Take a walk with me along the stone-paved streets of Berlin...

Day 1 & 2

We left Saturday March 7 after fighting with leaking water pipes in our bedroom from the shower in the attached master bath. Although Troy spent all day working on the repairs, our flight was an evening one, so we got the pipes capped off and made it to the airport in plenty of time. Everything with SAS went smoothly and the flight was enjoyable. I should mention that SAS has added personal entertainment viewers on the back of each seat since our last trip, so we had a big choice of movies, TV, music & even video games. I watched Happy Feet on the flight to Copenhagen. Although we made it to Berlin just fine, my suitcase got left behind in Copenhagen and had to be delivered the next day. Luckily, having learned from past trips, I had a set of underclothes in my carry-on and another in Troy's suitcase. My mom lent me a pair of jeans and some tennis shoes, so I managed but felt like a dork in them. No offense Mom. Fortunately, my stuff arrived by 9 AM the next day so I was able to change into my own clothes for our excursion the see a Dali exhibit was visiting Berlin. It turned out to be a collection of several themed sets of lithographed line drawings and they were very interesting. The collections included Tristan & Isolde, Don Quixote, Alice in Wonderland, Dante's Divine Comedy, Arthur's Knights of the Round Table and some religious-political images. I was most impressed by the way Dali used line so effectively and my favorites were the Tristan & Isolde ones. Most of the items were created in the late 60's and early 70's, and although Dali said he didn't do drugs, everything had a warped quality to it that captured the psychedelic imagery of the times. There were no paintings of limp clocks in this exhibit, and I think it was better for that, to see something different from this highly unusual artist.. 

 Isolde-Salvador Dali

Day 3-4

On Sunday, we went with my brother to the Pergamon Museum. Berlin has many museums, but the Pergamon is unique. Named for the massive marble Pergamon Altar, I wasn't prepared for how huge it really is. Where I was expecting something like a large church altar, this was actually the scale of a town square! It was 2 stories tall, pieced together out of many fragmented friezes that adorned it all over. Click here for pics of the altar. There was a model that showed how it was laid out when it was new and complete. The carving was detailed and beautiful and quite impressive. The altar sets the scene for what to expect of the whole museum. Its specialty is architecture, primarily carved stonework and it spans ancient Babylonian, Greek and Roman times.

click for larger view of carved head   click for larger view of Athena statue   Click for larger view of carved bust

   click for larger view of tomb marker detail

It also houses the Islamic Museum which includes ancient Persian rugs and collections of some of the most detailed and colorful stone, tile and woodwork I've ever seen, including the amazingly intricate Mshatta Facade, part of the outer walls of an ancient Moorish palace! It was breathtaking. Click here for pics of this section of the museum.

Click here for larger pics from the Islamic Museum in the Pergamon Museum Mshatta Facade

Click here for more images of the Ishtar Gate
Ishtar Gate
The Ishtar Gate is near the Pergamon Altar and is also stunning and impressive. Two full rooms are needed to house it because it includes the lane leading up to it and both lane and gate are 12-40 feet tall wall coverings of enameled brick in vivid blue and yellow. The blue field of the walls is then detailed with repeating lions in yellow along the lane and covered with lions and other creatures on the gate.

Ishtar was a goddess whose symbol is the lion, so the gate and lane were built by Nebuchadnezzar II in her honor. It stands out as my favorite part of the Pergamon, but the Babylonian basalt walls and statues were also amazing. There I especially liked the huge pair of Shedu. These items were from the 8th century before Christ, 3000 years old, and they were actually in better condition & less fragmented than most of the younger Greek and Roman pieces.

click for larger image of Babylonian frieze   click for larger image of Shedu Guardians

As usual, Troy and my brother finished long before I turned in my headset and recorded info (available in many languages, including English). We rested over a beer at the Kilkenny Pub after having spent 4 hours in the museum.

The next day we went to a flea market we'd passed the previous morning, and then Mom took us to the Russian War Memorial in the old East sector. The memorial was impressive, but what was more important was mom's stories about how she used to walk there with her father as a child, and in nearby Treptower Park after church on Sundays. It was a nice sunny day and mom's memories made her happy. We walked all over the memorial which features pairs of friezes with text in German on one side & Russian on the other lining a plaza which is capped at the top by a huge statue of a soldier holding a baby in one hand and a sword in the other. In its pedestal is a room with a fantastic mosaic of a small group of Russian people, meant, perhaps, to be a family. It was amazingly well done, full of details like shading in the faces and traditional Russian patterns in the clothing.

