At 368m, Berlin’s TV Tower is the tallest structure in Germany, so there’s no excuse for not seeing it.
There’s an enclosed viewing platform at 203 m, and fortunately you don’t have to climb up the 986 steps because one of the two lifts will whisk you up there in just 40 seconds.
It’s a good job the lifts are quick because they’re not very big and waiting times can be considerable.
Almost 1.2m visitors a year pay to come for a panoramic view of Berlin and if you don’t mind paying an extra premium you can have a fast track entry. Better still if you can get here for the 09.00 opening you won’t need to pay the extra and you won’t have to wait long either.
The prime reason for building the TV Tower wasn’t to give tourists a grandstand view of Berlin of course, but to provide radio and television transmissions, and also no doubt, to make a political statement that the GDR was capable of building structures every bit as impressive as those across the wall could – and in this instance, in my opinion, they were right.
The area on the north-east side of the Spree around Nikolaiviertel and Spandauer Str was the oldest part of Berlin. I say was because the events of the Second World War virtually wiped the whole area off the face of the map. Very little remained intact, and although the Nikolaiviertel district was put back together in a way that only the communist authorities could have thought looked good, the wasteland that was once known as Marienviertel, has been left more or less as an open concrete space between the river and the TV Tower.
Marienviertel is no longer known by that name, but literally speaking it means St. Mary’s Quarter, which pays homage to Marienkirche or St. Mary’s Church.
The church was the only building to be re-constructed in the quarter after the bombing and is worth visiting if only for its historical connection. The original church was built in the 13th century and now stands isolated on the edge of an unnamed square and adjacent to Karl-Liebknecht Str.
Berlin’s protestant cathedral was only forty years old when it was bombed by the allies in 1944, and it wasn’t completely restored until 2002. It’s never even had a Bishop’s chair – or even a Bishop – and yet it should be on every visitor’s list of things to see in Berlin.
Situated in the oldest part of the city opposite the Lustgarten, this neo-renaissance building was built by the young Emperor Wilhelm II as his private church to compliment his family’s city palace across the road. It immediately had its critics when the building’s religious significance appeared to take second place to the importance of the Emperor and the Hohenzollern dynasty, but somehow, it’s this connection with the German Empire that makes it especially interesting.
From the outside it almost looks as though the intention was to create a church on the lines of St. Peter’s in Rome but being a protestant church, I suppose it was more likely to have been influenced by somewhere like St. Paul’s in London.
The German Historical Museum’s permanent exhibition is located in the early 18th cent Armoury building on Unter den Linden, with a modern extension housing temporary exhibitions in the Exhibition Hall at the rear.
The collection of Germany’s important historical artefacts has taken a few twists and turns along the way, but with reunification came the opportunity to present them all under one roof, and in 2006 after five years of renovation, the doors opened to the Armoury giving Germany a historical museum that it could be proud of.
As its name suggests, this baroque building was originally built to house the Prussian arsenal before being turned into an army museum. During the Nazi period, this museum was the location for an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler.
Rudolph Christoph Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer in the German army, intended a suicide bombing when he was giving a tour of the Armoury to Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and other top officials. He set the device to blow up ten minutes into the tour, but the plan failed because Hitler rushed through the museum in less than ten minutes! Apparently, Gersdorff only had seconds to spare before being able to diffuse the bomb and save his own skin. His attempt was kept secret and he carried on living until the age of 74 and died in 1980.
This famous university isn’t a visitor attraction in the true sense of the word, but its historical background makes it more than worthy of a review.
The main building is situated in Unter den Linden opposite Bebelplatz where the Old Library faces the Berlin State Opera House.
Outside the main building are two statues. One is of Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the university in 1810, and the other one is of an explorer and natural scientist, Alexander von Humboldt, Wilhelm’s brother, who also happened to work at the university.
Along with his accomplices, Wilhelm adopted four classical faculties for Berlin University (as it was then called) – Law, theology, medicine, and philosophy. It was so successful that a total of 29 Nobel Prize winners passed through its doors, including Max Planck and Albert Einstein. Other historical figures who studied here were Otto von Bismarck and founders of the Marxist Theory Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the subsequent re-unification of Germany in 1990, an opportunity arose to bring the Federal government back to where it belonged in Central Berlin.
