Wednesday, January 18, 2017

First Stop: Berlin

So Brian and I spent our winter break in Europe, without children, to celebrate being married for 10 years. Brian of course, had a spreadsheet created, edited, and put on a real time schedule so we could maximize our time (17 days) across 7 countries. I'll spare you the details and the large file, but if you ask I'm sure we can forward it to you, because who doesn't want to know when the operating hours for those particular days are and the amount of daylight for those outdoor sights such as Stonehenge are?

Our first stop after flying non-stop to Frankfurt, was to catch another flight into Berlin, where we stayed 2 days and 1 night seeing the "top sights" of the city.

Our first stop was the Pergamon Museum. The Museum has been undergoing remodeling for quite awhile and was still remodeling some when we arrived. However, the main attraction was open for tourists so that was important.

The Pergamon Museum houses one of the Gates of Babylon (Ishtar Gates). The Gates were taken down brick by brick, labeled, and then put back together like a puzzle. 

There were many gates of Babylon and this was one of the smaller entrances, but it was still extremely high and beautifully decorated with blue stones and pictures of lions, dragons (the snake looking thing with feet), and bulls. 

Beside the walls was a replica of Hammurabi's Code- the oldest existing legal document depicting the laws and consequences. Written on a large black stone, were things like "an eye for an eye" in cuneiform. The original is found in the Louvre (which unfortunately was one of the only big hiccups in Brian's spreadsheet). 

Ishtar was a Goddess whose favorite animal was the lion, so along the gates and other artifacts you can see lots of lions. 

In addition to the Ishtar Gates of Babylon, were many examples of cuneiform writing. Tales of Ishtar and King Nebucanezzer, and the Assyrian Kings were in wall carvings. 

Another item found in the Pergamon Museum was Roman remains of a market place. The Roman Empire stretched as far north as Great Britian and had conquered and ruled a large portion of Germany (then known as Gaul). So it wasn't surprising that the German's should find the ruins of Ancient Roman buildings- one being a large marketplace area. 

Around the market place were statues of different Roman gods and goddesses, as well as special tributes to Emperors Trajan and Hadrian (known as 2 of the 5 Great Emperors). 

Further in the museum, they had an exhibit of Ancient Islamic Art. As we had a short period of time before the museum closed, I'm afraid we have fewer notes on these items. However, I love the detail that was spent on each item. 

After the museum, we walked around in search of the Reichstag. The Reichstag is equivalent to the United States Congress building, it holds the German Parliament.  While it may appear quite dark in the photograph, you must know the actual time was around 4:30-5:00pm. And as we were there before Christmas you can also see the capitals' large Christmas tree on display in front of the building. 

Fast Fact- The tradition of decorating a tree at Christmas time, comes from the Germans. It was picked up and integrated with England's culture by Queen Victoria (who was related to the German royal family). Then it was past down to the Americas. 

Across the street from the Reichstag (or if not right there very close) was Brandunburg Gate. Originally the gate was one of 13 that surrounded the city of Berlin. This gate was the starting point from the city of Berlin towards the city of Brandenburg. On top of the gate sits Eiren, Goddess of Peace, being pulled in a chariot behind 4 horsemen. When Napoleon conquered Berlin, he took the goddess from the top of the building and took it back to Paris to show his triumph over the Germans. After Napoleon was defeated it was returned to Germany. 

Our last stop in Berlin, was to see the infamous Berlin Wall. While most of it was torn down, a large section of the wall remains up as a reminder of the days when Berlin was divided: east and west. 

In addition to the wall, they had a commemorative wall showing the people who had lost their lives along the wall attempting to escape from East Berlin (Soviet controlled) into Western Berlin (Allied controlled- France, Great Britian, United States...). 

Also towards the back there were some slabs that were removed from the wall but posted in a "stockpile area". It was interesting to see them separately. 

Later we learned (as we headed once more to the subway) that the Berlin wall was not just above ground. In fact (and I as a history major did not know this) many of the connecting subway tunnels were blocked up. Anyway, it was just something I had never really thought about before although it makes complete sense that they wouldn't just eliminate 1 possibly for dividing the city and preventing interaction but would prevent as many opportunities as they could. 

In all, Berlin was unfortunately not my favorite city. As a history major I would have loved to see more historical buildings and culture; however, the effects of World War 2 bombs and Soviet control seemed to have eliminated much of that. We did see lots of Soviet style buildings, tons of graffiti, and a smoker's paradise. Almost everyone we saw smoked. So if I ever build a cigarette factory or become a Pulmonologist (lung doctor) I would definitely invest in some real estate in Berlin- I'd make a fortune!

Chauffeur’s Corner (Brian)
I will be added some technical notes and clarification from the other side of the car through this journey.

We landed in Berlin and found our way to the bus ticket booth, at which point Stacey says “I’m so lucky to have you….because I would be utterly lost otherwise” haha. Mind you that this was only an hour into being on the ground. We took the bus to the subway (u-bahn) and then walked a couple blocks to our bed & breakfast. We referenced “The Schedule” and realized that we could maybe see some stuff the first day that we hadn’t planned. 

So off to the u-bahn to see downtown Berlin. I had never heard of the Pergamon Museum, but Stacey was so excited about it, we couldn’t start our trip by passing it up. I liked the Gates of Babylon and the Roman ruins the most, though the Gates weren’t what I pictured. The history throughout that entire time is amazing, but I definitely glossed over it in school – it all seems to blend together, while more recent history stands out.

We walked and walked and walked around Berlin. The Reichstag was really cool from the outside and during this time of the year it is mostly closed down, so we didn’t miss much. The dome has a good view of Berlin though (when it is open).

Then we walked to the Brandenburg gate, which I had no clue was built by the Romans – fortunately Stacey’s Master in History is paying off! There was some huge outdoor concert nearby and the Europeans are fairly serious about their military-style security (read: fully armored and gunned personnel carrier).

I wasn’t sure what to expect when walking to the Berlin Wall, especially at night. However, I think the cool darkness really brought out the eeriness of it. They have done a good job of showing elements of the wall, so you can really picture how people was once artificially separated.

Berlin definitely had a dingy feel to it.

(Next stop: Prague, Czech Republic)

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