It was a pleasant drive on the 16th July to Berlin on the backroads through a lot of the old “East” Germany where some of the buildings and houses were rather forlorn looking and some still grey in colour. It did not generally look as prosperous as in the “west”. There was much agricultural land with vast fields of grain and potatoes. It took us about seven hours with stops for coffee and lunch but it was a much more pleasant drive through the avenues of trees and with us passing tractors instead of large trucks on the Autobahn where you see little of the country. We detoured to Dahlem, a leafy suburb in Berlin. I found the house belonging to the Goering family where my mother lived for a few years during the second world war and taught their daughter English. That was not the infamous Georing (that was a cousin). I remembered the house from seeing it in 1994 however it was quite different now. It had been the Japanese embassy then. It had obviously been sold and part of the rear of the large garden had been turned into two modern block houses. There remained some garden and a gate house at the front but the garden was very overgrown. Someone was renovating the place as it had a new roof and new windows and I was pleased as it would have been a shame to see the beautiful building demolished.

The campsite at Gatow to the south east of Berlin was about an hour away from the centre of town by bus and then S Bahn or the U Bahn (underground). We got to the point near the Brandenburg gate where we met our guide for our free walking tour around many points of interest around the city. It was raining but not cold when we started off but we were lucky and it eased off during the three hour tour. Louis a Dutchman who had studied political and general history had lived in Berlin for nine years and was an excellent guide who gave us information in a very objective way. The original “Checkpoint Charlie” had been demolished however a building like a site office had been erected where it didn’t impede traffic and one could have photos taken with fake police in front of the small building.
We walked afterwards over to museum island and into the Jewish quarter where we had a nice lunch at “Hummus and Friends”.

We had been recommended by one of Maurice’s cousins to see the “Sammlung Boros” a private modern art collection over five levels and over which the owners had built a large Penthouse. It’s history was fascinating. It had been a bunker (air raid shelter) during the second world war and it’s walls were 1.80metres thick and the top of the building was 3.20metres thick. It was built for 1,200 people however up to 4,000 sheltered there during the war. It was then taken over by the Russians after the war and used for prisoners of war. It was later used as a textile warehouse and then a seedy techno nightclub before being closed. The Boros bought the building and over many years had it remodelled taking some of the ceilings and walls out and making larger spaces to house their artwork. The building was a constant 14degrees and it was an eerie feeling to be in some of the smaller rooms which had sheltered people during the war and then used as a prison.

The tour had been sold out when I looked on the internet (with only small groups of twelve allowed at a time) but we were advised to go and see if there were any no shows. We were lucky and were allowed to join a tour where the French guide gave us the tour in English of many of the works which did then make sense in many cases as the artists’ concepts were explained. An interesting one was a large copper sculpture done by a Vietnamese artist which was one of many that if assembled, made up a copy of the statue of Liberty. The works had been on display for five years and a more unusual exhibit was a popcorn machine which had been running since then which was activated when a tour group entered the room. The popcorn lay in great mounds around the machine. Some of the work was very quirky , some very innovative and some strange. The owners curated the work with the assistance of the artists who were from various parts of the world. It was interesting to hear the history of the building and that the owners only bought artworks from artists in the year that they were created. The 130 artworks were only twenty percent of their total collection which was housed in a storage facility out of Berlin. Mr Boros had made his money since the nineties in advertising and in publishing houses.

Berlin is a sprawling open city with few high rise buildings and many parks and leafy tree lined roads with the Spree and the Havel rivers and canals criss crossing the city. The city has 3.5million people and we saw no real congestion of people or traffic. There were many cyclists and cycle paths all over the city.

We made an early start the next day taking the bus to the city with firstly a visit to the Gedachtnis kirche on the Kurfurstendam, Berlin’s premier avenue. It had a direct hit during WWII and apart from filling in the holes in the ceiling and putting some glass to prevent rain entering the building, it has been left as a reminder of war.

The 7euro day pass for all city transport came in handy that day as we caught the U Bahn to the East side Gallery a 1.6km section of the Berlin wall which had been painted by 118 artists from all over the world. It was a cool and windy day but we luckily only had a few spits of rain as we walked along both sides of the wall to see the various works and then over the historic bridge to the Freischwimmer restaurant for lunch which had been recommended by Maurice’s cousin Lulu who had lived for a year in Berlin. It stood over one of the Spree canals and was a lovely spot for lunch with little birds coming for any spare crumbs. A bit of sunshine would have been nice.

Another long walk took us to the huge Treptower park and the impressive and large Soviet war memorial. With rain threatening again we caught a bus to the Neukoellner Arcade where we eventually found our way up a car park ramp to the “Klunkerkranich” an eco bar and cafe with herbs, leafy vegetables and plants dotted around the former rooftop carpark. The view all over Berlin was lovely and we could see as far as the TV tower near the centre of the city.

We had been on the go from 9am but as we were close to the former Tempelhof Airport we decided to catch a bus there and walk around about a quarter of it before our feet gave up. The vast area is now used by the community for recreational purposes and many families were picnicking and BBQing and cycling around the park even though the day was cool and not very bright. Luckily the S Bahn was not far away and we got back to the campsite about 7.30pm after changing trains and then taking the bus back. It was worthwhile to make the most of the long evenings.

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