Thursday, 27 September 2012

Bike Ride in the Park

Biking appears to be a very popular and common way to get around, probably because Berlin has a highly developed bike-lane system plus you can take your bikes onto trains and buses. Cars and pedestrians really watch out for bikers and they frequently even have their very own stoplight to give them a head start before the cars go through an intersection.

If we were going into spring/summer instead of fall/winter I would seriously consider purchasing a bike. (Someone (Hi B.M.) suggested I get a scooter LOL) Maybe if we were here longer, or if we were living further afield, but as we are in Stadtmitte (city-middle), it’s not a necessity. My main reason would be to bike around the green spaces and parks, of which Berlin has surprisingly many; according to some reports a full 1/3 of Berlin is green-space.

The largest of these is the Tiergarten, (animal garden), and dates back to the 16th century when it served as hunting grounds for the ruling officials. Then near the end and just after WWII it was largely deforested because it served as a source of firewood for a devastated city. It has thankfully recovered and regrown and is considered a must-see treasure of Berlin. This huge 210 hectares (520 acres) lush park stretches through central Berlin and provides a relaxing contrast to the bustle of the rest of the city. 

Being a tree-hugger type and really missing being out in the woods, I decided that I would try renting a bike in order to better experience this park. I had discovered that the Deutsche Bahn (German Rail) offers a service called “Call-a-Bike”. When I explained it to our daughter she said it was similar to “Bixi Bikes” in Montreal. Basically you rent a bike using your cell phone. There are stands at all bus/train terminals plus major attractions; cost is .08/min to a max of 9€ a day and the bike can be returned whenever to another stand. So I signed up for the service, and took the bus to a particular starting point, the Siegess├Ąule (Victory Column). It was constructed in the late 1800's to celebrate the victory of Prussia over Denmark, Austria and France.This massive monument sits in the middle of a traffic circle known as the Gro├čerstern (Great Star). Many roads meet here and there are four tunnels under the roads to the monument. Once there you can pay 3€ for the privilege of climbing 276 stairs (I counted) to the top for a fantastic 360° view over the Tiergarten and indeed over Berlin.

 After climbing to the top and taking pictures, I climbed back down, rented a bike from a stand across the street, hopped on, and spent a relaxing wonderful afternoon cycling through the Tiergarten, taking in the sights, seeing trees, listening to bird-song, breathing in the wonderful fall air. After, I returned the bike to a different stand closer to home, and then took a bus the rest of the way. I could have biked all the way home, but rush hour traffic through major construction zones…eek…maybe next time I’ll be braver.

 Here are a couple of pics...with more on my facebook page.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Places of Worship

Berlin even though or, maybe it’s because of, it being one of Europe’s largest capital cities, has a very diverse range of languages and cultures. One of the ways this is reflected is in its range of religious sites. From the gold and glass dome of the Jewish Synagogue, (which unfortunately still has around-the-clock police protection because of threats from the far right groups), to Germany’s oldest Mosque, to imposing cathedrals, to humble houses of worship with drafty windows and doors, they are all represented in this city.
Whether you're making a spiritual visit, or are in need of some quiet time away from the hustle bustle of the metropolis, or just want to appreciate their majestic architecture, churches are some of the most impressive sights a city has to offer. Steeped in history, cathedrals and churches tell their own story of the past; a story that is both historically significant and inspirational. Some of them have stood the test of time and remained untouched for hundreds of years but most wear the scars of war and are a vivid reminder of Berlin’s turbulent history.

 I’ve always been drawn to visit churches and actively seek them out when ever and where ever I travel. To spend a few moments in quiet reflection, trying to identify the stories that the stained glass, or wood carvings, or sculptures are trying to tell, read pamphlets on the churches history, and maybe light a candle for a loved one that has passed.

Here are some that I’ve visited recently. 

Jewish Synagogue - note the double barricade in front and police bottom right

Berlin Dome - originally Catholic, then Lutheran, then Calvinist, now Evangelical Protestant  

Friedrichswerdische Kirche - 1st Neo-Gothic church in Berlin
Nikolaikirche Potsdam 

Nikolaikirche Berlin's oldest church dates back to 1220 
Marienkirche. In 1964 Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon of non-violence and universal brotherhood here. At the time this church was deep inside the communist zone.
A striking statue of Martin Luther outside of the Marienkirche.
Zionskirche - Dietrich Bonhoeffer served here for a time. During the fall 1989 it was the site of the only underground printing press and center for distributing info to the outside just prior to the fall of the wall.

Unfortunately I am unable to visit this church as it is currently undergoing extensive restoration work and therefore completely shrouded. This picture was taken during a visit a few years back during the Christmas season. For me it is the most moving church/ruins I have ever been in. The battered shell of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church stands as a poignant reminder of the destruction of war. Destroyed by bombers in 1943, the church remains in its shattered condition as a monument to peace.