A Travellerspoint blog

16: Pink Pipes!

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Early start this morning as I joined a guided tour of Berlin to get a better idea of where everything is and soak up some more of the awesome history of Berlin. The tour started us in the old E Berlin in the Royal part of the city. For many hundreds of years Berlin was the ancestral home of the Prussian Kings (Kaisers) and Queens so therefore there are (and were) many beautiful old buildings. Most of these were totally wrecked during the bombing campaign of the war but have been lovingly restored over the past 60 years, so that Berlin still has its iconic buildings. One building that didn’t survive (although not because of the war) was the Royal palace of the Prussian Kaisers. This was actually ripped down by the GDR (E German govt) and replaced with this 60s retro brown building as their parliament building. Believe it or not the current German govt has started work to rebuild the old palace to serve as another museum (it will cost in excess of 750M Euros so it is hotly debated as to whether the money will be well spent!). All of the iconic museums of Berlin have been rebuilt and have been reopened to the public.

From Museum Isle (the old Prussian Kings’ complex and now the home to most of the famous museums) we walked down Unter den Linden (old Royal way linking the Royal palace to the Brandenburg Gate) passing the Humboldt University—Einstein, Karl Marx and many other famous German’s all studied and taught at this prestigious university. In front of the Humboldt is also were the infamous “book burning” event occurred during the Nazi regime (it doesn’t look like the scene from Indiana Jones so I can safely say that the movie scene must have been shot elsewhere!).

The tour also took us passed Checkpoint Charlie and part of the still standing Berlin Wall. There are two main parts of the wall that are still standing, the one I saw today (part of the Topography of Terror museum—museum dedicated to the terror inflicted by the SS) and the East Side Gallery. The part I saw today is now also a part of the SS Terror museum. This particular block on Wilhelmstrasse was the main SS police station where hundreds (if not thousands) of people were held against their wills and tortured by the SS.

We then continued to walk down Wilhelmstrasse past the only remaining Nazi building that is still standing (was the “new” Reich) that was built by the Nazis as their govt headquarters and on past the bunker where Hitler spent his last days. The bunker is now a car park and it is quite eerie to know that below you there were hundreds of rooms and corridors where the Nazi’s spent their last days. There is almost nothing marking this particular car park as the location of the bunker... apparently this is deliberate as they don’t want to create a place where Neo-Nazi’s can congregate to lament about the days of the Nazi party.. however it is bizarre to have hundreds of people standing in an over grown with weeds, car park looking at the ground for apparently no reason……….

From the last space of the third Reich we walked to the Jewish Holocaust Memorial of Berlin. It is an interesting space. The architect was ordered to build a memorial... his response was to fill up a city block with odd grey rectangular pillars... In my opinion it is a fine work of modern art (and I really quite enjoyed walking in it and definitely I admire the way he built it) and I guess if it makes people think about the holocaust……….. (it sort of wasn’t what I was expecting though…….)

Finally from the Jewish memorial it was a short stroll to the Brandenburg Gate and the end of our 5hr tour... I had pretty sore feet by the end but gee really well worth my 12 E!

Posted by weary_feet 11:52 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

15: Charlie, Delta, Foxtrot

sunny 22 °C
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Arrived late last night so decided this morning to get up early and go discover the city. Berlin is a pretty big city, but with a good map of the city and a subway ticket you’re all set!

Started down town at the Hopfbahn (main train station) and started walking towards the sites. Reichstag on your left, Brandenburg Gate on your right and the Tiergarten directly behind! I reckon I could do this tour guiding stuff! No in all serious-ness I had a couple of goals today and seeing some of the sites was actually a bonus in my travels. First stop was to try and find the Aussie embassy (no I’m not in trouble... stop stressing... I need to try and extend my EU visa and am trying to find out the best way)... most of the embassies are near the Brandenburg gate so I thought if I just went for a wander I’d find our flag and in I’d go…. It was a good plan except our embassy is on the other side of the river and a fair way from the gate! (I guess we can’t afford the real estate prices!!)

