Archive for the ‘germany’ Tag

The fall of the Berlin Wall, 20 years later

The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989, precipitated by a news conference that went from ordinary to extraordinary, as apparently Günter Schabowski’s misreading of the official documents opened everything up earlier than anticipated.

. . . das Tritt, nach meiner Kenntnis, ist das sofort, unverzüglich.

With those events deep in my memory, I went to Berlin for the commemorations of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

November 9 is special in German history, it’s the German day of destiny (Schicksalstag), with a number of good and bad events happening on November 9, ranging from the proclamation of the Weimar Republic (1918), the Beer Hall Putsch (1923), Kristallnacht (1938), to yes, the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).

Aside from the official functions that turned the middle of town into a labryinth of barriers, police cordons, and closed-off streets, I spent most of my visit on Museum Island. I missed it on my very short last visit, but this time I bought the three-day admission ticket, and visited one of the museums each of the days, the Altes Museum, the Pergamon Museum, and the Neues Museum (which true to its name, was recently reopened after being closed for 70 years). These are spectacular exhibitions, it’s incredible how much stuff was carted off from Greece and the Middle East and ended up in places like here, the British Museum, and the Louvre. Some of the stuff in the Neues Museum, in turn, was carted off to Russia after the end of the war.

Oh, I also toured the East Side Gallery, now nicely restored and free of graffiti, and the former site of Checkpoint Charlie, now tourist central.

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Trabi and Trabi

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I based myself this time in West Berlin, just a few steps off of the Ku’damm. Last time I stayed near Alexanderplatz, and I’d say that eastern Berlin is looking a bit better than the west these days. The Ku’damm area is still glitzy, but it dates from the 1970’s and is looking a bit worn in places. For the big city atmosphere, the grand boulevards, and heavy crowds, West Berlin is the place to be, however. The trendy stuff is now near Alexanderplatz in the east, and the bureaucratic center, stretching from the Kanzlersamt to the Brandenburg Gate, is monumental, if a bit staid. So the city wears many faces, and has something for everyone.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Ku'damm

The architecture is also worth mentioning. This is a city of big projects and bold experimentation, in stark contrast to many cities in Europe, and certainly my own current city of Frankfurt. Some of the buildings succeed in a big way, like the complex around the Philharmonie and Neues Nationalgalerie. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is also a major winner, the dark octagon and the deep blue glass blocks are remarkably effective. Other buildings fail in a big way- I’m not a fan of the Potsdamer Platz development, except for the train station entrances. The whole area comes across as a bit cold and artificial. The government center also doesn’t quite work, it’s monumental and dense with symbolism, but lacks beauty. The roof of the Reichstag, on the other hand, is an instant and unforgettable symbol.

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Berliner Dom and the Fernsehturm

Okay, so for the celebrations, I braved the crappy weather, which was cold rain throughout most of the ceremonies. And since I arrived way too late, and didn’t expect the changes to the transport schedules, I skipped out on the Brandenburg Gate stuff, and headed on foot to Potsdamer Platz. The crowds were thinner, and I guess I arrived early enough to get into the ‘inner zone’ closest to the starting point of the domino drop.

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Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor)

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The Reichstag

The number of dignitaries was impressive, including Hilary Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, Henry Kissinger, Kofi Annan, Lech Walsea, Mikhail Gorbachev, and many others. I caught most of it on the big screens installed throughout the area. The musical offerings included Placido Domingo and Daniel Barenboim getting together for a performance of “Berliner Luft”, and a song by Jon Bon Jovi.

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After the domino drop and Bon Jovi. . .

The domino drop was the most anticipated event, and I have to say that it was a pretty colorful idea. They had been on display throughout its mile-long course along the path of the former Berlin Wall, and were for the most part decorated by numerous schools around Germany and elsewhere. It’s funny, since college students starting this year were born for the most part after the fall of the Wall. So it’s a memory for their parents and grandparents. The consequences of the fall of the Wall are of course felt around the world.

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Traversing in Garmisch

. . .with no offense to the Partenkirchen part.

I haven’t been here in ten years. In fact, this was the spot of my first snowboarding experience outside of the U.S., for an afternoon back in February 1999, on a crappy rented board with bindings that were way too big for the boots I was using. I was seriously ill after catching something on the plane ride from the West Coast to Frankfurt, added a few antimalarials, alcohol, a train system all out of whack from the avalanches in Austria, and I was an absolute mess. But hey, I still had to go and ride for the afternoon on the Hausberg.

Fast forward ten years later, give or take a month or so, and I checked the snow forecast and headed to Garmisch. It was partially a money-saving move, but I had not been up to Germany’s highest point either. And the Bavarian beer sealed my decision to stick relatively close by. 

Alas, it didn’t snow as promised, but the overcast gave way to plenty of sunshine during the day. I hooked up with another solo rider from Munich, and checked out some of the off-piste stuff. More snow is needed, but there were still some good spots. As usual for going to a new spot, I was lost much of the time. The runs are pretty short overall, and there are lots of flat spots that required either a lot of speed or plenty of traversing.

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Put on the boots. . .

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Get on the train, get on the cable car, and 25 minutes later. . .

 

The last run down was absolutely awful, narrow icy paths designed for walkers, but instead it was a nightmare getting down to the bottom. Ice. Flat spots, death chunks of ice. And more traverses. I don’t think I ever figured out how to really get around the area, but then again, it was my first time on some of these slopes.

Monday was significantly better, but cut short by my 4 PM train back to Munich. I headed for the Zugspitze area, which was a 45 minute journey by cogwheel train followed by a very thrilling cable car that went up 2000 m to the top of Germany. But that’s not all, then you have to take another cable car to go down to the ski area.

I did take in the view first, before heading down to the ski area. It’s an isolated peak in the almost Austrian Alps, with a view on the nicest days clear into Italy and Switzerland, so it’s an impressive panorama.

Waxenstein and Garmisch

Waxenstein and Garmisch

Top of the cable car

Top of the cable car

 

The snow was actually OK in spots, the ski area is built on this wide open bowl, with a fast disappearing glacier somewhere in the middle. I never figured out where the glacier actually is (was). There was 4 cm of snow Saturday night, but by the time I got there, it was sun baked, crusty, and skied out. Still, I found a few parts in the shade that stayed in very good shape, so I can say that it was a semi-powder (chowder?) day.

From the top

From the top

 

And, I should add, that I took a 5 minute detour and walked across the border into Tirol, before crossing back into Bayern. Note that there’s no mention of Germany or Austria.

Welcome to Freistaat Bayern

Welcome to Freistaat Bayern

Welcome to Tirol

Welcome to Tirol

 

Alas, one that ended a bit too quickly. I had to quit by 1:30 PM to make my way back, even though my legs were hurting, my big toes were getting bruised (again) from my oh-so-supa-tight boots. With the scheduling, the system of cable cars and trains was absolutely awful- a 10 minute wait here, a 15 minute wait there, and then the train back to Garmisch which ran every hour. There is a ski bus, but I couldn’t figure out where the stops were. So once you’re at the area of choice, it’s fine getting around, but to go between sections is downright horrible.

Not sure that I will come back here, unless I’m missing something really special. I’ll stick to Austria.