Charlottenburg Palace and East Side Gallery

Slow start this morning, because of course with the transit home looming ahead of us tomorrow I am starting to feel like I have a head cold.  Boo-hiss!  There’s no good time to get crook when you’re travelling, but right before being in transit for 40 hrs or more, isn’t it.

Yesterday was supposed to be 5°C with a ‘feels like 0°-1°C with the windchill factor, and I was not ready for it at all and went out with insufficient layers (never fear, fixed it with a credit card), and today, I was ready for it and went out with all the clothing and extras in the bag, only to find it had increased stupidly in temperature overnight to a balmy 17°-19°C and I found myself completely overdressed and looking for a bathroom to rip off my merino layer asap.  Can’t win.

We headed out to Charlottenburg Palace today via a quick stop through Checkpoint Charlie to get to our train.  Slightly fewer tourists here today than Sunday but still the badly garbed actors and the McDonald’s.   Train stations in Berlin are nowhere near as deep as London, New York or Kiev and definitely not as pretty as Moscow or St Petersburg – but some of them make a striking statement. At the Checkpoint Charlie end: And copies of golden mosaics representing historical rulers of Saxony, Prussia and who knows where else, at the other end.I haven’t managed to photograph many Berlin Bears – whenever we see them, there is usually someone standing with it for ten minutes or more waiting to get that perfect selfie, so we have mostly just passed by them.
Charlottenburg Palace was originally built at the end of the 17th century and then expanded on enormously following century.  It is done is extravagant baroque and rococo styles as of course was fitting for the woman who commissioned it, Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Friedrich I who was Elector of Brandenburg at the time. Friedrich crowned himself as King Friedrich I in Prussia in 1701 having two years earlier appointed Johann Friedrich von Eosander to be his royal architect on the extension project.  von Eosander spent a great deal of time in Italy and France studying places like Versailles, and I think that influence is fairly evident. When the royal architect returned in 1702 he put into place his plans to extend the palace to have two large wings and a courtyard in the front and to also extend the entire length of the main building as well.  Poor Sophie Charlotte died in 1705, long before it was finished and Friedrich named the palace, ‘Charlottenburg’ in her memory. Mind you, that’s him up there on that horse right out front of the place… not her.
The Orangerie off to the left side of the palace. The dressing room to the ‘Mecklenburg Apartment’ which comprises of three rooms that were used to receive relatives from the House of Mecklenburg.  The relief images above the doors are all original as are the parquetry floors, the fireplace and wooden panelling. The Old Gallery – this was considerably damaged in 1943, so the oak panelling, the paintings are all copies.  There is a pair of these candlesticks, but they are in vitrines so far apart that it’s nearly impossible to photograph the pair together.  They were made for King Frederick William I from the Silver Buffet at the Berlin Palace. The candlesticks were entirely cast in solid silver and are the last items remaining of the Prussian royal palaces’ silver fitting.  W/  Friedrich placed extensive commisions with the south German master goldsmiths of Auber (more than any other German Price) and his orders for jus three years from 1730 to 1733 included 85 silver objects with a total weight of over 8 tonnes.  Only six works have survived including these two (of ten) candlesticks.  All the other works were melted down in the mid 1700s and early 1800s. They’re enormous – all monograms and Prussian eagles. The aptly named, Mirror Panelled Bed Chamber was part of Sophie’s original five room apartments.  The mirrors were to reflect the lavish gardens outside. This section of the Palace too, was badly damanged in WWII and has been recreated to be a fair approximation of what was here earlier. One of Sophie’s antechambers. Cupid and Psyche are kinda evident everywhere. The Long Oval Hall was an entrance and recption area before the palace was extended, after which it became one of Sophie’s private rooms, it has exceptional views out to the gardens.  But again was severly damaged in WWII so has been recreated. As we moved through the Palace we noticed quite a few chinoiserie ceramics.  There seemed to be quite a lot of them for a palace of this style/age… little did we know. The Long Oval overlooked the formal gardens. After Sophie’s death, Frederick used her second antechamber as a small audience chamber. The tapestries were added in 1740 by his grandson, however, all in here was also damaged so is copied or reconstructed. One of the placards I read in here said all the fireplaces had been deliberately built to have consoles for displaying porcelain.

Another audience chamber, also demonstrating their particular fondness for ceramics. And a third audience chamber… there was little to indicate whether all these audience chambers served different purposes or were for people of varying levels of acquaintance (well nothing I saw in English anyway).  However, this room indicated that it was for private audiences with intimate members of the family and the King and his guest would have chairs of equal size.  It also had the most amazing ceiling that is painted on canvas and survived the war, so it is the original art. and more porcelain of course. Which then led into ‘the Porcelain Cabinet’“The Porcelain Cabinet is the magnificent highlight of the 140m long flight of rooms on the palace’s garden side.  However, when Sophie Charlotte died in 1705, the construction works were by no means finished and were not in fact completed until 1706.  The walls have been designed in a way that shows the porcelain and figural motifs off to their best advantage. The ceiling murals painted in 1706 by Anthonie Coxie, are allegorical images glorifying the rise of the Prussian royal dynasty.  The Cabinet was heavily damaged in 1943 and restored in 1967.” My how our sensibilities of what is ‘beautiful’ has changed. Next to the Porcelain Cabinet is the Royal Chapel – lavishly gilded and heavily ornamented. With its own miniature pipe organ. Portrait gallery on the way out. You exit through a servants entrance cleverly hidden under the stairs.  The tour is supposed to continue on through the upper apartments, but there is a rope telling us it is closed.  This is most likely due to the fact that it is October and they don’t want to staff the entire Palace for the winter, so we missed out on another 140m of lavish apartments upstairs. The weather had turned ‘moody’ while we were inside. One for Leofric that I saw in the gift shop.  🙂  We walked around the back of the palace to see the formal gardens, but without an elevated viewpoint – it’s difficult to see the impressive design.

