the hoofindex - rewind to the previous trip (waitangi day in London) - fast forward to the following trip (marrakech)
Exciting times, after two months of UK based traveling and saving some pounds, finally we were climbing back on a plane to head over to the continent for the weekend (24/25 Feb). The Hoof's, not to do things the easy way, had booked ourselves a dirt cheap RyanAir flight leaving at 6:25AM from Stansted - not Luton unfortunately. This meant driving roughly an hour to the airport - and when you add in parking time plus check in it meant the alarm rudely woke us at 3:30AM. That is correct, not a typo. Now I'm very partial to my beauty sleep, it takes a good eight hours to stay this handsome! So when the alarm went off I gently kicked the Hoof'ess out to shower, she takes longer so it meant I had an extra 10 minutes of sleep... it didn't help much.
After some hectic racing round we were out the door at 4AM, racing down the M1 relatively on time. Feeling happy that we had exited the house smoothly we were soon on the M25 heading west. After 10 minutes smooth sailing we then suddenly came across heavy traffic... at about 4:25AM this was ridiculous. Then a tell tail sign was up on the warning boards - M25 shut at junction 26 (I think this was the right junction - but it was 4:30AM so memory was not in top gear). Wondering what the hell this meant we sailed up the fast lane as far as possible before everyone starting feeding left. It was stop start driving and the clock was ticking. Amazingly the Hoof'ess was not stressing out, she claimed it was because we had insurance anyway, but I reckon she was only half awake and wasn't really thinking straight. Then feeding into the slow lane we left the motorway. Fortunately for us the M25 was only shut under the junction bridge, so we raced back on and then speed down the motorway having lost about 20 minutes stuck in the traffic.
Finally we switched to the M11 to go back north, and then exited the motorway system at Stansted Airport. For those of your not 100% aware of the London airport situation, Stansted is the third largest London airport and the base for RyanAir. It's roughly the same distance away from central London heading North East, versus Luton in the North West.
After running to get the carpark bus we got to the check in counters and while every other location had massive queues, apparently everyone had already checked in for Berlin, and we were told to hurry to the gate as it was a long walk. It felt like a return to the amazing race. Luckily, for some reason, we'd paid for priority boarding - probably because we knew we'd run late, so it meant we could queue jump and get on the plane before the masses. Having secured front seats we sat back and snoozed for the one hour and 20 minute flight.
So finally we landed in the old East Berlin airport which is now home to all the budget airlines - it's a little further out compared to the main airport but still serviced by the S-Bahn which is the commuter train network. So after a slow trip through old East Berlin we switched to the U-Bahn, Berlin's underground network - which was actually above ground... and we slowly trundled into West Berlin. After a few stations which we had no chance pronouncing we got to our stop. Off we jumped and then walked up the road to finally find our hotel. It was a Wot If booking so we weren't sure of what we were going to get - but a name like AngelTerre it couldn't be all bad.
Hoofy was impressed by the outside, a heritage style building in West Berlin. It was the best looking hotel from the outside, so we had high expectations... and Hoofy was looking forward to his own bed. Usually he's stuck left with a chair to sleep on.
Having dumped our gear we headed north towards the historic centre... and happen to stubble upon checkpoint Charlie. We continued on into East Berlin territory and got to the historic centre, which stretches from the Brandenburg Tor to Museum Island - with the Unter Den Linden stretching between the two. Now this is an amazing area, given that 90% of the central Berlin was flattened or badly damaged during WWII - its been impressively rebuilt and restored.
Hoofy was impressed by the Berliner Dom, originally built in 1747 to 1750. It was changed 1894 to 1905 - but after WWII it was re-built to look old... and they did a damn good job. It looks like it was built in the 1700's despite being a relatively youthful 50 years old. This really summarised much of Berlin's older architecture, there are so many historic buildings yet most were either flattened, a pile of rubble or a shell which resembles swiss cheese rather than a water tight building.
The Altes museum with all the pillars is another example of restoration and houses an impressive collection of Greek and Roman antiquities - thou we never made it past the columns.
And one more look at the Berliner Dom before we had to hike it to back to the other end of the old town, to the Brandenburg Tor (Gate) for a walking tour...
