Best of Berlin with MJH, pt 1

East Side Gallery

Having Matt here right at the end of my Berlin stay means that I get to revisit all my favorite places in Berlin and hit the last remaining high points before I jet out of town. Here are a few highlights from the past couple days:

1. Reichstag Building

The Reichstag dome is in my top 10 sites in Berlin. I love the green construction, the environmentally friendly solar panels and light reflecting mirrors, the curving walkways and the views over Berlin rooftops. I first visited this dome right after I came to Berlin so it was really interesting to see it again 5 weeks later, now that I know all the surrounding terrain and I have so many memories of visiting these sites.

Reichstag Dome Berlin

The dome requires advance reservations but after my last visit, I’d discovered a cafe on the roof of the Reichstag that serves breakfast and includes dome admission. Breakfast and tourism? Done and done.

The “feel good breakfast” was enormous and inadequately shown here

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It included meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, fruit salad, yogurt, several different kinds of bread, chocolate brioche, champagne, orange juice and coffee. Incredible! We ate on the glassed-in patio, which was a tiny bit like eating in a greenhouse once the sun came out; but we put on sunglasses, they opened some doors for airflow and the food was delectable.

Thus fortified, we moved on to

2. War memorials

This memorial in front of the Reichstag is a very small unassuming monument to the 96 politicians of the Weimar Republic who opposed Hitler. They were the first men he sent off to concentration camps, where all of them died.

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Each stone is engraved with the man’s name, his political party, the concentration camp where he died and the date of his death. It’s not much in the way of recognition but at least there’s acknowledgement that some good men tried to stand up to the tide of evil that swept Germany. They died for it but I hope they knew their sacrifice wasn’t completely in vain. Had Hitler had their help, he might have succeeded.

We revisited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, which was just as powerful the second time around. I’ve written about it here.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews

This is the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe, a few of the gypsy tribes that Hitler tried to exterminate.

Memorial to Sinti and Roma in Europe

It’s a small reflecting pool in a secluded spot with part of the poem Auschwitz around the sides. Subtle, quiet and lovely.

Memorial to Sinti and Roma of Europe

On the other hand, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism in Tiergarten looks like a peep show.

Memorial to the Homosexuals Berlin

Inside that concrete box is a beautiful film of people kissing, which we viewed through the one window. I like the sentiment of the film but wish the whole memorial were designed differently. I feel that the memorial promotes what it’s trying to fight against, the idea that gay love should be hidden. I’m glad there’s a memorial but… I could wish for something a little less closeted.

3. Tempelhof

This massive space used to be an airport.

Tempelhof Berlin

Several important airlifts were made from this airport during the war. The hanger had been on the list of largest buildings on earth with the world’s smallest duty free shop – an intriguing contrast – as well as one of Europe’s few airports that predate WW2. It closed in 2008 and now it’s a park

Templehof Berlin

Where people kite board down the former runways

Tempelhof

And skateboard, and bike and have picnics and sports rallies and occasionally festivals. As you can see from the skies, we brought the rain, which hit while we were in the middle of that massive space nowhere near any shelter. We had to run for it but then we were treated to a glorious double rainbow

Tempelhof

I bet Tempelhof is fantastic in the summer. I had visions of a picnic here but the weather hasn’t cooperated. Next time…

4. Chocolate

Ritter Sport is the German chocolate of choice.

Ritter Sport Berlin

It’s not boutique but it definitely has variety with 30+ regular options and then new flavors and combinations released every season. I’m not a huge chocolate fan but when I heard about the Ritter-Sport Bunte SchokoWelt where I could mix my own chocolate bar, I had to try it.

Ritter Sport Bunte ShokoWelt

This little shop has a long counter with dozens of mix-in varieties of fruit, cookies and candy

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Each custom bar costs 3.90E. I chose my chocolate (dark) and added three mix ins –  sour cherry pieces, cocoa nibs and crunchy candy gold stars. 30 minutes later, Ritter Sport!

Ritter Sport custom bar

This store has a lot of Ritter Sport at good prices as well as a small chocolate museum with a few interactive bits, a video and photo ops

Ritter Sport Kaitlyn

Ritter Sport MJH

As well as an ice cream bar where they make German style blizzards, You pick your Ritter Sport flavor and they’ll crush it into soft serve ice cream and serve it to you in a cone.

Ritter Sport Bunte SchokoWelt

For people who think too much chocolate is not enough chocolate, I highly recommend Ritter Sport Bunte SchokoWelt.

5. When in Berlin, you should go up a tower for an aerial view

Victory Column

I dragged Matt up the 284 steps of the Victory Column in Tiergarten because European trips always include tower climbs.

Tiergarten Berlin

As with the Reichstag, it’s so different to look over this city now after living here almost 6 weeks. The landscape looks so familiar.

