Category Archives: latest-posts

Remembering 9/11

Remembering 9/11

20th Anniversary of 9/11

Little did I know that when I took this picture from the North Tower of the World Trade Center, I would be remembering it for all the wrong reasons. It was one of those ‘I remember where I was’ moments when those horrific scenes unfolded on that fateful day twenty years ago. Today is a time to remember, not just those who lost their lives, but also those who have suffered in other ways too; the injured, their loved ones, the rescuers and even those who had to take up the fight against the people who were responsible.

Armed conflict between two opposing armies is one thing, killing innocent people indiscriminately is quite another.

Remembering and not forgetting is not necessarily the same thing as far as I’m concerned. Today I’m remembering those that were affected, but tomorrow I will not be forgetting that now the Taliban are back in control of Afghanistan that we need to brace ourselves for possible further attacks like those that took place on 11th September 2001. Let’s all do our bit to make sure that the last twenty years wasn’t all in vain.

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Glasgow City Chambers

Glasgow City Chambers

During its Victorian heyday, Glasgow didn’t just build slums for the workers, it also built fine buildings for the city’s powerful elite, and there’s none finer than the Glasgow City Chambers.

As the city grew in size and importance, the original civic offices at the Tolbooth struggled to keep pace, and so a site was found at the east end of George Square to build a new City Hall. Designed by Paisley born architect William Young, this grand building was constructed in the Beaux Art style (a form of French neo-classicism), with an ornate pediment and sculptures being added by James Alexander Ewing.

Ewing’s intention was to symbolise Glasgow’s rise to prominence through its connection with the River Clyde, but in the end the design was amended to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee instead. Whoever was behind the change of heart I’m not sure, but it had the desired effect because on 22nd August 1888, it was Queen Victoria herself who cut the ribbon to open the new building.

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The Boat Museums of Bygdøy

The Port of Oslo from Bygdøynes

The Boat Museums of Bygdøy

There are a fair number of islands in Oslo’s Inner Fjord and Bygdøy used to be one of them, but by 1800 the narrow strait between the island and the mainland had been filled in – so now it’s a peninsula.

This wasn’t such a bad idea on reflection because the ferries that run from Aker Brygge don’t come here in the winter – but buses do, and so I trudged through the snow for a second successive morning to the National Theatre where I caught the No.30 to Bygdøy.

Bygdøy is popular with both locals and visitors alike, especially in the summer as it has beaches, walking and cycling trails and several museums. Needless to say, I wouldn’t be lying on a beach today and I’d had enough of walking through the snow yesterday at Holmenkollen, so there are no prizes for guessing what I was coming here for.

It wouldn’t be sensible to try and visit every one of these museums in one day, even in the summer, but there were three that I particularly wanted to see, and they were all to do with Norway’s passion for maritime adventures and expeditions.

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Tryvannshogda and Holmenkollen

Tryvannshogda and Holmenkollen

Any reader of my blogs will know that they are a mixture of current and past destinations, and as Christmas will soon be here and gone and the New Year beckons, my mind wandered back to February 2006 when I paid a short visit to snowy Oslo.

I’m not sure why us Brits keep banging on about the weather all the time, because living in a temperate weather zone means that we don’t get extreme conditions like other parts of the world.

I’m not saying that we don’t get our fair share of rain, but extreme heat and cold are rare in comparison, and I suppose it’s one of the reasons why you’ll find plenty of half-baked bodies from our Sceptred Isle on the beaches of the Costa del Sol every summer.

‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ may well go out in the Midday Sun, but I’m not one of them anymore. These days, I prefer taking holidays in places like Scandinavia rather than Torremolinos thank you very much.

The problem for those of us who don’t live in Scandinavia is that we find it expensive, so for someone like me, visiting Oslo in the depth of winter kills two birds with one stone – it’s cheaper and it’s not hot.

Saying that it wasn’t hot when the plane touched down at Oslo airport is somewhat of an understatement. It was so cold, that inside the terminal they were serving coffee on a stick (I made that bit up), but I’m sure you get the gist.

Norwegians, like all Scandinavians, take this sort of weather in their stride, and even though we landed and drove into the city in a blizzard during rush hour, there wasn no suggestion that there would be any trouble getting to the hotel as normal. Back in dear old Blighty the plane wouldn’t have even landed.