After a stroll around the gardens, we decided to stop into a Russian restaurant that is right across the street called, Samowar – it is one of the best 100 restaurants (our of over 9000) so we thought it would be a good bet.  If you’re ever here, you should visit… they do what looks like an amazing Sunday buffet, and I imagine making a reservation would be necessary.

Calf’s liver with red cabbage, onions and mashed potato: Wild boar sausage with pierogi :
Last Russian honey cake until we go back to Russia or maybe do trans-Siberianan rail trip.  😛

After lunch, we did some masterful navigating of Berlin’s bus and train systems to go see the East Side Gallery.  The East Side Gallery is an open-air art gallery which consists of a series of large murals that have been painted directly onto a remnant of the Berlin Wall.   The paintings on Mühlenstraße started in 1990 and is over 1.3kms long making it the largest open-air art gallery in the world. There has been a lot of grafitti put on the artworks over the years, and some piece have been restored, but there is controversy over this with many artists refusing to re-do their artworks. Today, it seems most of the art works are being left alone and not being grafitted, but there are areas of the wall where it seems grafitti is encouraged, as this is a living used space. I love this:  Moscow…walls; China… walls; Everywhere… no walls (with kangaroo!);, Berlin… walls. This section of wall is all grafitti… the big stenciled work is not an official piece. So we thought this was a good place to leave a small mark. I know it looks all peacefu and orderly – but of course, it wasn’t. And it was about this time that our beautiful day with it’s 17C higher in temp then yesterday started to literally rain on our parade.  So we hightailed it to the nearest train station and head back to the hotel. And so ends our last day in Europe… for tomorrow we fly from Berlin to London to Singapore to Brisbane and all things going to plan, we arrive two days from now.

It’s been a blast!

Berlin! I’m going nowhere near Berlin.

We had an uneventful, even boring, train ride from Gdansk to Berlin and arrived a little earlier than we were able to check into our hotel, so we went for a wander nearby.   Literally around the corner from where we are staying is the famous Checkpoint Charlie.
Checkpoint Charlie or what was really just, “Checkpoint C”, was what the Western Allies took to calling the most well known Berlin Wall crossing between East and West Berlin throughout the entire period of the Cold War (1947–1991). For any young whipper-snappers who can’t remember why the Berlin Wall existed here’s a TL;DR didn’t study history version:

In the early ’50s, the Soviet had control of the entire Eastern Bloc of Europe including Eastern Germany, however people were emigrating through the German borders into western occupied areas pretty easily, especially through the city sector borders between East and West Berlin which was very accessible and it was stupidly controlled by four different occupying powers – leading to a left hand rarely knew what the right hand was doing situation.  So… they closed the border entirely in 1952 and installed a barbed-wire fence and checkpoint access areas.  But even so, some 3.5 million Eastern Germans left over the following decade, which was nearly 20% of the East German population.

The biggest problem with that was that the people fleeing tended to be young educated professional types which meant that the economy of Eastern Germany started to flail with all their engineers, doctors, teachers, lawyers etc., buggering off.  To stop the brain drain the Soviets erected a permanent concrete wall with a tall steel-mesh fence running along a “death strip” (yeah, nice name hey) which was covered with mines, and had large areas of freshly ploughed earth, to slow down what were no longer ’emigrants’ but ‘escapees’ so plenty of people got caught or shot trying to escape the Soviets, there was a famous standoff of over 100 US and Soviet tanks here because some American Diplomat wanted to go to the opera and they didn’t think the border guards had a right to check his papers… and all sorts of nasty shit went down over the four decades or so that the Wall stood.  The Wall eventually came down on November 9, 1989 (I can still remember watching all the partying on the news), but Checkpoint Charlie stayed in place until the official reunification of Germany in October 1990. Today’s it’s a tourist location and nothing else – complete with a McDonald’s – and no barbed-wire anywhere… and that will be the shortest and potentially most inaccurate TL;DR of the Berlin Wall you’ll ever read.

Even at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon with temperatures barely hitting 3C the area is crawling with tourists trying to get their photo with the paid actors who are dressed up like the military police here.  It’s a place that represents a fairly dark chapter in Berlin’s history, but it feels like people have forgotten why they come here.

You can buy chunks of Wall here – they sell it by the pound and it is all certified as genuine by the Berlin Wall Museum.  What are they going to do when they run out?