We then went about our day and at the end of it found ourselves in Alexanderplatz under the TV tower

TV Tower Berlin

I’d written – somewhat scornfully… – about this tower before about how it’s a big deal but I didn’t get it and how it costs 12E to go up the tower. Well, it’s a big deal because it’s the tallest thing in town and the tallest thing in the country of Germany. It actually costs 11E to go up the tower – pardon! – and it was approaching sunset when we got there so we decided to check out the view.

View from Berlin's TV Tower

Beautiful, although Berlin doesn’t have much in the way of a skyline. Given the swampy ground it’s built on, big tall buildings don’t stand much of a chance. While waiting for the sun to set we got a glass of wine at the bar

TV Tower Berlin

and met delightful Eloise from Dublin

TV Tower with Eloise

And stayed much longer than we’d intended. Which is how all good nights go.

The TV Tower does have great views over Berlin and going up inside is much like visiting the Empire State Building, the London Eye or Chicago’s Willis Tower. There’s nothing quite like an aerial view over a city so it’s almost always worth a visit. I like the old school Victory Column but the TV Tower has kitschy charm as well.

Ok, more tomorrow. I’m off to enjoy my last day in Berlin!

Best of Berlin with MJH, Part 2 is here

Sanssouci, the Palace of No Worries

Sanssouci Potsdam

In my last act of solo tourist-ish-ness, I took a trip south to see Fredrick the Great’s Palace Sanssouci in Potsdam. I took the S-Bahn to Potsdam and then kind of randomly got on a tram headed for the palace complex and got off, also a bit randomly, at the tip of the gardens in the far upper right hand corner

Park Sanssouci map It worked perfectly though and I got to walk through the gardens, more of a forest really, down toward the palace.

Park Sanssouci potsdam

Even though we’re in Germany, I definitely thought “all roads lead to Rome” when I got to this scenic jumble of ruins

Park Sanssouci

Park Sanssouci

that were built ruined, exactly like this, to mimic Roman ruins and create “apparently natural landscape scenery” for the king to gaze upon from his palace. It’s good to be the king.

Park Sanssouci

This colonnade continues the Roman theme even though the rest of the palace mimics Versailles. Just, you know, an intimate little summer home away from the pomp of the Berlin court.

Palace Sanssouci

These gazebos on either end of the palace are very different looking though

Palace Sanssouci

They create a rococo-esque look to match the Rococo palace, only with metal instead of marble

Palace Sanssouci

All the statuary around the palace grounds pays homage to the Romans, representing many Roman gods and the four elements.

Palace Sanssouci

I think this is a water allegory?

Palace Sanssouci

Because that’s a little merbaby in her net

Palace Sanssouci

Lord only knows what this lady is. A sphinx maybe?

Palace Sanssouci

But that baby doesn’t look happy for a good reason. No one messes with mama.

Palace Sanssouci

The statues in the front of this palace are more Roman gods, blessed with just a tiny bit of sunshine today.

Palace Sanssouci

I didn’t go inside the palace. I think after 5 weeks and 4 countries, I’m getting a bit blasé about giant ornate buildings. Sometimes it’s enough just to see them from the outside and be able to loll about on a bench in palace grounds. That, more than anything, means it’s time to go home! I need to regain my touristy sense of wonder if nothing else.

I do love, however, that 3euros brings me to a palace where I can wander the grounds and sit and read by the fountains amidst statuary that dates back 300+ years. That’s one of the greatest things about living in Europe and I took full advantage of it today. I’ll miss all these gorgeous sites when I’m back in America.

Palace Sanssouci

But I still have one more week and I’m about to be joined by one of my favorite partners in crime, Mr. Matt Jower-Ho! He arrives tomorrow and I can’t wait to show him Berlin and do all the last remaining things we can squeeze in before we both leave on Monday. The perfect end to my Berlin odyssey.

More Berlin tomorrow with MJH.

Driving, Pisa and the Med

Breakfast Florence

Today’s synopsis is brought to you by Sarah who, in a moment of extreme frustration today said “Some days you make all the right decisions and everything is good and you have a great day, and then there are those other days…”

Today started as one of the other days when our apartment internet connection was painfully molasses-y while I was trying to upload 1000 pictures to finish the post from yesterday. It took forever this morning. I can’t even talk about it. It didn’t put us behind but spending a couple hours glaring at my computer with gritted teeth and saying “U P L O A D!” wasn’t the best start to the morning.

I have to give props to Sarah and all my friends and family who travel with me and have the utmost patience to sit with their hands in their laps while I photograph all their food and wait patiently (and quietly) while I blog and write every day. You’re the best and I love you all.

I finally finished and we packed, left the house, had the breakfast above, which was great and also had a view of the Arno river, and then the sun came out! And so did all the tourists!