After checking-in, I ventured out into the bitterly cold evening air and found a local café/bar where customers were sat outside – yep! you heard that right – outside the bar. Even though it was apparently -10 degrees here, it seemed to be the norm. Mind you, the establishment provided blankets and candles to make it a more pleasant experience, but even so, I didn’t hang around too long because a) the (cold) beer was expensive, b) I didn’t want to get frostbite and c) I wanted to be up bright and early in the morning for my trip up to Tryvannshogda and Holmenkollen.

Normally, I would take a look around the city centre first before venturing too far, but as I only had two full days in Oslo and I was staying in the city centre anyway, I focused my attention on seeing things that I don’t normally see at home – and Holmenkollen was definitely one of them.

Holmenkollen lies on the north-western outskirts of the city and is an outdoor recreational area, which at this time of the year means winter sports. For somebody who’s never put a pair of skis on his life, you may wonder why I decided to venture up here, but like I said, it’s somewhere different.

I made an early start so that I could make the most of the day, but anybody with any sense would have jumped straight back under the bedclothes on seeing the weather outside. Instead I trudged through the snowy city streets to the T-bane stop outside the National Theatre where I was hoping to catch the T1 to the end of the journey at Frognerseteren.

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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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Trakai – Historic Town Built on Water

Trakai - Historic Town Built on Water

Today was going to be my third and final full day in Lithuania, and it looked as though the good weather was going to desert me. I had it in mind to go to Trakai, which is without doubt, one of Lithuania’s most popular tourist destinations, but I had my doubts as to how successful the day would be, especially as the holiday season was now in full swing.

I’m not one of those people who avoid such places (after all, they’re popular for a reason), but I’ll always try to time my visit accordingly. Today though, even if I could justify the effort in getting from Kaunas to Trakai, I was only ever going to be able to be there when it suited the public transport system, and not when it suited me.

After giving it some thought, I knew I would never have another chance to see the place that is so revered by the Lithuanian people, and so I decided to bite the bullet and catch the early fast train to Vilnius again – the same one as I took yesterday.

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A Brief Encounter with Lithuania’s Capital City

A Brief Encounter with Lithuania's Capital City

With around 600,000 people, Vilnius demands more than a day of anybody’s time, but I’m afraid that’s all I had.

The train journey from Kaunas can take anything between an hour and an hour and three quarters, and with that in mind I took an early fast train to Lithuania’s capital city.

The journey passed through some pretty flat countryside and quite different to where I come from: There were lots of trees and wooden farmhouses, one of which had a stork’s nest on its rooftop, an unusual sight for anyone from the UK to see.

Apparently, Lithuania has the biggest population of White Storks in the world, which is why it’s the country’s ‘National Bird’: They seem to be revered so much that March 25th is Stork Day when all sorts of rituals take place. Anyway, I digress.

I arrived at Vilnius railway station around 09.30 and made my way towards Ausros Gate, or better known in English as the Gates of Dawn.

The Gate gives entry into the Old Town, which is where most visitors to Vilnius head for, and which was bound to keep me occupied all day. The good thing is, that just a few streets lead straight through the Old Town down to where the Vilnia River meets the Neris near Cathedral Square and the Castle, where according to legend, the city was founded in 1323 by Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania.

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Kaunas – Lithuania’s Second City

Vilnius Street

Kaunas - Lithuania's Second City

When the low-cost airlines took off (sorry), it gave me the opportunity to visit some places that I’d always wanted to visit – and also some that I hadn’t; places such as Kaunas.

Kaunas was to be my first destination to the Baltic States, simply because it was the only place in that part of the world that I could fly to from my regional airport at the time. So, in the summer of 2012 I took off from Bristol not really knowing what to expect, so before I completely lose my marbles, here is an account of what I remember.

Kaunas is the second largest city in Lithuania with an urban population around the 400,000 mark, so it’s not surprising that we landed in the country’s second largest airport.

What did surprise me though was that it was so warm it was like arriving in Spain – and it was 10 o’clock at night.

I usually try to use public transport where possible, but on this occasion, I just jumped in a cab which took me directly to the hotel, which although it was called the Ibis Kaunas Centre, wasn’t quite in the city centre but convenient all the same.

The following morning, I was pleased to see the sun shining, and so after breakfast I didn’t waste any time in making my way past the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation to Laisves aleja.

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From Krakow to Auschwitz

The Cloth Hall, Rynek Glowney, Krakow

From Krakow to Auschwitz

With so many places still left to add to Easymalc’s Wanderings, people may wonder why I’ve chosen somewhere to write about that will hardly lift the spirits, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been asking myself the same question – and as yet, with no answer.

