Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin, Nurmberg, Dachau, Hiedelberg, Dortmund



East Berlin

June 26, 2005


  (Written by Steve)

    I had some fears about driving into Berlin, the capital and largest city of Germany. I was told that the city is 4 times the size of Paris, and I had driven into Paris and was not looking forward to driving into something 4 times the size. Berlin became the capital of Germany in 1871 when the numerous independent kingdoms and principalities of Germany united to form a single nation-state (see German Unification (1871)). The city quickly developed into one of Europe’s major industrial and cultural centers and became the single most important city in Germany.  After driving through most of the city centre I was surprised at how clean it was compared to other large cities.  The buildings and infrastructure are amazing, and I was surprised at how many and how large the rows of buildings were, they just went on for miles.


Like most of our trip, no matter where we go, or how much I think I know, I am always blown away by the little I do know. Berlin is way nicer than I ever imagined and I don’t think I have ever seen so many trees in one city before; truly beautiful. The one thing that is a little surprising is how little colour there is here. I mean folks from Asia, India or Africa are very far and few between. I have read a few articles about the racial tensions in this city, but I did not see or witness anything that would support that theory, but we were only in Berlin for a few days. The other thing about the people here is that they are not as easy to talk to as the folks from Hamburg or Cologne. They just seemed a little more reserved, but it was definitely noticeable.


From 1945 until 1990 Berlin was a divided city. Following the defeat of the Nazi regime (see National Socialism) in World War II (1939-1945), the victorious Allied Powers—the United States, Britain, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—divided Germany into four zones, each occupied by one of the Allied Powers. They also divided Berlin, which was in the Soviet sector, into similar zones. The Soviet-controlled sector of the city became known as East Berlin, and the Western-occupied sector became known as West Berlin. In 1949 East Berlin became the capital of the German Democratic Republic (known as East Germany), one of two successor states established in Germany after the war. That same year the capital of West Germany, the other successor state, was established in the city of Bonn. West Berlin remained an urban island surrounded by Communist East Germany. If you can hop on the net check out a map of the sectors it is really bizarre, it does not make any sense. The city became a focus of Cold War tensions between Communist countries led by the USSR and anti-Communist states led by the United States.


  Berlin was a divided city from1945 until 1990.


Brandenburg Gate Built between 1788 and 1791 in the center of Berlin, Germany, Brandenburg Gate was modeled after a Greek ceremonial arch. The Gate was sealed off in 1961 when the Berlin Wall was built to divide East and West Berlin. When the wall was torn down in 1989 Brandenburg Gate became accessible again.


Modern Berlin covers 883 sq km (341 sq mi). In 1920 the old city merged with 8 towns, nearly 60 villages, and a number of surrounding farms and estates to form the current city boundaries. Berlin’s city limits encompass the entire metropolitan area and include large areas of undeveloped land. Forests and farmlands cover nearly one-third of the city. From reunification until 2001, the city was divided into 23 boroughs. In an effort to make urban government more efficient, an administrative reform that took effect in 2001 reduced the number of boroughs to 12.



At the heart of Berlin lies the medieval core of the city, located along the western bank of the Spree River. To the west of the medieval city is a formal grid of streets laid out on either side of Unter den Linden, a wide central avenue stretching from east to west and flanked with double rows of linden trees. Before the postwar division of Berlin, this area, called the Mitte (city center), served as the administrative and financial center of Berlin and contained the main banks, publishing houses, large stores, the university, and government buildings. Well-known streets crossing Unter den Linden are Friedrichstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse. The former royal park known as the Tiergarten occupies the land to the west of the Mitte district.


Gradually the city’s residential and industrial areas grew around the city center. In the mid-19th century a dense mass of tenements was erected to the north, east, and south of the central Mitte district. Known as Mietskasernen (rent barracks), these buildings were home to members of the working class who labored in nearby industrial plants. In contrast, aristocrats and members of the middle class lived in the peripheral communities of that time (Dahlem, Grunewald, Köpenick).


 Wartime destruction left the historic core of the city standing amidst 26 sq km (10 sq mi) of rubble.


Prior to World War II, Berlin contained many imposing buildings, many of them built after 1871, when Berlin became the German national capital. Much of old Berlin was devastated during World War II by Allied bombing raids and by fierce house-to-house fighting that occurred when Soviet troops captured the city in 1945 at the end of the war. Wartime destruction left the historic core of the city standing amidst 26 sq km (10 sq mi) of rubble.


The victorious Allies faced a daunting task in 1945. Berlin had lost almost three-quarters of its 1.5 million residential units. During the first two months of occupation, when the USSR held full sway over all of Berlin, the Soviet Army also dismantled and removed 67 percent of Berlin’s industrial capacity.


After the war, the boundary between East and West Berlin was drawn through the heart of the city. In 1961 the East German government encircled West Berlin with a fortified wall that traced the boundary. This wall was known as the Berlin Wall. In the postwar redevelopment period, both East and West Berlin turned their backs on the wall and the area on either side of it, which remained a partially abandoned zone. So West Berlin was trapped in East Germany and it was almost impossible for people to get to West Berlin, again check it out on a map. It is like an island trapped in the middle of a country surrounded by barbed wire.


