Thursday, November 10, 2016

OCT. 8, 2016 - NOV. 4, 2016..BERLIN TO PARIS, and PLACES IN BETWEEN

Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016 - We began this trip with our customary drive to the Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX area.  The mid-morning stop was at the "new to them" apartment of our friends, Larry & Wanda Bedford who recently sold their home in McKinney (north of Dallas) and made the move to a senior retirement village in Plano, TX.   Shown below are our friends,  Larry & Wanda Bedford and Sylvia.







After lunch and a few hours of visiting we departed from Plano about 2:30 p.m. and drove to our antique mall in Arlington, TX for a quick stop to leave a few small items before continuing on toward the DFW airport.  With the parking of our car at a reserved spot in a hotel parking lot and using the hotel shuttle we still arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.  The check in was very simple and clearing security wasn't much of a hassle since we are considered "TSA Prechecked", and we were soon at our gate with extra time for our 9:55 p.m. departure on American Airlines flight 80 to London Heathrow.  Luckily, the flight was not full and we had an entire row of 5 seats for only the two of us.  With that some sleeping was possible even though it was not without interruption.









Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 - We arrived at London Heathrow approximately on time, 1:15 p.m. at this miserable airport with nothing to do but wait and spend the few British pounds that were left from our last trip through England in 2014.  The pounds were soon gone as we chose some snacks of chocolate and soft drinks.  Our flight to Berlin on British Airways was scheduled for departure at 3:35 p.m. Above when I wrote "this miserable airport" I was referring to the lack of appropriate waiting space provided for the traveler.  At Heathrow, the departing gate for a flight is not posted until 1/2 hour before the scheduled departure.  Prior to that on the read out, the message, for example, is "gate for flight 986 posted at 1500 hours".  So, the traveler must "compete" for the limited number of seats in the general non-specific areas where a monitor is easily visible and the traveler must wait to run toward an unspecified gate when that number is posted.  Luckily, since our luggage was checked from DFW all the way to Berlin, we were only dealing with the carry-ons.
 




Our flight departed somewhere near the posted time (which in our experience is probably a record for Heathrow)!  Landing at Berlin TXL airport was smooth and we were met by a driver who transferred us to a Hotel Best Western in the section of Old Berlin called "Mitte".  Once settled in the hotel we learned that the hotel had no restaurant that served dinner.  So we inquired of a recommended location for dinner.  The hotel employee suggested a nice German place about 3 blocks away.  We walked there in the early evening and located it in the basement of a large building.  The food was good, at least they served items we liked such as many potato dishes, and good desserts some even made with potatoes.  Many locals were there enjoying the food and the beer.  After eating our light supper we made our way back to the hotel and fell into bed, having slept very little since Friday night.








Monday, Oct. 10. 2016 - Berlin, Germany - It was a beautiful, crispy morning in Berlin, and in the daylight the city looked very inviting; not anything like one man at the antique show had warned me about.  We had breakfast at the hotel, then with some extra time before the start of our schedule tour  we took a walk for about one mile before we returned to the hotel.  With the help of the hotel staff, we mapped our route to the Reichstag Building and set out to walk there.  On the way we crossed the Spree River near the multiple government buildings that surrounded the Reichstag Building. 



The Reichstag Building was the place where we were scheduled to meet our tour guide.

The Reichstag building is a historical edifice in Berlin constructed to house the Imperial Diet (representative) of the German Empire.  It was opened in 1894 and housed the Diet until it was damaged by arson on  Feb. 27, 1933.  Marinus van der Lubbe, a young Dutch council communist,  was caught at the scene of the fire and arrested for the crime. Van der Lubbe was an unemployed bricklayer who had recently arrived in Germany. He declared that he had started the fire and was tried and sentenced to death. The fire was used as evidence by the Nazi Party that communists were plotting against the German government. The event is seen as pivotal in the establishment of Nazi Germany.  Adolf Hitler, who was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany January 30th of that same year, urged President Paul von Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree to suspend civil liberties in order to counter the ruthless confrontation of the Communist Party of Germany.   After passing the decree, the government instituted mass arrests of communists, including all of the Communist Party parliamentary delegates. With their bitter rival communists gone and their seats empty, the Nazi Party went from being a plurality party to the majority.  And, I'm sure you are familiar with the horrible details that followed.




After WW II and all the bombings by the Allied forces, the Reichstag building fell into disuse.  The ruined building was made safe against the elements and partially refurbished in the 1960s, but no attempt at full restoration was made until after German reunification on October 3, 1990.  With the  completion of the reconstruction in 1999, it once again became the meeting place of the German parliament.




