Germany, Day 21: Don’t Worry About a Thing

Today we headed out to the suburbs of Berlin, to the town that houses many palaces and a lot of charm (and apparently a really excellent film museum): Potsdam.  We went to Potsdam because Pa wanted to check out the summer palace of Prussian king Frederick the Great.  Frederick wanted a palace that he could go to to get away from the hustle and bustle of Berlin, so he had Sans-Souci (“Without Cares”) built in Potsdam in the mid 1700s.  Luckily for us, Potsdam was only a half hour on the S-bahn and a 10 minute bus ride away from Berlin.


Sans-Souci is probably most famous for its gardens, and as we had little interest for the inside, we decided to forgo the 10 room interior and explore the extensive gardens with the fountains, temples, sculptures, woods and terraces.


The gardens are extensive and we had to grab some shelter when a rain cloud rolled in._mg_8202

There was a wedding shoot being done on the grounds, so naturally I had to be a creeper.


After spending several hours in the gardens and dodging the weather, we found a beer garden across the street so we had a delicious lunch of hot chocolate, beer and bratwurst.  We got back on the bus and S-bahn and headed back to our hotel to get a final load of laundry done.


Dinner time rolled around so we hemmed and hawed and settle on a literal hole in the wall called Cafe Schwarz, a hip and vibrant place that serves all day breakfast and has an extensive cocktail selection.  We dined on scrabbled eggs, bruschetta, toast, beer, bitter lemon, apple strudel, banana cake and whisky before walking home and turning in.

Germany, Day 20: I Hear a Symphony

Today we woke up to a grey and dreary Berlin.  We had breakfast and decided that we weren’t really in the mood to get soaking wet and we still had a bunch of sights we wanted to see, so we read up on hop-on/hop-off buses and bought tickets – that way we could see most of the sights and get off when we wanted to.  We hopped on a few blocks down from our hotel, on the busy shopping street called Kurfurstendamm, known by locals as Ku-Damm.  We got seats on the top deck of the bus and off we went.  As it turned out, our commentator had an extremely dry sense of humour and we really liked him, so we decided to do one full loop on his bus, then when the loops started again we would get off at the sights we were interested in.

We all wanted to see a part of the Berlin Wall that is still intact and adjacent to an open-air museum called the Topography of Terror.  The museum was great – interesting and comprehensive.  I learned a lot about the Wall and the horrible division between East and West Berlin.  I was young when the Wall came down, too young to really know how much people suffered.


The rain let up so we walked towards “Checkpoint Charlie”, a reproduction of the American/Soviet checkpoint at the wall.  First, it was time for a snack so we tucked into a coffee chain we noticed here, Kaffee Einstein.  We warmed up with hot chocolates, apple strudel and cookies and followed the kitsch towards Checkpoint Charlie.


I’m not going to dwell on this for too long, but I have to say this is one of the cheesiest tourist traps dedicated to poor taste that I’ve seen.  They’ve erected a giant banner, one with an American soldier facing one direction and a Soviet soldier facing the other.  Two (what I presume) actors in American uniform stand there saluting with American flags and an array of Soviet hats that you can put on and have your photo taken with.  Incredibly, they also have “passport stamps” that people have actually had their passports stamped with, rendering them invalid.  Kitschy, tasteless, tacky, and nope.


We hopped back on the bus and headed back to our hotel so we could make a decision as to where we wanted to go for dinner, as we needed to make ourselves look as presentable as 3 road-weary travellers could for our engagement with the symphony.

We picked out a pub translated into English called the Fat Innkeeper.  The food was good and the decor was entertaining.  We hustled back to the hotel, got gussied up, hailed a cab and headed towards Herbert-Von-Karajan-Strasse, where the Berliner Philharmonie stands, home of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Going to see the Berlin Philharmonic was a big deal for me.  When we decided we were going to Germany, I started looking into tickets right away and marked in my planner when the 2016/2017 calendar would become available and when I could order tickets.  In April the calendar was released and in May I could order tickets, so I ordered 3 tickets for Saturday, October 1st, 1900hrs, Section Recht C, Row 10, Seats 1, 2 and 3.  We would be seeing Austrian conductor Manfred Honeck conduct Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, Honeck’s specialty.  Finally, that day had come and I was buzzing with excitement.  The building itself is a work of modern asymmetrical art – seemingly randomly protruding balconies and M.C. Escher-like staircases.  Our seats were far back, but central and we had a full view of the orchestra.


The auditorium quickly filled up and the concert started almost right on time.  The first half was a Fantasie from Dvorak’s opera Rusalka and then a few Schubert and Strauss lieder sung by a baritone with a rich voice.  The Fantasie was like magic, electricity through my body.  The Philharmonic was like nothing I had heard before – dynamics, phrasing, punctuation, emotion, warmth, depth – artistry.  I got goosebumps from my toes to the top of my head.  At one point, a single tear rolled down my cheek.

At intermission I checked out the gift shop and picked up some postcards while all the finely dressed concertgoers milled about, drinking their aperitifs and eating their pretzels.

The second half of the concert was Dvorak Symphony no. 8, one that I’m not terribly familiar with, but a fun one, and again, pure magic from the musicians.  It was the most exhilarating classical music experience of my life and I grinned the whole cab ride back and as I tucked myself into bed.


Germany, Day 19: First, We Take Manhattan

This morning we got up, packed our bags for the penultimate time, ate some breakfast and said goodbye to Dresden, hopping on a train making its way from Prague to Berlin.  The train ride was a little different from our previous ones on the trip – because it was an EC (Euro-City) train, we got our own compartment, which I find to be one of the most romantic things in travel.