East Berlin


May Day Parade in East Berlin May Day (the first day in May) was an important holiday in Communist countries. It was originally designated by a meeting of socialist and labor parties in 1889 as a day to honor workers. During the time from 1949 to 1990, when East Berlin was the capital of the Communist German Democratic Republic, May Day was celebrated with festivities and parades.  The week we were here however they had one of the biggest parades in all of Europe: the St. Christophers Gay Parade.


For several years after 1945, East Germany paid war reparations to the USSR, thereby slowing its economic redevelopment considerably. When funds became available, East German leaders opted to focus on building housing for workers. Postwar housing construction in East Berlin often took the form of prefabricated high-rise apartment blocks that surrounded a central area containing schools, playgrounds, and shops. The largest of these, such as Marzahn on the eastern fringe of the city, housed about 100,000 people. As we walked and drove through what was once East Berlin, we were very surprised  at how beautiful the old buildings were and how many canals were on the East side.


Before reunification in 1990, the East German government restored some of the historic buildings on Unter den Linden, including the classical State Opera House and Saint Hedwig’s Cathedral, both built in the mid-1700s. The East German government also restored the neoclassical Brandenburg Gate, an 18th-century city gateway at the western end of Unter den Linden that has become an international symbol of the city. I am not sure what was happening with the gate when we were there, but you can’t drive though it anymore.


West Berlin


Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks. The original church, built in the late 19th century, was almost completely destroyed during World War II (1939–1945). In 1961 a new octagonal church was completed around the remains of the old one. This structure and its adjacent hexagonal bell tower feature honeycomb patterns of stained glass.


As Berlin became a focus of the Cold War during the 1940s, West Berlin’s Allied protectors strove to keep the city alive. West Germany gave tax breaks to West German firms that established or maintained businesses in West Berlin or bought goods produced there, and the Western allies provided massive economic assistance. During the Cold War years, West Berlin rebuilt its infrastructure and residential areas, expanded its subway system, and constructed a major international airport.


The rebuilding of West Berlin was particularly dramatic in the 1960s, when the West German government and its allies made an effort to make the city a showcase for the benefits of capitalism. A new central business district was developed southwest of Tiergarten along the Kurfüstendamm and other nearby streets. Department stores, sidewalk cafes, throngs of people, and office towers brilliantly lit at night by neon signs made this district the equal of any other modern city center in the Western world.


United Berlin


Cheering the End of the Berlin Wall, a man could be seen sitting on the Berlin Wall. The divider of East and West Germany from 1961 to 1989, raises a fist and cheers the dismantling of the wall. The wall was a symbol of the Cold War—the struggle between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its allies, which included East Germany, and the United States and its allies, which included West Germany. The Cold War dominated international relations from just after World War II (1939-1945) until the early 1990s.  If you visit, make sure you head to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, it is fantastic.


At the edge of Friedrichshain, next to the city center along the eastern bank of the Spree, is Alexanderplatz, a large square with restaurants and stores. Prior to unification, Alexanderplatz was the cultural center of East Berlin. Its most prominent feature is the Fernsehturm, a 365-m (1,198-ft) television tower topped by a popular revolving café. Berlin’s tallest building, the Fernsehturm was built during the 1960s in a futuristic style and has become a popular stopping point for tourists. Near the square are the Gothic-style Marienkirche (Church of Saint Mary) and the 19th-century red brick Rathaus (city hall).


To the north of the city center lie two working class neighborhoods: Wedding and Prenzlauer Berg. Wedding is an industrial center, while Prenzlauer Berg, which lies just east of the former Berlin Wall, houses workers as well as a growing community of artists and students. Even before unification, Prenzlauer Berg was a gathering point for artists and nonconformists dissatisfied with East German politics and society. Bullet holes from the war still scar the walls of the district’s aging tenement buildings, many of which are in a state of disrepair and neglect.


In the west and southwestern portions of the city, the landscape becomes more open, with grasslands, parks, and lakes dominating the scenery. Major natural features in this region include the extensive Grunewald forest and the Havel lakes, whose shores include a kilometer-long stretch of sandy beach. The Grunewald forest, which covers 32 sq km (12 sq mi) in southwestern Berlin, is a major recreational area for Berliners seeking relief from the crowded central city. North of the Grunewald are the residential neighborhoods of Charlottenberg and Spandau. Founded in the 13th century as an independent town, Spandau is best known as the site of a prison that housed Nazi war criminals. Its medieval streets remained relatively undamaged by World War II bombings.


In 2001 Berlin had a population of 3,382,200, far fewer than the 4.5 million who called the city home in 1942. Between 1945 and 1990, Berlin’s population diminished slightly in size. After unification, it increased by almost one-sixth. Compared to most major cities, Berlin’s population began aging after 1945. In the mid-1990s the largest age group, which made up 19 percent of the population, consisted of people between the ages of 25 and 34. The next largest group included those 65 years of age or older (16 percent of the population).


During the mid-1990s Berlin was home to more than 400,000 foreign citizens. Most of these immigrants came from other European countries to seek better economic conditions in Germany. More than 30 percent of Berlin’s foreigners were guest workers who came from Turkey to work at temporary jobs.


