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My Trip To Berlin, Germany: The Sights In Berlin (Part 2)

More Berlin Sights

Last week after speaking at a software developer conference in Berlin Germany, I had the opportunity to take several personal days while there and I got to see quite a bit of the city! It was pretty amazing!

There was so much to see and do in the city of Berlin, that I can’t fit it all into a single blog post!  So welcome to part 2 of Berlin sights!

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie (or Checkpoint C) was a famous crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War.  The original booth is on display in a museum, but a copy of the booth is situated on the original site for tourists.  Along with Military Police actors posing for photographs.

Berlin Wall

Only one block west of Checkpoint Charlie is a memorial or a monument to the Berlin Wall.  It is a 200 meter (650 foot) long section of the wall that was never torn down and is now protected by a fence.  Although the wall was torn into and chipped away before being protected as a memorial.  This is not the only stretch of the Berlin Wall that still stands, though.  There are several throughout the city.

Small sections can be found throughout the city on display too.  This one was just a block from Checkpoint Charlie.

And this one was just across the street from Checkpoint Charlie.

German Historical Museum

I dashed through the German Historical Museum in only 3 hours one afternoon, but you can easily spend an entire day going through all the displays there.  It is laid out chronologically, so you can go quickly through time periods that you are less interested in and you can spend more time on other periods.  I didn’t take a lot of photos inside.  It was a bit overwhelming.

Here is a 16th century book that I thought was pretty cool.  It was hand-drawn and hand-written on parchment.  My phone camera and the dim lighting didn’t allow me to capture the incredible detail.  Each page is a unique work of art.

Here is an actual prosthetic arm from the 16th century.  It’s made out of iron and wood.

It was probably made for a high ranking knight who had lost his arm in battle.  The elbow has 6 different positions that the wearer could set.

And the hand has a button to move the index finger and middle finger, plus another button to move the ring finger and little finger.  Pretty advanced!

Here is a photo of 2 different light bulbs from the 1870s.  On the left, Thomas Edison’s incandescent bulb.  And on the right, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan’s incandescent bulb.

Both of these inventors seemed to independently invent their versions around the same time period.  And they integrated each others ideas into their own inventions.  They even worked together for a while.

I ran out of time by the time I got to the Hitler section and WWII and then the Cold War.  I should have skimmed through some of the earlier history, because there are a lot of cool things to learn in the WWII and Cold War sections of the museum.

Here is the ballot from the German elections on March 5th of 1933Adolf Hitler called for this election shortly after he had been appointed as Chancellor.  You can see that the voters had 15 different choices, and that the Nazi party was on top of the list.

Here is one of the Nazi party campaign posters for this election.  It says: “The Reich will never be destroyed – if you stay united and loyal”.  This poster blended the old Reich President (Paul von Hindenburg) with the new young Chancellor, while placing Hitler’s head subtly in the foreground.

They had nearly 90% voter turnout for this election and Hitler’s Nazi party won about 44% of the votes.  Just two weeks after this election, Hitler persuaded and intimidated other parties and was able to pass an act that effectively gave him dictatorial powers.  Within a few months, the Nazis banned all other parties and dissolved the German Parliament (Reichstag).  And the rest is history.

Sad and shameful history.

Holocaust Memorial

Just one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, is a really interesting and creative Holocaust Memorial, or Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It covers an entire large city block … almost 5 acres.

When you first enter the park and see the memorial, it appears to be just rows and rows of concrete slabs.  The slabs look sort of like graves in a large cemetery.  There are thousands and thousands of these concrete slabs and they are not all the same height.  It’s quite beautiful.

But then when you walk into the memorial, you quickly realize that the ground undulates up and down wildly as you get deeper into the interior of the memorial.  The ground gets lower and lower.  And the concrete slabs get higher and higher.  Eventually the slabs tower over all visitors that explore the park.  The mood of visitors turns to confusion, isolation, and even a little bit of worry.

The artist who designed this memorial says that the slabs “are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere”.  It’s a unique experience.

