver which was a Spanish restaurant across the street from the hotel and again highly recommended.  Great pimentos de Padron.  The concert was interesting and part of the Berlin Music Festival.  The orchestra was the Swedish Radio orchestra.  They played two pieces:  Dances of the Earth by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Songs of the Earth by Gustav Mahler.  When the orchestra appeared for the first piece with 8 percussionists I realised this was going to be a night of different music.  Still no regrets, very interesting crowd and great acoustics.

The next day we did a day trip to Dresden.  In a recent poll by Germany’s leading newspaper Dresden was voted by its readers the most beautiful city in Germany.  The palaces are spectacular and it located on the Elbe river.  The guide took us through the Dresden bombing in 1945 where the allies first sent down flares to pinpoint the targets, then high explosives to blow off the roofs, followed by incendiary bombs to create a firestorm.  Some 25,000 people died and of course this regarded as war crime by the allies.  I pointed out to the guide that this technique was first used by the Nazis in 1941 in the bombing of Coventry and was so successful that from then on the allies discarded trying pinpoint bombing and adopted the Nazi technique instead.  They perfected it by the time of the Dresden bombing. After the 2.5 hour coach trip, followed by a 2.5 hour tour we decided it was time for lunch and had a terrific Italian meal on the town square.  They served gluten free penne so SWMBO was content.  On the way there we heard heard the saga of the newBerlin Airport which has been an unmitigated disaster some 8 years late and 300% overrun on costs.  The first attempt had only half the necessary gates for traffic load and only six toilets.  Puts the proposed Sydney Airport into perspective and gives you a new perspective on German efficiency.

On the train ride back we learned how the train system works.  You buy the tickets and before you get on the train you validate them at a stamping machine on the platform.  Unfortunately we on our return journey to the hotel several inspectors got on the train and we ended up being fined 60 euro each.  This is one of the problems of using TripAdvisor rather than Lonely Planet.

Thursday was our first guide free day.  We wanted to do the Reichstag dome tour.  When we arrived at we discovered you had book a time and the queue to make that tour was 2 hours long.  So we gave that a miss and visited the Topography of Terror museum which is about the rise and actions of the Nazis.  Credit to the Germans, nothing was held back and there are multiple school tours underway.  The line is that the people fell under the spell of a brilliant psychopath and they must ensure that they do not allow such an event to happen again.  This was backed up with a visit to the Jewish museum whose architecture is quite stunning.  That night we had a meal at Brechts named after the playwright who was a frequent visitor. Not cheap but great food and ambiance, on the river, in house piano player, etc. 

Up bright and early Friday morning to secure a place in the dome tour.  We managed to get a slot at twilight that night and only queued for 15 minutes.  We decided that we would go to Museum Island. You can buy a day ticket to visit all the museums on the island you want and we did 3.  The first was the Art Gallery where the show was ImEx which was an exhibition contrasting the French Impressionists of Paris with the German Expressionists of Berlin.  We were there early and there was already a 45 minute queue but we were told that this was the show of the year by a person who had queued 3 times previously and failed to get in.  By the time went in the queue was estimated to be 4 hours long!  It was a great exhibition for the impressionists alone.  There must have been at least 100 of their paintings.

Then we went to the Neus museum where we saw the golden hat and the bust of Nefertiti.  This was followed by Pegameon museum where we saw the gate of Ishtar.  Great museums and of course the Germans were outstanding archeologists.  As you looked at the exhibits you realised that if they were in Middle East museum now they would probably be blown up.  We had a reasonable lunch and then staggered back to room for some rest before taking on the Dome.

This is again a must do.  The dome is transparent to signify what government should be and the German Parliament look up at the dome and see the people walking around the dome.  This is done to ensure that the politicians realise that people are on top and not the politicians.  Again this is a must see if you come to Berlin.  You can book the tour on the Internet but the process time is 5 working days.

On Saturday we decided to return to the Gendarmerie market which is the most impressive square in Berlin.  The concert hall is flanked by German and French Churches.  While we were there a wedding was underway.  The party came out and every was given blue and white heart shaped balloons to release.  The bride and groom were then given a white doe e each to release. Then 10,000 demonstrators marched by protesting for gay rights and pro-choice.  Just what you want for a wedding.

We then went and has another great meal at Gandymede which is a French bistro next to Brechts.  Great charteaubriand.
That night we were again at the Philarmonie where we had the pleasure of seeing Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philarmonic.  Simply brilliant.  The hall was packed but luckily after a 5 minute walk I managed to get a taxi.

On Sunday we did our final tour to Potsdam.  Another famous place where they held the Potsdam Conference at the end of WWII and Frederick the Great built Sans Souci palace.  Famous Frederick quote “I speak Latin to God, French to my court, and German to my horses.”  On his grave are dozens of potatoes.  He is famous for introducing the potato to Germany.  He start growing them in a plot guarded by soldiers.  He instructed the guards to let the people, thinking they must valuable, steal the potatoes.  The other sight we saw in Potsdam was the Glienicke Bridge.  According to our guide this is going to be the most visited site in Germany in the next 12 months as it is the scene for Speilberg’s new film “Bridge of Spies.”

The next morning we were off to Tegal Airport.  The bus stop to the airport is just out side the hotel so we thought we would take it.  It turns out there was a massive jam in the centre so the buses being rerouted so we ended up catching a taxi.

In summary Berlin Is a great city.  It just over took Rome as Europe’s third most popular destination.  Keep off the German food by eating other cuisines.  Validate your ticket before you get on  a train.  If you decide to try the Arte Luise ask for rooms 521 or 522.
Chris Golis Australia's expert on practical emotional intelligence website: Linkedin: Email: mobile: +61-418-222219

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