Protestants make up Berlin’s major religious group, with nearly 950,000 members. Roman Catholics form the next largest group at 341,000. The number of Muslims stands at 183,000. The smallest religious group is the Jewish community, which has about 11,000 members. This compares to 161,000 Jews living in Berlin in 1933. Most of the prewar Jewish population was devastated during the Holocaust of the 1930s and 1940s, when Nazi leaders organized the systematic destruction of Jewish people.


Following the division of the city of Berlin in 1949, the economies of the two halves of the city were integrated into their respective municipal and national economic systems. Although East Berlin constitutes only a third of the unified city and its population, it became the hub of East Germany’s commercial, financial, and transportation systems, and a huge manufacturing center.


Much of Berlin’s industrial capacity was destroyed during and after World War II, and the economy of West Berlin suffered again during 1948 and 1949, when the USSR blockaded West Berlin in an attempt to drive out the Western powers. Beginning in the 1950s, however, West Berlin’s economy was revitalized with a great deal of assistance from West Germany and from the United States, which provided support under the European Recovery Program (Marshall Plan). The city eventually became an important manufacturing center, producing electrical and electronic equipment and substantial quantities of machinery, metal, textiles, clothing, chemicals, printed materials, and processed food. The city also developed as a center for international finance, research, and science.


With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the two halves of the city were once again physically integrated. Their economic integration began in July 1990. Of the two sections of the city, East Berlin underwent a greater economic upheaval, with many formerly state-owned businesses becoming private. United Berlin plays a significant role in international commerce. In 1995 the city exported and imported 8 million metric tons of goods.


Since reunification, Berlin has been forced to deal with housing shortages, growing unemployment, and strikes and demonstrations by workers. Increased taxes, reduced government subsidies, and cuts in social services resulted as the German government faced the cost of revamping East Germany’s economic system from a state-controlled to a free-market system. Despite these obstacles new businesses were thriving within a few years after reunification. I don’t know why but there were very few panhandles compared to Hamburg or Cologne.


After reunification, the German government decided to gradually move the federal government to Berlin from Bonn, which was the capital of West Germany, although eight federal ministries remain in Bonn. This decision to move most government offices back to Berlin precipitated a building boom in the city. It has also put severe financial pressure on the federal government due to the cost of constructing new government facilities and of transferring government offices from the former West German capital.


Although the city is 177 km (110 miles) from the coast, river dredging, which began in the late 1700s, and the construction of an inland port provide the city with easy access to the Baltic Sea. The city has 74 km (46 mi) of natural rivers and 72 km (45 mi) of canals. The East German government completed a ring highway around the entire city in 1979. The central railroad hub is located at Central Station in eastern Berlin. The Deutsche Reichsbahn, a suburban railroad, connects the suburbs with the central city. To facilitate trade and the movement of people, Berlin has constructed an efficient integrated system of subways, elevated train lines, buses, and trams. Berlin has three international airports, one at Tegel in the northwest of the city, another at Tempelhof south of the center (and famed for its role during the Berlin blockade that began in 1948), and yet another at Schönefeld in the south and east beyond Berlin’s city limits.




When the Nazis came to power in 1933 under the leadership of German dictator Adolf Hitler, they suppressed all political activities not under Nazi control and put an end to Berlin’s flourishing artistic community. Under the Nazis, Berlin became one of the world’s major centers of political and military power. Hitler and his primary architect, Albert Speer, set out to transform the city through a massive rebuilding program, but they never completed their grandiose scheme. A few Nazi buildings survive, including the Olympic Stadium, site of the 1936 Olympic Games.


A reminder of the brutality of the Nazi regime may be found in Berlin’s northern suburb of Sachsenhausen, the site of one of the first concentration camps in Germany, which was built in 1936. The Nazis initially constructed concentration camps as centers for confining socialists, Communists, and other political enemies. Later, they were used as death camps for Jews, Slavs, homosexuals, and other “enemies of the people.”


World War II


Bonfire of "Anti-German" Books A belief in the genetic superiority of Nordic peoples, plus a romantic tradition disdainful of rationalism, liberalism, and democracy, fueled the National Socialist, or Nazi, movement in Germany. Pictured here are German students and Nazis throwing “Jewish-Marxist” and other “anti-German” books onto a huge bonfire in Berlin’s Orpenplatz in May 1933.


When World War II began in 1939, the British and U.S. air forces made Berlin a focus of aerial bombardments because it was the political center of Germany. Street fighting between the Soviet and German armies at the war’s end further damaged the city. By 1945 the war had destroyed about 60 percent of the city. The historic core and government quarter were left partially standing. About 42 percent of the city’s 1.5 million houses and apartments were completely devastated, and another 31 percent were damaged. Berlin’s population was reduced to about 2.8 million from a prewar high of about 4.4 million.


In February 1945 the USSR, the United States, Britain, and France agreed to divide the defeated Germany into four zones of occupation. When Berlin was finally captured by Soviet troops in May 1945, it was divided into four sectors, which were jointly administered by all four nations. The Soviet sector in the eastern part of Berlin was 390 sq km (150 sq mi) in area, while the combined British, American, and French sectors in the western part of the city totaled about 480 sq km (185 sq mi) in area.


