And so the last stage of the search for the perfect Gluwien at the Christmas Markets of Germany & The Czech Republic saw us leaving Prague on the train to Berlin and of course whilst here the chance to catch up on some historical sites and sights.
The journey by train was not on a fast train but fast enough and comfortable but if you travel this way DON'T buy drinks - two cups of tea (with cream not milk) cost us 260 crowns ( nearly 7 euro). Once in the city though the transport is very good and a day ticket for all forms of transport inside Berlin is under 7 Euro.
Saw Denise and I take advantage of the Free City walking Tour that takes about two and a half hours and after a 40 minute break we did the three hour Red city tour that shows the horrors that went on after the fall of Berlin under Communist rule.
Tour 1 started at the famous Brandenburg Gate at 11 am and close by we all paid our respects at the French Embassy for the atrocities that had occurred in Paris the previous evening.
Our first stop was at the site of "Hitlers Bunker" where he married Eva Braun and for a wedding Toast they drank cyanide. This is now gone, filled with concrete and in its place a car park over the place where the Bunker stood - The communists destroyed it so people wouldn't make money out of visitors, instead its a pay to park car park - Irony or not?
Close by a more up to date reminder of the wonder "Gaff" of JFK when speaking in German on his visit he described himself as a Doughnut instead of a Berlin citizen??
Next stop was a touching memorial to the "Murdered Jews of Europe" where we were free to wander amongst the memorial stones before moving on and passing the building that was The Luftwaffe Headquarters now a tax office - not sure what is the most - Scary !!
On past The Old American Embassy now empty, (or is it?) to The Trabi (only car in East Germany) Museum - You could have any car you wanted in East Germany as long as it was a Trabi - can you imagine going on the waiting list for one of these and having to wait 30 years to get one and only in one colour not like these.
A visit to the shop of Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers Extraordinaire is a must the chocolates are delicious and The models of Berlin Town Hall - The Titanic - Local church known as the Lipstick & Compact and of course The Brandenburg Gate are all to scale in chocolate.
And on of course "Checkpoint Charlie" which is not the original and actors play the part (well) of soldiers and you can have your picture with a soldier and for 10 Euro have your passport stamped - all harmless but expensive fun - BIG WARNING - gangs of girls around this area pushing a clipboard in your face to sign a lot of people do to get rid of them and then find out they have agreed to give them money - you have been warned.
I have attached a photograph that shows the The Berlin wall that was erected in August 1961 and brought down in November 1991 dividing Berlin into two sectors West Berlin and East Berlin which was under Communist Rule. As you see not a straight line but almost a circle. That's me up against part of the original wall separating East & West - Imagine you are on the west looking in - furthest point a six foot wall then a silent alarm trip wire then a second wall once over the floor had nails sticking up to cripple you followed by the stretch of booby trapped sand all the while guards in watchtowers 200 feet apart with lights shining down and orders to shoot to kill.
The 3rd picture went viral at the time - A German Guard who made the leap to freedom moments before the wall closed and became famous but not such a happy ending i'm afraid when the wall came down his relatives he left behind wanted nothing to do with him because his act had made their life a misery behind the walls and he committed suicide.
One of the Ghost stations throughout the old East Berlin, closed in the communist state - Inside the station with pictures and stories around the walls - The stations were closed and then patrolled, any train passing through from the west was not to stop on fear of being shot.
We finished our tour at the Konzerthaus Market with the French Cathedral one side and the German on the other all inter spaced with stories of life in East Berlin.The Gendarme Market under the Konzerthaus after dark costs 1 Euro to enter but worth the money we ate there twice.
Oh and I nearly forget close to The Brandenburg Gate is The "Ädlon Hotel" which is the oldest and most expensive hotel in Berlin where our Queen stops when she visits and also happens to be the hotel Michael Jackson was seen holding his baby over the balcony - Oh, that one.
After the free tour you pay what you think the tour is worth, I suggest between 5-10 euro pp depending on how good the guide is our girl Sophie was a History Major from Wales, funny, as well as knowing her history, I would highly recommend her.
After a full day of history we adjourned to one of the Christmas Markets at Alexanderplatz to rest our weary legs and sample some more
hospitality provided by local food washed down with a well deserved Gluwien or two and maybe even a German Wheat Bear - John you can be a devil when you like. Haste Manana.
Our second day in Berlin and we decided that after all the walking the day before we would have a late breakfast/ early lunch and restrict our afternoon to culture and for 18 euro you can get a day ticket to The ENESCO World Heritage Museumsinsel which among others encompasses The Neus Museum home of the bust of Queen Nefertiti (taking of pictures prohibited big time)
and The Pergamon Museum where among other things you can see most of The Original Ishtar Gate of Babylon, and this was only a fraction of the size of the wall
The facade of the Caliph's Palace Mshatta with statues used as gate ornaments - note how Denise is dwarfed by the size of the statues
A Golden Hat is one of only 4 known in the western world and this is the second I have seen - look closely once you enlarge the picture of the two figures side by side and tell me how she has managed to get her right hand on his right shoulder ! ! !
After this we joined the paid for Christmas Markets Tour (12 euro) with a guide that took us to five Christmas markets whilst telling stories
of how Christmas is celebrated in many customs and legends - all in all, a worthwhile tour especially as it started off with a free cup of Gluwien Ha Ha.
As we made our way back to the Hotel we passed along the boulevard "Unter den Linden" with the Linden trees bathed in lights - beautiful.
Last Day tomorrow sleep well
Our last day was dedicated to going over places we didn't have enough time for first time around and enjoying eating and drinking our way through Christmas cheer which had to include "The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church" it is a Protestant church affiliated with the Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandenburg and Silesian Upper Lusatia, ... nicknamed "Lippenstift und Puderdose" (the lipstick and the powder box) by Berliners you may remember the one in the chocolate shop
My fellow traveller Denise Wilford flew off for a stopover in Istanbul before heading home to family in York, Maine in The US of A and I would have liked to have finished off by posting a Video of a memorable Christmas market but I am still working on the technology that will allow me to upload video longer than 90 seconds so instead I will raise my glass with a toast from start to finish for Denise Buddy Bear collection.
The bear has remained the city's mascot, and has been developed into the so-called "Berlin Buddy Bears", fibreglass sculptures of bears first introduced in 2001, have been used to promote the qualities of "tolerance" and Weltoffenheit (cosmopolitanism) associated with the city.
Thanks to those of you who have said you enjoyed the pictures and sharing my travel with me, feel free to ask me any questions if you fancy following in my footsteps to visit the Christmas Markets or just to see the wonderful countries.
Auf Wiedersehen & Prost