Berlin: A bear pit, St. Peter’s Basilica & Parliament Dome.

Friday, September 13th

While we were planning our final day in Berlin, I ran across a list called, “10 quirky things to see in Berlin”! Perfect! It said that bears have been considered the ‘mascot’ of Berlin since its founding and in 1939 the city built a bear pit to house the 2 bears they got as a gift from the city of Bern. (They had a bear mascot too.) After the bear pit got bombed in WWII, Bern gave them 2 new bears- they had 33 cubs together! Currently, two brown bears live in a little park behind the Märkisches museum in Elly’s neighborhood! Off we go!

This is Maxi, she was born Jan. 14, 1986 (or this is Schnute, Maxi’s mom, born Jan. 18, 1981). They live in this small habitat, called, ‘Bärenzwinger’ or ‘Bear Pit’. The pit is in the middle of a Köllnischen Park, directly across from a play structure! (öllnischer_Park)


Next, we headed towards the Turkish market. Along the way, we passed this lovely fountain. The church in the background is St. Michael’s, the dome & statue of the Archangel survived the war, but the church is missing its roof! Look closely, there is a round hole in the front of the building where a large stained glass window should sit.



Onwards- to the Turkish… Oh wait! Bike school! Kids in Berlin have to get a license to ride a bike on their own. We passed a cute pretend street where the police were instructing the kids on bike safety.

Finally, we made it to the market! I had never had a fresh fig before, so we bought a few. They were soft & sweet , with a little hint of celery flavor. We tried some nut/fruit bars, smelled some mint & passed by the Honigkranz. We listened to a busker playing ‘Paint it Black’ by the Rolling Stones on a twangy, Turkish crank guitar. It was a lively atmosphere, packed with people on a Friday morning.

Whew! Big morning! We headed back to Elly’s to check email and take a break. Berlin doesn’t have widespread Wi-Fi like Amsterdam. That morning, we had requested a visit to the glass dome on top of the parliament building & we were awaiting our official invitation to tour the dome in the evening. It arrived! Thanks Ihr Besucherdienst!

Now that we had secured a 7:30pm appointment at the Reichstag Building, we made our way towards Museum Island to check out St. Peter’s Basilica. On the way, we took a detour to see a cute park that Elly remembered from childhood visits to Berlin with her parents.



And there was this concrete amphitheater, covered with graffiti, that Elly declared was, “Very Berlin!”



We hopped the S-Bahn and ta-da! There it was, the Basilica! Check out those gorgeous domes!

We admired the sanctuary, then climbed up to the central dome and circled our way up to the walkway, high above Berlin.
Cartooned photos from the top of the dome.

The grassy sections used to be the promenade and gardens of the royalty. The circle on the left is a fountain, the circle on the right is a giant stone bowl that was intended to go into the building on its right…but it was too big! That building is the Pergamon Museum and in the 1940’s, the square would fill with people coming to hear Hitler speak from its front steps.

It was almost time for our official appointment at the parliament dome! On our walk there, we passed the Brandenburg gate at sunset!



We arrived 15 min. before the appointed time to go through security. They checked our invitation twice and matched our passports to the names on their list. After our bags were x-rayed and we got patted down, we were led in a group to the parliament doors by a guide.



As we waited to get through the air-lock, we could see into the immense, circular room where the parliament meets, under the dome. It was impressive and I could imagine a futuristic, intergalactic council meeting happening there. Then, we were cleared to enter the elevator and exited on the roof of the German Parliament, in front of the dome.

The dome was pretty amazing. The views were great, it was .00€ (aka. Free!) and the design was interesting and environmentally friendly! The funnel-shape in the center of the dome is covered with mirrors to direct sunlight into the circular meeting room, below (saving electricity!). The oval piece in between the mirrored cone & the spiral walkway is a shade and it rotates to diffuse the sunlight. Pretty neat!

The top of the dome is opened to the sky!

We left the dome and headed to an Ex-pat dinner held at the bookstore, ‘Another Country’. A yummy feast of Mexican food with some new friends and then we took our tired selves home. Tomorrow I take the train to Prague to meet up with Natasja! Hieperdepiep! Hoorah!

Berlin: Poor but Sexy. (Day 1 & 2)

Thursday: 9/11

My EasyJet flight out of Amsterdam (AMS) left @ 9am, so Natasja was up @ 6am and rode the tram with me all the way to my train, which connected me to AMS. Thank goodness! I'm sure I would have sleepily missed a transfer & ended up in a huge security check line and had a mild panic attack. Thanks, Natasja! Now off to Berlin!

I made my way via train to Berlin's metro system; the U-Bahn goes under the ground, the S-Bahn above. I passed epic amounts of graffiti & plenty of derelict buildings. This wasn't like the neat, orderly streets of Amsterdam. Walking to Elly's flat, every inch of wall along the street was haphazardly spray painted – and trash & leaves had accumulated in the doorways. Elly is renting the 4th floor apartment of her father's former exchange student, who has moved in with his girlfriend. The apt is full of books on art & African artifacts. it was like living in a museum/library. Elly's dad is German & Elly has duel citizenship and speaks German.