Following the war, tensions developed between Communist countries led by the USSR and non-Communist countries under the leadership of the United States. The former Allies were unable to agree on terms for the political and economic reunification of Germany. The USSR regarded the four-power presence in Berlin as temporary and maintained that the city belonged to the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. The Western powers asserted that the citizens of Berlin had the right to determine their own future through a democratically elected government.


In June 1948 the Allied-occupied zones of Germany, including those in Berlin, adopted a new currency despite Soviet protests. In response, the USSR imposed a complete ban on overland traffic between Berlin and the zones of Germany controlled by the Allies. The USSR acted as though it intended to use the blockade to force the integration of the western sectors of Berlin with the Soviet-occupied part of Germany that surrounded the city. The Western powers, determined to preserve their sectors as non-Communist enclaves, responded with an airlift that supplied West Berlin with food and fuel for almost 11 months. The USSR eventually lifted the ban on overland travel in May 1949. In November 1949 the city was formally divided when the USSR established a separate administration in East Berlin.



The Berlin Wall


Here I am taking this picture of the wall in 2005 and I can tell you it felt like this thing was a fake. I mean how could it be real? When I first saw it I was surprised at how short it was, and how easy it looked to climb. What I did not know was that there were 15 metres of a void space between the wall and the rolls of barbed wire, called the death zone. The East Germans had to bring in Russian soldiers to monitor this zone and they would shoot anyone who dared to enter it. Not only did it look unbelievable, it is so hard to believe the world allowed it to happen.

You see, West Berlin was rebuilt as a showplace back in 1950 to show Western prosperity in the heart of a Communist state. The standard of living in West Berlin rose above that of East Germany and East Berlin. In June 1953 public dissatisfaction with conditions in East Berlin erupted in demonstrations that quickly spread to the rest of East Germany. Clashes with police and attacks on state offices and food stores increased, and Soviet tanks and troops arrived to restore order. Some 260 demonstrators, 116 police, and 18 Soviet soldiers died during the fighting. The government executed at least 100 civilians and imprisoned many more after the suppression of the uprising.


Between 1949 and 1961 about 2.7 million people left East Germany by way of West Berlin to take advantage of greater economic opportunities and political freedom. In 1961, in order to stop the outward flow of some of its most educated and well-trained citizens, East Germany unexpectedly constructed a barrier of barbed wire and concrete around West Berlin. Berliners woke on the morning of August 13 to discover their city had been cut in two. The East German government severed telephone links between East and West Berlin and halted any border crossing that did not have official approval from the government. All roads came to a dead-end at the wall (except for a few heavily guarded border crossings). The subway system was rerouted into two separate systems.


The newly constructed Berlin Wall angered the Western Allies, but they were unwilling to risk a major international confrontation over the issue. During the period between 1961 and 1989, at least 80 East Germans were killed trying to cross over the wall into the West, even though the book we have said 1000 people lost their lives. The book said that there were 5000 reported cases of people safely making their way to West Berlin.





An East German border guard fleeing safely to West Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie



When the Wall came down


Reunification Festivities At midnight on October 3, 1990, East Germany and West Germany officially reunified after 45 years as separate nations. Many thousands of people crowded the streets of Berlin to take part in the festivities.


The tensions over a divided Berlin eased toward the end of the 1960s. In 1971 the United States, Britain, France, and the USSR signed an agreement that formally resolved some basic issues. Both East and West agreed to put aside some contentious issues so that they could reach agreements on more pressing concerns. In effect, the USSR conceded that West Berlin’s political and economic ties with West Germany were valid. It also recognized the right of the United States, Britain, and France to station troops in the city. The Western powers agreed to accept that West Berlin was not legally a state of West Germany.


In October 1989 East Germany celebrated its 40th anniversary. But even as government officials praised their accomplishments, the country was quietly slipping into revolution. Government reforms were underway in the USSR, which was no longer willing to use military force to support the Communist regime in East Germany. Peaceful demonstrations in East Germany gained support from intellectuals, church leaders, and even some Communist Party leaders, who called for major social and economic reforms. The border with West Berlin remained closed for East Germans until November 1989, when mass demonstrations throughout East Germany forced the government to allow citizens to travel freely.


On November 9, 1989, as East Germany verged on collapse, a government spokesman announced during the evening news broadcast that the Berlin Wall was open. Enthusiastic citizens from all over East Germany raced to see for themselves. In spontaneous rallies during the next week they tore down large sections of the Berlin Wall using sledgehammers, ropes, and their bare hands. On October 3, 1990, East and West Germany were officially united, and Berlin became the capital. I know I watched on T.V. just like everyone else, but I still can’t believe all this actually happened. When we were in the Checkpoint Charlie museum, they showed a video of the first people to run through the barricades and enter West Berlin, it is quite moving.


Most Germans agreed that Berlin had to be reunited, but how to accomplish this task was far from clear. Between February and June 1990, the East and West German governments and the wartime Allies agreed to a plan for unification in what became known as the Two-Plus-Four talks. On October 3, 1990, East and West Germany were officially united, and Berlin became the capital of a restored German state. French, British, U.S., and Soviet troops formally left Berlin in 1994, marking the end of an occupation that had lasted nearly a half century.