Around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie is the Deutsches Currywurst Museum, which opened in 2009, roughly 60 years after the invention of currywurst.  Currywurst was apparently invented in 1949 by a Berliner, Herta Heuwer, and the local curry sausages have reached iconic, cult-like status in Berlin, rapidly becoming a staple in the German diet.  I kinda love that the Japanese took curry that they encountered through the British who found it in India and made it their own Japanese thing, and the Germans appear to have done something similar. Curry is awesome – the museum, however, is thinly veiled excuse to sell currywurst… which pretty much sells itself anyway. By now, we could access the hotel and went back and went splat.  We have a huge room with a separate powder room, two TVs and a living room, which means I obviously booked something way more swish than intended. You never can tell by the photos online.  So be it.  Slept like a dead thing and had a great breakfast at the hotel before heading out via the underground towards Alexanderplatz to start some serious touristing for the day… the only downside to our plan:  it’s fucking MONDAY and nothing in Europe opens on MONDAY. Below is the Volksbühne which means, the “People’s Theatre” which was built in the early 1900s and was designed to promote accessible theatrical productions at prices that were affordable to the everyday worker – it is now considered to be Berlin’s most iconic theatre, complete with its integrated Franz Metzner sculpture out front.  Like most of Berlin it was heavily damaged during WWII, but as far as I can find out – it never burned down, which is quite unusual around here. Close to Alexanderplatz is the Fernsehturm Berlin television tower.  It was built in 1965-69 by the German Democratic Republic (GDR) government and was meant to be a symbol of Communist power in Berlin. Today it has mainly become just an iconic symbol of the city (much like the Eiffel Tower is of Paris) and it can be seen from nearly everywhere in the central city. The ‘Toothpick’ or ‘Telespargel’ (TV-asparagus) as people often call it, is 368m making it the tallest structure in Germany. Alexanderplatz is a large public square and transport hub and is mostly known for locating movies in Berlin – ie: you wouldn’t know that Jason Bourne or James Bond is actually in Berlin if they didn’t end up here at some point. Interesting factoid – it was originally a cattle market outside the old Berlin city fortifications and was named Alexanderplatz because the Russian Emperor Alexander I visited here in 1805. Very Berlinesque fountain… This mosaic (below) is Europe’s largest work of art (by area) and wraps around the entire Haus des Lehrers building.  Comprising of over 800,000 individual tiles, the mosaic building is just off the Alexanderplatz and was designed by Hermann Henselmann who with Walter Womacka designed and created the enormous work.  It measures 7m high and wraps 125m around the building. The whole thing was created between 1962 and 1964 in cooperation with the collaboration of many other artists. Naturally, being created under the Soviet government in the ’60s, the design is total propaganda, it is supposed to depict the ideal image of a peaceful, modern socialist state. Nearby is one of Berlin’s most photographed pieces of political street art on the currently empty former Haus der Statistik (House of Statistics) is painted in letters three-stories high, “STOP WARS”.  Very simple, yet effective. The 16 tonnes of Urania World Clock is also located Alexanderplatz (Jason Bourne was here too!) Built in 1969, the Urania World Clock tells time in 148 major world cities. We then walked not far to the Rotes Rathaus, which is the Red City Hall building, where the governing mayor and the Senate of Berlin are located.  It’s quite the landmark with its red clinker bricks and relief sculputres.

The Rathaus was built between 1861 and 1869 in a high Italian Renasisance style and modelled on a Town Hall in Toruń, Poland, designed by someone named, Hermann Friedrich Waesemann. Before Waesermann designed this town hall  that covers an entire city block, there were several smaller buildings here that were used for the city’s administration, some of them dated to the medieval period… makes you want to dig the whole place up and see what’s under it.  Something tells me the authorities wouldn’t approve.

Like most of Berlin, the Rathaus was heavily damaged by bombing in WWII and was then rebuilt to the original plans, which took five years from 1951 to 1956.  Across the road from the Rathaus is Berlin’s Neptune Fountain (seems to be a thing).  This one was built in 1891, designed by Reinhold Begas. The statue depicts the God, Neptune surrounded by four women who represent the four main rivers of Prussia at the time: the Elbe River (the figure holding fruits and ears of corn), the Rhine River (figure with fishnet and grapes), the Vistula (figure holding wooden blocks, symbols of forestry), and Oder River (represented by the figure with the goats and animal skins).  There is lots of alligators and turtles and lobsters in among the fountain, yale found it very impressive, but I thought it was nothing compared to My Fountain in Rome.  😉 

Down the road from the Neptune Fountain is the Berlin Cathedral or the ‘Berliner Dom’ which is the local name for the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church of Berlin. Why these churches need names that are a mile long is beyond me.  Anyway the church is located on Museum Island named aptly because it is where all the museums are (MONDAY!).  The church that is currently here was completed in 1905 and is a major work of historical architecture from the “Kaiserzefit” (German Empire). The Berlin Cathedral has never been a ‘proper’ cathedral as it was never the seat of a bishop… sure looks like a cathedral though. The inside is remarkable, my photographs do not capture how lavish it is with all its gilded carving, intricate mosaics and shiny marble. The church on this site has a long history dating back to the mid 15th century.  But at the time this version of the church was built, there was no separation between the Protestant church and state of Prussia, so Wilhelm II (who was in charge) also acted as the Supreme Governor of the Evangelical State Church of Prussia, and dictated that the state would pay for the entire construction cost of around 11,5 million Marks. With the building being 114m long, 73m wide and a whopping 116m tall, it was much larger than any of the earlier church buildings and was attempting to be a Protestant version of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. The pipe organ, built by Wilhelm Sauer, has over 7000 pipes was fully restored during 1970s reconstruction. Like most things here, it was seriously damaged during WWII and restoration works didn’t start seriously until about 1975.  The Soviet government decided to simplify the building’s original design and in doing so they wanted to demolish the entire northern wing, the section called the ‘Denkmalskirche’, or the Memorial Church. Many compared this chapel to the Medici Chapel, and it had somehow managed to survive the bombings during the war completely intact – however, the Soviet communist government wanted it gone for ideological reasons by the communist government given it was effectively a hall of honour for the Hohenzollern dynasty. So the sneaky bastards put the whole church under scaffolding for the restoration and then literally used detonation charges to destroy this undamaged chapel at the church’s rear. The communist government also removal of many of the iconic crosses as they could during the restoration process.  So the restoration was only set to cost about 50,000 marks, but because the government decided to demolish a huge part of the church, the cost of the demolition works was way more than the actual restoration and it ended up costing closer to 800,000 marks. Royal tombs… There is a small museum full of models, sketches and pieces of the original mosaics etc. yale for scale by a piece of a column…  The crypts beneath the church.