Florence from the ponte vecchio

We walked over the Ponte Vecchio for the last time (lovely), tried to take a picture with no people in it (unlovely)  and then tried to find a taxi to take us to the airport to get our rental car.

Things we didn’t know: you can’t hail cabs in Florence like you can everywhere else in the world. Instead you need to go to a taxi stand and act like you don’t care and you don’t need a taxi and then one shows up. Indifference, apathy and the correct location are the only things that get you cabs in Florence. We didn’t have any of those things because it took us a long time to figure that out, multiple cabs passed us by and we really really wanted to get out of Florence.

A couple strangers finally took pity on us and explained the system and we finally got a cab that took us to the airport only to discover that the airport rental cars aren’t at the actual airport, they’re accessible only by shuttle bus. So again with the indifference, apathy and finding the correct location for the rental car shuttle bus. Finally we got our car, finally Sarah figured out the clutch, a rather harrowing business, after which she said “You know what I need now? Chocolate.”

One piece of chocolate later we lurched our way out of the airport parking lot, started out going the correct direction and then it started raining and then we got lost, at which point I remembered a conversation we’d had the night before about whether or not to get a GPS for the car and Sarah said “How much is it? 27 Euros? No! Let’s just get extra glasses of wine instead.”

Perhaps we’d have been less lost if we’d had the glasses of wine before we got in the car. I’m sure we would’ve cared less. As it was, my lap looked like this:

maps of Tuscany

And none of those maps included all the cities we drove through. The next two hours of our lives were small skinny two way highways

Driving through Italy

Leading into one roundabout after another with multiple signs listing cities I’d frantically try to find on the map while Sarah circled the roundabout, I’d find none, we’d make a guess as to our exit, repeat repeat repeat.

We finally gave up on the scenic route and took the “expressway,” a slightly less skinny highway system and then also stopped for lunch when we realized that low blood sugar wasn’t helping.

So, this pizza from a road side stand called al Molinacci in Uzzano was awesome.

Sarah pizza

Can we talk about that wood fired  crust?

Al Molinaccio pizza

We certainly can. And it cost 1 euro! Our whole lunch including beer and a package of nutella cookies (we needed them) cost us 7 euros. And then the tide changed.

The sun came out, Cyndi Lauper came on our radio singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and we got to Pisa in record time with blue skies and good parking.

How precious is this little wedding cake of a complex?

pisa italy

You can just see the famous tower behind it. And speaking of that tower, I’ve never seen so many ridiculous selfies as I saw in Pisa. Here’s a small sampling, Can you see everyone with their hand out?

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s almost impossible not to play along though, especially on a day with such blue skies. So, here’s Sarah

Sarah in Pisa

And me

me in pisa

And us

pisa selfie

And one more just for good measure in case you can’t remember what it looks like.

Leaning tower of pisa

It’s simply so photographable we couldn’t help ourselves. And unlike everything else in Italy, they plunked it in a huge green open field and made it so easy to take pictures! Thanks Pisa! We could have paid 18 euros to climb the tower but we didn’t. We climbed two yesterday. We’re good.

Instead we took a tower break to photograph gelato (carmel) and cafe (macchiatto)

Gelato y cafe

And buy postcards and jewelry and then we got back in our little silver bullet and zoomed our way to the coast. In what seemed like .3 seconds, we were at the sea.

The Med in Italy

So gorgeous, the Mediterranean.

The Med in Italy

We’d decided to spend the night at the shore and head into wine country tomorrow so after climbing up and down that cliff and watching the waves crash for what seemed like hours, we continued driving down the coast looking for hotels. We swung off the road in Castiglioncello at the first hotel we found that overlooked the ocean to ask if they had a room.

They did. Would we like to see it? Yes. She takes us downstairs and turns to the sea side of the hotel, opens the door, says “and there’s a balcony” and then she opens that door to this view.

The Med from our balcony

Are we interested in the room?  ARE WE INTERESTED IN THE ROOM? Can I live here? Perhaps forever? Just for tonight? Ok, yes. We’ll take the room.

We moved in and stood on the balcony to take in the view and then only ripped ourselves away because we were starving and it was getting late. And then we tried to find an open restaurant in a small seaside town during off season… not easy. Sarah finally accosted a little old guy on the street to ask him about anything open and he said “Sto pensando… pensando…” and then gave us directions up the street to a place he was sure was open and promised we would eat very well. He actually kissed his fingers, God bless him.

The place he recommended was Scolapasta, a white table cloth place that looked very shi shi but starving beggars can’t be choosers so we went in and sat down… and then proceeded to have the best meal I’ve had since I got to Europe, perhaps one of my best all year.