I don’t suppose it took much deliberation as to where to locate the new parliament. The Reichstag may have been battered and bruised from the events of the 20th century, but it was still standing, and the wasteland that was left surrounding it created a blank canvas for developers who could no doubt envisage a new dawn for a new Germany in the new millennium.
Politics isn’t an exciting subject for many people, but rarely has politics been boring in Germany, and if you venture into this part of the city, which is more than possible, then it’s worth knowing a bit about what you’re looking at.
One of Berlin’s most famous landmarks is the Reichstag.
This iconic building has helped the German Bundestag become the most visited parliament in the world, partly because of its architecture, partly because of its accessibility, but mainly because of its history.
Kaiser Wilhelm II laid the final stone of this neoclassical building in 1894 and it has continued to play a pivotal role in German history ever since. Initially the parliament was really that in name only and the Kaiser was the man who dictated the terms, but in November 1918 Phillip Scheidemann announced from a window here at the Reichstag that the country was now to become a republic and the Weimar Republic was formed.
The republic was just fourteen years old when the Nazis came to power and the dubious Reichstag fire of 1933 helped change the course of history. The events that followed are obviously well documented elsewhere, but as World War II came to its final moments, one of the most memorable images of the conflict show the victorious Russian army raising the Soviet flag on top of the Reichstag. Even today it’s still possible to see bullet holes if you care to look for them.
Anyone who walks between the Brandenburg Gate and The Reichstag can’t fail to notice 14 white crosses spread along a fence next to the Tiergarten. These crosses are obviously a memorial to those who died trying to get across the Berlin Wall, but they’re not supposed to be here – but why not?
It’s not because the authorities don’t want the events publicised because there’s an official memorial on the banks of the River Spree behind the Reichstag.
The reason that they’re not wanted is down to the man who has chosen to erect his own personal memorial here – a man by the name of Gustav Rust. It’s more than possible you’ll bump into Herr Rust if you walk along Ebertstrasse because he seems to be here most of the time.
Ever since the Brandenburg Gate was built it has become a symbol of the city.
It was constructed as a symbol of peace – but then became a Prussian symbol, a Nazi symbol, and then a symbol of the division between East and West. Since reunification it has once again become a symbol of peace, and so I can’t think of a more fitting place to start a tour of Berlin.
It was constructed between 1781 and 1791 for the Prussian monarchy that lived in the Crown Prince’s Palace in Unter den Linden. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans the arch was modelled on the entrance to the Acropolis in Athens and topped by the Quadriga designed by Johann Gottfried Schadow.
In 1806 Napoleon defeated the European coalition which included Prussia and on entering Berlin he took the Quadriga back home to Paris as a souvenir.
After Napoleon’s defeat in 1814 it was returned to the Brandenburg Gate and was declared a symbol of victory, and as if to reinforce the point, the Prussian eagle and iron cross inside a laurel wreath was added to the Goddess of Victory’s staff.
Antwerp may be famous for its diamonds but this museum really is a gem. The Plantin Moretus Museum is about a successful family printing and publishing business, and having been involved in printing all my working life, I was duty bound to go and check out what was so special about a man who has a typeface named after him.
The museum, which is located at Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market), was the former home and workplace of Christophe Plantin, a Frenchman who arrived here in 1576. On his death in 1589 he passed the business down to his son-in-law, Jan Moretus, and it remained in the same family until 1876 when everything was sold lock, stock, and barrel to the city of Antwerp: A year later it was opened up as a museum.
The Port of Antwerp and its Historical Significance
If you read my post, From the Railway Station to the Grote Markt, you could be forgiven for thinking that Antwerp’s involvement in the world’s diamond trade is where most of its wealth comes from, but as important as the business is, the real prosperity has always depended on its port.
The River Scheldt, on which the port lies is not so well known as the Rhine or the Meuse perhaps, but that’s probably more to do with how far it travels in comparison, rather than anything else. From its source near Gouy in Northern France, it runs for 350 kilometres (220 miles) and enters the North Sea near Vissingen (Flushing) in The Netherlands. On its journey, it runs through Belgium and crosses over the Dutch border near Antwerp. The strategic importance of both the river and the city of Antwerp has had a profound effect on the fortunes of, not just the city itself, but also the Low Countries in general.