My trip to Krakow and Auschwitz took place in late September 2003, and it’s inevitable that this account will make for some uncomfortable reading at times, but it’s my intention to make this blog interesting and educational rather than depressing, but at the same time I have to warn readers that there won’t be much to laugh about either.

Now that I’ve lost the few readers that I do have, I need to explain that a subject like this demands a lot more information than I’m able to give here, and so it’s worth bearing in mind that there are bound to be gaps in the story, and I’m also sorry to say that the photographs are at a lower standard than I would have liked; there are gaps here as well, because there are some things that I won’t photograph out of respect.

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The Magical Sunsets of Zadar

The Magical Sunsets of Zadar

There are any number of reasons to recommend Zadar for a holiday, but to sit and watch the sun go down has to be one of the best reasons of all.

Alfred Hitchcock once described the sunsets here as “the most beautiful in the world”. That’s quite a statement to make, especially as there must be so many contenders for the title, but regardless of whether they are or not, they certainly take some beating.

This historical city sits on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, and I’ll be describing it in more detail later, but for now, I’m just going to introduce you to the ‘Magical Sunsets of Zadar’.

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Lake Como’s Centro Lago

Lake Como's Centro Lago

In this third and final part of a trilogy of posts on Lake Como, we visit Villa Carlotta, Bellagio and Varenna. I’m just going to write a few words about each location, with a picture gallery including captions after each one.

 

VILLA CARLOTTA

On the western shore of the Ramo di Como where it reaches the Centro Lago (Central Lake) lies Tremezzo, a village boasting many fine villas, but none more so than Villa Carlotta.

Built at the end of the 17th century for marquis Giorgio Clerici II, a member of a powerful Milanese family, it was bought in 1801 by Gian Battista Sommariva, a well-known Italian politician and major art collector. The villa became a major stopping place on the Grand Tour, and fortunately for the modern-day traveller many of the classical sculptures that he acquired are still here: Not so fortunate though is the fact that I can’t show you any of them because photography is not permitted inside the villa.

All is not lost though because not only does the villa have a splendid interior, it also has some magnificent gardens with views to match. The villa was named after Carlotta Nassau who was given it as a wedding present for her marriage to Giorgio II, a keen botanist who turned the grounds into a garden lover’s paradise.

The timing of our visit to Villa Carlotta was less than perfect for visiting the gardens as most of the summer colour had gone over, but even so, if visiting the villa was good enough for those doing the Grand Tour, it was most definitely good enough for me.

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Sailing around the Ramo di Como

Sailing around the Ramo di Como

This post is a follow-up to my previous one on the city of Como, and follows the same format, consisting of a brief explanation followed by a picture gallery.

Before anyone thinks that I’ve got a yacht of my own moored up at a luxurious lakeside villa somewhere, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you: I might gain a few extra followers if I lied, but the truth is I would need pockets as deep as the lake itself to be able to afford to live like that – and I haven’t. If you’ve also got the same type of pockets as me, you might be pleased to learn that the public motorships that ply the lake are a great way of taking everything in without it costing a fortune.

Lake Como is actually shaped like an inverted ‘Y’ and composed of three branches – Colico, Lecco and Como – which meet in the Centro Lago at the picturesque town of Bellagio. The River Adda feeds the lake and enters it near Colico in the north, and finally flows out of it at Lecco in the south-east, but it’s not the only source of water as there are around 36 other tributaries.

This 600 ft deep lake was originally a glacier and is surrounded by a magnificent landscape, which includes the Grigne mountain range whose highest peak is the Legnone at 2609 metres (8559 ft). With all this fabulous scenery around it’s not surprising that many famous people have owned villas here – and who can blame them?

The Ramo di Como is the Como branch of Lake Como, and hopefully the picture gallery will give you an idea of what you can expect to see from one of the boats operated by Navigazione Laghi. They criss-cross the lake, and so they can be used as a hop on-hop off service, but we stayed on board until we reached the Centro Lago (Central Lake).

To try and make sense of it all, I’ve put together a selection of pictures in the gallery which follows the western shore going north from Como to the Centro Lago, and the eastern shore going south for the return journey.

You would need a lot more time than we had available to cover the whole lake and its villages and towns, but in the next and final part of this trilogy of picture galleries I’ll be describing some of the places we saw around the Centro Lago, so I hope this post will whet your appetite enough to come back one more time.

