Monday, August 20, 2007

Berlin - Tale of Two Cities

I thought I would throw my two cents in since I haven't contributed much lately. On our trip to Berlin, we learned why the Germans don't have speed limits on the autobahn. It's because they don't need them. I googled the drive and google said the trip was about 600 km and it would take 5.5 hours from Heppenheim to Berlin. I thought, no problem. If I drive 180 kph (110 mph) most of the way, we'll get there in under 4 hours, easy trip right? Wrong. We arrived in Berlin 6.5 hours later after having stopped in some of the worst staus (german for traffic jam) you have ever seen. Even driving 120 mph between staus and pouring rain, it still took 6.5 hours. I'm convinced that is why they don't have speed limits, they just don't need them. At the end of most of the staus, there wasn't even anything there. Of course, after getting back to work Monday morning, everyone proceeded to inform me why we shouldn't have driven to Berlin. I know everyone is asking themselves "Why didn't you take the train?" Well, it cost over 400 Euros from Frankfurt to Berlin. We spent $100 including parking and gas. Even still, it probably would have been worth it to take the train.

I also thought I would throw in a few pieces of trivia we learned on our walking tour. First, the Brandenburg Gates were enclosed in the "The Wall" so no one could get to it for 28 years. I guess they couldn't agree on whose side it should be on. If you are ever in Berlin, look on the ground near the gates and you will see some bricks in the road. These outline where the wall used to be. They actually go all over the city following the wall. When Mark and I were in Berlin last year, we kept wondering if we were in East Berlin or West and it turns out we were in East Berlin a lot of the time, we just didn't know it. We also saw the location of Hitler's bunker. It was a little anti climatic since there isn't really anything there to look at except a parking lot and a small sign that was put up last year before the World Cup. Our guide said the Germans are afraid that Neo-Nazis might turn it into a memorial to Hitler. An interesting note on Hitler. After his death, his soldiers were instructed to burn his body. Things were a little chaotic at that time, so the soldiers used gasoline which doesn't burn that hot so his body was only partly burned. The Russians got his body and buried it in a secret location. Several years later, the body was dug up and re-burned and the ashes were dumped in a river. They really wanted him gone. They also tried blowing up Hitlers bunker 3 or 4 times, never really succeeding. It is still mostly intact under ground. The ceiling was 40 feet thick reinforced concrete.
While touring the Berlin Cathedral that Jami showed a picture of, our guide told us where the saying "Stinking Rich" came from. Rich people could afford to be buried in cathedrals like this one and when they started decaying you could smell it when you attended mass. Needless to say that didn't go over to well with the peasants.

For those of you that have gone to CheckPoint Charlie and toured the museum there, you might have read about the guy who threw a hammer with a rope attached from atop a building over the wall where friends tied it off on the west side and he and his family slid down to freedom. This is a picture of that building (You can see the wall on the left). Pretty good arm if you ask me.

Another thing I found interesting was how you could see bullet holes/chips everywhere we went in Berlin. Here is a an example of a random building we walked past. There were marks all over it. Our guide told us that after Berlin fell to the Germans in 1945, it was described by reporters as "one big pile of rubble". It is still being rebuilt to this day, especially East Berlin thanks to our communist friends in Russia.

After having toured Berlin on my own and with a knowledgeable tour guide, I definitely recommend shelling out the $20 for the guided tour. Do your homework though and find a reputable tour guide. Rick Steves is a great resource. The only bad thing is every other tourist in Europe has the book too. Oh well.

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