The Steen is all that remains of a much bigger castle that was built over the site of a 6th c fortress in Oude Werf, the oldest part of Antwerp.
The castle was built around 1200 and was the first building to be built of stone (steen in Dutch) and was the home of the Burgrave of Antwerp. The complex included a church, courthouse and several other buildings, all of which were protected by a defensive wall surrounding it.
Around 1520 the castle was thoroughly renovated by Charles V and you don’t need to have gone to Specsavers to see where the old and newer stone joins up.
Up unto the 1820s it was used as a prison, but later that century a decision was made to demolish most of the castle and Oude Werf district to prevent the Scheldt silting up. The port was vital to Antwerp, and so the river was widened and new quays built. It must have been a difficult decision to make as it involved knocking down over five hundred historic buildings, and even the Steen was only saved from the chop by a single vote.
If someone was to ask me what Belgium is famous for, I would have to include Moules et Frites, beer, and maybe chocolate, but I would also have to add town squares to the list. It may sound a bit odd to lump a town square with food and drink, but they go together like Laurel and Hardy or Starsky and Hutch. In fact, I can’t think of anything better than to sit in a Grand Square with a plate of Moules et Frites and a Belgian beer.
The Grand Place in Brussels is probably the best-known square, but Antwerp has a pretty good one too, but as we’re in Flanders we’d better call it the Grote Markt.
The square is triangular in shape, if that makes any sense, and is dominated by its wonderful 16thc City Hall. In front of it is the Brabo Fountain, a famous Antwerp symbol, which requires further explanation.
Antwerp - From the Railway Station to the Grote Markt
In my previous post about Fawlty Towers and the Gleneagles Hotel I mentioned that I met a couple of friends from Belgium at the Fawlty Towers evening. Kirsty lived, and still does, in Tongeren, and although we had often communicated through the Virtual Tourist (VT) website that we both belonged to, we had never met in real life, not until, that is, we both went to a VT meeting in Belgium’s second city, Antwerp.
As much as I would love to describe this fabulous weekend in detail, this post is about Antwerp, rather than the people I hung out with, many of whom are still very good friends, I’m pleased to say.
I flew from Bristol to Amsterdam and then caught a train across the border into Belgium and arrived at the impressive Antwerp Centraal railway station, which annoyingly, from the point of view of taking pictures, had a Big Wheel stuck right in front of it.
The First World War Battlefields of France and Belgium - A short video of Remembrance
Here’s a short video I cobbled together several years ago of some pictures I took around the Somme Battlefields (France) and Ypres (Belgium). It’s just as relevant today as it was back then. I deliberately blurred picture No 2 by the way, in case you were wondering.
Annecy is an impossibly picturesque city in the Haute-Savoie department of France. It’s the sort of place tourists flock to all year round, but especially so during the summer months. Even so, the weather was kind to us when we were here on a cold, but bright winter’s day at the end of 2012
Some places are just meant for wandering around, without any set path or in-depth historical account – and Annecy is one of them, which is why this post is just a selection of photos I took that day. I hope you enjoy looking at Annecy as much as I did.
Before coming to Grenoble I was somewhat surprised to learn that it’s often referred to as the ‘Capital of the Alps’: After all, the Alps run for 750 miles between France and Slovenia, and Grenoble is at the extreme western edge of the mountain range – and as far as I’m concerned, is not actually even in the Alps.
I thought that maybe somewhere like Innsbruck would have a better claim to the title, so I looked it up and can you guess what I found? Yep! That’s right, Innsbruck is also called the capital of the Alps.
I’ll leave it to the powers that be to decide which they think is the best candidate for the title, but if nothing else, it did focus my mind a bit more on how the city of Grenoble sees itself.
There’s no doubt that its location in south-eastern France, where the Rivers Isère and Drac meet, would have been a natural place to build a settlement, and from its humble Gallic beginnings in 43 BC, Grenoble has grown into a fair-sized city.
The official population is around the 160,000 mark, but if you include the sprawling suburbs of the metro area that stretch up through the valleys either side of the Chartreuse Massif, the population is nearer to 700,000.
