A Capital City
Despite it being high on the list of European destinations, somehow neither of us had ever made it to Berlin. So we remedied it with a quick three-night trip that coincided with the 60th anniversary celebrations of the end of WW2 in Europe. More than almost any others, it hasn't forgotten that war - it is a city still on the mend. Massive cranes occupy the skyline and building works seem to be happening on every block.
We stayed in a hotel near the ruinous Kaiser Wilhelm church, left deliberately unrepaired. Or tried to stay there, at least. Strangely we were given a room in a different hotel when we turned up. Was this a German joke? As it was older and in the middle of nowhere, we managed to get transferred back the next night, but it was a disconcerting start. However, we spent our first day on a great walking tour around old Berlin (i.e. East Berlin) and ate German chocolate, so on balance it was pretty good.
We visited the usual tourist destinations of the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie, shuffling along with the crowds. Particularly impressive was our visit to the Pergamon Museum, which we discovered contained whole buildings from ancient Rome, Babylon and Greece. We also went to a fabulous performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. It was good to see that even in Berlin, the Soprano soloists visit the same dress shop as Australian soloists.
When we got out away from the tourists, we got to practise our German. It was the first time in a while that we'd been able to use a non-English language (Icelandic was just too hard), and our initial excitement in being understood was followed by the frustration of not understanding the German response. At least we weren't obviously English-speaking tourists! Putting our new-found talent to good use, we used our German to order several types of sausage, viener schnitsel, and even sachertorte, but somehow got a pancake when we thought we'd ordered a black forest cake.
Also, we took the train up to Posdam, and received a tour of one of the fabulous royal palaces that was conducted entirely in German. As the most proficient, Kate tried to translate parts of it for Andrew, and it became clear that a sizeable chunk of the group weren't native German speakers either. Luckily it was pretty self-explanatory, and the grotto-themed ballroom spoke for itself.
- 9th July 2005