Across the river from the Church is the  Altes Museum or Old Museum which is a great name for an archaeological museum – it was built on Museum Island in Berlin and only recently restored in 2010/11.  It has cool stuff in it like Greek urns, helms and paintings from old masters and all sorts of shit… but MONDAY!
Don’t know if we will have time to double back tomorrow.  We will see. Some sculptures on the Schloss Bridge near Museum Island. A little further down the Bundesstraße 2 which goes straight through the middle of the city is the Neue Wache, or New Guardhouse, memorial.  It is the “Central Memorial of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Victims of War and Dictatorship”.  Built in 1816 the Neue Wache was designed by the architects Schinkel and Sachs in the German-Greek Revival style. Originally built as a guardhouse for the troops of the Prussian crown prince, it has been used as a war memorial since 1931.   The Käthe Kollwitz sculpture, Mother with her Dead Son, sculpture is the only thing housed inside as a monument to Unknown Soldiers. Next stop was the Berlin State Opera or the ‘Staatsoper Unter den Linden’, presumably the same opera house which, inconveniently located, caused the tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie given that from 1949 to 1990 it housed the state opera of East Germany.  It is the permanent home of the ‘Staatsoper Unter den Linden’ opera company.  Humboldt University… Beside the opera house is the Bebelplatz public square which is bound by the Opera House, the Humboldt University, and St Hedwig’s Catholic Cathedral. Today, the Bebelplatz is most famous for it being the site of the Nazi book burnings that occurred here on the 10th May 1933. The burnings were initiated and hosted by the nationalist German Student Association… seriously, the students were burning the books.  They started collecting books on the 6th Mary and dragged the contents of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft library into the square before they invited Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels to come and give a speech before setting fire to the books. Also in attendance were members of the Nazi Students’ League, the Sturmabteilung (“brownshirts”), the SS, and members of Hitler Youth groups. They burned around 20,000 books.  🙁  Monument to Reiterstandbild König Friedrich II von Preußen, or Fredrick the Great. Berlin’s Microsoft offices.
In the foyer of Mercedes Benz in Berlin… a tiny mirror-balled Smart Car. No idea why. Saw this ad for an internet plan and nearly cried… #fraudband #nbn #auspol We stopped and had some lunch at a great cafe called, Nante-Eck for some typical stodgy German fare – there was soup and sausages and mustards, flammkuchen and yale sized beer!
Crayfish bisque for meCharlottenburg mixed sausage platter for yale. And some creme fraice, onion and bacon flammkuchen to share.  Delicious.

After lunch we were making our way to the Brandenburg Gate only to find the entire place crawling with police – LOTS of police. And road closures.  Seems the G20 Investment Summit is in town and the only people who didn’t know it was us because we’ve been unable to read newspapers for the last five weeks and who knows what day it is anymore?! The Brandenburg Gate is an 18th-century neoclassical monument built by the Prussian king Frederick William II after the (somewhat temporary) successful restoration of state order during the early Batavian Revolution. Victory gates for the win!  Build ’em while you can. After the 1806 Prussian defeat at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt, Napoleon used the Brandenburg Gate for an enormous chest beating triumphal procession, and apparently, he took the Quadriga (the four horse statue) from the top of the gates and sent them to Paris.  After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 and the Prussian occupation of Paris by General Ernst von Pfuel, the Quadriga was returned to Berlin (probably with very poor grace) and it was redesigned by Karl Friedrich Schinkel who added the goddess, Victoria, and gave her a Prussian eagle and an Iron Cross on her lance within a wreath of oak leaves. When the Nazis ascended to power, they too used the gate as a symbol of party power. Following Germany’s surrender and the end of the war, the governments of East and West Berlin restored it in a joint effort. The bullet holes were patched but were still visible. Today, the space leading up to the gate is used for public gatherings and even concerts (somewhat like the Washington Mall) as it can fit up to a million people. The gates looked really impressive but was hard to get a photo without the police presence in the way.

More cops on the roofs of surrounding buildings! The other side of the gate – minus cops. Not far from the Brandenburg Gates is the famous Reichstag Building, which was constructed to house the ‘Imperial Diet of the German Empire’ – which is an interesting way to describe the houses of parliament.  It was opened in 1894 and parliament was housed there until 1933 when it was severely damaged during an arson attack.  After WWII the building fell into disrepair.

About half a kilometre or so away is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe which is also known as the Holocaust Memorial.  It was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer, Buro Happold in remembrance of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The memorial covers a 19,000 square-metre space that is filled with 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on an undulating ground. The stelae are 2.3m in length, and 1m in width, but they vary in height from only 0.2m to a towering 4.7m high. They are organized in long rows, 54 of them lie north-south, and 87 lie east-west at right angles but set slightly askew.
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. Some people interpret the memorial to resemble a graveyard, though the creators say that was not the main aim. The deeper you descend into the memorial, the more you lose visual contact with the outside world. You start to feel hidden from other people, you walk quietly alone, the stelae are smooth and cold and sound echoes through the stones.  You will occasionally catch glimpses of people moving through the stelae in the distance but you feel ostracised and separate from them.  It is easy to lose your fellow travellers as you wander deeper into the memorial, and it is apparently designed to evoke a sense of loss and separation as you can no longer see your companions – a feeling that would have been so desperate among the Jewish community during the Holocaust.