Second goal for the day was to find a book store and buy a map, road atlas and guide book for the rest of my Germany trip... Considering I was planning to leave this city in a couple of days and start driving I thought it might be an idea to work out where I was going and how I was going to get there and hopefully what sort of things I might see on my way! 50 Euro later I walked out of a bookshop with everything my little heart could desire... including the address and office hours of the AU embassy! (which by the way is only open 3 days a week for only two hours each of those days… what do our civil servants do for the rest of the time????????—maybe I should consider a career change to the foreign dept!)

Now that I had ticked off my two jobs I decided to go and do some more site seeing. So I wandered down Freidrichstrasse to see Check Point Charlie. There is still a really cheesy tourist attraction (that I still avidly took photos of!) at the point where Checkpoint Charlie used to exist... you can even get your passport stamped (if you pay 10 E and if you have your passport—neither of which I had on me). Right next to the check point is a museum dedicated to the cold war.

I was surprised to learn that the wall wasn’t built til 61... for some reason I thought it had gone up in the 50s! The two separate countries were officially announced in ’49 meaning that from this time onwards Berlin was split down the middle into two separate zones (originally there were 4 sectors- the American, British, French and Soviet- the three western sectors joined together before 49). At first this wasn’t overly noticeable but by ’53 a huge popular uprising occurred. Over 200,000 Berliners (both from the East and the West) took to the streets to complain about a new law that had been passed by the East German govt. This law meant that E German’s had to increase their work output without any change to their level of pay. This was the last common demonstration within E Germany because it ended by Soviet tanks and troops opening fire on the protesters. The number killed at this demonstration is unknown. From this time forward many E Germans made the move to the West. Over 2million E Germans had moved to the west by 61. Therefore the E German govt decided to erect a barb wired fence to stop people moving to the west. During one whole night the entirety of West Berlin was surrounded by troops and barbed wire- thus the first wall was installed.

Over the next 20 years the wall moved from a barbed wire fence right up to being a concrete wall with a 100m “no go” zone including trip wires, machine guns, dogs... The E German govt told the pop’n of E Germany it was to keep out the “fascists” but in actual fact it was to keep the E German population in E Germany.

There were some pretty amazing escapes that occurred in the early years of the wall... One guy built himself a hot air balloon and put his family and another family in his home grown balloon and sailed the whole family into W Germany! Another guy built his own submarine and got to Denmark! Another family made an escape to W Berlin by firing an arrow (with fishing wire connected) across the wall to his mate on the other side... his mate attached a rope to the fishing wire and they climbed hand over hand across the rope to W Berlin! One guy got more than 800 people across the border by putting them inside two specially made welding units... He would drive into the East each day with his welding gear, do his welding jobs and on the way home pick up a person or two and fit them into his welding boxes and then drive them over the border—his comment was that the cars were always checked but no-one ever thought to look inside the welding gear. One of the welders is still on display in the museum and it was actually quite roomy! The other “great escape” that I liked was a VW that had its bonnet modified so that someone could fit in under the hood but hidden by the spare tyre... not sure I could have fit in there but someone small could have!

Headed back to the digs after the museum with the plan to have an early night and get myself on a guided tour of the city for the next day.

Posted by weary_feet 11:38 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

14: Nikki- Pink and Blue

rain 18 °C
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Last day in Poland today with me flying to Berlin this evening. To fill up the whole day I planned to start late and spend the afternoon at Wavell Castle.

It was a great plan except I forgot that they only sell a certain number of tickets to the castle’s exhibits so by the time I got to the castle the treasury and armoury exhibit and the royal apartment tickets had already sold out! The only tickets I was able to get (that interested me) were to the Staterooms and to the Lost Wavell (the foundations of the castle).

Unfortunately it had started to rain (again.. it has rained non-stop since Bookie and Conductor left me a week or so ago) so I decided to use the time wisely and write out the remainder of my postcards to everyone back at home.