Although the German people eagerly embraced reunification, the social and financial costs have been exceptionally high. In 1990 subsidies to Berlin once provided by the East and West German governments ended, forcing the city to make extensive cuts in its operating budget. Public service jobs were trimmed, and the cost of social services increased. Angry postal and construction workers went on strike. Students and teachers protested cuts in education. Large migrations into western Germany and Berlin between 1989 and 1993 by Germans and foreign asylum seekers threatened to destabilize the society.

The city of Berlin has faced many challenges during its reconstruction. First among these were the costs of moving the federal government back to Berlin. Rebuilding eastern Berlin’s infrastructure, including its transportation systems and municipal services, has also been a costly proposition. In addition, high unemployment among residents of both eastern and western Berlin has proved problematic. Some experts estimate that 25 years of effort will be needed to restore Berlin to its pre-1929 status.


We are driving to Prague in a day, but we would love to come back here to Berlin. I think 3 weeks would just be enough to get an idea about what this place is all about, so give yourselves enough time because there is tons to see.




Check out this picture below:












Hey, check out this photo of the wall and look at the one picture of the East German soldier putting his son on the West German side of the barbed wire. I guess he thought his son would have a better life in a free and democratic country, even if it meant being without a father. The story we read about this soldier explains how he was quickly replaced after freeing his son.  I am not sure what that means, but I don’t think the boy ever saw his father again.


What a world eh?






Hamburg Rathaus Market

Hamburg, city in north central Germany, on the Elbe and Alster rivers, near the North Sea. Its full name is the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. Hamburg is the second busiest seaport in Europe and a major commercial, industrial, and cultural center. Since 1937 the city has been coextensive with, and the capital of, the state of Hamburg (746 sq km/288 sq mi).

Hamburg consists of an old section on the eastern side of the Alster River, a new section on the western side, and several suburbs. The old section, which contains the heart of the commercial district, is crossed by numerous canals. Among the outstanding features of the city are the many bridges spanning the canals; Hamburg has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined (over 2000). Other points of interest are the Köhlbrandbrücke, a long suspension bridge (1975) across an arm of the Elbe; the Inner Alster and the Outer Alster, lakes created by a dam at the mouth of the Alster River; the ancient ramparts, converted into a system of gardens and promenades around the old section; and the Hopfenmarkt, a large public square. Noteworthy historic buildings include the City Hall, an elaborate Renaissance-style structure completed in 1897, and the churches of Saint Peter (begun 12th century), Saint James (13th-15th century), Saint Catherine (14th-15th century), and Saint Michael (late 18th century), noted for its lofty spire. The composers Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms were born in Hamburg, and the poet and dramatist Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock is buried in the Altona section of the city.

Hamburg is the principal seaport and a major commercial center of Germany. In addition to vast accommodations for handling oceangoing vessels, the port has both rail and inland-waterway connections with much of central Europe. A large fishing fleet is based in Hamburg. The city also has great shipbuilding and repairing yards, as well as industries producing refined petroleum, chemicals, machinery, metal goods, and processed food. It is a major center of printing and publishing.

Hamburg was founded as the fortress of Hammaburg, established by Charlemagne in 808 as a defense outpost. Extending his campaign to gain converts to Christianity, Charlemagne established a church in the vicinity of the fortress in 811. The church soon became a center of Christian civilization in Northern Europe and was subject to frequent attacks by hostile people. Hamburg became an archiepiscopal see in 834, but in 847, two years after the community was sacked by the Norse, the seat of the archbishopric was transferred to nearby Bremen.

Despite destructive raids by the Danes and Slavs, Hamburg endured and, in 1189, received a charter from the Holy Roman Empire. The charter, an award for services rendered during the Third Crusade, granted the city important commercial privileges. Defensive alliances with Lübeck in 1241 and with Bremen in 1249 led to the formation of the Hanseatic League; Hamburg became one of the league's most powerful and wealthy cities. In 1529 Hamburg accepted the Reformation, and the city became a haven for Lutheran, Calvinist, and Jewish refugees of Europe. During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), the commercial prosperity of the city declined drastically. A brief revival, spurred by the establishment of trade ties with the United States in 1783, was terminated by the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), during which the city was occupied (1811) by the forces of Napoleon.

Reestablished as a free city after the downfall of Napoleon, Hamburg became a member of the German Confederation in 1815. The city recovered swiftly from the effects of the French occupation and continued to expand despite a destructive fire that lasted four days in 1842 and a cholera epidemic that resulted in 8605 deaths in 1892. A popular uprising in Hamburg in November 1918 heralded the overthrow of the German Empire, and for a short time (1918-1919) the city was constituted as a socialist republic. The towns of Altona, Harburg, and Wandsbek were incorporated into Hamburg in 1938.

As a submarine base and a center of the German war effort during World War II (1939-1945), Hamburg was severely damaged by Allied air raids, and many of its inhabitants were killed. It was rebuilt after the war and by the 1950s was an elegant, thriving metropolis. Population (2001 estimate) 1,715,400.

