Last Looks at Berlin • Part 1

This is post #22 of our Dublin-Berlin trip, for Thursday, September 27, 2018.

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Okay, what day is it?  Oh, yes.  Our last day in Berlin.  Dave’s conference finishes at noon, so technically I have a half day.  I note in my travel journal: “Two things to see today and I only did one of them: see inside Galeries Lafayette.”

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As I try to recall from the distance of time and miles, perhaps visiting this church ( in the opposite direction) was the other thing, which remains unseen.  But it may have instead been some of the official State Buildings on the river.  Or that museum I can’t quite remember the name of.  Next trip.

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I took the bus to Kochstrasse U-bahn station, then hopped on it for two stops, exiting near Galaries Lafayette.

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Perhaps it was because these buildings were behind the wall, but their architectural style is so different than so much of what I’ve seen.  There is quite a mix of architecture in this city, from all schools and styles.

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I’d walked by this multiple times, and today was the day.

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The center “dome” extended far up into the upper floors, although with this view, it just looks like a spaceship about to land, and then below street level one floor. (Supposedly this is supposed to mimic the Reichstag dome.) I went down in their little space-capsule elevator with glass walls and a curved door that opened to each side and descended into their food section.  I strolled all around their food aisles, picking up lunch (seemed like enough prepared lunches for all of Berlin, with multiple counters and multiple menus), and then buying chocolate to take home:

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We love European chocolate–the low-end kind from the supermarket shelves.

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These caught my eye–aha! the Ritter chocolate shop.

I’d heard you could “build your own chocolate bar” but they didn’t have dark chocolate — only white and milk.  Apparently dark chocolate doesn’t appear until October, several days after our visit.  Makes perfect sense, I guess, if you live here.  I still bought a few to try and some bars and tins to take home to friends.

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As I came out of the shop, I turned right, passing by this building with fascinating decor.

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Lunch: a small turkey salad, a bretzel roll, my “water” bottle (Volvic) and the bag of yummy things from Ritter Sport.  I strolled to the big square I’d seen last night: Gendarmenmarkt, found a bench and ate my lunch.  At the time, these small acts of being “inside” a city, not just being “in” a city, are what I treasure about long-term visits overseas.

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While I can still remember the feel of the brisk morning, the sunshine flickering through the trees, the sounds of the workmen renovating the large building towering over this spot on the bench, I know these sensory sounds and feelings will fade. Hopefully, though, I will remember the taste of the bread, the delicious flavors of my dessert:

I was feeling sort of wrenched about leaving Berlin: on one hand it WAS time to head home, especially given my tenuous health situation (funny how chocolate was always fine to eat).  But I’d grown accustomed to finding places to visit, hopping on the transit and heading there, observing new sounds and sights.  I was tired though–to be truthful, I was tired to the bone.  But it was bittersweet, this last lunch in Berlin, so I lingered, hoping to soak it all in deeply.

The workmen spilling out into the square reminded me that Dave was meeting me back at the room, and I’d better return.

Although I had a hunch as to what it was, I was curious about this green structure some distance off to my left.  Curiosity satisfied.

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Map Key: pink circle (upper edge) is the U-bahn stop; yellow X is Galeries Lafayette Department Store; green X is Ritter Sport chocolate shop, and the red X is where I ate my lunch, under the trees.  This visual view gives a sense of the enormity of the square.

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Gendarmenmarkt is a huge square, with two churches on either side of the Concert Hall.  According to my guidebook (Rick Steves’ Berlin), the name  — part French and part German — comes from Gens d’Armes, Frederick the Great’s royal guard, who were headquartered here.  In the 17th century, “a fifth of all Berliners were French émigrés.”

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The Concert Hall is in the center, and I loved that some group was posed on the red-carpeted steps for a group photo.  This square is busy.

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This is to the right of the concert hall as you face it, and is the French Cathedral. The church on the other side is known as the German Cathedral, “bombed flat in the war and rebuilt only in the 1980s” (guidebook).  They look remarkably the same, and unbelievably, even though I have multiple photos of this square, I couldn’t figure out which was which.

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Buildings on my way home.

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When I arrive back at the hotel, there is a helicopter circling overhead.  I guess security is tight for his visit.

Next post: Last Looks at Berlin • Part 2

The Reichstag, Berlin’s Legislative Building

This is post #7 of our Dublin-Berlin trip in September 2018.

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The night of the Berlin Marathon, Sunday, September 16th, we visited the Dome atop the Reichstag, the building that contains the German Bundestag.  That legislative body is equivalent to our US House of Representatives.  The dome is built atop the main hall of the debating chamber, and going inside the dome is a fantastical experience if done at sunset, which many recommended.  So we looked up the times of sunset and set our appointment for 30 minutes before that.

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We arrived early, and they did let us in.  Above is the Memorial to Politicians Who Opposed Hitler, a very low-key memorial, their names written on edges of slate-like slabs.  They were imprisoned, and then died, generally in a concentration camp.  It’s easy to dismiss or overlook, but shouldn’t be.

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Dem Deutschen Volke  means [To] the German people, according to Wikipedia, where more little informational nuggets about this building can be found. We first went through a little building to the left, passing through security, and they kept us controlled and moving, so random photographs were harder to take down here at ground level.

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But up on top, our audio guides obtained, we had lots of chances for taking pictures.

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The dome is one of those constructions that marries new with old, as the reconstruction (finished in 1999) was put on top of a building first erected in 1916.

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Looking east, towards Alexanderplatz (the tower) with the river Spree at left.

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Some of the other governmental buildings, looking Northwest

We entered at the ground floor, the mirrored center rising high above us to the top of the doom, and we started our climb on one side of the double ramps (one going up, one coming down).  Since this post is mostly about the visuals, I will mention only one more thing before letting the photos do the talking.  There is a large sun shield which tracks the movement of the sun electronically, and blocks direct sunlight.  It looks like an apron made out of metal tubes, and you’ll see that in the photos. You can also mark our time here by the changing of the light inside.

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The Brandenburg Gate in the foreground, the WELT balloon in the distance

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The sun shield

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This is the central legislative chamber, with the stylized eagle representing the Bundestag.  There are doors marked Ja (yes), Nein (no), and Enthalten (abstain), which according to Rick Steves’ guidebook is an homage to the Bunderstag’s traditional way of counting votes by exiting the chamber through the corresponding door.  However, for critical votes, they use electronic cards.

We could glimpse the purple chairs looking down into the room from the dome above, but we didn’t linger here.  They ushered us to the exit, and out we went, into the night.