Category Archives: Featured Europe

The Ninth Fort

The Ninth Fort

Today was my last day in Lithuania, and thanks to a late flight home I was able to fulfil one last wish before leaving.

The Ninth Fort might not be on everyone’s list of places to see, but one of my passions, if that’s the right word, is to try and understand what caused the turmoil in Europe during the 20th century. I have always had an interest in the two World Wars as well as the Cold War: The Ninth Fort is one of those places that is uncomfortable to visit, but one that has left a profound effect on me ever since.

I don’t know if things have changed, but at the time I was here there was very little information about the fort and how to get there – certainly not in English.

Even though it’s located on the outskirts of Kaunas at Sargenai, and quite a long bus ride to get there, it wasn’t as difficult to find as I thought it was going to be.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, Lithuania was part of the Russian Empire, and as relations deteriorated with Germany, it was decided to build Kaunas Fortress to protect its western border.

The Ninth Fort was part of this huge complex that surrounded the city covering an area of 25 square miles.

To learn more about the history of the fort there’s a museum housed in a soviet concrete monstrosity, which if they leave it as it is, could become part of the fort’s history itself in years to come.

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Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz

At a point where five roads converged at the old Potsdam Gate, Potsdamer Platz became the busiest and most recognized intersection in Germany – if not Europe. It became so busy that Europe’s first recognised traffic lights were installed in 1924 to help keep things moving.

Its heyday was during the Roaring Twenties, when film stars such as Marlene Dietrich helped catapult Berlin onto the world stage of show business. It was the place to be and be seen. Grand hotels were built to accommodate the rich and famous, as did luxury stores, bars, and restaurants. The inter-war years had been good to Berlin, but it wasn’t to last.

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Alexanderplatz

Friendship Among Nations Fountain

Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz, or Alex, as it’s known to Berliners is a windswept pedestrianised plaza doubling up as a meeting point and transport hub in what used to be East Berlin.

It was the downtown centre for the locals when it was behind the Iron Curtain, and now one of the main focal points for the united Berlin of today – and no visit to the city would be complete without visiting Alex.

The square was the communist authority’s idea of a modern cityscape, and although it’s had its fair share of critics over the years, it wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t a fair number of people who wouldn’t want to see it change too much either.

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Humboldt University and Bebelplatz

Humboldt University

Humboldt University and Bebelplatz

 

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.

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The Reichstag

The Reichstag

 

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.

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The Grote Markt

The Grote Markt

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.

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