Buried under ground in the middle of the memorial, is an information center, but it was closed for the day when I was there.  So I didn’t get to go inside.

But wait, there’s more!

Next time I’ll publish yet another blog post showing even more of the fun sightseeing that I did in Berlin. Because in 3 days I saw a ton of cool stuff and it won’t all fit into even two blog posts!

Thanks for your interest!

Kurt

My Trip to Krakow, Poland: The Travel

I just returned from a trip to Krakow, Poland last week where I was speaking at a software developer conference.  I posted details of that experience here.  I also posted details about my sightseeing experiences here.  Then I posted details about all the wonderful food I ate here.  This final post, however, is dedicated to the trip in general.  The flights, the hotel, and other stuff I noticed about Poland and Krakow.

I don’t travel all that much in general, and this is my first time outside of the United States, so I may have been surprised or excited about things that are very common and everyday in Europe or other parts of the world.  So please take that into consideration while reading this.

Here is a photo of the big Lufthansa 747 jumbo jet that took me across the pond.  It was about an 8 hour flight from Orlando to Frankfurt and then another couple hours from Frankfurt to Krakow.  The 8 hour flight started at about 8pm Florida time, so it was an overnight flight.

I chose a window seat towards the very back of the plane.  The Economy class seats were 10 across. 3 seats, aisle, 4 seats, aisle and then 3 seats.  But in the very back where the tail of the airplane starts to get thinner, there were only 8 seats across.  2, 4, 2.  So I chose a window seat where there were only 2 seats to choose from.  My thinking was that the likelihood of another single passenger to take that single seat next to me was less likely than a couple who would take an available 2 seats next to me.  And I was right.  Nobody sat next to me in the aisle seat.

Each seat had a complimentary entertainment system mounted in the forward seat’s headrest.  The system had lots of music, TV shows, and feature films to choose from.  It also included a live animation of the flight as it progressed, which I thought was pretty cool.  Since this was an overnight flight, I didn’t use the entertainment system very much.  I tried to sleep instead.  Poland is 6 hours ahead of Florida, so I tried to go to sleep earlier than normal in order to get used to Poland time.

As I mentioned, there was nobody sitting in the aisle seat next to me, so I tried to lay down across both seats and get some sleep.  I usually don’t have much trouble getting to sleep.  But two seats is just not enough room.  Not even for me.  Not even when curled up into the fetal position.  I tried.  I really tried.  I tried on my back.  On one side.  On the other side.  It just didn’t work.  So I sat upright and slept like pretty much everyone else on the plane.  I ended up getting about 4 to 5 hours of sleep.  Not bad considering the conditions.

Here is a photo of Germany about 30 minutes before we landed in Frankfurt.  You can see quite a few of those giant modern wind turbines down there.

I snapped this photo out the window of what turned out to be Oberwesel, Germany which looks like a cute little village with a cute little port there on a dogleg of the Rhine River.  Click here to explore this area using Google Maps.

We got basically a pilot’s view of the approach on the entertainment system as we came in for a landing in Frankfort.

Once we landed at Frankfort, I had to walk quite a ways around the airport to get to my gate for my flight to Krakow.  And I had to go through immigration, which had quite a long line.  I also had to go through the x-ray scanners again.

Speaking of the x-ray scanners.  I don’t travel much, so forgive me if this is common.  But both Frankfort and Krakow had a nice automated system for getting the plastic bins back to the start of the line after those bins were used to carry bags and purses through the x-ray scanner.  At Orlando, workers have to manually stack up these plastic bins and haul them back around to the start of the line.  A completely manual and highly labor intensive process.

Once I got to my gate in Frankfort for my short flight to Krakow, the gate was automated.  Each passenger just scanned their boarding pass and a little gate opened up for you to walk through.  Pretty cool.  I love automation.  When it works.

