Exploring Berlin

New Synagogue

Learning to navigate a large city requires patience and perseverance – ha… Berlin’s heated pace is both daunting and exhilarating. I’ve gone from being hopelessly lost to feeling ecstatic while blending with locals and making successful transport connections!

French Cathedral

Navigating Berlin

As a point of comparison, Istanbul’s 14 million population makes Berlin’s 4 million seem small, but to me, Istanbul’s public transit system is easier to learn. Switching between the U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban train) is confusing. My U-Bahn station is Gneisenaustraße – still trying to pronounce it correctly. During my first subway outing a Berliner helped by providing directions involving a U-Bahn to S-Bahn transfer. There are various transfer options and this one turned out to be complicated (for a tourist), somehow leaving me in the middle of nowhere at night, terrified!

Wilhelminian Style Architecture

When will I learn the lesson about not asking locals for directions – a basic rule that continues to elude my travels? Essential elements of getting around seamlessly and independently in foreign countries include MapsMe or Google Maps and a power charger for your smartphone. In Berlin, speaking German is also helpful…

Gendarmenmarkt – Deutscher Dom, Französischer Dom, Berlin Konzerthaus

Berlin Opera House St. Hedwig’s Episcopal Cathedral

Berlin Tours

I’ve booked some interesting tours and decided to make “dry runs”, to eliminate 11th hour drama reaching the starting point on time. Berlin is a city of striking images, but I haven’t taken many photos – dangerous while still getting your bearings.

German Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

Yesterday I joined a six-hour walking tour led by Berlin Like A Local. As with most of these outings, there was too much detailed information provided. The tour lasted most of the day – with a 30-minute lunch break and a few moving caffeine stops. We walked at a fast pace with little time for photos or chit-chat. Since then, I’ve downloaded self-guided tours to my smartphone. The next walking tour will be at my pace, and I can replay the commentary as many times as necessary :o).

Jewish Cemetery

Holocaust Survivors

Checkpoint Charlie – Getty Images

The group included tourists from Amsterdam, Zürich, London, and New York City. They were in their 20s – 30s and good fun. Most of them were visiting Berlin to experience its vibrant techno nightlife scene. The Londoner shared pointers about Albania – possibly my next stop. One young couple was on their way to Prague.

German Museum

Berliner Dome During the Festival of Lights – Shutterstock

Our Australian guide from Melbourne had lived in Berlin for over 4 years while attending university. He majored in subjects which make him an expert on European history and a powerhouse of information. His commentary was funny at times, e.g., he told us “you can take a dog or a beer anywhere in Berlin”…

German Bakery

Attractions and Landmarks

Some of the sites we saw are listed below – more for my benefit than readers of this post. Each site has its own unique history and compelling story. We began in the east near River Spree at the Tränenpalast Museum (Tears Palace) and ended at Brandenburg Gate in the west.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The stark Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by Peter Eisenman is graphic and impressive. It consists of 2,711 cuboid concrete stelae (slabs) and encompasses an entire block near the Brandenburg Gate. We walked respectfully through the controversial memorial. It’s difficult to describe the feelings of isolation and helplessness as the concrete blocks grow taller and a slanted pavement adds to the disorientation. Eisenman’s brilliant work gets your attention and makes its brutal point.

Retro look Unter den Linden, Berlin

Unter den Linden Boulevard – 123RF

Brandenburg Gate

We took a break on top of Hitler’s underground air-raid bunker where he and Eva Braun committed suicide. It’s now blended with the landscaping of a modern apartment complex. Another interesting spot was the exterior of Angela Merkel’s flat in Prenzlauer Berg where she no longer stays. Trendy Prenzlauer Berg has old Wilhelminian-style buildings and fashionable cafés and shops. The apartment rents for € 65 per night.

River Spree

During the 1990s, the fall of the Berlin Wall brought extreme euphoria, wild partying, and a “chaotic, anarchistic mood”. Since then, Berlin has experienced major change! This was a cursory tour. Over the next few months I will look deeper and gain a better understanding of Berlin’s fascinating past and bright future. Although not always immediately obvious, Berlin’s dark past and present intertwine.