Our guide, a young woman from Romania who spoke perfect English, met our group at the appointed time in front of the Reichstag building for our tour, "Storyline of Berlin Small Group Tour".  That group consisted of the two of us and the guide.  What a nice (private) walking tour!  (Notice how we are wearing multiple layers, etc.  It started out as a cool day.)

Our guide pointed out the remaining foundation of the Berlin Wall. 
 

It ran behind the Reichstag Building (in the pictures above, you saw the front), and continued toward the Brandenburg Gate and throughout the city.



 Once again I enjoyed seeing another quadriga, this time on top of the Brandenburg Gate.  This quadriga, like others in cities in Europe, is styled after the one at St. Marks in Venice, Italy.  The Venice one was once captured by Napoleon and taken to Paris.  However, it was later returned and a copy was made for an arch in Paris.





The Berlin Wall ran next to the Brandenburg Gate, basically making the gate virtually unusable.

Below, in present day restored Berlin, a lovely fall-colored tree is seen in a park across from the Reichstag Building and the Brandenburg Gate.

I've included this because I was "taken" by beauty of the restored city of Berlin, i.e. the wide avenues, parks, memorials, etc.  And, I noticed the establishment of a trend here which continued throughout the trip but was somewhat missing in Paris.  That trend being always the mention of the damage caused by the bombings of World War II and the resulting restoration. 




Traveling through the Brandenburg Gate and looking back, I spotted this street entertainer.  He seemed so typical of people we've seen in the other parts of  Germany that we have visited on previous trips displaying a "happy-go-lucky" attitude in the shadows of what was once the horror created by the Nazis and the site of the repressive Berlin Wall of the Soviets.


Across the wide span of the main boulevard in the Mitte district of Berlin, opposite the Brandenburg Gate is the historical Hotel Adlon, an upscale, luxury hotel originally constructed in 1907 and restored in 1997. 

And, next door, the American Embassy.



Opposite these buildings is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It consists of a 4.7-acre site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The slabs are 7 ft 10 in long, 3 ft 1 in wide and vary in height from7.9 in to 15 ft 5.0 in.   They are organized in rows, 54 of them going north–south, and 87 heading east–west at right angles.




This was a very sobering place to visit.




 





Our next stop was at this very unassuming wooden sign.  It was used to mark the location (below ground) of the bunker where Eva Braun & Adolf Hitler died.  There was a small wooden plaque that designated the spot.



Then we continued on in a residential area where our guide pointed out this statute honoring Georg Elser.  Georg Elser was a German Anarchist and worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on 8 November 1939 in Munich, Germany.  A time bomb that Elser constructed and placed near the speaking platform failed to kill Hitler, who left earlier than expected, but killed eight people and injured over sixty-two others. Elser was held as a prisoner for over five years until executed in 1945 at the Dachau concentration camp.[
 




On a very wide, modern street our guide pointed out a new all glass government buildings put up since the fall of the Berlin Wall.  She mentioned that the presence of all glass and sunlight inside symbolizes the openness of the government and their world without the presence of the Soviet wall.


Contrast this with the building shown below, built by the Soviets and the outside painted with murals of Soviet propaganda.





 Our next stop was at the Topography of  Terror an outdoor and indoor history museum.  Here, you see a remaining portion of the Berlin Wall with the obvious opening created. And, the "inside" and basement area of that same wall where prisoners were housed.



 
The Topography of Terror is located on the site of buildings which during the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945 were the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS, the principal instruments of repression during the Nazi era.  The buildings that housed the Gestapo and SS headquarters were largely destroyed by Allied bombing during early 1945 and the ruins demolished after the war. The boundary between the American and Soviet zones of occupation in Berlin ran along this street, so the street soon became a fortified boundary, and the Berlin Wall ran along the south side of the street from 1961 to 1989. The wall here was never demolished. Indeed, the section adjacent to the Topography of Terror site is the longest segment of the outer wall, the longer section being actually part of the inner wall not visible from West Berlin.


On a lighter note, our next stop we viewed a tethered hot air balloon from a company called HiFlyer Berlin.  They suggest, " Experience the gentle climb to 150 meters (500 feet) up in our tethered helium balloon!"  We decided against it and were glad when I later read a review that stated, "The hot air balloon ride is a little rough so the weak of the heart should avoid it. ...".




In the middle of town, note all the young people and the glass sided buildings!




Walking to another area of the city we could see the Cathedral of Berlin above the trees.  Berlin Cathedral is the short name for the Evangelical Supreme Parish and Collegiate Church. The current building was finished in 1905 and restored after the German reunification.


But first, we stopped at Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers Shop where we admired the many displays and after inquiring what we like, our guide selected some dark chocolate treats for everyone.







