Monday 25th October 2004 back to index

"WOW". That's all I could say.

We had emerged from Under the Lime Trees to be rendered speechless by the majesty of the Brandenburg Gate, dramatically illuminated against the fading light of the evening.

It was a monument of such greatness and power that I almost felt it hit me. Never had I seen before a structure with such presence.

Steve and I just stood there in amazement, transfixed for a while before clicking away on our cameras, trying to capture how it dominated the Pariserplatz.

©Steve Jones

Fortunately the square has now been made a pedestrian zone which allows for the safety of awestruck tourists.

Originally I had booked this trip to Berlin with my daughter but when she decided not to join me Steve, a very good friend, valiantly stepped into the breach and agreed to be my drinking buddy for the week.

The Achtung Boyos were in town!

We were on a secret mission to sample as many beers as possible, but instead of heading for the nearest bar we controlled ourselves admirably and came straight to the Gate.

We gazed at it for ages, probably in a sub-conscious attempt to save it to memory before we lost some brain cells. Mind you after an act of incredible dumbness in the Unter den Linden underground station perhaps we didn't have many brain cells to lose in the first place!

We had the choice of two ways out of the underground; a flight of steps, or an elevator. Above the doors to the elevator were the words 'Brandenburg Tor' and 'Reichstag', so naturally we pressed the button and waited. The doors eventually opened, and in we stepped.

The carriage began moving but not upwards as expected, but it slid sideways and gradually upwards in a tortuously slow ascent.

We could see out of the side window that people were walking up the stairs quicker than us! We were held captive in this vernacular for three minutes whilst it only took people 10 seconds to walk up! It was obviously essential for disabled access, and in our defence the signs were misleading but even so we very embarrased by our stupidity!

We could see that there was another group of able bodied people gathering at the bottom, totally unaware as we were. (So we weren't the only stupid people in town!)

I could have walked down and warned them, but decided I'd allow them to enjoy the same ride as we did.

Anyway, back to the gate. The most memorable feature was the Quadriga, crowning the gate, the 'goddess of victory' riding her war chariot eastwards. Once again, "Wow". What history she must have witnessed from this vantage point?

During the cold war the rise of the Berlin Wall left her in no man's land, to the East of the wall, in the middle of the death strip. Then in November 1989 when the wall came down the most unforgettable scenes of citizens celebrating freedom in living history took place.

She will have seen the rise and fall of Hitler. The darkest period of Europe's dark past. What unimaginable misery took place within her sight? By the end of the Second World War Berlin had been practically raised to the ground, yet she survived. She even survived when Berlin fell to Napoleon in 1806 despite being abducted to Paris.

Apparently on her return eight years later the German people placed the Iron Cross of victory in her hands instead of an olive branch which she had originally held.

When commissioned by Friedrich Wilhelm II in 1791 the Brandenburg Gate was built as a 'gate of peace', and almost two hundred years later Helmut Kohl and Hans Modrow reopened it as the Gate of Peace once more. It's all this history that makes this place so astonishing.

More recently though the 'goddess of peace' would have caught a glimpse of the strange and bizarre world of Wacko Jacko when he dangled his child off the balcony of the Hotel Adlon!

It all happened right here and all I could say was "Wow"!

We had only just arrived in Berlin an hour or so ago. Had we already experienced the highlight of our stay? How could anything top this? Berlin had plenty more to offer, but the benchmark had been well and truly set!

Earlier we had flown from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, with Easy Jet; (This was my first 'no frills' budget airline journey and I was very impressed.) and in under two hours we touched down in Berlin-Schoenfeld.

Apparently it used to be a Russian military airbase but now is one of Berlin's three international airports.

We checked into our hotel after navigating the underground and overground rail network, the U-Bahn and S-Bahn. We wasted no time and immediately headed for the city centre.

A serious contender in the "wow factor" was quite literally just around the corner from the Brandenburg Gate; the imposing Reichstag building.

With its imperial façade and a modern glass dome it had equal measures of historical presence and a strong movement towards the future. Atmospherically lit, it stood proudly as a symbol of German unity.

The dome was designed by Manchester born Sir Norman Foster in tribute to the original steel and glass cupola. (He also designed London's wobbly Millennium Bridge!) It was open to the public until midnight, and entry was refreshingly free of charge!

We queued for 40 minutes in what looked like a short queue but turned out to be an extremely slow moving one. As you do when standing in a queue, we eves dropped into many conversations and we overheard an American couple behind us talking to their two kids about 'biscuits' and not 'cookies'.

Steve immediately picked up on this and turned to them saying that it was odd to hear an American call a biscuit a 'biscuit'! Turns out that they lived in the UK and their two boys have been raised there. It was very odd to hear the children speak with London accents whilst the parents had retained theirs.

As soon as we got inside we then had to go through baggage x-ray and metal detectors to enter the building.

Having triggered the airport's detector this morning I cleaned out my pockets to avoid being frisked on the other side. It didn't work, and beep-beep-beep it went. I joked that it must be my balls of steel!

Once we had reached the roof terrace via an elevator we saw the dome close up.

I find the majority of modern designs to be ugly and without character but this was quite stunning.

We walked up the spiral path, looking down onto the seats of parliament below. We are granted this view into the heart of the government because the glass represents the transparency of German politics.

At the top of the dome a different spiral takes you back down again; a double helix. There's probably some artistic interpretation for that no doubt!

In the centre of the dome there was a short history lesson about the Reichstag.

It was built in 1894, served as the seat of government until 1933 when it suspiciously caught fire which gave the Nazi party an excuse to expel its enemies and seize control. During the reign of the Third Reich it was hardly used. The lasting images for me were that of the crippled building at the end of the Second World War and the one of a soldier raising the Soviet flag whilst all around him Berlin burns.

©Steve Jones

Now, just about where that solider stood, there is a restaurant on the roof terrace. We had a look at the menu but it seemed a little too posh for our tastes.

©Steve Jones

Having each already had a 'grosse bier' in a small bar, called 'Alkopole', inside the Alexanderplatz train station; we were ready for some pizza!

I had read on Yahoo that the best pizza in Berlin was to be found at 'Die 14 Heiling', on Frankfurter Allee. It was very easy to find as it was right next to the train station, on the main avenue.

After a reasonably tasty Caprese salad we both unfortunately made poor pizza choices. I went for Gorgonzola with Spinach, but as I laboriously chewed I realised that I wasn't really in the mood for smelly cheese.

Steve chose a pizza that had a heavy sprinkling of hot green chillies and it nearly blew his head off. As he was melting before my eyes he realised that he wasn't in the mood for torture tonight and saved himself from further pain by picking the remaining toxic slices off his pizza. The large beer was a life saver!

Whilst we agreed that we couldn't comment on whether they were the best pizza in Berlin, we couldn't deny that they must be the largest! They were at least 14" in diameter! Hugemongous!

We returned to the hotel quite early as we were tired out by the day's travelling. No beer-fest tonight. I guess we were showing our age! We were tucked up in bed by 10.30pm! I was very happy with the standard of Hotel Agon. It was clean and tidy, in a quiet area, but its ace card was that it provided the opportunity to sit on the toilet and have the window wide open. It felt strangely liberating having a dump in the dark whilst watching the world go by! A 'pan with a view' or as Steve called it, a 'pan-o-rama'! I don't understand why it's not mentioned in the hotel's literature?!

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