So I thought I was walking down a ramp to board my plane to Krakow at this point.  But I was wrong.  I was walking down stairs to a ground level garage of sorts where there were several busses waiting for us to climb aboard.  These busses took us to our planes which were parked way out on the tarmac away from the terminal.  I guess this is necessary if your terminal cannot handle all the planes and flights.  But I thought it was dangerous.  I had already scanned my boarding pass and there was no way to make sure passengers didn’t get on the wrong bus or the wrong plane at this point.  I got on the right bus and the right plane, but there was nothing stopping me from doing otherwise.

Once I arrived in Krakow, there was a car and driver waiting for me holding a sign with my name on it.  That was pretty cool.  He drove me about 20 minutes to the hotel in Krakow and I gave him 2 US dollars as a tip.  He said that was highly uncommon but he was very excited to get it, though.

Checking into the Novotel Hotel Centrum was quick and easy.  Everyone in Poland speaks pretty good English.

When I got on the elevator, I noticed that the lobby floor was labeled floor zero.  This was the only elevator I used during my entire trip, so I don’t know if this was common or not.

I loved the design of the hotel bathroom.  It was very simple and clean.  I loved the fact that the toilet didn’t actually touch the floor.  I’m thinking that this is a more sanitary situation than a toilet that goes down into the floor.

During my 5 day stay in Poland, I noticed that none of the toilets actually touched the floor.  I also noticed that all of the toilets used the water efficient two-button system of flushing.  A small button for number 1 and a large button for number 2.  In theory, this conserves water.  But in practice, I noticed that the light number 1 flush was seriously powerful and used quite a bit of water.  And the number 2 flush was just crazy.  Stand back, people!

I will admit that when I got into my hotel room I had to go to the bathroom in the dark because I could not for the life of me figure out how to turn the lights on. Afterwards, after the pressure was off, I figured out that this little electronic thingy mounted on the wall just inside my hotel room door labeled “Hotelcard” was for me to stick my room key into.  And magically it allowed all the lights, and apparently also the air conditioning, to work!  Genius!

While experiencing Krakow, Poland for nearly a week, this historical dude riding a fake horse kept coming up.  Literally several times each day.  Apparently it’s a Krakow tradition called Lajkonik.  There are several stories and explanations, so I’ll let you read them on your own.

Here is a flight of stairs combined with a ramp for cyclists.  Very cool.

Almost all the streets I encountered while in Krakow are cobblestone.  Some were even quite decorative and beautiful.

One thing I noticed right away when walking around Krakow is that people only cross at marked crosswalks.  I also noticed that there were very few crossing signals for pedestrians.  Like in the photo below.  Pedestrians just wait for a clearing and they go.  And if cars happen upon pedestrians crossing in these marked zones, they always stop.  I get the feeling that if you try to cross outside one of these marked crosswalks, the cars would just run you over, though.

Many Polish words are very close to the English version.  Like “alkohole” for “alcohol”.  The word “alkohole” just cracks me up every time I see it, though.

And here is a selfie I took in the Krakow central town square.  It was chilly that day.  The high was only 60 degF.  Several days while I was there, the high was 75 degF which was unseasonably warm.

I did not drive while I was in Krakow, but I don’t think it would have been bad.  It’s not a very big city and there appeared to be some parking available.  I noticed that gas was about 4 US dollars per gallon, while back in Florida it was right at 2 dollars.  Yes, I did the conversion for liters and also for Polish Zloty.

I didn’t get the green running-man exit signs at first.  Probably because I’m used to exit signs being red instead of green.

One of my random observations of Poland is that everyone there smokes like a chimney.  I didn’t see very many electronic cigarettes.  Just old fashioned tobacco ones.  And lots of them.  Sometimes I even had trouble getting away from the smoke and finding fresh air.

Another random observation is when you order a Coke in a restaurant, you never get a big glass or a big cup like in America.  You get a teeny tiny little 6 or so ounce glass.  Barely enough for a meal.  They drink a lot of water and beer here.  Mostly sparkling water, which I’m not a fan of.

Well, that about covers my trip to Krakow, Poland!  Thanks for your interest!

Kurt