Bebelplatz

Memorial to George Elser – Hitler’s Would Be Assassin

Mitte Side Street

Memorial to Nazi Burning of Books Bebelplatz

Clear autumn weather in the 70s is to continue this week. I’m besotted with Berlin and the adventures so far. Happy to be staying in the Kreuzberg / Neukölln area, a vibrant community rich in diversity and character.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Mehr später…

Hot Oregon Summer – Berlin Next

Gendarmenmarkt Berlin – depositphotos.com

Gardening and Wildfires

It’s been a restful, contemplative summer in Oregon working in my garden with deer, wild turkeys, annoying yellow jackets, and a stray Gothic-looking black cat. Sadly, dry and windy conditions combined with record-breaking heat resulted in raging wildfires all around us.

Garden Visitor

Cute Stray Cat

The massive Carr Fire near the California / Oregon border created terrifying “fire tornadoes“. They occur when a fire acquires “vertical vorticity and forms a whirl”. Fire tornadoes can “grow to gargantuan size with winds of over 90 mph”.

Fire Tornado – zmescience.com

Carr Fire Chopper – The Mercury News Bay Area

The Carr Fire ignited in late July. A month later, after “torching more than 200,000 acres,” it’s about 90 percent contained!  Smoke from fires in Oregon, California, Washington, and nearby Colorado and Canada creates a surreal aura, bringing an eerie atmospheric haze, poor air quality, and vivid sunrises and sunsets.

Wildfire Sunset San Francisco Bay – Fstoppers.com

Wildfire Smoke at Sunrise – Jonathan Hayward Canadian Press

Brave Wildfire Fighter – Charlie Nash Photography

Next Long Trip

I’ve started getting into the specifics of my next travel adventure. No matter what, this time I’m traveling with one piece of luggage!

Berlin Boroughs and Districts

Like in 2017, I’ll begin in Europe and eventually make my way back to South Africa. I decided to start in Berlin – a new city for me. I’ve studied Berlin’s East and West boroughs and have a few leads for rental apartments in well-located areas near attractions and transportation – Mitte, Charlottenburg-WilmersdorfFriedrichshain-Kreuzberg, and Neukölln. Rents are reasonable, and the apartments look comfortable.

Museum Island River Spree – Stock Photo

Return to South Africa

I’m apprehensive about violence in many parts of Africa – Congo, Mali, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, et al. Although I’ve never experienced violence during my travels in Africa, six cities in South Africa – Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Pietermaritzburg, Rustenburg, and Johannesburg – made the top ten list of the most dangerous cities on the African continent. Xenophobic related violence in South Africa is disturbing. Here in the US, we clearly have our own problems and brand of political tension, civil unrest, violence, and a vast chasm between “left versus right” ideologies…

Berlin Cathedral – Wikimedia.org 

Thankfully Day Zero in Cape Town’s drought is now pushed out beyond 2019, but the government’s move toward land expropriation without compensation is a concern. More than two decades after the end of apartheid, land ownership remains a “highly emotive” subject for South Africans – that may be an understatement. According to the ruling ANC government, white people own 72 percent of private land, black people 4 percent, and other ethnic groups 24 percent.

Berlin Cathedral at Museum Island – 123RF.com

Land expropriation is said to be “the most pressing social issue in the country”. However, some think high crime, corruption, and the “triple-time-bomb of poverty, unemployment, and inequality” are the issues keeping South Africans awake at night.

Kayelitsha Township Outside Cape Town – Dan Kitwood Getty Images

Julius Malema Leader Economic Freedem Fighters (EFF) -blouinnews

Julius Sello Malema Leader Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) – blouinnews.com

The ANC-led government and members of the militant, aggressive Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party differ in their approach to land expropriation. The EFF – founded in 2013 and led by outspoken Julius Sello Malema – is a self-proclaimed “radical leftist, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist movement that draws inspiration from the broad Marxist-Leninist tradition.