Hamburg, city centre

We have our very dear friends, Ron and Denise, traveling with us for the next 2 weeks and our plan is to hit Hamburg, Berlin, Prague, and maybe Heidelberg. We have spent the last few days in Hamburg enjoying the food, beer and meeting all the wonderful people. We have obviously gotten used to being treated like tourists because we think Germany is one of the friendliest places we have been in Europe. Our friends on the other hand find it a little harder and feel a little uncomfortable. The folks of Hamburg have no problem coming up to you and asking you if they can help when you are looking at a map on the street. A lot of them go out of their way to help you, and that was something we did not find in France or Spain. We feel very safe and really like this country.

Our sightseeing has included all the major sites, most of which we saw from a tour boat and double Decker sight seeing bus.

Tomorrow we leave for Berlin and we are all very excited to see this revived city. I know Berlin is going to very busy, and we will miss the laid back lifestyle of Hamburg.

Hamburg is quite a long drive if you are just passing through the south of Germany, but if you have time I would definitely recommend it.







The Dom, Koln


We have driven through most of Spain, the upper portion of France and now we’ll tackle Germany. We left Paris and headed to the tiny country of Luxembourg where we were going to crash for the night, only to get there and decide that we should continue on to Germany.

 Our first stop in Germany was Treir, but it was only for a moment because we felt good and weren’t sick of driving so we plowed on to Koln (Cologne).

The one thing that shocks you as soon as you hit Germany is the Autobahn, driving our little Peugeot bread wagon along at 130 km/h and being passed by a Porsche, or was that an Audi? The cars are going by at speeds of over 200 km an hour, so unless you have a very quick eye it is very hard to tell. We made it into the city centre of Koln (Cologne) and started looking for our hotel. The city is very busy and quite old so navigation and driving was a tad confusing. When we found our hotel it was right in the centre of town.  It was just after 9pm so we decided it might be best to just grab some food in the lobby and hit the sack. The next day we did our usual 10 mile walk and bought some food and got a new simm card for our cell phone and just walked the city until we could not walk any longer. Koln (Cologne) is very beautiful, busy and full of café’s and restaurants. There are trams running up and down the streets and bumper to bumper cars. We loved it!

We were pleasantly surprised how nice the people in Germany are, and most speak some English so life is a little easier than in France and Spain.  When we stopped to ask for directions we were helped by someone who was smiling and doing there best to speak English. I kind of feel a little guilty being here and not being able to speak German, but no one here seems to mind that much.

The Dom Cathedral is one landmark that is a must-see when visiting Koln, and we managed to visit it on the second day. This church survived WW II and that is quite remarkable considering that the city was completely leveled during the war. As you get close to the Dom you will notice many steeples and the changing roof tops of this massive structure. When you enter the cathedral, the first thing you notice is the beautiful stain glass windows that are 60 – 90 feet above you.

Of course the streets and squares that surround the church are packed with people just out for a stroll or heading to their favorite pub or restaurant.

Cologne is the oldest major city in Germany. The name Cologne stems from the Roman empress Agrippina. The wife of the Emperor Claudius was born on the banks of the Rhine and elevated her "Colonia" to the status of a city in the year 50 A.D. Today, traces of the Romans are still to be found at every turn in Cologne:

The Romans also brought Christianity to Cologne, and owing to its importance, the city very soon became a seat of a bishopric. In the year 785 Charlemagne founded the Archbishopric of Cologne and also bestowed secular powers upon the church dignitaries: the Archbishop of Cologne became one of the most powerful feudal lords in the Holy Roman Empire.

Since the 12th century, Cologne has been the fourth metropolis in addition to Jerusalem, Byzantium and Rome to bear the designation "Sancta" (holy) in the city name: "Holy Cologne, faithful daughter of the Roman church by the grace of God". In 1164, Rainald von Dassel, Imperial Chancellor and Archbishop of Cologne, brought the relics of the Three Kings to Cologne.

A mighty cathedral, the "largest structure north of the Alps" was to be erected as a burial church in their honour. The foundation stone was laid on the 15th August 1248. However, the Dom was not completed until 1880, after building work had been discontinued in the mid-16th century.

Twelve large Roman collegiate and monastery churches, in addition to the world famous Dom stand as a major architectural testimony to the "spiritual" influence of the times: Groß St. Martin, St. Maria Lyskirchen, St. Severin, St. Kunibert, St. Gereon, St. Pantaleon, St. Maria im Kapitol, St. Aposteln, St. Andreas, St. Ursula, St. Cäcilien and St. Georg. Since 1985 all the churches have been almost completely restored. To mark this achievement, the city celebrated "Roman Year".


The history of "Holy Cologne" and the free city of Cologne ended in 1794 with the bloodless occupation by the soldiers of the French Revolution. The university was closed, church assets were confiscated and monasteries and religious congregations were secularised. Protestants were given the same rights as Catholics, and Jews were allowed to resettle in Cologne.

Even the archbishop was allowed to return to Cologne in 1821. In 1815, the Vienna Congress annexed Cologne and the Rhineland to the Kingdom of Prussia. During the subsequent decades, Cologne became the largest and most important Prussian city alongside Berlin. In 1822 and for the first time again since the Romans, the city received a bridge, albeit temporary, over the Rhine.