Two Black Belfast Taxis - One Orange and One Green - Pt 2
If I thought that yesterday was a bit of an eye-opener, then today was going to be even more so; and if you haven’t already read Part 1, this post will make more sense if you do.
If you have read it, you will already be aware that last night I managed to get a Catholic taxi firm to agree to send me a driver this morning who was prepared to show me a different perspective of sectarian Belfast than I had yesterday.
I met my taxi driver in the reception area of the hotel and he briefly introduced himself as a Republican, which said volumes already. Just as I could tell the difference yesterday between a protestant and a Loyalist, I sussed straight away that there was a difference between a Catholic and a Republican – in other words he was a member of the IRA. He asked me if I was ok with that, and even though I wasn’t really, I said yes. To be honest, I think he knew how I felt, and when we got into his taxi, he tried to reassure me that I was in safe hands and wanted to make sure I felt comfortable before we started off. I was and I wasn’t, because even though he came across as a very open and approachable chap, the front taxi seat must have been the most uncomfortable seat I’ve ever sat in.
As we drove off, he explained that I was staying in one of the very few places that he would be prepared to make a pick-up outside of a catholic area – the city centre and university area was about it really.
At the bottom of the street he turned right onto the Lower Ormeau Road, which just happens to be Catholic, and Brennan immediately pulled in near a betting office. He encouraged me to go and have a look, and outside was a memorial to the victims of a ruthless UDA gun attack in 1992. There were fifteen civilian customers inside at the time, five of whom were killed and nine injured. Five months later an Orange Order march passed the scene of the carnage with members shouting pro UDA slogans and holding up 5 fingers as they marched past. I was already beginning to see things from a different angle today.
Two Black Belfast Taxis - One Orange and One Green - Pt 1
The topic under discussion here is a sensitive one, but I hope not controversial. If any offence is caused, I can assure you that it’s completely unintentional, therefore please accept my apologies in advance if I have.
In 2004, six years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, I paid my first visit to Belfast. To have gone there as an English tourist before ‘The Troubles’ were officially ended would have been unthinkable for most people, and even after those peace documents were signed, not everybody approved of the outcome, and sporadic violence still wasn’t uncommon.
In my introduction to Northern Ireland I gave a brief explanation as to how the North got separated from the South after the 1921 Irish War of Independence; but the Government of Ireland Act may have solved one problem but it created another – and Belfast, being the North’s capital, found itself in the thick of it.
Different people have different opinions as to when The Troubles actually started because catholic discontent and protestant suspicion had been simmering for quite some time. On the one hand, the minority catholic population felt that they were being treated as second class citizens on issues such as jobs and housing (and there was little they could do about it under the prevailing voting system): Protestants, on the other hand, felt that there was a deliberate attempt by Irish Catholics to change the demographics of the province, and the Northern Ireland government was either inept or complicit in handling it. I think most people accept though, that it was during the late 1960s when things took a distinct turn for the worse, particularly around the time of the Civil Rights marches.
I’ve read numerous books, watched countless news reports and even witnessed first-hand how the conflict affected the UK mainland, but as far as Northern Ireland was concerned, only the people who were directly involved there during this tragic period of Irish history can come anywhere near close to describing what it was like to live in the province during those times. For these reasons, I don’t intend to delve too deeply into the background of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, but I will need to touch on some of the history for anything to make sense.
For anyone who would like to know more, I can highly recommend this excellent 2019 TV documentary series entitled Spotlight on the Troubles: A Secret History.
I don’t suppose that when the British Fisheries Society commissioned Thomas Telford to create a purpose-built fishing village on the shores of Loch Broom in 1788, that they envisaged a design which would appeal to tourists as well – but that’s what they got.
Having said that, I don’t suppose there were many tourists around in those days either, but as the fishing stocks declined, then the number of tourists increased, and when I first came here back in the early 1980s there were both plenty of tourists – and fish.
I can remember seeing the ‘Klondykers’ anchored in Loch Broom. Up to seventy Soviet and East European factory ships were regularly seen in the loch processing the fish, even though the UK and the Eastern Bloc were at each other’s throats politically. The Cold War prevented many people from both sides of the Iron Curtain travelling across the borders, but here in Ullapool there were many instances of ‘fraternising with the enemy’ including a football match between Russian fishermen and locals.