We reached the Berlin Cathedral ("German Church"), located in a square called Gendarmenmarkt.  It is also the site of a concert hall and a French Church.  The square was created in 1773.  During World War II most of the buildings were badly damaged or destroyed.   Today all of them have been restored.





We entered an adjacent square called Bebelplatz, where on May 10, 1930 the German Student Union conducted the first ceremonially book burning.  The books targeted for burning were those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism.  These included books written by Jewish, pacifist, Religious, classical liberal, anarchist, socialist, and communist authors, among others.  The students burned upwards of 25,000 volumes of "un-German" books, thereby promising an era of uncompromising state censorship. In many university towns, nationalist students marched in torch lit parades against the "un-German" spirit. The scripted rituals of this night called for high Nazi officials, professors, rectors, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged, banned books into the bonfires with a great joyous ceremony that included live music, singing, "fire oaths," and incantations. In Berlin, some 40,000 people gathered in this square to hear Joseph Goebbels (politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of the Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler's close associate) deliver a fiery address: "No to decadence and moral corruption!" Goebbels enjoined the crowd. “Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of ...”






Here, after 6 hours our walking tour ended.  Our guide gave us directions to return to the Reichstag Building and then our hotel using Unter den Linden ("under the linden trees") boulevard passing through Brandenburg Gate.  On that boulevard, shown below, is an 1851 equestrian statue of King Frederick II of Prussia that look much like the one of Peter the Great in the square with St. Peters Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia..

Our walking record (on Garmin Vivofit) for the day show 10.24 miles.
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Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. Berlin, Germany - Our scheduled tour "Forbidden City: Tour of Potsdam" began at 9:30 a.m. with our guide, Johannes Westerkamp, picking us up at our hotel in Berlin. Once again, we were favored that our group tour was made up of only two and the guide Johannes.  Johannes a young, enterprising native is a good driver who maneuvered us through the heavy early morning traffic of Berlin to get us to the countryside and well-known city of Potsdam.  Potsdam is the capital and largest city of the German federal state of Brandenburg.  It directly borders Berlin.  Potsdam is situated on the Havel River 15 miles southwest of Berlin's city center. 


Until 1918, Potsdam was a residence of the Prussian kings and the German Kaiser.  Its planning embodied ideas of The Age of Enlightenment:  through a careful balance of architecture and landscape, and as such,  Potsdam was intended as "a picturesque, pastoral dream" which reminded its residents of their relationship with nature and reason.  Around the city there are a series of interconnected lakes and cultural landmarks, in particular the parks and palaces of  Sanssouci, the largest World Heritage Site in Germany. The Potsdam Conference,  the major post-World War II conference between the victorious Allies leaders Churchill, Truman, and Stalin , was held at another palace in the area, the Cecilienhof. 



After driving through this very tranquil neighbor, we made our way toward the  Palace of Babelsberg, in the south-eastern part of Potsdam.  Nearby is the Babelsberg Filmstudio, the oldest large-scale film studio in the world.  Prior to the war, it was a major film production studio.  Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it has again enjoyed success as a major center of European film production.  Potsdam developed into a center of science in Germany in the 19th century. Today, there are three public colleges, the University of Potsdam, and more than 30 research institutes in the city. 








After driving through this very tranquil neighborhood, ("a picturesque, pastoral dream") our first stop was at the Palace of Babelsberg, still in the restoration process in the south-eastern part of Potsdam.
Note this beautiful entryway leading up to the palace doors.


Standing inside this entryway, Johannes tells Sylvia about the views from this location and introduces the suggestion that the German emperors created their own "Roman ruins" visible from such places.  Take notice of the picturesque opening at the end of this entryway as it frames such a place, which is actually the site of historic pump house designed like a mosque. 



I think we could live here very comfortably.  Ha!




It also comes with some fake Roman ruins.


In the garden is a religious statue. 








Visible from the Babelsberg Castle is a bridge, known as the Glienicke Bridge.  In the middle of this bridge was the site of the Berlin Wall isolating not just Potsdam from West Berlin, but also doubling commuting times to East Berlin.  The Glienicke Bridge across the Havel River connected the city to West Berlin and was the scene of some Cold War exchanges of spies. 















A short drive away takes us the town square of Old Market Square of Potsdam where there are 3 very important buildings:  The City Palace (shown below),
 

and, the Old City Hall on the left with St. Nicholas' Church on the right; both in the background of the marble obelisk. 




