Thursday, October 11, 2012

And There was Berlin

     When our Dutch friend Hans asked his friends and coworkers where he should take the Canadians for a few days, he heard a resounding, "Berlin."  Now this was not something I would have expected. What an experience. We took a six hour drive on the Autobahn due east. Not one to drive at breakneck speed, Hans kept it steady as Audis and Porches flew past going 180kmp. I had always heard about the Autobahn, its reputation for speed, but it really was something to see for myself. I have one heavy-footed, German friend here in Canada who has a penchant for acceleration and now I know why. She was raised on German roads.

The Ampelmannchen - Berlin's beloved symbols on crossing light

        As we came into Berlin, we were disappointed. It seemed dirty and run down, crowded. But when we turned a corner onto Charlottestrasse, things changed rapidly. Exquisite architecture - Corinthian columns on many buildings and many cathedrals and embassies lined the streets. After a quick check in at our hotel, we headed out for the Brandenburg Gate and to walk where the wall had come down. We walked till blistered and saw famous shops selling chocolate and cars and expensive jewelry. We ended our day at the "Old Berliner" restaurant to enjoy "Crispy Knuckle" - a pork delicacy. And we had to try the Raspberry Wheat beer...a Berlin specialty.

The Brandenburg Gate - the entryway to the boulevard of linden trees
Up the "Beanpole" a television tower with panoramic vistas of the city

      Last February, we were contacted by Hans with a quick request for our full names and birthdates. Hans said it was for a surprise. We couldn't figure that one out, but when presented with the opportunity to tour the Reichstag, the German parliament building, we were delighted. Entering the building was by appointment only; the reason we needed to be registered for the tour.  What a slick operation. After going through security and showing our passports and having our purses scanned, we entered an elevator, were given headsets and instructed to head into the beehive. What a fete of German engineering. We were given the history of Berlin and Germany in about a 45 minute tour. As we walked up the beehive, we were instructed where to stop and where to look - a quick way to pack in the information. The parliament actually sits in a room under the hive. The hive is open to the elements at the top where air is let in and adjusted to best benefit those inside. Truly amazing.
Inside the beehive... the parliament sits in the room below this glass floor.
The Beehive - Inside the old architecture sits this structure.
One angle of the Reichstag

 On both evenings after hours of walking and looking we pulled up chairs and parked ourselves in the Gendarmarket, a public square with the German cathedral on one side, the French on the other and the opera house in the middle. This wide expanse was the stuff of movies. To sit and sip good coffee in this place with dear friends was the perfect end to perfect days. I don't know who recommended Berlin as a place for us to see, but I am truly thankful they did. God bless our friends, Hans and Jo, who arranged the whole thing.

The Gendarmarket

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