Beneath the memorial is a “Place of Information” museum that holds the names of roughly three million Jewish Holocaust victims.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit the museum because it is Monday, but the memorial itself is a very moving place to visit.

There are signs at various entry points to the memorial advising visitors of appropriate behaviour here – unfortunately, people seem to be too disconnected from the horrors that this memorial is designed to remind us of.  While we were visiting there were children playing hide and seek among the stelae, there were tourists posing for selfies on top of the stelae and other jumping from stone to stone for mid-air action shots.  It was sad to see such disrespectful behaviour in what should be a place of thoughtful reflection.

It’s not just today though, it’s apparently a long-standing problem at this site:

Artist Shames Disrespectful Holocaust Memorial Tourists Using Photoshop

After our visit to the memorial, we head back to the hotel. It is just too cold and miserable to want to be out of an evening. Thank goodness for ciders and Lieferando.de  😀

 

NOTE:  If you think Berlin is looking lovely this time of year – you’d be wrong.  It was cold, allegedly 5-7C (feels like 0-1C with the windchill), and overcast, and the photos above are the result of careful composition.  I’ve been deliberately cutting all the crap out of my viewfinder all day.  Berlin feels like a really UGLY city, full of grime, litter, graffiti, traffic and building obstructions and … especially after having just come from the fairytale-like medieval city of Gdansk.

To demonstrate what I mean, I have included a handful of ‘not so carefully composed’ street scenes.

Train to Praha. Mi Scusi!

We opted to avoid the tourist breakfast at the hotel this morning in favour of hunting down a local bakery or cafe – I was hoping for some typical local fare, but yale found well, I think it was a curry sausage house that happened to be open for breakfast? So breakfast ‘Stage One’, ended up being currywurst and fries for yale.  Yeurck!
A little further down the street, I found a famous bakery called Bäckerei Möbius that has been here since 1908, so we stopped for aSchwarzer Tee and some schnecken before doing another quick turn around the city.

The blue pipes that are used to move groundwater all over the city… not very attractive, but I imagine it would cost absolutete fortune to bury them all at this point. Memorial marker for a place where a medieval church had been but had been destroyed by bombing in WWII. Der Cholerabrunnen – the Dresden Cholera Fountain – was constructed in the mid-1840s for Baron Eugen von Gutschmid as a celebration of the sparing of the city from a Cholera epidemic that ravaged the region in 1841/2. No idea why, but it is covered in lizards…A nearby restaurant shows its ingenuity in getting around language barriers on menus. Advertising for a high-end jeweller – let’s not muck around, let’s show them we can make elaborate Rennaisance/Baroque masterpieces! Bit much for everyday wear, I think. The Semperoper Dresden looking much more impressive in the morning light. The back of the Katholische Hofkirche… needs some serious restoration work done. I think many of Dresden’s buildings could do with a bit of time under scaffold being cleaned – they appear to be wearing most of the 19th/20thC grime that most other European countries have long since cleaned up.

Fürstenzug in the day light:

We also stumbled into some open stores – at least two of which were perennial Christmas stores!  Exactly like the one we saw in Quebec in July – only with a clean, crisp, minimalist Nordic / Ikea feel to it. Also doubled back around on the Frauenkirche, and it was open this morning so we were able to go in and enjoy the interiors.
Saw the strangest ‘weird tourist’ moment in the church this morning when a woman put her €1 in the collection box to pay for a votive candle, and instead of lighting it and saying a prayer – she gave it to her kid who pocketed it.  No idea where they were from, but I’m never seen someone ‘buy’ a votive candle to take home before. Neumarkt: Our hotel. Lovely place, highly recommend it… and so cheap compared to Iceland!  😛  I have a feeling that is going to be a running theme for the rest of our stay in Eastern Europe.

For our next trick – we will be taking a train from Dresden to Praha… and the only thing I can think about is this guy in Eurotrip! Let’s hope he’s not on our train!

Now the next bit should have been easy – drop back the hire car at the Hertz place at the Dresden Hauptbanhof, which was barely 5 minutes drive from our hotel, and make our way to the correct train platform.  Only, we get to the train station and there are no signs directing customers to the Hertz rental returns and we drive around in circles for ten mintues looking for entrances on all the one way streets around the station. Eventually, I give up and phone them asking if someone at the end of the phone speaks English and asking for directions to return the vehicle.  Thankfully, the fellow on the phone kindly directs us to an underground carpark where we finally see a 1′ x 2′ sign saying ‘Hertz’ so we at least knew we had the right carpark.  We go in, and no more signs saying where to drop the vehicle so we take a ticket and go underground looking for the Hertz drop off!  Second floor down, we find half a dozen spaces marked, ‘Hertz’… but no staff and no office. We go up into the train station and yale leaves me with the luggage in search of an office -finding only a random desk with a 6″ x 9″ sign in among all the train ticketing offices and food stalls, where he then lines up for FORTY-FIVE minutes to hand back the keys.  No shit.

Stopped to fill up the petrol before taking the car back… was gobsmacked to find so much alcohol at places where you are about to get in your car and drive?!

We went from thinking we would have an hour and a half to kill to now running around looking for our platform – which according to the boards was Platform 3.  We make our way to Platform 3, only to see it all closed off with Police tape and plenty of uniformed officers standing around.  We have 10 minutes to our train now and I’m starting to go, ‘Oh fuck, fuck, fuck!’, in my head.  We ran over to an information desk and were told there was an unattended parcel on the platform so our train had been moved and just wait for the update on the boards. Argh!  A moment or so later, we find we have been moved to Platform 17, which of course is at the other end of the rather largish station, so we hightail it down there.On the way through – I saw this awesome luggage conveyor belt to help you get your luggage up long flights of stairs when there are limited or no lift facilities. Never seen anything so brilliant before in my life – Japan, New York, take notes: You need these!

