Dec 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

I hope you remember(ed) to count One Mississippi after 23:59:59 tonight before popping the champagne cork at midnight.

Have a wonderful 2009!

Wordless Wednesday - Moths of light

Wordless Wednesday

Dec 29, 2008

Quirks of Berlin (and of my mind)

For a tourist, there's always stuff to see that doesn't fit typical tourist photo categories. This is the stuff that reminds a tourist that she truly is not at home, but somewhere else. Here are some photos of how Berlin reminded me of that fact.

I enjoyed the lampposts on parade on Unter den Linden, wondering who was the kind soul who set up such a nice motif for a photographer.


Anothr nice motif on Unter den Linden.


A detail at the foot of one of the columns of Brandenburg Gate.


Berlin is a city of both old and modern architecture and the embassy complex shared by five Nordic countries expresses a bold and yet uniquely Scandinavian architecture. Each modern building uses materials native to the country it represents. A lot of wood and stone.


Berlin's water table is only about 2-3 meters down, so whenever there is digging, the water has to be led away. This and the temporary rerouting of water supplies is done with colorful pipes above-ground. I saw many colors. These pipes near Potsdamer Platz looked like an abstract sculpture.

Berlin's symbol is the bear, and many versions of it dot the city. I encountered this European Union bear in Niederkirchnerstrasse, visiting the Berlin wall.

Old East Germany had its own version of the walk/don't walk signs. Their standing red man and walking green man have rounder and cuter shapes, and are sometimes not even men, but women with braids. The former DDR is actually fighting to keep this quirk, rather than follow the stylized standard used elsewhere.

To this non-German speaker (more or less), some street names and signs gave rather odd associations:

"Defeat" in Norwegian is "nederlag". I have no idea what defeat Niederlag street is named for.


"Invalid" means void in English; in Norwegian it means is a disabled person. Turns out that that's what it means in German, too. There used to be a veteran's hospital on this street. Before I found out, I amused myself by wondering if the street was invalidated or handicapped.


For a moment, I wondered if there were six other parks, named for the other deadly sins. "Lust" means "pleasure" in German, and this is Lustgarten, Pleasure Park, next to the Berlin cathedral.


Thus ends my visit to Berlin. All that was left was the trip home, a mad dash to the Oslo ferry leaving from Kiel, and then a train from Oslo to Bergen. But there is one more thing I want to do next time I'm Berlin: Take this boat ride. I was sorry I didn't think to do it this time around.

Dec 28, 2008

The Berlin wall

I like riding subways. I don't know where it comes from, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience in London in 1981, and have sought out subways where available when playing tourist. People like to ride the double-decker buses in London, but I found that being stuck in traffic annoyed me. I'd rather ride to my sightseeing destinations quickly in mysterious tunnels, my brain furiously working out how many stops to go or did I just miss it? No, wait, it's after the station we just passed - or walk.

I carefully counted out the change I would need to buy two subway tickets - Potsdamer Platz and back - only to be fooled by a ticket machine that would not take copper coins (the smallest cent coins). A nice young Berliner took pity on me and gave me the 10 cent coin I needed, wanting nothing in return. Berlin is a nice city to be a tourist in.

Potsdamer Platz. No sign anywhere of it being bombed to smithereens during World War II, or intersected by the wall during the cold war. Except for all the very large and shiny and new commercial buildings, of course.

According to my map, the outdoor museum of what is left of the wall (except for a graffitied stretch along Karl Marx Street) was south of the subway station. I came across this helpful sign:

That's what they call it, the outdoor museum: Topography of terror. The street that runs along it, Niederkirchnerstrasse, contained the headquarters of both the Gestapo and the SS, and is the birth place of the German communist party. A modest street, flanked by a modest wall. Looks can be so deceiving.

Once again, you had to wait in line to see or do anything, so I didn't. Wait in line, I mean. I wanted to see the wall.

Note that there is no getting close to the wall itself.

The irony is not lost on the locals. Who ever thought that they would need to protect the Berlin wall?

Several of the Norwegians I travelled with had been to Berlin during the cold war years. Some had even taken a quick trip to the DDR side, ever mindful that a wrong comment could mean not getting back to the other side, to freedom, to safety. Here you see the western face of the wall, followed by its eastern face.

A plaque showing the wall and its checkpoints.

There were some stunning buildings on the little, modest street. I found out one was the restored exhibition hall, the Martin Gropius building. Here are a few details:

It was time to head for home, to change for dinner. This fancy building is actually my subway station!

Dec 27, 2008

Unter den Linden

Sometimes a name's just a name. And sometimes the name springs to life in the most wonderful way. "Unter den Linden" (under the lindens) stopped being something that rolls easily off the tongue and became a magical tour through Berlin, a wonderful cross section of some of the best Berlin has to offer an tourist.

I have more impressions than I have photos, and more photos than I know quite what to do with. So what follows is from my walk down the boulevard, straying a few times into other historical areas, but never far from the main street itself. I did not walk its full length down to Brandenburg Gate.