However on the way we spotted an example of how Berlin has changed, we were still in old East Berlin but i'm sure this motor dealership wasn't around before. Hemi who has tended to stay at home had his eye on the red one.
We then picked up some lunch to fuel us on the three and a half hour walking tour. So what do you eat in Berlin? We decided to start our gastro tour with a Weiner Schnitzel... what else. So after hoovering a couple of Weiner Schnitzels and we were out, pacing down the road towards the big gate.
Having reached the gate we found the gather point for New Berlin tours, outside the Starbucks. So we start the three and a half hour free walking tour... and surprisingly enough we start with the gate. It is amazing to think what this gate has seen, and who has walk or marched underneath. Napoleon marched through the gate, and decided he liked the statue on top so much he'd nick it and take it back to Paris. The Second and Third Reich, as well as Hitler marched through the Tor, followed a few years later by the Russians who raised their flag on the gate when they captured the city. It was located in East Berlin, and then more recently it was the celebration point when East and West Berliner celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Brandenburg Tor is beautiful, and has been impressively restored, and despite being the middle of winter and fricken cold the square was packed. However there is an interesting story behind the square. It started in 1806 when Napoleon nicked the main sculpture called Quadriga - the Quadriga was originally regarded as a symbol of peace. On its return in 1814, it was declared a symbol of victory, and a few changes were made. She exchanged her olive wreath for a staff bearing the Prussian eagle and the iron cross adorned with a laurel wreath - and became the goddess of victory. For the Prussians (Germans) they felt so strongly about their triumph that they renamed the square Pariser Platz (Paris Place), so that their goddess of victory would also be looking over the French. To add insult to injury her head was adjusted to so she looked over towards the northern side of the square... the location of the French embassy. Quadriga continues to remind the French that the Prussians beat them back in 1814.
Moving on we walked past the Reichstag - the official parliament buildings - but we returned so read about that further down.
We then headed a couple of blocks south to the Holocaust Denkmal - a memorial built to remember the Jews killed by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. This was a controversial monument and was subject to tons of debate as to whether the memorial should be built to remember just the Jews, or all those persecuted by the Nazis. In the end they couldn't all agree, so the Jewish memorial was built. Its a rather strange memorial, it covers a 19,000 square meter area with 2,711 concrete slabs... all at differing heights ranging from relatively low street level slabs, to tall slabs which tower over you.
According to Eisenman's project text, the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason. When you get into the middle you certainly felt like the slabs are towering over you, almost as though they were about to fall on top of you, and made me feel very insignificant with the world caving in on me. I guess in a small way like someone being persecuted against feels like the world is against them.
While Hoofy had a smile on his face, deep down he was moved by the memorial.
We then headed south again walking down a couple more blocks, round a corner and onto a car park..
Yes, you see correctly, its the Hoof standing in a car park - on some ground where grass was struggling to grow. But this was an important site, it is where Hitler built his main bunker - and where he committed suicide as the Russians approached from the East. The Russians, pissed at Hitler and his gang didn't want anything to do with the site, so they tried to demolish it. However apparently German bunker building was slightly better than the Russians bomb making skills - so instead they filled it with concrete.
Having checked out the car park we then headed south again to one of the few remaining pieces of wall between the East Berlin and the American controlled zone in West Berlin. The wall that you can see behind the Hoof'ess was actually the fourth version of the wall, and is only the outer wall. There was a second wall which would have stood to the Hoof'ess right, being the inner wall, between which was the death zone. Anyone who was between the walls would be shot on sight. That is if they weren't blown up my the mines that littered the death zone. They sure were keen to keep their people on the Eastern side of the wall. The first wall was actually a barbed wire fence installed overnight by East German troops which was then improved upon over time by East German workers, of course being watched over by the friendly East German troops.
Ironically, now there is a fence to protect the wall from "souvenir" takers - apparently, when the Berlin Wall first fell people chipped off pieces as souvenirs. Who would do that? You may find out who would do that later on this page...
