Thursday, January 27, 2011

Berlin: Day 1

I got to Berlin about 12:30 today, and was settled into my hostel by about 2:30.  It's a unique's run by a couple of young people who want to build a school in Zambia, so they opened a hostel to try to raise money for it.  The facilities are well above average, and the bedrooms have cheesy animal themes, but it's got a nice feel to it, as does the staff.

Since I didn't have much daylight left, I hopped the subway to Alexanderplatz, on the eastern end of Unter den Linden, one of the main drags in the city.  This will mostly be a photo post, as it was all outdoor time here.  To the left is the giant TV tower you see dominate Alexanderplatz...I'll post more on it later once I get a chance to visit.

Just to the southeast is the Fountain of Neptune.  It doesn't flow in the winter, but it's still photo-worthy (see below).

Fountain of Neptune

Passing a number of museums and embassies heading down Unter den Linden towards the Brandenberg Gate, one passes the statue of Frederick the Great, one of the objects of my historical fascination.  He was the model of the enlightened despot, greatly increasing centralization of power in Prussia in the 1700's, performing brilliantly as a military man, and all the while hanging around with Voltaire and bringing culture to the realm.  The statue here was removed in 1950 with Germans looking to make a full break with their imperial past to repent for their actions in World War II.  Fortunately, the statue was brought back in 1980 and now sits in the middle of the great boulevard.

At the end of Linden is the famous Brandenberg Gate, right next to the U.S. Embassy.  You saw photos of this when the Berlin Wall was taken down, as it was the center of the celebration.  The 4-horsed chariot on top was the God of Peace until after the defeat of Napoleon, when she became the God of Victory.  It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the country.

On the east side is the Pariser Platz (shown), and the other side is the 13th of March Platz, commemorating the European-wide revolutions of 1848 when in Prussia, an uprising led to the king being forced to agree to numerous democratic reforms.  These were later mostly taken back, but it was the start of something.

Just south of the Gate is the Jewish Memorial, which I believe was completed only in the last few years.  It contains 2100+ steles like the ones shown here - there's no magic to the number, it's just how many would fit in the area they had to work with.

I finally ended up in the center of Kreuzberg, to the southwest, which is the HQ for the large Turkish population in Berlin.  I got me some bakhlavah at a shop that only sells that, and went next door to the place that apparently invented the Berlin-style doner kebab for a lamb kebab.  Not amazing, but quite good, especially for someone who hadn't had a proper lunch that day.

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