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A Picture Gallery of Como

A Picture Gallery of Como

Just to prove that I’m not bitter about Italy beating England in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday, I thought it was about time I posted something about one of my favourite European countries.

Back in 2012 we spent a few days in Como, a city of around 84,000 people located 25 miles or so north of Milan. It lies at the southern tip of Lake Como’s south-western arm, and until the Chinese came back on the scene, the city and its surroundings had a thriving silk industry, but I wasn’t here to buy silk, I was here because we were using it as a base to explore the wonderful Lake Como.

The hills that rise above the western side of the lake are on the border with Switzerland, and were inhabited by the Celts long before the Romans arrived: In 59BC Julius Caesar drained the swampy ground on the shores of the lake and created the town of Novum Comum. The grid pattern that he used still forms the basic layout of the Old Town of Como today.

As interesting as the history of Como is, in this post I’ve decided to just create a gallery of images that I took while we were here, and the walled Old Town is where the gallery begins.

The Cathedral, which began construction in 1396, is probably the town’s most visited site, and a good place to start. The grid pattern made it easy to find our way around, and I particularly liked the area around the Romanesque church of San Fedele.

The lake of course will always drag you away from the Old Town at some point, and although the Passeggiata Amici di Como was having a makeover when we were here it didn’t stop us wandering around to the fountain at Villa Geno. The other side of the lake was my favourite though, where the Volta Gardens not only has some great views, but includes features such as the Volta Temple, a museum dedicated to the famous physicist and inventor, Alessandro Volta.

From the gardens you can also look across the lake and see the funicular that climbs steeply uphill to Brunate. At the top is a panoramic view of Como and its surroundings, but the view is spoiled somewhat by an isolated conifer tree. Normally, I don’t like to see trees cut down, but I would happily make an exception for this one, which is right next to the panorama viewing platform.

Anyway, I’ll shut up now and let the pictures do the talking. I hope you enjoy looking at them, as much as I enjoyed taking them.

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An Innsbruck Winter Gallery

An Innsbruck Winter Gallery

Innsbruck is the capital of the Tyrol, one of Austria’s nine states, and its strategic location on the River Inn has made it an important communications hub since Roman times.

The Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I made his home here, and to celebrate his wedding to Bianca Maria Storza in 1494, the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) building was constructed in the centre of the Altstadt. Not only is it still here, but it has also become the city’s emblem.

I think it’s fair to say though, that most people don’t come to Innsbruck for its history, but for access to the mountains, especially during wintertime when the Tyrol beckons skiers and winter sports enthusiasts. Twice the city has been home to the Winter Olympics – in 1964 and again in 1976.

Neither me nor my long-suffering wife are into winter sports, but we chose to come here around Christmastime in 2007 to get the best of both worlds, and below is a selection of pictures of the city itself, its local mountain range, the Nordkette, and the nearby ski resort of Seefeld.

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Christmastime in Vienna

Christmastime in Vienna

Is there a better build-up to Christmas than visiting a European Christmas Market? If so, I’d like to know what it is. Maybe it’s all that Glühwein and Orange Punch that I can’t pass by that helps, but even as a devout atheist I can’t help but respect the Austrians for adhering to the meaning of Christmas more than I do.

I absolutely love Austria at Christmastime, especially in places like the Tyrol, but if you like to add some culture to your bratwurst and beer, then Vienna is hard to beat.

When we were here the week before Christmas in 2016, it even snowed to give it the magical icing on the Christmas cake.

There’s no point in waffling on about what market is where, I’ll just let the pictures do the talking. As for the culture, I’ll be dealing with all that later – hopefully.

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Stephansplatz and the Stephansdom

Stephansplatz and the Stephansdom

Vienna is a city of around 1.9 million people, famous for its imperial palaces, museums and coffee houses, and although some of its attractions will require a metro or tram ride to one of the city’s other districts, the Inner Stadt has so many things to keep you occupied, that you may well think there’s no need to venture any further, but even though I think that would be a mistake, this is still the best place to start.

The boundary of the Inner Stadt (or Old Town) is more or less the same as the famous Ringstrasse: This Ring Road was constructed during the 19th century over the top of the city’s medieval fortifications, and in 2001 the whole area inside the Ringstrasse was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

At the heart of the Inner Stadt, and therefore the whole city, stands the Stephansdom, so where better to start a tour of this fabulous city than at its most famous landmark?

The Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) stands in the centre of Stephansplatz, and due to heavy bombing during WWII, the square has few buildings left of any real merit. Apart from the church of course, there is one building that you can’t fail to miss – the Haas-Haus, a controversial glass and polished stone building completed in 1990. I don’t think people objected to the building as such, more the location. In my opinion (and some of you may disagree) there are examples of where modern architecture sits comfortably alongside the traditional: The glass dome on top of the Reichstag in Berlin and the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris are two that immediately spring to mind, but the Haas-Haus doesn’t fall into that category for me I’m afraid.

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Living Underground in West Berlin

Living Underground in West Berlin

Berlin is a city that has always fascinated me in a way few other cities have: I’ve always thought that history can teach us so much about the way we humans have adapted to our world at different stages of our evolution, and during the 20th century Berlin held centre stage.

My posts on Berlin so far have covered places connected with its historical core, World War II and East Berlin, but very little about the former West Berlin – and so I thought it was about time to rectify that, and so I’m starting off at a museum in Kurfurstendamm, West Berlin’s most famous street.

The Story of Berlin is a privately run attraction which promotes itself as an interactive museum, with 23 rooms describing the history of Berlin. The emphasis is on multimedia technology, and although there were parts of it that I quite enjoyed, I have to say that I was mostly underwhelmed – so why am I bothering to write about it you might wonder.

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The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – Berlin’s Memorial to Peace

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church - Berlin's Memorial to Peace

In its attempt to atone for the horrors inflicted on the world by the Nazis, Berlin has gone out of its way to confront its past with monuments of what it sees as reconciliation. For example, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe covers an area in the centre of the city which was used by the Nazi war machine, but it would be easy to forget that the German people also suffered from the horrors of war. The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Breitscheidplatz goes some way towards rectifying that by remembering what Berliners had to endure too, but it also acts as a memorial to peace for everyone.

 

THE OLD CHURCH

The memorial actually consists of two churches, and it’s only natural that I start with the original one that was built in memory of Kaiser Wilhelm I. The foundation stone was laid four years after he died on what would have been his 94th birthday (22nd March 1891). This monumental church had a spire that rose to a height of 113m (371ft) and was able to accommodate a congregation of 2,000 people. It also boasted an entrance with some superb mosaics that made a connection between the ‘throne and the altar’.

On the night of 23rd November 1943 allied air raids caused extensive damage to the landmark church including the spire. A post-war assessment of the ruins led to a decision to keep what was left as a symbol of peace, but it took several attempts before the final plan was accepted by the people of Berlin. Initially, it was suggested that what was left of the spire should be torn down, but Berliners saw it as the ‘Heart of Berlin’ and so a compromise was reached where its height was reduced to 71m (233ft), prompting Berliners to call it “Der Hohle Zahn”, meaning The Hollow Tooth

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Karl Marx Allee

Karl Marx Allee

A walk along Karl Marx Allee may not be everybody’s idea of a morning or afternoon out in Berlin, but if the old communist GDR ideology fascinates you as much as it does me, then try and find a gap in your itinerary to come and take a look at this grand East German boulevard.

Stretching almost 2 kilometres from Alexanderplatz to Frankfurter Tor, Karl Marx Allee is 89m (292ft) wide with 8 storey apartment buildings built in the socialist realist style lining both sides of the avenue: It never took on this appearance of course until the road found itself inside the Soviet sector after the end of World War II.

From the 1780s onwards, the road was called the Große Frankfurter Straße and connected Berlin to Frankfurt on the Oder, but on 3rd February 1945 a heavy Soviet air raid reduced it to rubble.

In December 1949 the road was renamed Stalinallee in honour of the incumbent Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and two years later a 16ft high bronze statue of him was added to the landscape – but there were bigger plans ahead.

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The Stasi Headquarters

House 1

The Stasi Headquarters

The Ministerium für staatssicherheit, or Stasi for short, was the GDR Ministry of State Security. It operated from 1950 until 1989 with the headquarters located in the Lichtenberg district of Berlin. Its main purpose was to ensure that the population adhered to the strict Marxist-Leninist ideology of the GDR, and in most cases, they conformed – outwardly at least. For those who didn’t there were various methods of making sure that they did.

The blocks of offices connected to the Stasi in Lichtenberg employed around 7,000 people, and the man at the helm for much of this time was Erich Mielke who presided over the organisation from 1957 to 1987.

His headquarters at Ruschestrasse 103 was built in 1960, and if you’re as inquisitive as me, then you might want to come and take a look at where the East German equivalent of the Russian KGB operated from.

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