Berlin and Potsdam

We drove straight from Copenhagen to Berlin via the car ferry from Gedser to Rostock on the Baltic Sea in northern Germany. For once the autobahn gods were with us and we had a good run through to Potsdam on the southwest of Berlin. We had our best campsite yet – less than 3m to the water’s edge on a beautiful lake. 

It was even hot enough for a swim one evening on our return from a day in Berlin. Well for me anyway. 

We had amazing weather for 10 days during our stay in Germany – a little on the hot side most days (around 28 – 30 deg). 

We spent 2 full days in Berlin, going in by train. Fascinating place but with more of a big city feel than either Stockholm or Copenhagen – probably because it is a lot bigger. We were particularly interested in the Cold War era and the division of Berlin during the days of the GDR. First stop was a river cruise which had been recommended to us by a young couple from Berlin we met in the campground. An interesting mix of modern and old architecture. 

After walking through part of the Tiergarten, the famous huge park in Berlin, we came across the Reichstag, one of Berlins’s most iconic buildings and the modern home of the German Parliament. 

From there we headed to Brandenburg Gate, the famous symbol of the division of Berlin during the Cold War. The other side of the gate was East Berlin.

Close by is the Holocaust Memorial. It is heartening to see that Germany does not try to sweep any of this part of its history under the carpet. There were large numbers of German school groups wherever we visited WWII memorials etc including the concentration camp Sachsenhausen just north of Berlin. The Holocaust Memorial is made of 2711 sacrophagi-like concrete tombs or blocks over an area the size of a football field. Incredibly moving. Very difficult to capture the feeling this generates on an iPhone. 

Everywhere in this part of Berlin there are reminders of the Cold War. They have marked out the path of the Berlin Wall with cobbles but very little of the wall remains. Potsdamer Platz was a famous section of the “death strip” which ran along the East Berlin side of the wall. Now it is a vibrant city area with small sections of the wall (covered in chewing gum!) serving as a reminder of what happened. 

We moved on to the Topographie des Terrors which contains the largest remnant of the Wall together with a fascinating display of how the Third Reich came to power and finally its downfall. These and similar displays are on the street or specially created areas and open to the public for free. 

A particularly poignant piece of graffiti  on the wall “Why” , presumably there from before the wall came down, since this piece is protected now. 

Checkpoint Charlie was a bit touristy and with no substance. The DDR Museum however was very interesting as it documented life in Communist East Berlin, the good and the bad, including a mock up of a standard apartment. Interesting to note it was a lot bigger than will be allowed in Auckland under the Unitary Plan. 

Overall we were amazed at how vibrant the old east Berlin is. In just 25 years since the Wall came down it has transformed itself. There are lots of Soviet era apartment blocks but plenty of ugly buildings on the western side too. We had expected a bigger difference. 

We had arranged to get the 10,000 km service done on the van near Potsdam. The useless dealer in the UK we bought it through said it was necessary but when we took in to the Fiat agent they said … Why are you having it serviced? Truck diesels don’t need servicing until 48,000! Needless to say more expletives were hurled in the direction of Travelworld. We had it done anyway for peace of mind. We took the opportunity to visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp north of Berlin, built in 1936 as a prototype for other camps and mainly used for political prisoners or others the Nazis felt were inferior like Russians, Poles, as well as increasing numbers of Jewish prisoners. It was a very moving experience as many 1000’s were slaughtered there as the SS experimented with different techniques of mass murder.  It did not feel appropriate to take many photos so I focussed on the memorials 

We spent our last day in the area at Potsdam which is really worth a visit. We focussed on the Schloss and Park Sanssouci which is a huge park with various palaces and other ornate buildings scattered around it. It was created by Frederick the Great in the 1700’s. We thought we had seen some amazing palaces and castles elsewhere but these are another level again in terms of their interior design. 

First the Neues Palais. The walls in the Grotto Hall are decorated from shells and precious stones. 

And the Schloss Sanssouci.

And a working windmill, grinding wheat. Interesting to be up there when a gust of wind came and the blades sped up – very noisy. 

The gardens were impressive too. 

We also managed a lake tour – so many beautiful buidlings dotted around the lake shore. The waterways go for huge distances linking several lakes. 

Our last evening we met up with some Australians for dinner that we had met earlier in the day – they have been touring each year for the last few years in their camper van for a few months and were able to tell us about countries like Greece that they had visited. Good to have some company from down under. We still haven’t come across any Kiwis since Norway. 

Next blog – north western Bavaria. 

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