By the time it had stopped raining I ventured across the castle surrounds to the Staterooms for a geeze. The staterooms are largely devoid of furniture (because it has all been plundered by different conquering armies) but you can tell that the Jagiellonian dynasty (who built Wavell) were not hard up for a buck! It definitely impressed me more than the Kronborg or the Swedish Royal Palace... but not quite as grandiose as the Winter or Summer Palaces in Russia... Architecturally though the Wavell is much more mediaeval than anything I had seen before and so from the outside it is very impressive castle!

After touring through the staterooms (another funny story... there isn’t really anything to look at in the rooms except some tapestries and paintings of the old kings... yet you are not allowed to take photos of the rooms… I mean what are you going to take a photo of even if you could????? I did try to take a photo of the marble staircase and copped a heap of rapid Polish which I took to mean no photos!) I went and had a squiz at the foundations of Wavell.

The foundations of the original keep were laid before 1000 AD (there is some conjecture on when they were actually laid) and you can go above the archaeological digging area to see what the archaeologists are uncovering. They have dug under the current Krakow cathedral and found many bodies of different bishops and kings (and have some bodies on display) and they have dug down into the old keep of the castle. Within this they have found many fragments of pottery (surprise, surprise) and more bodies!—these ones they aren’t really sure who they are but suspect they are probably workers who may have died at some point when building parts of the keep.

I spent the remainder of the time sitting in a McDs sorting out more of my holiday whilst I waited til it was time for me to go to airport.

One more funny story is the plane that I took from Krakow to Berlin. I was on an Air Berlin flight (which is a low cost carrier in continental Europe)... they put us on an Air Nikki flight instead... The air hosties on Air Nikki wear bright pink button up shirts with navy blue hipster skin tight jeans and a bright pink cap... It’s the funniest get-up I’ve yet seen for an air hostie... Anyone older than 40 or larger than a size 16 would look absolutely ridiculous in the outfit... I should’ve taken a photo they were pretty amusing!

Posted by weary_feet 12:18 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

13: Bongs and Bugles

sunny 21 °C
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Had a plan this morning to catch the free tour of the Old Town at 11am so I arrived in plenty of time to catch the tour. There were more than 70 people wanting to take the tour so after 2 blocks I decided to ditch the “free” tour and actually find one that I would pay for and should be a lot more intimate. Went hunting and the next avail tour wasn’t til 2.30pm so I booked myself in and then thought to myself “what am I going to do for the next few hours whilst I wait?” I had by this time seen a lot of the Old Town myself and thought it would be about time that I took some retail therapy and headed to the shopping mall that I hauled my suit case through only a few days prior.

My gosh, I love Poland for its prices!! It must be one of the cheapest countries to buy stuff in the whole of Europe.. Cheap, cheap. Considering how dead many of my t-shirts were becoming I thought I’d spend a total of 25 dollars and buy three new ones! CHEAP!

By this time it was nearly 2.30 so I went back to the digs to dump my new purchases and headed to the meeting place for the walking tour of the Old Town (which only cost me 10 dollars anyhow!)

The first thing I need to tell you about the Old Town is the clock tower. Every hour it chimes out the time (7 bongs for 7 o’clock that sort of thing). At the end of the “bongs” you get this bugle noise that goes for probably about 30 sec. No kidding, every hour of every day there is a bugle player who stands on the top of the church in the town square and plays this tune. Apparently it has been played for hundreds of years and is played to commemorate some guard who was watching the town back in the time of the Mongol invasion. He played to warn the citizens of the impending attack and was shot by an arrow in the neck during his tune. For this reason the bugle is sounded every hour in commemoration. Not that I would know, but it is even played at 3am in the morning... one thing for Krakow is that you always know what time it is by the bong-ing of the clock tower and tehn the bugleing!

We started our tour hearing about the clock tower and seeing the old foundations of the market square. The Old Town has been in its current location for near on a thousand years, and over this time the actually height of the market square has risen about 2m. This is because, back in the day, there was no garbage disposal so over the years there have been many layers of accumulated rubbish which has slowly raised the floor of the market square!