Made it to our new platform, confirmed with some rather confused rail employees that we were indeed in the right place, and then had only a few minutes wait until our train arrived.  Phew.  I seriously hate the hurry up and wait of Transit Days!

The train was clean and comfortable though, but unfortunately, the onboard wifi didn’t appear to be working – that or my enquiring of the (possibily Czech) train conduction ‘Sprechen zie English?’ was off-putting and she decided not to tell us how to hook onto it.  😛

The countryside we were travelling was really pretty – for much of the journey, we were following the Elbe River.
We arrived in Prague around 3:30pm, and then went searching for taxis. On our way, we ran into another Aussie couple (the Crumpler bags and the 4163 postcode on their luggage tag told us they were from Victoria Point – about 20 mins from where I live!), they too were looking for cabs.  Directly exiting the station we found the cab rank – we needed to go all of 1.5km and they were going approximately 1.6km.  Walkable – but not really when you are dragging suitcases over cobblestones.  The cabbies were all charging flat rate of €15.00 or Kč500.00 to take you the 1.5kms to the city centre… which according to the online fare calculators, it should be somewhere around the Kč215.00 mark to do the trip.  Fuck the taxi industry – no wonder they have such shit reputations.  When I started working down the line looking for a cabbie who would agree to take us on the meter, they all refused and told me that there were taxis upstairs outside the bus station that do metered trips.  Get up to that rank and find the same bullshit ‘private car/flat rate’, Kč400.00 to get to the city.  Urgh.  It’s been a long day so once I managed two vehicles for our newly met neighbours from home, we capitulated and overpaid to get to our hotel.

We arrived at the Grand Hotel Praha and was chosen for its location and did not disappoint.  Like my trip a couple of years ago where the Trevi Fountain became almost like a personality in my stay, we had decided to stay right in Prague’s Old Town in a room with a view of the famous Prague Astronomical Clock. The view from our hotel window:

And just like Fontana Trevi – the place was overrun with people waiting for the clock to chime the hour.  The town square is packed, but I know it will be empty tomorrow morning and I will be able to get some quiet photos of the clock like it may have been hundreds of years ago.

After we got settled and showered and cleaned up a bit, we decided to go out for dinner to a restaurant that yale had found on Trip Advisor as having good local food at non-tourist prices, with decent service.  Sounds perfect.  Until we start walking there down some weird and winding little medieval backstreets covered in modern grafiti.  This was feeling less like the story of how we had a great meal, and rather more like the story of how we woke up missing a kidney in some obscure basement in Prague!As it turns out the Mlejnice Restaurant in Kozna Street is right where those barn doors are, and once we looked in, it was plenty cosy with loads of patrons.The menu was quite extensive, it was hard to choose what to have – it’s so nice to be back in the world of affordable food again!

Home made spicy pickled sausage:
Baked brie with cranberry sauce served with toast: And we totally over orded for our mains (after Icelandic food being rather fancy and small plated):   Roast duck in Blueberry Sauce: Potatoes with cream, Niva blue cheese and a bit of garlic: Beef goulash in a loaf of bread: Apple Strudel with whipped cream and Vanilla ice cream:This is happy full yale – who ordered everything he wanted and yet the bill came in just under AUD$70 including 3 pints of cider and 15% included tip!  Madness. If everything feels relative to Iceland, I think yale can afford to eat again after his two-week crash diet of cuppa noodles and wraps made in the back of the car for lunch!With full tummies and a cider buzz, we talk a short turn around the Prague Old Town looking at all the touristy shit.  The place sure has changed since I was here back in 1995… so many visitors, and flashing lights and massage parlours ( 😮 ), and souvenir stores.  And in a direct radius out from them – ALL the hugely expensive designer shopping brands, and I mean ALL of them.  It’s weird, right?  Tacky tacky souvenirs, and then across the street and fanning out – Tiffany, Boucheron, Cartier, Philippe Patek, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and on and on and on. They’re all here.

Hoping for an early night tonight – tomorrow we are cramming in a big day of sightseeing, so it was back to the hotel.  On the way I stopped to check the time… can you believe people are cheering every time the chimes go off on the hour?  Thank goodness we have double glazing  😉

Kveðjum Reykjavik; Willkommen zu Dresden

Transit day today… and what do we know about transit days?  In advance, we already know they are already going to suck. No matter what.  This one was starting at 3am local time, so there was likely to be an unlimited amount of suckage in store.

We packed and made our way quietly out of the Spirit House, in the dark and the cold, so we could then drive the 45 minutes out to Keflavik to drop off our trusty Jeep.  I’m glad we decided to get a larger vehicle – which was primarily chosen to accommodate 6’9″ of yale – but was super useful when we found ourselves driving through a snowstorm on the way to Myvatn with gusts up to 125kmph!  I honestly wouldn’t want to be doing that in a little Kia Picanto and it probably would have thrown our itinerary right out.

I felt moderately sorry for the people working at the rental car drop off centre (which is about five mins drive from the airport), having to be at work at 4am every day in the freezing cold, dark of early winter in Iceland.  But I’m afraid the sympathy was shortlived.  Their lack of greeting, lack of acknowledgement and overall lack of fucks given in helping us get to the airport in a timely fashion, quickly overcome any sympathy I had for them in their unfortunate chosen profession.  Many of the people working these sorts of tourist gigs are Polish apparently, and they were not so friendly when we arrived at 3pm on a lovely Saturday afternoon and have been even less friendly when we were leaving at 4am on a Wednesday morning.