We walked from there to Treptower Park and had drinks outside in the sun by the water. Stern & Kreis Boat Company is headquartered there, but the boat season doesn't start till around April. To get home, we took a long scenic bus route that took us past Tempelhof Air Force Base where my father was stationed when he met my mom. The Berlin Airlift Memorial stands there, in a square in front of the base.

click for more pics of hte Russian War Memorial Park

Day 5-7

On Monday we went to Alexander Platz and had our Paddenwirt dinner with Mom. It was just as good as the last time we were there and we were all stuffed by the time we left.

The next day was our big trip to Hamburg to see the Steinway Factory. We got up at 6 AM and got to the Hauptbahnhof just in time to catch the train to Hamburg as it was just leaving. We had to sit in a smoking section due to the last minute hop-on, but the scenery along the way was enough to distract me from the smoke. It was all small farm fields broken by stands of trees as windbreaks between each field, a lot like Kansas or North Dakota except the fields sizes were smaller. We saw a LOT of storks and some deer. There were tree stands or raised shacks for hunting in almost every field.

When we arrived in Hamburg, we didn't know what part of the city the Steinway factory was in, so we went to a tourist help station and asked for guidance. They printed us up a map with the route we needed and directed us to the right trains and buses. We took the S-Bahn to the right part of the city but the bus schedule out there sucked and we took a taxi to the factory from there. What can I say about the Steinway Factory...It was extremely interesting and we were there from 11 AM until 3. They gave us lunch and Frank, our guide, treated us very well. The tour was due to the fact that Troy's lumber mill sells Steinway of New York and Hamburg all their lumber, but the mill keeps sending them stuff that is not quite what they want. Our visit was to help educate the mill on what the piano maker needs and why. We saw each step of the process in making these handcrafted pianos, from how the lumber is cured to the laying out of the soundboard, the making of the grand pianos' curved cases, to the etching of the metal parts that hold the strings, their polishing, all the way to the final product in its 3 stages of tuning and finally the showroom floor. Click here for pictures of the making of a Steinway piano.
click here for images of the Steinway Factory of Hamburg
When we were done, our guide presented us with a pair of Steinway hats & a packet of info then escorted us back to the gate and called us a cab for the next part of our Hamburg adventure, The Dungeons, down at the heart of Hamburg, its harbor. The ride was fun and scenic. Hamburg is a very pretty city with rows of grand old houses overlooking the harbor from tiered hills, St Michael's Cathedral and the Rathaus spires rising above them like sentinels.
Click here for more pics from The Hamburg Dungeons The Dungeons is right by the harbor walls, in a building it shares with another tourist activity, Miniature World. Our goal was the Dungeons though. This somewhat kitschy item was a blast! A combination horror house, history museum and thrill ride, it is mostly a walk-through themed attraction (except for the short boat ride) that brings the history of the city alive through the horrors of its past using live actors, including scenes and rooms dedicated to a torture chamber used to punish lawbreakers caught with British goods during a French occupation and ban on all things British, a fire, a flood, the plague, the Inquisition, Stortebecker the pirate's reign of Robin Hood-type antics, cholera epidemic and poor houses. For a couple who met working at a haunted house, it was a lot of fun for us and here's a picture to prove it!

Although a little spendy at 16.50 Euros, we would do it again, and hope for the opportunity to see the history of London and Amsterdam from their Dungeon franchises. For the record, the group of tourists who shared the experience with us included people from Denmark, Poland, Japan and Bavaria, forcing the Dungeon's players to dust off their English skills as it was the only language we all had in common. There were small plaques in the rooms that translated the happenings of each section into English, but they were hard to read in the dim light and with the live action going on in each room. Translations really weren't necessary for the bursting spew of a plague-boil anyway. Sadly, no photos were allowed inside, but we got some outside and the one above which their photographer took as we first entered. Click here to see them all. By the time we were done with the Dungeons, we were exhausted and it was getting dark and cold. Although it had been a sunny day, it was quite cold when the sun went down and I was cold and getting sick, nose running like a faucet, so we headed directly back to the train station already planning a return visit to this lovely city next time.

