When we last left our intrepid explorer, he was thinking of taking a walking tour of the city on Sunday morning. And honestly, that was his intent when he went out to the McDonald’s to meet the tour group. However, instead of talking the “Original Famous Walk“, I got talked into taking the Potsdam Palace walk. Potsdam, referred to by our tour guide Lauren (that’s her in the big, red hat), is like Disneyland for the royals. In actuality, it was a huge area of land used by the various Prussian monarchs for their palaces. It was something else. Huge gardens and fountains and vineyards, oh my!
The first palace you come to is the biggie, the one the whole area is named for – Sans Souci. Evidently, it’s the one on all the post cards. There’s a long, garden lined walk, which leads up to a huge fountain with Koi in the surrounding pond. Further up from there is the vineyards and orchards, done in a steppe formation so Kaiser Friedrich the second (I think that’s right, there were a lot of them) could ride his horse by and just grab a piece of fruit. Pretty stunning area.
When we got closer, you could see that the palace wasn’t actually built to last. Instead, it was up hastily but it looked good. Now, though, a couple hundred years later, it’s falling apart and needs something like 800 million Euros in order to get it all up to speed.
So we toured around the castle, then hit a few more castles… These people built castles on a whim. The statue of the winged angel is in front of a castle that William Frederick the second had built for his sister, but she thought it was too dark so she never stayed in it.
From there, we headed into the village of Potsdam, which at one time was very chichi (shishi? xixi?). Anyone who was anyone wanted a summer house where the king had his, so there are a lot of huge mansions in the area. Also, the former KGB HQ for Berlin was there.
When that tour was over (and it was a loooong one) a few people from it and I went on a boat cruise down the river which runs through the middle of town (the Spree), followed by a nice Spanish dinner of tapas and paella.
The next day was time to actually take the Famous Walking Tour! Got up and headed down to McDonald’s for the 10am rendezvous and met Kenny, our Scottish tour guide. This was the tour to really introduce the city and it was well worth it! Kenny gave us background on the city itself, we hit a lot of the major tourist sites and learned a fair bit about the war and the divided city. Honestly, Berlin is amazing in what it has contributed to Western culture over the last 160+ years. Not counting the obvious, evil stuff, there’s a university here which has produced 27 Nobel prize winners, where Einstein taught and first presented his Theory of Relativity and where Marx came up with his original ideas of communism when he was a student there! And it’s right across the street from the plaza where the Nazis gathered the works of 350 writers (about 20,000 volumes in all) and burned them. The monument, shown here with one of my infamous shadow self portraits, is a room under the ground, filled with enough empty bookshelves to hold all 20,000 books which are missing. That particular plaza was well chosen since on one side was the University’s library and the other has a world class opera house where Albert Speer hosted an end of war party. They were playing music while the guns of the Russian army could be heard 30 miles away. At the end of the concert (for high ranking Nazi officials and sympathizers) he had little Hitler youth handing out cyanide capsules. Hell of a guy! It’s actually rather interesting, to see the dichotomy of people when trying to promote their city and denounce the bombings which took place and how wrong that was against the atrocities of Hitler and the Nazi regime. For instance, the tour makes a stop at Hitler’s bunker, but takes great pains to point out that now it’s a car park and there’s nothing to memorialize it save a poster showing how it was laid out.
From there, we hit Checkpoint Charlie, which has been demolished and replaced by a smaller version, manned by acting students in military uniforms, there to provide photo ops for all us tourists who want our reality diluted into easily modified digital images. Of course, I ponied up my Euro and got between the “Russian” and “American” and smiled pretty, knowing this wouldn’t have been possible a short number of years ago. In fact, the reality is recent enough my friend Ginger remembers going through the ACTUAL checkpoint with her family.
We went from there to see an actual piece of the wall, still standing. It was a bit intimidating. We learned a bit of history about the wall itself, how and why it went up, all about the kill zone and the importance of the Brandenburg Gate (which was inside the kill zone and a symbol for a divided city, country, continent).
Right around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstags – basically the seat of government. The picture here is the front of the building and Kenny the guide. a few days later I actually went inside, but more on that in a different post.
Why is it important I mention her? Because she was the only other Jew in the group. I spotted her and asked if she was Jewish, at which point her friend Pete said “How do you guys do that?” It was funny.
In our next installment… Paris!