Anyway, we dropped off the car and now I may have to wait up to 5-10 working days for the 290,000 ISK  insurance hold they put on my credit card to be released.  Urgh.

This morning we discovered some of the reasons why KEF (Keflavik Airport) regularly pops up in lists of the ‘World’s Worst Airports’ – even at 4am the place is chaos.  The self-check-in kiosks don’t work, you can’t print your own luggage tags, so you’ll obediently follow the signs saying you should ‘self-check-in and then proceed to baggage drop area’, only to do that and then end up in a queue waiting to get assistance anyway… where there are three different queues to get said assistance, and it looks like everyone is half asleep waiting in the one huge queue while the other two languish empty (actually this bit helped us as we found the quickest queue) and there’s no staff around directing sleepy travellers to where they need to be.  You get past the check-in and are greeted by half a kilometre of EMPTY rope lines that you are forced to march back and forth through, with a rather severe-looking customs officer standing nearby dissuading you from undoing the ropes so you could have traversed the 30m area more directly instead. And once through the screening and duty-free nonsense – the lounge areas are food court LOUD.  On the upsdie, they do have super quick wifi though, so I guess that’s something. We eventually boarded our plane – from the tarmac, of course, they don’t appear to have more than half a dozen airbridges at this entire facility.

Kveðjum Iceland… bless, bless! It’s been an amazing couple of weeks. We had an uneventful though not overly comfortable flight. Icelandair is a budget airline so it’s bend over with the sandy lube if you want a yoghurt or a sandwich mid-air, and the cabin was freezing cold, yet when I asked for a blanket – they had ‘run out’.  So I got to shiver my way to Berlin. I put on a movie which I now can’t even remember the name of, (something about illegal money being dropping at bars, Tom Hardy, I don’t know – typical crap, lots of ‘entertaining’ violence), and proceeded to nod off throughout the film.

We arrive in Berlin around 13:20 and it’s a balmy 23°C  😀  After only a minimal amount of stuffing around at TXL – Berlin Tegel Airport – we picked up a hire car and hit the road headed to Dresden.  Enroute we found ourselves stopped in traffic for roadworks and were inching back and forth with no fewer than nine of these police vehicles – right up until they got sick of the delay and hit their flashy flashy lights and the ever obedient predominantly German drivers moved out of the way, parting the traffic like the Red Sea.  Damn I wish we could have followed them!  We were stuck for about another 20mins or so. Once we got out into the clear again, the Real German motoring experience kicked in and we found oursevles cruising along at 125kmph watching every man and his dog overtaking us like we were stationery!

We arrived in Dresen just as twilight was starting.  We are only staying overnight here on our way to Prague, so won’t have much time for playing tourist.
We made our way to the Aparthotel Am Schloss (Hotel at the Castle) and found ourselves in the most enormous studio apartment I have ever seen in an inner city European city.  It was easily 20′ square, without the bathroom (that is bigger than our main bathroom at home!) and 16′ ceilings.  Not only was it huge, but it was also about 25.00 cheaper than most of the guesthouses we have been staying at in Iceland! We quickly checked in and went for a wander around town before we lost the light.

Dresden Cathedral aka the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, previously called the Catholic Church of the Royal Court of Saxony, also called, in German, Katholishe Hofkirche and since 1980 also known as Cathedral Sanctissimae Trinitatis!  It is the main Catholic Cathedral of Dresden. I remember the many names things from churches we visited in Russia – no idea why they do that.

The  Münzkabinett, or coin collection museum.

Dresden Frauenkirche, Church of Our Lady.  Originally built in the 18th century, the church was completely destroyed in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. The ruins were left as ruins, for 50 years as a sort of war memorial.  Howver after the reunification of Germany started in 1994, the church was rebuilt with the exterior completed only in 2004 and the interior completed in 2005.  That could explain why it looks so clean compared to other buildings of similar age in the city. Statue dedicated to Martin Luther. The Neumarkt square surrounding the Frauenkirche has many impressive baroque buildings that also underwent extensive reconstruction in 2004. Neumarkt with the afternoon sun falling on the Frauenkirche

The Fürstenzug is a long, dramatic mural made of porcelain tiles which depict the history of the various Saxon rulers.At 102m long, it is considered the largest known porcelain artwork in the world. The mural represents ancestral portraits of the 35 margraves, electors, Dukes and Kings of the House of Wettin between 1127 and 1904.

Statue of “Friedrich August dem Gerechten”, (important dead white guy -Frederick Augustus I was a member of the House of Wettin who reigned as Elector of Saxony from 1763 to 1806 and as King of Saxony from 1806 to 1827) outside the Oberlandesgericht Dresden (Dresden Courthouse).Semperoper Dresden or the Dresden Opera House, which was originally built in 1841, but was rebuilt by the original architect after a fire destroyed it in 1869.The Zwinger and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Museum of Fine Arts.  Unfortunately closed this evening and we won’t have time to see it in the morning *sad face*.  That is the real tragedy of transit days.

After having a quick tourist sprint around the city we found somewhere to have a bit of dinner – it was actually a little difficult to find somewhere with a nice local looking menu.  We walked past two Mexican places, a couple of Italian places, one French restaurant and even a Swiss restaurant (fondue!?) before deciding to have dinner at the Freiberger Schankhaus – and mostly because a ‘Schankhaus’ sounded like somewhere we wanted to be after hunting so hard for local fare!