Our guide pointed out to us that the City Palace, as it stood before the bombing of WW II, was a prime example of the "creative" construction of the German ruling classes.  The building was originally constructed as an army barracks, but the emperor, wanting it to look more fitting with the surrounding structures, had a façade made so that this army barracks would look like a palace.  Here it is shown, restored after the bombings.



St. Nicholas' Church (below)













 






Traveling toward our next stop we saw these wonderful wrought iron gates and fence which turned out to be that stop, Sanssouci Palace





.
Inside the fence, we walked though a very old cemetery.





Then, a village that housed the supporting staff for the palace.

And, viewed an archway with the tree lined entry drive.


And, gardens similar only to those seen by this writer at Versailles outside Paris and St. Petersburg, Russia.








Below, these trees are being moved indoors for the winter season. 

















 
 

Finally, we visited the property that was formerly the Cecilienhof Palace, now used as a hotel with parts of it still being restored.

 
 
 

This hotel, reflective of the 20th century designs of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is the site of the famous Potsdam Conference in 1945.  
 
 

Our tour ended back at our hotel in Berlin. 
(Garmin Vivofit walking records for this day 5.97 miles).




Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016 - Berlin to Krakow, Poland - At 5 a.m. this morning our driver from the Sunday airport-to-hotel transfer picked us up at the hotel for the transfer back to Berlin airport TXL where we boarded our flight to Krakow, Poland at 8:50 a.m. on a AirBerlin turboprop airlines, DHC-8, Q-400, holding 68 passengers.  I had forgotten the sounds that go along with a prop airplane and soon was digging for my earphones to block those sounds that make one imagine the engines might not be able to supply enough power for the next climb.  Anyway, we landed safely in Krakow, Poland on time, 10:15 a.m. and once we had claimed our luggage, we found our driver holding a card with our name on it.  A light rain had begun to fall as we departed the airport.  At this location we were meeting our friends, Tommy & Virginia Wheat, from Alabama. (picture taken at another location)
 

Tommy & Virginia had arrived in Krakow the previous evening and check into the apartment we had rented together for this stay.  One of the perks of this apartment was the arranged transportation from the airport to the lodging.  At the airport our driver loaded the luggage and when we arrived at the apartment he delivered it to the 3rd floor dwelling.  We visited and unpacked in the nice, spacious 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, living room & kitchen and then it was time for lunch.  So, in the light rain, we set out to locate a restaurant to have lunch.  A few blocks walk, perhaps 10-15 minutes, and we located a place that we liked the looks of the posted menu.  The restaurant was actually located in a basement of a large building, and the food was very much to our liking.  There were sausage dishes and potato dishes in various combinations.  We ordered and liked the food, planning to return there later in the week.  Outside, the rain was still falling as we walked a couple of blocks further toward the city center.




After ducking into a few places to remain dry on the street corner we spotted an extended electric golf cart with clear plastic windows that was offering a (dry, warm) tour of the area.  Below, is an example of the vehicle since I wasn't using a camera when we boarded.  On board, we chose the Old Town tour with options to later take  the Jewish Quarter tour and the Schindler's Factory area tour.

As the first tour ended, we decided to make it a "sweep" and take all three.  It was a great decision and we enjoyed riding in the rain, staying warm inside and seeing the sights as our driver spoke good English and gave us a running commentary.  We stopped at a beautiful church and went inside.  However, I failed to take any pictures so have nothing to show.


The third tour ended and we then walked back to our apartment, stopping off at the grocery store for a few grocery items to add to the items Virginia & Tommy had purchased earlier.  After a light supper, Sylvia & I set out walking back toward The Chopin Gallery at an address near downtown.  There we had prepaid to attend one hour concert of Chopin music.  Somewhere along the way we took a wrong turn and eventually got lost, never making it to our destination.  In fact we were in a very industrialized-looking part of town we had seen that day on one our tours.   Finally realizing we were lost and probably couldn't find our way back, we hailed a cab and relied on our cab driver who, safely took us back to the apartment.  Walking records for day 8.26 miles 



Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016 - Krakow, Poland - Today, Sylvia and I had previously scheduled this tour--the reason we decided to visit Poland--Auschwitz-Birkenau, 7 hour tour.  We had booked & paid for this tour through the Viator website and were given the name of the local contractor, Discover Cracow, who would be the administering the tour.  Locations were mentioned for pickup with the closest to us being the Best Western Hotel Old Town (5 minute walk from our apartment).  So, when I called Discover Cracow and requested that we included in the pick-up at the Best Western Hotel Old Town even though we were staying at a rental apartment nearby, the representative of Discover Cracow refused to let us be picked up at that location.  Instead, she told us that we must come to the downtown location of Discover Cracow which was almost a mile from our apartment.  So, at 6 a.m. this morning we departed from the apartment to walk to the downtown location of Discover Cracow.  (This complaint is not the end of this issue as I plan to pursue this with the Viator company).  On the bus all went well on the ride to the site.