Mmusi Maimane – Leader Democratic Alliance

The Democratic Alliance (DA) – the ANC’s official opposition and second largest political party – accuses both the ANC and EFF of “misleading the public on land expropriation”. They claim to have the best land-reform plan. DA leader Mmusi Maimane says, “there can be no new dawn for South Africa until the ANC is out of power“.

My extended South African visa expires in 2020 – a regular entry (tourist) visa issued at the airport is good for 90 days. I haven’t decided whether to pursue the rigorous renewal process. The “retirement visa” has allowed me to make long trips (up to five years) to explore and better understand South Africa. I especially enjoy the Western Cape, hiking Table Mountain, volunteer work with young children, and vibrant Cape Town – a special and dear place to me. South Africa is a strikingly beautiful but complex and sometimes difficult country that can’t possibly be understood without spending extended time there.

Unter den Linden by Night – 123RF.com

During this period of rapid change, the National Development Plan (NDP) is the country’s detailed proposal addressing key issues for uniting South Africans.The lofty NDP goals to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality are to be implemented by 2030. What little I know of the NDP, it seems overwhelming, but I’m digressing – back to Berlin

Clouds Over Table Mountain from Signal Hill Cape Town – Erik Pronske Getty Images

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The NDP’s goal is to “unite South Africans, unleash the energies of its citizens, grow an inclusive economy, build capabilities, and enable the state and leaders to work together to solve complex problems”…

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Staatsoper Unter den Linden

Berlin State Opera Staatsoper Unter den Linden – Wikipedia

Berlin This Fall

I plan to arrive in Berlin in September. Their fall weather is much like Oregon’s with cool but mild temperatures. When winter comes and it starts getting really cold, I’ll move south – not sure where yet. I’m considering exploring new places versus returning to more familiar areas. New countries of interest include Romania and Albania, but Italy and Spain also have moderate winter climates.

Berlin Brandenburg Gate at Dusk – pond5.com

I’m looking for a three-month rental apartment in the Berlin-Mitte borough, the central section of former East Berlin. “Before the war and division of the city, Mitte was the center of Berlin. It’s regained its former pre-eminence to such an extent that many visitors never see the western side of the city.”

Bode Museum Mitte – Wikimedia.org

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Mitte is the oldest and most historic part of Berlin with many cultural attractions and “ever-expanding restaurant, club, and arts scenes”.

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Strandbar at Bode Museum Mitte

Mitte begins at Potsdamer Platz and the Brandenburg Gate on the east side of Tiergarten Park. The grand boulevard, Unter den Linden, is lined with 18th- and 19th-century palaces and monuments.

Mitte – VanDam StreetSmart Maps

Tiergarten Park – berlijn-blog.nl

Komische Opera House Berlin – operawire.com

I’m excited to attend theater performances and the Berlin opera! Berlin is teeming with performing arts theaters, cabarets, and clubs. The Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin’s main opera house, and the Komische Oper, the third largest, are both in Mitte. Berlin’s Philharmonic Season begins in late September. Other major attractions in the area include Gendarmenmarkt, a neoclassical square, Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), and Museumsinsel (Museum Island) with five major museums. Frivolous activities that top my list are – mingling with locals, hanging out in cafés, overnight side trips, and exploring less-traveled backstreets.

Christmas Berlin – efcollegebreak.com 

Germany’s festive Christmas Markets are legendary. These are the top five:

  1. Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt
  2. Berliner Weihnachtszeit at Roten Rathaus
  3. Wintertraum am Alexa
  4. Winterwelt am Potsdamer Platz
  5. Weihnachtsmarkt am Gedächtniskirche

Christmas Markets Berlin – classictic.com

I don’t speak German but am learning key phrases and pronunciation rules hoping I don’t butcher the language too much. During past travels in Germany, English was spoken everywhere. Mehr später…

Monbijou Park Embankment River Spree