Our tour lead us down the “Royal Way” ending at Wavell Castle. We stopped on the way at a tenth century (Roman-esq) abbey, which was interesting in the fact that you could see the different styles of architecture. One of the ways to differentiate the types of architecture in churches is to view the windows and stones. Roman architecture (to about the 1250s) is quite plain and the windows themselves are shaped like rectangles with half a circle plonked on top (standard “window” shape as per playschool). Gothic and Neo-Gothic (til 1500s) have pointed shaped windows... so still rectangle but with a half circle that has a pointed top on top. The stones are normally different too... Roman are just stones that are stuck together... From Gothic onwards the art of building bricks had started so the walls tend to be more uniform and are definite brick shapes.

We also took in the site of one of the oldest universities in the world before making our way down to Wavell Castle. Wavell was first built at the turn of the last century... the castle as we see today though was largely built in the 1500s and was the heridatory home of the Kings of Poland. The Polish people are quite proud of their heritage, at one time the kingdom of Poland ran from Lithuania in the North to the Czech Republic in the south. It was the second largest kingdom behind Russia (from a land mass point of view). The height of the Kingdom of Poland was from the mid 1500s til about 1700 when Poland was divided up by the Prussian, the Austro-Hungarian and the Russian Kingdoms. Today you can still feel the majesty of the kingdom of Poland purely by looking at Wavell Hill (it’s definitely one of the more grandiose palaces I have seen yet). Of course the Royal Chapel houses the remains of many of the kings of Poland and definitely doesn’t lack for gold on the walls and ceilings!

Finished our tour with a cup of coffee and a chat. Really great afternoon of walking and talking Polish History.

Posted by weary_feet 12:02 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

12: Chrystal Carvings

rain 18 °C
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After such a tough day yesterday it was nice to get up early to go and see something totally different. Today I headed out to a salt mine. This mine was operational from the early 1400s right thru to about 20 yrs ago. It is now one big tourist attraction and even it is a health centre.

Apparently the air in the mine (due to the heavy saturation of minerals in the air) is very good for you so people actually pay a lot of money to go and spend 6hrs per day breathing in the air of the mine for a few weeks. Apparently it will cure you of Asthma, Allergies and any other respiratory disease. I’m not sure I’m cured of my hay fever but I certainly figured it couldn’t hurt and so breathed deeply during my sojourn underground!

The mine has been operational for hundreds of years. Basically for all of that time the miners mined rock salt. Most of the rock is about 95% salt and 5% dirt and other minerals. So once the miners had cut away a portion of rock it would be hauled to the surface where it would be washed by plain water and the 5% impurities would be washed away. They would then evaporate off the highly saturated salty water leaving the remaining white “cauliflowers” (as the guide kept referring to them) of rock salt.

As you can imagine in the middle ages salt was very highly prized for its ability to preserve food so this is one of the key reasons why the Polish kings were so wealthy. They owned all of the salt mines and it was a very precious commodity so……

Today the mine is actually one big work of art. Many of the old mined chambers and shafts have been chiselled to resemble different Polish legends. In fact one of the largest chambers has been converted into a huge church. My gosh the church is beautiful! The whole thing has been carved from salted rock and the artificial light glistens off the walls and floor, just amazing.

The rock salt in this mine actually looks a lot like carved granite (the 5% of impurities make it look like black or grey granite) so you can imagine how beautiful the rock salt carvings are! Most of the carvings were actually done by miners who used to work in the mine before it closed down—I was really surprised they weren’t done by sculptors because many of the works are just exquisite. Today more than 1 million visitors pass through the mine making it far more viable as a tourist attraction than as a salt mine.

Before I finished my day I had promised myself a top shelf steak and salad dinner for my b’day and hadn’t gotten around to having it. Well today was the day. No expense was spared (although it still only cost me $20 because Poland is so cheap) and god did I appreciate that steak! After not having steak for a fairly long time the juiciness was just awesome! I think it was the slowest eaten steak in the history because I savoured every mouthful.. It’s funny what things you miss and what things really pep you up.. Good food for me is always one of them! What an awesome way to end a pretty good day (especially after how tough the previous day was).

Two more days left in Krakow- just enough time to see the Old Town and the Castle.

Posted by weary_feet 12:00 Archived in Poland Comments (0)

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