The transport network increased in density and Cologne became an major hub, with railways operating in the Rhineland since 1839. In 1859, the new main station and adjacent railway bridge - now the Hohenzollernbrücke - was opened. Cologne harbour became the final destination for shipping traffic on the Rhine. In 1861, the mediaeval city wall was demolished and the city's circular boulevards were laid out in the form of wide, imposing avenues.

Construction of the Dom was resumed with powerful support from the Prussian Court and its completion was celebrated in 1880 as a national event. The Dom also formed an excellent motif for the still budding art of photography. The first photographic panorama of a German city shows Cologne in 1856 - featuring, of course, the Dom, viewed from across the river in Deutz.

At this time, Cologne was the centre of rigorous public debate concerning the "social question", which was conducted by two illustrious protagonists: Karl Marx, who edited the newspaper "Neue Rheinische Zeitung" in the 1840's and Adolf Kolping, who founded the first fellowship to assist the exploited, hungry and often unemployed trade apprentices.

Weimar Republic

The First World War slowed, but did not interrupt, the surge of development in Cologne. By that time, following numerous incorporations, Cologne's population had swollen to over 600 000 inhabitants. In 1917, Konrad Adenauer became the Lord Mayor and served office until he was removed by the National Socialists in 1933.

During his tenure, he presided over the refoundation of the university, extension of the outer green belt with Müngersdorf stadium and construction of the KölnMesse exhibition and trade-fair centre. Many of the current parks and green areas date from this period.

An event of somewhat regional significance at that time transformed Cologne into a media capital in 1926: Westdeutsche Rundfunk AG established its head office on the banks of the Rhine and opened its first broadcasting house.

In contrast, the Pressa international press exhibition held at KölnMesse created a sensation throughout the world. Another important development: in 1930, Henry Ford laid the foundations of Cologne Ford Works. As a fitting tribute, the first German motorway between Cologne and Bonn was opened to traffic in 1932.

In the twenties, the Cologne photographer August Sander began his series of portraits "Men of the 20th Century", for which he subsequently achieved international acclaim.

The Second World War

On the 13th March 1933, Cologne's National Socialists stormed the city hall and deposed the mayor, Konrad Adenauer. Cologne became the headquarters of National Socialist leadership within the administrative district of Cologne-Aachen. In 1935, the Gestapo moved into its new headquarters in the city centre.

Today a museum, the EL-DE-Haus now serves as reminder of the crimes of the Gestapo. Few people resisted the Nazi regime. Even Cologne carnival revellers became involved in Nazi racial hatred: in 1935, floats with anti-Semitic and racist slogans took part in the Rosenmontag procession. In 1936, the German Army invaded the previously demilitarised Rhineland.

From 1937 onwards, racial persecution also occurred in the cathedral city or Domstadt: four synagogues were destroyed and many Jews, gypsies and dissidents fell victim to the inhuman system. The last of a total of 11,000 Jews from Cologne and the surrounding area were deported to the extermination camps in 1943.

In early 1940, sections of the German Western Army gathered in Cologne before the invasion of the Netherlands, Belgium and France. After the offensive began, Cologne was the target of an Allied bombing raid for the first time on 13th May 1940 and the raids increased in number as the war progressed.

The last, and one of the most devastating bombing raids hit the city on the 2nd March 1945. By the end of the war, more than 90% of the city centre had been destroyed and the number of inhabitants had decreased from 800,000 to around 40,000. After liberation by the US army, one of the first newspapers summarised the situation as follows: "The city is one of the biggest heaps of rubble in the world". It was not until 1959 that Cologne's population reached pre-war levels.

70’s to the 80’s - The number of inhabitants of Cologne approached the one million mark. In 1974, the Römisch-Germanisches Museum opened on the redesigned Dom square. Renovation of the entire historic centre was completed in 1986 with construction of the Rhine bank tunnel and opening of the new Wallraf-Richartz Museum/Ludwig Museum and the Cologne Philharmonic Hall.

The writer Heinrich Böll received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972 and was finally appointed a freeman of the city of Cologne in 1983. A phase of growth for private television channels and the media business began with dissolution of the state-owned broadcasting monopoly. In 1988, RTL went on the air from Cologne. Other television stations followed in subsequent years with VOX, Super RTL, VIVA, VIVA ZWEI and Onyx.

By the turn of the Millennium, Cologne was home to the largest number of television broadcasting stations of any other European city. In 1980, Pope Jean-Paul II visited the city to mark the 100th anniversary of the completion of the cathedral. In the same year, the Tutankhamun exhibition in Cologne City Museum attracted a record number of over 1 million visitors.

In 1986, the Federal Monopolies and Mergers Commission ruled that only beer brewed in Cologne may bear the name Kölsch. Previously, 24 Cologne breweries had agreed on a "Kölsch Convention".

The mighty Rhine River

I am writing this from Hamburg and soon we will be leaving for Berlin. All I can tell you so far, is that the Germans are some of the nicest people we have had the pleasure of meeting while in Europe.