click here for pics of Tiergarten Park I was pretty miserable by the time we got back about 10 PM and fell into bed. The next day, despite the annoying runny nose, we still took advantage of another partly sunny day for a walk from Mom's to the Victory Angel, a direct but not uncomfortably long walk from her house through the Tiergarten park. We climbed the 500+ steps up the Victory Angel to take in the 360 degree view and the beautiful mosaic that adorns its pedestal. The Angel is made of and adorned by captured enemy cannons from Germany's fight with the French during the 1800's. The walk was lovely, through the greening trees and shrubs of the park. We even saw a pair of woodpeckers, all bright in their red, black and white plumage. There seems to be something of beauty or interest around every turn, whether it's a finely crafted bit of iron work or a grand statue from a vanished time. Troy took a lot of pictures on both the digital and the regular camera. You can see them here.
Troy and I took some time for ourselves the next day, having learned from our trip to Hamburg that our train passes were also good for free passage on any S-bahn. We wandered around various parts of the city, hopping off the train anyplace that looked interesting and letting our feet lead us around. We took pics of the Berliner Dom, random statues and sights and stumbled upon a car dealership that had a new and old Bentley and a 400 kph Bugatti on display near the Ku'damm. We were amused that across the street and a half block down was also a Ferrari dealer. I picked up a nice .5 liter pilsner glass from a local brew house for my friend's birthday present and a small bottle of my favorite scotch that day. At the same place, Troy also got some Cuban cigars to smuggle back for himself. Click here for pics of the cars and sights of this day. click here for more pics of this Bugatti and other interesting sites

Day 8-9

Our last day was spent with both Mom and Roger. We didn't see much of my brother this visit because he was working an odd shift all week, but on our last full day, we were looking forward to going to a soccer game to see Berlin's team, Hertha BSC with him. We all took the bus over to Ka De We, a large and famous department store on the Ku'damm and wandered around there a while. Troy bought some more cigars and mom got herself some perfume, which she shared with me. We picked up yummy fruit-topped cakes for a snack which ruined our appetites for the Greek dinner Mom took us to that evening. The food at Restaurant Santorini was excellent and plentiful, and served with shots of Ouzo as a starter and flavored yogurt for dessert. I didn't like the Ouzo at all. I hate black licorice to begin with, and Ouzo isn't sweet like  liqueur to take the edge off, so to me it was awful, unlike the rest of the meal which I enjoyed, even though I could only eat about half of it.
Click here for images from our last day in Berlin  Afterward, stuffed and sleepy, Troy, Roger and I hopped on the crowded train to the Olympia Stadium to see the soccer game. Roger was so tired I almost opted not to go, but I knew that a sports fan like him would perk up once the game started. I'm always amazed by the dedication of Berlin fans, and the things that are allowed at a German sports game that would not be allowed here. The flags, banners, chanting and drums were infectious, and even though Berlin lost to Cottbus, we had a good time anyway. Click here for pictures of this day.

Our flight back home departed around 9 AM, a nice change from the old days when they all seemed to leave at 6 AM. Roger met us at Tegel airport and we had our subdued farewell hour over coffee and a last broetchen and breakfast cake. The flight went well till about 30 minutes outside of Copenhagen when the turbulence kicked up. The pilot said it was due to heavy winds and all but one runway were closed at Copenhagen airport. We were already scheduled for a 4.5 hour wait there, but it stretched by another 2 hours when the winds didn't slow and the equipment used to load the planes could not be used. Out of money and stuck there, were calmly waited it out, grateful for the chocolate and pretzels in our carry-on bags, and people watching to pass the time. Once again appreciative of the personal entertainment centers provided by SAS, I watched The Prestige and Something's Gotta Give on my little movie screen on the long return flight to Seattle.

The overall impression I took back from this trip is that it was pretty nice, a bit less emotionally challenging than the last couple of times. It is always hard to leave Roger though, and saying goodbye to him made me cry. Of all the damage done in our parents' divorce, that separation is the deepest wound to both of us, the one that leaves what ifs and regrets circling around like vultures casting shadows not only on our past but on our future as well. I learned more thing about my mom that I knew before, and am left thinking that she has overcome some of the worst hardships people can imagine and come out with a good heart and a surprising amount of forgiveness that I will probably never have. Troy's favorite parts of the trip were the Steinway factory and the Dungeons. Mine were the Mshatta Facade and Ishtar Gate, and beautiful colorful exhibits of the Islam Museum at the Pergamon. Next time we plan to return to Hamburg and spend more time exploring, and in Berlin, a visit to the huge zoo and the inside of Charlottenburg Castle. If you have a question about anything in this journal or about Berlin that you'd like to know more about, please e-mail me and I'll gladly do my best to answer it.


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*background image is from a photo of Berlin's stone cobbled streets taken by Troy Torres.
All photos ©Troy Torres 2007, web design ©Sonja Torres 2007

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