Leisurely must definitely be the description for our mode of
transport, where it took us the best part of two days to get
to our first destination, Berlin, with an overnight stop in
Cologne. There were 42 of us, including tour manager John,
with the majority of retirement age.
The trip included a guide in each town who stayed with us
for all our tours. Berlin is sprawling, approximately 38 km by
45km, having integrated many of its suburbs. A bus tour gave
us a good insight of both east and west Berlin, and included a
trip to Potsdam, an hour’s drive, where the German emperors
had their numerous palaces, many of which are now open
to the general public.
Each tour is about half a day, leaving time to pursue our
own interests, and particularly visit some of the buildings
that we had only seen from the outside. Berlin is steeped
in evocative memorials. Close to the Brandenburg Gate
is a vast memorial, made up of undulating blocks, representing
coffins which symbolises the mass destruction of Jews.
White crosses on the corner of a street tell the story of some
of the 1,070 who lost their lives crossing from the east to west
of the city during the Cold War. Pieces of the Berlin Wall,
as a memorial, are still in evidence in several parts of the city.
The east has building cranes everywhere, with very few of
the derelict buildings left from the former Communist regime.
The imposing Reichstag, the official seat of the Bundestag,
the German parliament, is a must see on everybody’s list.
Originally erected as a manifestation of the power of the
German Reich, the interior has been totally transformed by
architect Sir Norman Foster into one of the most modern
parliamentary buildings in the world. Its cupola, which can
be visited, provides breathtaking views of the city. Weather
permitting, a pleasurable hour can be spent seeing the city
from the River Spree, which flows through the city. There
is a choice of boats, some with open-air seating and serving
drinks, so it is worth finding one that suits you particularly,
as not all of them have the commentary in English.
Although Poland is now in the European Union, passports
are still required, with zloty as the currency. What is rather
confusing is that although the language is written with the
Latin alphabet, the words are pronounced differently.
Fortunately, most of the younger generation can speak English.
With 85 percent of Warsaw destroyed during the Second
World War, first impressions of the city can be deceptive.
Some areas of the city were rebuilt under Soviet occupation,
and consist of row-upon-row of prefabricated buildings.
Fortunately, the old town was rebuilt to look as it was
originally, and is charming with its narrow streets and outside
cafés. By contrast, the business area where our hotel was
situated has ultra-modern high rise buildings, although still
in walking distance of the old town.
Various monuments – notably a magnificent sculpture
to the freedom fighters under the Soviet regime, and one
on the site of what was once part of the Warsaw ghetto –
are particularly emotive.
Warsaw was also the home of Chopin, and the Lazienki
Park not only houses a controversial sculpture, but is also the
home of a former king’s summer palace. One of the highlights
of the trip, an optional extra, was an evening piano recital
of Chopin’s music at the palace which is situated in the
middle of a lake.
The Brandenburg Gate at night
lights up the German capital
Inside the dome of the newly built
building in Berlin
The exterior of the German
Web site created by Mark Griffin