Bread and wine

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh handmade pasta so thin I could see through it

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Fresh grilled seafood

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

And a yogurt mousse dessert so light it was the texture of whipped cream.

Ristorante Scolapasta

Sarah and I couldn’t get over ourselves or this food. I’ve never had Italian pasta that good ever. Not once. And if I’d left Italy and not eaten food like this, I’d have been so sad. I’m also so glad it was by the sea because the seafood was so fresh. Outstanding. All around.

Ristorante Scolapasta Italy

Cheers Scolapasta. You’re magnificent.

And then we bought a bottle of wine and went back to our balcony because.. views.

Sarah and the Med

And that’s how a day turns around. Thank God.

Tomorrow: wine country.

Hanging out in Dresden

Dresden Germany

I’d been in Berlin for 2 weeks and was starting to get that let’s-see-something-else kinda feeling. I blame this on touring because for 10 months out of the year I’m moving every week or two. Now it’s engrained and at the 2 week mark I’m all “What’s next?”

Plus I realized I only had a month left here in Germany, which sounds like a long time but in reality will fly by in a blink. So, I sat down, wrote down all the places I wanted to see, gave myself a loose schedule and bought a train ticket to Dresden.

Dresden Germany

Dresden’s Old Town was completely destroyed in World War 2 on February 13, 1945 when the British and American forces firebombed the city and killed 25,000 people. Kurt Vonnegut was a POW here during that time and wrote Slaughterhouse 5 about the experience. You can even take Vonnegut tours here but I didn’t because I’m not really a fan of his and I don’t totally get his angry satiric humor. I realize I’m uncool and now banned from all postmodern book clubs but I digress…

Dresden.

That picture above is of Old Town, which they rebuilt. From wreckage. They used the original masonry as much as possible and painstakingly put together all these historic buildings using mostly donor money. You can see the difference in the old and new stones in the way they weather (and that dome in the middle is nicknamed “the lemon juicer”).

This building, the Zwinger, is across the street from my hotel

Zwinger Dresden

Just a giant baroque palatial extravaganza in the middle of the city. As one does. Especially in Europe.

And how giant, you ask? Allow to me to explain, with pictures, that pictures don’t capture the ginormous complex that is the Zwinger. Here’s one direction

Zwinger Dresden

Here’s another

Zwinger Dresden

Here’s a cherub

Zwinger Dresden

These are naked lady butts

Zwinger Dresden

This might be the best I can do, which is about a third of the whole thing.

Zwinger Dresden

It’s vast. And obviously lovely and stuffed with statuary.

Zwinger Dresden

I could have stayed here all day photographing cherubs and awkwardly posing for strangers

Zwinger Dresden

But why would I just photograph and pose when this is a museum complex? There are three museums here that the guidebooks say are Amazing and Awesome and NotToBeMissed. Ok, here’s my dirty little German confession: I couldn’t be less interested in museums right now.

I’ve been in approximately 500 museums over the past several years all over the US and Europe. I don’t expect any future art experience to ever rival the Museee D’Orsay in Paris, which literally brought me to tears, nor do I ever expect to  be as pleasantly surprised as I was at the Chilhuly rooms in the OKC Art Museum. I think I’ve got museum fatigue. Old Masters and contemporaries can go unseen by me. I’m good. I want to be outside seeing things I can’t see anywhere else.

That said, I might have art fatigue but if I’d had more time or were I ever to come back, I would go to the Mathematics-Physics Salon in the Zwinger or the German Hygiene Museum, both of which seem promisingly intriguing.

Anyway. Do you need another picture of the Zwinger? All you had to do was ask…

Zwinger Dresden

And once I tore myself away from this complex, I took Rick Steves’ walking tour of Dresden, which eventually brought me to the Frauenkirche and Martin Luther

Frauenkirche Dresden

This is Martin Luther country so I refreshed myself on the Protestant Reformation and contemplated this church, which was completely flattened during the firebombing. It burned for 2 days and then collapsed and since has been completely rebuilt to the tune of 100 million dollars, mostly privately funded. This chunk of masonry was left out to show the devastation of the bombing, complete with a tiny metal stamp to show where the chunk originated

Frauenkirche

That chunk is about 3 feet thick. I can’t even visualize what this city looked like in 1945, nor what it was like to jigsaw these buildings back together and figure out what bombed out sections go where.

They rebuilt and repainted the interior of the church to resemble the original, down to the pastel coloring

Frauenkirche Dresden

Once the original cross was uncovered in the rubble, they planted it by one of the doors and made an altar to peace, though I think the entire city is an altar to peace.

Frauenkirche Dresden

And you can pay 8 euro to climb the tower, which I consider a reasonable donation to a church that has undergone as much trauma as this one. Of course I did it. When in Europe, climb a tower.

I’ll show you pictures of that tomorrow.