Here they served, beer, beer and beer.  But no cider.  The menu was as we had hoped and full of good German food options. Rye bread made in house served with crackling fat (that looks alarming like gelato but has the texture of butter). I tried the Braised Ox Cheek served with Mashed Potatoes and Carrots – no bloody celeriac paste in sight!  It was delicious, though not the sort of slow cooked falling apart texture you tend to expect from beef cheek.
yale ordered the Shankhaus Pan – roast pork, smoked pork, roasted blood sausage, barbeque sausage with bacon and pickled cabbage and fried potatoes.  I’ve never seen him defeated by a meal before, but I guess after a bowl of Lentil Stew and having nearly all the crunchy rye bread with crackling fat, it was bound to happen!

Then it was back to the Aparthotel Am Schoss for a well earned sleep before hitting, yes!  Another transit day tomorrow!  Why, you might ask?  Well, it’s because they won’t let us take a car hired in Germany into most of Eastern Europe.  So we have had to ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ to visit all the places we want to.

It’s going to be quite the adventure!

Warnemunde and Rostock

As a cruise port, most people use Warnemunde as a gateway to Berlin, but if you’ve been to Berlin before or you think Berlin needs more than just eight hours of exploration, then you might find yourself exploring the little seaside towns of Rostock and Warnemunde instead. Which is what we decided to do today.

Rostock is the largest city in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, located on the Warnow River.  It is a beautiful university town, with the University of Rostock at its centre having been founded in the early 1400s.

The Neuer Markt with its double gabled houses and vaulted cellars were built in 1270.

Directly opposite is the Rostock Town Hall, which is a large baroque fronted building with seven brickwork spires.Right next to this centre part of town is the St Marien Church.  With buildings across narrow streets right beside this church on every side, it is very difficult to stand back far enough to take a photo of the outside of the building – but it is a stunning and very significant church having been built in 1230 and it contains a unique medieval astronomical clock.Stained glass in the southern portal windows depicting “Christ as the Judge of the World”.  Tirolean stained glass painting. c.1904.  Wing of the Our Lady Altar, the painting depicting scenes from the passion of Christ.  (c1430-1440AD). The Prince’s Gallery and pipe organ were added in 1749-1751 for Duke Christian Ludwig II who reigned at this period.  The two-storey organ was Rostock local, Paul Schmidt, however from the outset, the instrument was deemed wheezy and it needed considerable restoration work as early as 1791.  The present organ dates from 1938 and was made in Frankfurt.  It is a 4-manual siding chest organ with electro-pneumatic action and 83 stops with 4 free combinations (which no doubt means something to someone, but very little to me).  It certainly is quite an impressive work of art. Both the organ, the Prince’s Gallery, and the pulpit which was added around the same time have been executed in a soft olive green with gilded accents to maintain a singular colour scheme with the main altar. The main altar was created by cabinet maker Kahlert and painters Hohenschildt, Marggraf and Bromann. Behind the main altar is the most extraordinary astronomical clock that was made in 1472, attributed to master clockmaker Hans Duringer.  Before this, Duringer made the Danzig Clock at St Mary’s in Danzig, which together with the Rostock Clock makes the ‘Baltic Clock Family’.  This clock in Rostock is the only one that still has its medieval clockworks, which are still in working order.  From 1641-1643, it was renovated and extended, figures were changed and a carillon was added.  The latest restoration occurred between 1974 and 1977.The clock consists of a calendarium and a clock face, figures of the apostles stand in niches at the top, and Christ is depicted in the middle.  At midday and midnight, one of the apolstlyst walks from right to left and the carillon plays at ever other hour. The field below shows the time of day, the zodiac with the appropriate month sign, the position of the sun, and the phases of the moon.   The calendarium is approximately 2m in diameter and revolves 360 degrees one every year.   Carved figures supporting the calendarium. In the northern portal is this spectacular triptych altar piece. Fountain in the Rostock University Square. The Kropelin Gate is a magnificent fortification gate built in 1280, one of 22 former city gates.  Now the ultra modern KTC shopping center sits incongruously right beside it! View from the top of the Kropelin Gate… below are part of the medieval walled fortress. Canon balls. Kropelin Gate. After wandering Rostock a little more and doing some shopping, the weather started to come in.  Normally when this happens, I head for a museum, and Rostock has an excellent museum – the Kulturhistorisches Museum of Rostock.  Unfortunately for us, it’s a Monday and that means, (in the habitually annoying habit of museums the world over), that all the museums in the town were unhappily closed today.  Instead, we decided to head back to Warnemunde to find a nice German pub to warm up and to find a couple of pints and maybe some schnitzel… as you do!

I honestly thought I was ordering a chicken fillet burger of some sort… the menu said: ‘hamburger chicken schnitzel) – turned out to be chicken schnitzel with potato and an egg on it!  Delicious still.
And… mulled wine!The canals of Warnemunde. A quaint little fountain I found in a back street… I could find no information on this and not being able to read the plaque that was situated beside it, it remains a mystery.  🙂  European lock habits strike again. As luck would have it we have arrived in the area in the middle of the summer strawberry festival – I have never seen so many strawberry based products before… strawberry soft drink, strawberry liquor, strawberry hand creams and beauty products, strawberry confectionery and strawberry homewares!

We had a lovely day in Rostock, my only lament was that the historical and cultural museum was shut.. but you have to be somewhere on a Monday when you’re traveling, and unfortunately we were here.

The port of Warnemunde is a very busy little place, and quite a nice stop for an easy day of cultural immersion instead of running all the way to Berlin and doing the headless chook thing.

I found this schedule of ships that were due in during the 2017 season – the Regal Princess is the biggest one that calls in here.