First, there is the getting there. Once again I walked from my hotel, past the TV tower and St. Mary's Church, seen from a slightly different angle this time:

Also in the park was a reminder that at this time of year, it's Oktoberfest. Behind the beer tent is Berlin's city hall, in all its restored brick glory. I really liked that building. I didn't have the sense to go inside the tent, like some of my fellow travelers did. I was so focused on seeing Berlin.

I then wandered along Karl-Liebknecht strasse, to where it changes names to Unter den Linden, noticing a few details along the way, like the lamps outside the Berlin cathedral:

It's official: We are now on Unter den Linden, here looking back at where I came from:

Crossing the channel where the street changes its name:

Sometimes it's so hard to photograph all these big, beautiful buildings. I need a wide-angle lens. But noticing details isn't a bad alternative. I always tell people to look up. You never know what's hiding in plain view at bird's eye level.

During the morning's bus tour, I made a note of Charlottenstrasse, because we turned down that and passed by some marvelous old buildings and churches. The area we had wandered into included the French cathedral and Gendarmenmarkt. These were not far from Bebelplatz and the Berlin State Opera, which are on Unter den Linden. I got myself a bit turned around, but in truth, wandering these city blocks was much like wandering in Bergen: You're never far from anything, it's just that each turn of the corner brings something new into view.

When I walked past the opera, there were several police vans, in the characteristic green and white that the German police prefers, parked outside it. I didn't realize why they were there until I discovered that since the morning, Gendarmenmarkt was no longer an empty square, but full of demonstrator. So much for photographing the square itself. At least no one blocked my view up.

I walked back to Unter den Linden and crossed it. The other side has a number of museums, including the Pantheon Pergamon, but the line to get in was so long, I didn't bother. There are a number of things I want to do in Berlin, but now I know I have to set aside plenty of time for standing in line to get in to see them. (My attempts at seeing the DDR museum were also sabotaged by a non-moving queue.) Anyway, there was a mix of old and new, and a charming view of the cathedral on the river, as well as whimsical sculptures of bathing youths.

After eating a cup of coffee and a brownie around the corner from the DDR museum, I needed a restroom. My own hotel room turned out to be the most convenient, and I headed "home". That's when it hit me: I hadn't seen the wall! I rushed to the hotel, unloaded unnecessary gear (like my trusty backpack), and rushed back out. My next adventure would be to take the U-bahn to Potsdamer Platz, another one of those historical names.

Dec 26, 2008

Berlin and points of interest

Once upon a time I took a trip to Dresden and Berlin. It's time I finish that trip, and show you Berlin.

We did a bus tour in the morning, whizzing by many beautiful buildings, like the building that houses the DDR museum (see how badly people lived in East Block times), the Humboldt University and Gendarmenmarkt. The significance of these buildings were lost on me (too many, too fast) but not their beauty, so I made a note of where we were on the map so I could revisit.

On to more famous places like Checkpoint Charlie, which is now a mere tourist attraction with actors posing as guards:

I can't begin to tell you how bizarre it is to see that famous sign now surrounded by Western modernity and freedom, knowing that that sign used to mean freedom or death to those able to get close to it.

The Berlin wall was quite modest but the 500 meter wide swath of land behind that mined wasn't. Nowadays, that land is being reclaimed so you see a lot of open lots like this:

Where the Berliners are busy restoring or rebuilding, they'll erect a huge picture on one side showing what's to be, while on the back is only the scaffolding.

One lot that will never be reclaimed or built upon is where Hitler's bunker once stood. The area is left in place for two reasons: Nobody wants Hitler's bunker as an address, and no one knows how to remove the solid concrete structure buried beneath the dirt. I'll give them that: Those Nazis sure knew how to build for the generations. We have a lot of bunkers still dotting the Norwegian countryside.

I've mentioned the Trabbi (or Trabi) before. Here it is the ultimate tourist attraction, used to show Berlin to tourists. Appropriately, this one is standing next to a tiny section of the Berlin wall.

And the one thing everybody else on the bus wanted to see, but which produced a mere "meh" in my reactions though I think that if I had more background at the time, I would have enjoyed it more: Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). Now I know that it is an old city gate, and stands between the Reichstag and the start of Unter den Linden. As "gates" go, this one is darned beautiful.

The old Reichstag has been reclaimed and renamed Bundestag. The government area is quite modern and must be an architect's delight. The Bundestag has a glass cupola that visitors can walk around in. Like a lot of points of interest in Berlin, there is a long wait to get in.

I had a bit of trouble finding a title for this post. All of Berlin is history, and especially World War II and cold war history. Yet today, as we drove past one place name after another recognized from history books, it was all reduced to "point of interest". I take comfort in that they are points of interest because of their association with a couple of the biggest mistakes mankind ever did to itself. As long as people are interested in these points of interest, we won't forget, and hopefully won't repeat those mistakes.

Here's a new name to add to the list: The Holocaust memorial. When I saw what a labyrinth it was, I chose not to visit. The symbolism of not having a clear path shows how lost humanity can get.