Day 14. Berlin. Friday 30 September

Another beautiful day in Berlin. The weather here has been amazing. So warm with clear, blue skies. I am really warming to this beautiful, progressive city. In fact, I love it. Its quite different to other European capitals. Perhaps this is due to the fact that 80-90% of it was bombed during the WWII. The rebuilding of Berlin has been a major task. This is also probably why Berlin is 50billion Euros in debt. Surprising from a G8 superpower. The mayor of Berlin has coined the phrase ‘Poor but Sexy’. That to me encapsulates Berlin. Another person has described Berlin as ‘rough around the edges but vibrant and progressive’. That too fits the bill for Berlin. I am loving my time here, learning about the history of the city and know that I will return to continue my journey.On the program for today is a Fat Tire Bike Tour of Berlin. We are taking the City Tour with highlights of Checkpoint Charlie, Hitler’s Bunker, Berlin Wall, Luftwaffe Ministry, Brandenberg Gate, Victory Column, Reichstag, Museum Island and the Jewish Memorial. The tour travels over 10km in 4.5 hours. Sounds amazing right? Our tour leader’s name is Sam and he hails from New Zealand. He has studied German history and studied German prior to leave the land of the long white cloud. He has a great style and adds some funny anecdotes to the historical discourse. The first church that we see is notable for the fact that it is the only remaining building that survived the bombing. It is a special place for Berliners, religious or not because of this fact. The Humbold University was a very interesting place. Prior to WWII it has produced 29 Nobel Laureates. Albert Einstein had his office here. When Hitler seized power they burned over 20,000 books, the biggest book burning in European history. Einstein’s work was spared this fate. Checkpoint Charlie is very interesting. Not for the fact that it was the passing point between East and West but because the little hut remains in the middle of the road surrounding by McDonalds and Starbucks and tour buses and people, lots of people. We move then to the Berlin Wall. The plaques on the ground are a reminder to where the wall once stood, as are the double row of pavers the zig zag along the original route. A quick way to tell whether you are standing on East or West is that if you can read the plaque the right way up then you are West, if it is upside down you are East. The Berlin Wall has been reduced to 2 small intact portions. It doesn’t look that imposing, however, it once sat in the middle of the death strip. Two smaller walls sat either side of the main wall and were filled with razor wire, traps and all sorts of horrible contraptions. So you couldn’t even get close to the wall. If you got close to the death strip you were given 1 warning shot and then if you didn’t move you were shot dead. Shoot to kill orders remained in force. The building that is now the Tax Office used to sit adjacent to the wall. In case you thought about climbing the building and jumping over they used to put buckets of 12 inch nails at the bottom so that if you did you would impale yourself before getting to the wall. The most amazing fact I learned was how quick the wall went up. The wall was instituted overnight without warning. A razor wire perimeter was set up in the middle of the night, no prior warning or notification for residents. We visited Hitler’s bunker, well the top of it anyway. The 30 room setup is closed to everyone to prevent it becoming a shrine to Neo Nazis. We rode past the Victory Column and through the Tiergarten to have lunch at a German Biergarten. It was a traditional lunch of sausages (Bratwurst) and salad. It was nice to have lunch in such a beautiful setting. Back in the saddle to visit the Jewish Memorial (2711 blocks in total) and the Brandenburg Gate. Or the hotel that Michael Jackson once famously dangled his baby out the window of.The Reichstag was very interesting because of its history in government and power and the links to Hitler. Plus its a cool name to say!  A great way to experience the city of Berlin. Big thanks to Sam for making our tour fun and interesting. Finished the day off with a tour through some markets at Alexanderplatz. Shopping at the supermarket, which of course is fun in itself. I never realised buying shampoo and conditioner could be so difficult! A beautiful family meal ended the day. We chatted for ages about all the interesting things we had seen during the day. Does it get any better than this??

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