Thursday, May 15, 2008

Trains Across Europe Part 1

Finally I have access to wifi in my hotel in Vilnius so can catch up with relating my travels. As I am also sending this blog to friends via email some on poor connections, I will keep it to Berlin and follow with Warsaw tomorrow.
It has been a story of travelling by train which have become progressively slower. It began by leaving Munich last Thursday on an InterCity Express (ICE) train which reached speeds of 220km/hr but mainly stayed around 120 km as we wandered through some valleys and some castles could be seen on the adjacent hills. After leaving Leipzig we were on the North German plain and reached the higher speeds mentioned.
I spent 2 days in Berlin in 2000 so did not need to visit the usual places such as the Reichstag and Checkpoint Charlie. I chose to spend one day in the parks and palaces of Potsdam which cover 500 hectares. I could have easily spent 2 days there. First I went and bought a ticket to the most famous palace of Sans Souci built by Frederick the Great between 1745 and 1747. As its name indicates (Without care) it was to be his place of relaxation away from Berlin in the summer months. As it is a World heritage site, the numbers entering each day are limited and are taken through in groups of about 20 each with our own audiophone to hear a description in our own language. It has been described as a mini Versailles which would be accurate. Fortunately the Communist government maintained the palace while destroying or neglecting other historic buildings in the region. Some other palaces are now being restored and I visited the New (Neues) Palace built in 1760's which is actually much larger and took longer to visit. The rest of the day was spent wandering among the extensive gardens and fountains and some of the smaller buildings such as the Chinese House and the Windmill.
In the evening, I took my Berlin hosts (friends of my ex-student Rodney) to see The Magic Flute. However this was a very different performance set in an underground railway station which is yet to be commissioned. The serpent chasing Tamino at the beginning is made up from a machine on a the railway track. Papageno is dressed as a punk and the baddies are railway ticket inspectors. I gather there were references to the Queen of the Night as Angela (Merkel, German Chancellor) I enjoyed the music although mostly did not know the reason for the audience laughter and gather the singers were not really the best in Germany but as Uli said "It was different".
The second day my emphasis was on the Jewish story as I spent the morning in the striking Jewish Museum which does not just describe the holocaust but the whole Jewish experience in Germany from the Middle Ages. In the afternoon I went to the Holocaust memorial and then took a photo of the Brandenburg gate which had been covered with scaffolding on my earlier visit.
Sunday morning I went to the nearby Wall memorial. I was staying in the old eastern sector just 5 mins from where part of the wall has been maintained as a memorial. It is amazing to think that it is less than 20 years since the wall fell in 1989 and my criss crossing of the city would have been impossible in those days. The vibrant Potsdamer place with theatres, restaurants etc. was a border wasteland in those days and under construction in 2000.
Just after midday I boarded the Berlin-Warsaw express for the next installment of train journeys across Europe.


Doorman-Priest said...

Vilnius! You lucky man! And will you be going on to Riga and Tallinn?

Fran said...

I saw your comment at Mimi's and came over; I have seen your name on some of the other blogs.

This is a lovely post. I was interested to read of your experience of the Jewish Musuem in Berlin, which I found to be one of the moving places that I have ever visited.

I found the memorial with the stone rectangles confusing and depressing after having just been to that museum.

Prayers for great travels to you!

Brian R said...

Thanks for visiting franiam and for your prayers. I have also seen your name and have now visited your blog, (much more meaningful than mine). I have visited Auschwitz and Dachau and am always deeply moved by the story of the holocaust.

And yes D-P, I am off to Riga tomorrow. Will be going to Stockholm and Helsinki before crossing the sea to Tallinn on Monday week.

Doorman-Priest said...

Brian: all my favourite places.

June Butler said...

Brian, in my previous visit here, I hesitated to say so, because I didn't want to seem disrespectful, but I find the Holocaust memorial ugly. Perhaps it's meant to be ugly, because the Holocaust was so horrific. It's a hopeless looking place, but I'm of the mind that a memorial, while it may be sobering, should, at the very least, permit one to walk away with a little hope.

I see that you came away confused and depressed, Fran.

susan s. said...

Brian, that last picture! Is that looking into east Berlin? If so, i stayed at a hotel very near the tower. I can't remember what it's called in German, but we came out the door of the hotel and there it was between us and the Rothaus! That was in 1991, and the Potsdammer place was very depressing. The apartment buildings along the Linden Strasse were just so sadly forlorn looking. Glad to know it's coming back. Of course as you say it's been long enough that it ought to be. My favorite place was the Charlottenburg Shloss(Sp?).

Brian R said...

Yes, Mimi, it was a bit depressing but perhaps that was the intention. I went into the underground exhibit mainly to learn more about the design but did not find out anything more. I guess it is designed to make one think. I visited Auschwitz in 2000 and am glad I went by myself and not with a tour. I wandered around for several hours, shoes, hair etc and then went into one of the sheds which was a Jewish memorial, dark with grotesque statues and Jewish music. I sobbed my heart out and thinking about it always brings tears. I guess thinking about the most extreme form of Man's inhumanity should leave one depressed and then seek answers elsewhere.
Yes Susan that is looking into the old east. a cemetery to be precise. My hosts were able to use the cemetery as a park. During the days of the wall, people could not visit their family graves. And yes you would not recognise Potsdamer Place anymore. It is jiving.