Even though the wall is virtually gone, the Berlin council created an ordinance which means that the outer wall must be shown distinct from the surroundings. On the roads this is shown by the stones in the tarmac, so back 20 years I would have had one foot in East Berlin, and the other in West Berlin. Wicked eh! Well strickly speaking that's untrue. Due to the fact that East Germans built the wall, to ensure they were always in East Germany, they built the wall a couple of meters inside the official border. But there were some benefits for the West Berliners (of course not to marginalise the negative impacts on all Berliners) - the youth graffiti'ed the western side of the wall, and the police could do nothing. Officially they were in East Germany so out of their jurisdiction. Apparently this area was also very sought after parking spots - the only place in Berlin where the meter maids couldn't get you!
Heading back into the old town we stopped briefly by the National Memorial, which included the tomb of the unknown solder, placed along side a tomb of an unnamed jew who died in a concentration camp. They were buried with dirt from both the front line battlefields of WWII and from the concentration camp.
Looking back down the Unter Den Linden past the University of Berlin library on the left, towards the setting sun. Still with so much to see there was no time for resting. Back down the Unter Den Linden we went, towards the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag shortly after the tour ended. However not until after the guide told us the story of how the wall fell. It really is too much to type so you have to ask us next time you see us. Or go find out for yourselves - the tour was definitely worth the 3 and a half hours, plus tip at the end... so if you're going to Berlin check them out New Berlin Tours - its hoofdakker.com recommended!
With the lights starting to come on Hoofy was happy with the days accomplishments. Although plenty more to see.
The Berlin Wall marker heading past the Brandenburg Gate in front of the Reichstag. It is amazing the amount of work that has been done to bring this city back together. Areas such as this which were so divisively separated have now been brought together and restored as though the wall was never there. At least you will always be able to see where it once stood - lest it never be forgotten.
This is the Reichstag, the German house of parliament - a grand building which houses a massive glass dome on the top - and the best bit is that its free to climb. Since it was getting late we decided to head up and get some pictures at dusk... unfortunately the queue was longer, and slower than we thought so the dusk images turned to night.
The amazing part is that the dome is literally directly above the main chamber, you can look down to the government going about its business - if it wasn't a Saturday. There is an interesting explanation for this - the designer wanted the politicians to be able to look up and see the public above them, reminding them that they work FOR the German public. A conscious reminder that the Hitler regime worked for themselves, rather than the public.
Up from the top of the dome you get a great view of the gate lit up, with the Berlin traffic racing past just meters away. Having walked up the hunger of 2 elephants we decided it was time for some food. Now we could have gone after some local fare - as we did for lunch. Or we could even have found some interesting local establishment serving non-local food. But no, we decided to get go to the local Hard Rock Cafe - and get some American food at a chain born in London. Well we had an ulterior motive - there is a painted up Tribant from U2's Achtung Baby album on show... and the Hoof always wants to check out the local car art.
These cars have cult status now in Germany, they are classic and this is probably the best one in the lot. And Hoofy got to sit on it.
After some burgers and fired stuff we had to walk off the calories, so legged it back to the hotel - stopping off at that famous Check Point to get some photos. Just to confirm, this is a tourist trap if ever I've seen one, its a mini-recreation - the original was significantly more substantial...
Even the sign is a re-creation. There is also tourist shops everywhere, selling you guessed it - pieces of the Berlin wall. And which of us do you think was such a sucker that she bought a piece... who else but the Hoof'ess. The Hoof was actually trying to think of ways to secure a more authentic piece off the wall... but more on that scheme later.
Next morning it was an early rise and time for a nice big German buffet breakfast. Now you thought the American breakfast was calorific, the Germans take it to the next level through the use of multiple sausages to complement the eggs and potato hash, and even salmon to boot. Sticking with the lighter fare we filled ourselves up and headed off to The Fernsehturm, really a glorified TV tower in the former East Berlin. It was built as a show of technological and engineering prowess of East Germany - in theory to make the West Berliners so jealous that they would want to move to East Berlin. However they couldn't even build it themselves and secretly got a team of Swedish engineers in to allow completion. Regardless of original purpose the viewing platform provides the best vantage point to see all Berlin.
