Exploring Berlin

Hello from Berlin! We got here safe and sound. Many thanks to those who wrote their well-wishes for the trip. Nakakapagod, pero enjoy. :) I am able to snatch a few minutes of internet time (of course I wrote this post offline first, hehe), so time for an update. I don’t know when I’d be able to post again, so might as well try posting one while we’re here.

Although Berlin is the capital city of Germany, ironically, it doesn’t accommodate international flights from Japan. All flights from Japan are routed via other major cities like Frankfurt, or in our case, Amsterdam. We took the KLM flight because we wanted to gain points for our mileage program, hehe. :) So after an 11-hour non-stop flight from Narita to Amsterdam, we found ourselves “stranded” at the Schipol Airport for another four hours before boarding another flight for Berlin.

Lounge chairs at the Schipol – don’t you just wish all airport terminals have these?

Baggy was able to catch a few winks while lying on the chair, but I wasn’t able to because Aya kept pestering me. :( For some reason, she was frisky, alive-alert-awake-enthusiastic when we arrived in Amsterdam. No rest for the poor mom.

When we arrived at the Tegel airport in Berlin, we immediately looked for a taxi to take us to the hotel. The first taxi we approached had a driver who immediately shook his head at us and shooed us away, for some reason we couldn’t understand. He talked to us in German and pointed at Aya. He then gestured to the next taxi in line, whose driver was only too glad to have us. The woman (yes, a woman!) immediately took out a child seat from her car’s trunk and smiled and nodded at us several times, as if to assure us that we’d be in good hands. So apparently, the first taxi who refused to let us ride was because he didn’t have a child seat in his taxi. Hmm. Interesting. This is the first time for me to be in a country where child seats are mandatory, even for public vehicles. This is not enforced in Japan. There is a law, of course, for private vehicles about using child seats. But I could see for myself that many people just don’t bother putting their children on child seats anymore. I think the law enforcers are getting way too slack on this matter.

Anyway, our hotel is within the Charlottesburg district. Our first day was spent exploring the immediate area within our hotel. I was shocked, though, to find a relatively modern city, devoid of any distinctly old and ancient buildings or structures. Save for the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedachtniskirche or Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, which happens to be one of Berlin’s best-known sights. The chuch was built in 1891-1895 in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm I. Much of the building was destroyed during the World War II. What remains of it still stands, and is flanked on both sides by modern structures, which looked pretty drab on the outside but rocks on the inside. :) The inside of the octagonal chapel is decorated blue stained glass windows on all sides. It is simply stunning.

(Pictures to follow!)

Fortunately, Joy, a fellow Pinay and who is one of my long-time friends and also lived in Tsukuba several years ago, is also here with her family. What a happy reunion! I guess, as long as our husbands attend the same conference, there would always be an opportunity for us to meet. 😉 The last time we met was about three years ago, when her husband attended the same conference in Kyoto. Anyway, during our second day, Joy and her daughter Sinta were kind enough to give us a tour to Tiergarten and Mitte districts.

At the Reichstag. See the long queue behind us?

First in our stop is the Reichstag – home to the German parliament. I wanted to climb the modern glass dome,  but there was a queue outside which was discouragingly long. Note: when we passed by much later in the afternoon, lo and behold, the queue was gone. We should try our luck next time, just make sure to come in the late afternoon. So to use Ahnuld’s words in the Terminator: I’ll be behk! :)

Next stop – Brandenburger Tor or Brandenburg Gate. My guidebook tells me that the Gate was constructed in 1791, and built as a triumphal arch celebrating Prussia’s capital city. The Gate was also the scene of celebrations when the Berlin Wall came down. At the top of the Gate is the Quadriga statue, a four-horse chariot driven by Victoria, the goddess of conquest.

Full view of the Brandenburger Tor from Pariser Platz.
Me and Aya at the Brandenburger Tor.

A rather surprising sight caught our attention as we were walking at the Pariser Platz:

A rather stinky collection

Nope. Those dolphins are not for sale. They’re dead, and they’re stinking under the heat of the sun. The smell reminds me of bagoong. Aside from dolphins, we also saw a dead beluga whale, and a small baby whale. The marine creatures were out on display as Greenpeace members made painstaking efforts to pour ice and cold water on the dead bodies. A rather profound effect, if you’d ask me. I’d say I heard the message LOUD and CLEAR.

Read the related story here.

Here is another interesting place: the Denkmal fur die ermordeten Juden Europas, or memorial to the Jewish Holocaust victims. A creation by Peter Eisenmann, this field of stelae’ – all 2,711 of them – are arranged over 19, 704 sq. meters. At first glance, the place looks like a cemetery. But the concrete slabs are not marked, and they vary in height. Aya and I walked through the slabs and crossed to the other side. It felt like walking in a labyrinth. I made sure to put Aya on the stroller, lest she wanders off. It would be such a mother’s nightmare to have a child get lost in that maze!

Notice how the slabs are way shorter in this area

Apparently, there is still an ongoing debate about this memorial, because some groups protested about the remembrance of other victims in the Holocaust – including gays, gypsies, blacks, etc.

Towards the middle, the slabs are several meters high and towered above me. Ahm…definitely not a place for claustrophobic people. Thank goodness I’m not one.

When we visited the place, it was midday and the hot sun was scorching us throughout. It could get pretty stifling while walking through the slabs. The spaces between the slabs are just enough to let one person pass.

Just one more point of interest before I end. Our last stop is the Berliner Dom, or Berlin Cathedral. Like so many buildings in Berlin, this too suffered heavy damage during the World War II. Only two of the building’s original three parts remain. For me, the inside wasn’t so spectacularly stunning, as with some cathedrals I’ve visited in other parts of Europe. And we even have to pay 5 euro to get in. :( There’s a crypt underneath the dome, which contains the tombs of Prussian rulers like King Friedrich I and Queen Sophie Charlotte. The sarcophagi spooked Aya, actually. Maybe I shouldn’t have explained that the sarcophagi held dead people inside??? Oopss. 😛

View of the Berliner Dom from a bridge on Spree River. That boat is one of those cruise boats for tourists.
Here is Aya (right) with Sinta (left) posing at the back of the cathedral. They looked like they had a good time, inspite of the heat and all that walking.

Well, this would be all for now. Hope to post more later. :)

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