What can I say about Auschwitz-Birkenau that hasn't been written or spoken?  The entire tour, the entire day was a very emotional experience.  I'm at a loss for words to describe it but will include pictures with some comments.

  








Please click this picture to enlarge & take the time to read the facts about this place (in English, lower portion).

















We were told that the flowers below had been placed there by recent visitors, who were the descendants of those who had died in this horrible place.  Early in our tour we saw a young man, perhaps in his late teens, carrying a bouquet of flowers, probably to be placed here or another location of honor and remembrance.



 






























Once again, I ask you to click this picture to enlarge & read the text of this marker.

 
Reportedly, the pictures below are of the site of the buildings where many, many victims died when the Nazis, as they feared this area being captured by the Allied forces (Russians), exploded these buildings to destroy the evidence of their horrific deeds.   










Click this center marker for the information in English. 

 









 











And, one final look at this horrible, horrific place--never to be forgotten by this writer.



The return ride to Krakow was, for me, a very somber, reflective time.

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After being let off the bus in downtown Krakow, Sylvia & I walked to the location of the Chopin Gallery that we couldn't find the previous night before we returned to the apartment for supper in the apartment.  After missing the Chopin concert on the previous evening I had checked the schedule and found it was being offered again on this evening at 7 p.m.  Early that evening, Sylvia & I departed for the walk to the 6 p.m., 1 hour, Orchestra Concert at a church located in the downtown area.  We had no problem locating the church and enjoyed the well-attended concert very much.  As it was nearing the end (group returning to stage for encore) we slipped out and quickly walked to the Chopin Gallery, arriving just before the break for the end of first number.  So, at the break we slipped in and enjoyed both concerts on the same evening.  Walking records for day 12.74 miles.


Friday, Oct. 14, 2016 - Today we were scheduled for a 4 hour tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mines, again booked through the same company with the same local supplier as the previous day.  Tommy & Virginia joined us and I believe all enjoyed the tour but me.  At about 8:45 a.m. we all waited at the Best Western Hotel Old Town and were promptly picked up there.  (A side note regarding this tour):  I do not like underground tours of any kind and wasn't exactly a "happy" participant in this tour.  Therefore, I have no pictures to show.  We returned to Krakow shortly after 1 p.m. and walked back to the apartment for a light lunch since we were planning a larger meal later in the day.  This was our last day in Krakow and we had planned to travel on the overnight train to Vienna, Austria.  When we began putting this trip together, one of the first items I explored was transportation from Krakow, Poland to Vienna, Austria.  Of the possibilities for that route,  one trip on the Polish Railway stood out.  It was an overnight train with a sleeper compartment for 2.  Since none of us had ever traveled in a sleeper compartment we wanted to experience it.  In early summer I tried to book the two compartments and after multiple times of trying and sending inquiries, I finally received a message (in English) giving me a date in August when I could book this specific route for our travel date.  So, that became a priority and I took care of it as planned with tickets issued that could be printed off and brought along.  Since our train departed from Krakow at approximately 9:30 p.m., our plans for the afternoon/evening were to leave our luggage in storage at an apartment, spend our extra time in the downtown Krakow area and take a cab from there, back to the apartment, gather the luggage and proceed by cab to the train station.  We arrived in downtown Krakow mid-afternoon and I took these pictures of the horses and people around the square.   












While downtown, Sylvia and I took the tour of St. Mary's Basilica which included the carved wooden altarpiece.
 


Poland not being a member of the European Union does not use the euro as currency on a regular basis.  Instead, the "published" currency for the country is the Polish Zloty (PLN).  In the majority of situations we found items priced in a store or on a menu were listed in the PLN.  Prices quoted to us such as the rental on the apartment or a taxi ride were in euros.  What is good for Americans who visit Poland is the US dollar is very strong against the PLN.  So, when an entrée in a  restaurant is shown as 65 PLN, it costs about $15.50 in US currency.  I mention this because our last evening in Krakow we had dinner at a very nice restaurant, ordering multiple courses for a meal that lasted about 3 hours.  Our checks, including a 20% tip, were not in excess of $50 per couple.  That said, we spent a very relaxing evening, enjoying this very nice meal until it was time for us to hire a cab to take us to the apartment where our luggage was stored and then loading it and taking us to the train station.

Once on the train, we proceeded to our assigned cabins, prepared for bed and soon were on our way to Vienna with an expected arrival time, 7:00 a.m.  Walking records for day 9.44 miles