I made it to Elly's by lunch time and we ate a giant meraigne & a nutty cookie from the Turkish pastry place by the S-Bahn station and I started to warm up to the neighborhood. We wandered thru the neighborhood to the Berlinische Gallery which was mostly closed for Art Week renovations. Disappointing, but we did learn how to make Nazi Meth. Totally random.

We walked the East Side Gallery- which is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall with art painted all along it.

Next, Elly had a meeting @ YAAM- a city block set up like a small beach town in Africa. They trucked in a huge amount of sand & hammocks and set up an outdoor bar, some shops and an activity area for kids. It functions as a free community center and the programs are well attended, but its proximity to a booming new development means that it probably won't be around in a few years. (The encroaching building is in the top, center of the photo.)

It rained the rest of the day- we walked home and decided to stop for a beer at Edelweiss, a cute bar in an old train station. We look pretty good for having walked home in a downpour. Do you like my candelabra?

We dried off then head out to the jazz club for dinner. I had a very German meatloaf paddy, it was yummy. We got charged 6€ just to listen to the live jazz- which we discovered when our check came. 😦

Friday: 9/12

My 2nd favorite Australian, Troy, heard that I was in Berlin & INSISTED that we go on a full-day Brewer's tour. Neither Elly or I are big drinkers so I kept putting him off. When I finally went to the website & discovered that 'Brewer's' is the name of the walking tour company, we booked right away. It cost 15€ and was 7+ hours with our tour guide, Jonathan (a French/ Israeli Jew) with a good sense of humor and great English.

A tour of Berlin is most often focused on the division of East & West and on Hitler & the Jews. I know it is important to walk the streets where history took place and Jonathan did a great job of keeping a potentially depressing tour upbeat. In the top photo, the brass squares are an art installation, placed in front of a home or job site of a person taken by the Gestapo. The plaque says,

“In this place lived/worked
Born 1911
Deported 1942
Died in Auschwitz”

Jonathan pointed out that in order to read the plaques you must bow your head. Also, the more you try to rub away the words, the shinier the brass becomes. Earlier, I had spotted one of these when Elly and I walked to the East Gallery and we had paused, with our heads lowered to read it. Then, raising our heads, we search for the building where Alice had lived until the Nazis took her to Auschwitz. I would not have expected a 3″ square of brass to be such a potent reminder.

This Jewish memorial, near the Brandenberg gate was the most moving place we visited. It is a series of concrete columns, the size of a table top, arranged in rows. As you can see in the photo, they start out short and as you walk down the rows, the ground dips down and the columns grow taller. Like the brass squares, it seems like a simple design- but it makes you feel something and share in the experience.

Right about now, Jonathan would lighten the mood by making fun of Germans for being too literal or by telling a corny joke. Here it goes:

A man walks into a bar and notices a sound coming from the basket of peanuts. He leans in and the peanuts say- “You, Sir, have a very nice tie on today! Wow, what sparkly eyes you have! We wish we could be as handsome are you are!” The man looks up in amazement at the bartender and says, “What kind of peanuts are these?!?” To which the bartender replies,
“Oh… The peanuts are complimentary.”

This is the 'Ampleman' from the crosswalks, who tells the East Germans when it's ok to cross the street. The 'stop' Ampleman is red & wears the same hat but has his arms by his sides. They're meant to look cute because they were designed to entertain the children of East Berlin.

Jonathan liked to point out ironic things- like this souvenir stand near the biggest US checkpoint in Berlin, Checkpoint Charlie. These are imitation Soviet military hats, which were made in China & are being sold by the Turkish Mafia. I just like the way this photo turned out.

Snack Break @ the Turkish Market!

Folded bread with spinach, tomato and lots of sesame seeds, Elly buying curry spice, honey marzipan and Elly in a hanging wicker chair, just like the one G'ma used to have in her basement! Now, back to the tour!

Elly, pretending to be a bored German teenager. A musical cherub riding a lion. Those blue pipes are the sewer lines, moved above ground during road construction. A quote from 1820, “When a government starts burning books, later they will burn people.” On a plaque in front of the library where the Nazis burned 20,000 books. Next to the plaque, there is a window looking underground at empty bookshelves.

Our tour also included a 100 year old dance club & Hitler's bunker location (no bunker now) and concluded at the Brandenburg Gate. It is quite a grand structure but it became a world-famous landmark during the televising of the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989. In the same square as the gate is the Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony with a napkin on its head.

Interesting tidbits: Now you can tour Berlin in a cheap/loud/safari-print Communist-built car (nick-named 'Trobi') that East Berliners would have been wait-listed 15 YEARS to purchase. The lower picture is of the 'Mohrenstrasse' or the subway station for the Mohrs (A dark-skinned ethnic group). Jonathan brought us here especially to tell us that at the same time they were tearing apart Hitler's office this station needed renovation, so to save money (& increase irony) the city decided to use the marble floor tiles from Hitler's office to line the walls of the station. Therefore, the floor that was trod upon by one of the most racist men in the 20th century was used to improve an U-Bahn station named after people Hitler despised. Ha! Take that, Hitler!

On the way home we passed by the Ritter Sport store! Yay! German chocolate! There were so many new flavors to try and I was amazed that I only spent 10€ on chocolate! Elly and I had been walking the city for over 7 hours so we headed home to plan our final day together in Berlin. Let's just say, it will involve a pit with a bear in it!