This shows the old town, in the very front some new mixed use buildings, then over the river is museum island, then over another river is the Unter Den Linden with all the historic buildings and university. In the background you can see the Tiergarten which is Europes largest urban park. Later in the day we walked the length of it, and all I can say is that its massive... rivalling Central Park in NY.
Heading back toward museum island we stopped briefly at the City Hall - Hemi, still out on his sight seeing tour was suitably impressed.
The Fernsehturm - the observation deck is 204 metres high.
We then headed for the Pergamon Museum which houses a number of restored ancient Mediterranean wonders including the Pergamon Alter which is from an ancient Greek settlement in what is now Turkey, and the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.
The Ishtar Gate of Babylon is impressive, and even more impressive that its been restored within this museum, dwarfing the Hoof and surviving the near total destruction of Berlin at the end of the war. The next room housed a piece of an ancient roman market place which was not so lucky - it is now behind scaffolding as the try and restore the structural integrity of the roman building after being heavily bomb damaged and left un-restored by the East Germans.
We were peckish again so it was time for some more German food, today for lunch was a good ol' Bratwurst sausage in a bun, from a street vendor in a market. It was sensational, and washed down with a trusty Coke.
This green man is not your typical "you can now cross the street" green man. This was the East German green man, and reflected communist/socialist thinking. He reflects a happy East German worker, in his best gear including hat, walking with a mission to do his bit for East Germany. This has now become an icon and you can buy everything from green man rubbers, to fridge magnets, artwork...
To life size versions of the green man. He has become so popular that despite pulling this them down initially to be replaced with standard green man - they are installing them slowly everywhere in Berlin.
Arriving at the Soviet Memorial you can see from this image the state Berlin was in... the building in the background was the Reichstag. Everywhere you look you think about what it must have been like immediately after the war - and the incredible amount of work they have done to initially make the city habitable again, and then turn it into the amazing place it is today.
The Soviet memorial and one of the two first tanks to enter Berlin - the other is on the far side of the memorial.
Another less conventional memorial - but recognisable none the less. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with its top blown off has been maintained in this state as a memorial to the war.
Time was getting away on us so it was almost time to head back towards the hotel so that we could pick up our bags and head off towards the Airport. A couple more stops on the way - the first being Potsdamer Place. At the time of reunification this was a pile of rubble, the western side had decided not to build anything there simply because it was too close to the wall. When the wall came down it became the centre of the re-united cities commercial rebuild - the centre piece being a massive mall, the Sony Centre and Sony Headquarters for Europe, and the head offices for DB (German train guys). Walking through it felt very new, but almost impossible to imagine this was nothing just 20 years ago.
The Hoof'ess decided to have the same "am I in East or West Berlin" fun as the Hoof did the previous day. Then at the hotel we grabbed our gear and were off like brides nighties... onto the U-Bahn to check out one more sight... the East Side Gallery as its known. The longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, and now an "art museum".
The entire remaining length (1.3km) has been turned into an art gallery - initially painted by professionals as a symbol of unification - now tons of amateurs have added their own messages... and unfortunately ruined some of the original works.
This is a goodie thou...
Here there is no barrier between people and the wall, you can get up close and hug it if you really want. More to the point, you could, in theory, perhaps, source you own very authentic peice of the wall... as long as the cameras don't spot ya! Now who would be willing to do something like that?
Well, look what we found, an opening to the rear side of the wall, the side where its not so obvious what you may be up to... and somebody happened to have pushed the fence slightly away from the wall... how un-secure.
So sneaking round the other side of the wall, with the Hoof'ess on point duty - I masterfully secured an authentic piece off the wall. Needless to say we were very proud of ourselves and quickly vacated the scene...
And we're not talking a little dodgy piece like the Hoof'ess bought - we're talking a 5 kg monster piece - now officially residing in our lounge! Of course getting a 5kg hunk of Berlin wall out of German was not easy, we used the Hoof'ess sex appeal to distract the East German guards at the Airport as my bag went through the scanner... however we were not so lucky at the second screening. They saw a large lump of something and wanted to see inside my bag. I showed them and nonchalantly said I got it off a street vendor... aparently it wasn't the first piece he'd seen and he joked - "you reckon its real". I replied... "pretty sure".
Next a place in the sun - Marrakech