After 2 uneventful hours on our blue train we rolled into the enormous Berlin Hauptbahnhof at around 1330hrs.  We hired our cab and thankfully no one was killed on our 20 minute drive to the Charlottenburg area of Berlin.  We decided to go boutique for our last hotel on the trip and chose Homage a Magritte, a family run walk-up themed in the paintings and art of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte.  The owner’s daughter Sofia greeted us and led us to our room.  The hallway walls are adorned with different paintings and themes of Magritte’s, and our room featuring Le Blanc Seing.  We then grabbed our necessities and hit the town.

The area of Charlottenburg is beautiful – long streets and laneways lined with cafes, boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, book shops (one coffee/stationery combination shop!) and all very nearby to the s-bahn (like German skytrain) station of Savigny.  We had some soup and sandwiches at a nearby cafe and then headed for Unter Den Linden.

I have been so excited to see the Brandenburg Gate for a while now – I just think it’s the most powerful and poetic landmarks, the four horses, chariot and Lady of Peace bursting off the top.  I was ecstatic to finally see it, be near it, take photos of it.  I was, however, a little disappointed that a giant protest was happening almost right in front of it, and that you weren’t allowed to walk through.  It turns out, Berlin is also hosting German Reunification festivities and have roped off that part.


The moved on and decided to peak at the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament.  Beside the building, was this touching monument, a memorial to the politicians murdered by Hitler.  Each of the 96 stones lists the memorialized’s name, dates, which party they were with and where they died.


We then had a sit on the broad lawn in front of the Reichstag, dodging photo takers and other protesters while finding a good spot.


Pa and I decided it was probably getting close to beer time so we walked back to the bahnhof, not before looking at the memorial to those who tried to cross over the Berlin Wall.  We also got to witness some sort of drunken Russian homeless screaming match, but no one seemed perturbed so we moved on.


Outside of our train station we found a cute looking pub with a beautiful leafy beer garden and tucked in – delicious Italian food, sublime desserts and cold beer were the name of the game and we indulged before taking the stroll back to our hotel.


Germany, Day 17: Town Without Pity

Today we took a day trip to Leipzig.  I was really excited to check this city out because for many years it was the home base of the father of modern music Johann Sebastian Bach.  Bach was the cantor at the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) and is buried in the floor there.  Leipzig is also the hometown of Felix Mendelssohn (meh) and an easy 1 hour train ride from Dresden on the ICE train (express train).  We got in to Leipzig and it was cloudy and blustery – definitely started feeling like autumn.  Once we got on the correct tram, we headed into the old city, and I’m sad to say it lacks the easygoing character of Dresden and the cute factor of some of the other cities we visited.  We went right away to the Thomaskirche because I was REALLY excited to see that Bach stuff.



From the outside, the Thomaskirche is quite different from a lot of the churches and cathedrals we’ve already seen, probably because it’s Lutheran.  We turned the corner and there he was, JS Bach in front of his favourite instrument (pipe organ) and roll of music in hand.


We moved inside the church and gawked at the TWO beautiful organs and quickly made our way to Bach’s grave.  Turns out, it may or may not be Bach’s actual remains – because JS wasn’t super popular in his actual day, he was buried in a modest graveyard.  When people discovered that he was actually a musical genius, they dug up what they think was his remains and re-buried them in the floor of this church.


We then moved across the lane to the small but thorough Bach Museum.  Of course I had to buy some Bach goodies in the gift shop and then Ma, Pa and I moved into the “Treasures Room” – ACTUAL handwritten Bach manuscripts!  There was not photography allowed of that room, but had there been I would have taken ALL the photos of those manuscripts.  The museum had a lot of really cool features, including a room that played a Bach piece and you would press different buttons to isolate the different instruments in the piece, a room that had organ pipes suspended from the ceiling and if you clutched one and put your ear up to it, it would play you a Bach piece.  My favourite room was what I can best describe as an opium den for Bach fans: couches with screens and headphones affixed to them.  You put on the headphones and commandeer the touch screen where you can pick exactly what kind of Bach piece you would like to listen to – Sacred organ works, secular cantatas, etc.  We must have stayed there about a half our and all listened to our own streams.  Before we knew it we had walked through the whole thing and it was 1330hrs – time for lunch!


I wanted to go to a place called Coffe Baum for lunch as it claims to be the oldest coffee bar in Europe still in operation.  We decided to brave the winds and sat outside.  Unfortunately, our server was not only completely disinterested/hated her job, but it’s the first time I have actually felt that a server hates me and everything I stand for.  Like, the kind of hate where she would have vandalized my car in high school or spread shitty gossip about me at the office, not because I’ve been mean to her, but because she’s awful.  Despite her terrible attitude, lunch was very good.


We decided to call it a day in Leipzig and walked past the Thomaskirche, heading back to the tram station in order to catch the 1631hrs ICE train back to Dresden.


We got to the train station at 1530hrs, so we went to Starbucks and had a coffee before heading to our platform to catch our train.  1631hrs rolled around and our train hadn’t come yet.  Pa then noticed the sign for our platform stated our train would be 3o minutes late (the stereotype that German trains run on time is a myth).  After the 30 minutes passed and still no train, we checked again – this time the board said 40 minutes late, and we noticed no other ICE trains had entered the station.  At 60 minutes, Pa noticed that the board had taken the entire train info down, so we made the quick decision to run a few platforms over and take the regional train.  The ICE train is a super fast express train and would have taken a little less than an our and the regional train makes all the stops and ended up taking 1 hour 40 minutes.  We got into Dresden at 1945 hours, over 2 hours later than we expected to be.  We headed to a pub for some pan fried potatoes and beers, headed back to the hotel and called it.