(Posted unfinished on Aug 5, written by Helen)

Finally I am able to sit down and write about our travels through Germany.  We are in Belgium right now and Steve has been hounding me to write about Germany before I forget about it.  Well, I don’t think I will forget.  We had such an excellent time there.  When I look back it really was a great country to spend all that time in.   We were there for over a month and it was great no matter which area we went to.


From EuroDisney we drove through Luxembourg and into Germany and right away we could see a difference between France and Germany.  We saw the little Bavarian houses with the flower boxes outside each window and the cute little white shudders.  I could almost hear the “oom-pa-pa”music playing in the background.  I use to work in a German deli many years ago and I was so excited to eat all of their delicious foods. And eat I did!  I gained a lot of weight in Germany and that is probably the only negative thing I can say about it.  All that sausage and sauerkraut!  I was in heaven!  Oh, and all that great German beer.  I’m not a huge beer drinker but how can you go to Germany and not drink beer.  And their beers only come in these huge glasses or these massive steins.  The dark beer is the best and I didn’t find out until it was too late that dark beer is even more fattening than light.  Oh well, it was worth it (sort of).  To finish off with the food section we also ate a lot of potato salad with the sausages.  It is warm potato salad with an oil and vinegar dressing and lots of salt.  You also get a big basket of pretzels with your meal and the funny part about that is that when the waiter brings your basket of pretzels he just takes it off the table of the last customer.  So those people probably handled the pretzels as they picked which one they wanted and when they were done the waiter brings it over to your table.  Very bizarre.  I was very surprised that Steve (the germ-a-phobic) ate them, but he did!


The other thing you notice about Germany is that everyone drives a beautiful new car.  You hardly ever see an older car and they all drive either a Mercedes, a BMW or an Audi.  And they all drive really, really fast.  Sometimes as we were driving along a car would pass us so quickly that we could hardly make out the type of car it was.  We would be flying along in our little bread truck at a healthy speed of 130 km/h and the cars would make us look like we were crawling.  But in that month we did not come across one accident and we did a lot of driving.  It’s smart what they do.  They have the one left hand lane for the fast drivers and the two right hand lanes for the slower ones.  The other smart thing they do is that when there is construction on the road or heavy traffic coming up they all put on their hazard lights as they slow down to warn the cars behind them.  It works really well.


Steve and Dani on the Rheine River in Cologne


Our first stop was Cologne and it was a great city to start with because it wasn’t too big or too small and we were able to slowly get a handle on the language barrier.  We have noticed that we seem to catch on a little faster with the more places we visit.  You learn the basics very quick.  Like… Hello, Thanks, Please, Toilet, Ladies, Men’s, etc.  We also noticed that when you ask them if they speak English they say, “a little” and then all of a sudden they are able to explain directions perfectly.  It really is such a shame that we only know one language fluently when the rest of the world knows at least two.


 We stayed at a really nice Crowne Plaza that was conveniently located across the street from a laundry mat so we were able to get most of our laundry done.  We strolled the streets of Cologne and again it is a beautiful old city with a massive church, called The Dom, at its center.  This church, however, was the biggest, most amazing looking one we have seen.  It is black (from grime) and very Gothic and looks like it was fresh out of a scene of the Lords of the Ring trilogy.  I don’t have the facts with me but I know that it is one of the tallest in Europe and it really is staggering when you stand beside it and look up.  We got a postcard showing the church just after the war ended and it is the only thing left standing around a devastated city. It is amazing!


We also headed out one day to find a huge spa that was located on the other side of the river.  We walked for miles that day and it was so beautiful.  We walked through a huge park that was covered in big fields of grass and it was so nice to see family’s out playing soccer and having bar-b-ques.  Again, it reminded us of home.  A little like Stanley Park because this park was located right on the shores of the river.  They also had a spot that was filled with fine white sand right in the middle of the park.  It was hilarious because you had to pay to get in and they had beach chairs lined up and it was filled with teenagers as if they were sitting on a beach in Hawaii.  We found the spa but decided not to go in because the kids preferred to go back to the park and play on the playground.  We also took a miniature train ride around the whole park, it was cute.


From Cologne we headed to Frankfurt to pick up our dear friends Ron and Denise who were coming in from Vancouver to spend two weeks with us.  We were very excited because it had been a long time since anyone had come to see us from home.  My sister and her sons came to Spain in April.  We were also a little nervous because we wanted them to have a really good time because they were coming a long way (9 hour flight) for a short time.  Steve and I argued about what to do.  I thought they wanted to go somewhere hot like Venice or Greece and Steve said they wanted to see big cities.  So we saw big cities and it actually turned out really good.  Since we’re experts, we know that it’s hard to spend everyday with the same people so we were a little worried that our friends would get sick of us or get irritated with our two little kids. But we got along so well and we had such a great time with them it was really hard to see them go.  They are both so easy-going and we seemed to agree easily about where to go and what to see.  We laughed a lot, and ate a lot, and drank A LOT, and it solidified the fact that they are very special people that we hold dear to our hearts. 


When we squeezed everyone and all the luggage into our little truck we headed out to Hamburg for our first stop.  Hamburg is a very pretty city as it is situated on a large lake with many intercepting canals.  We stayed at the Crowne Plaza there and it was located just a short walk from the lake.  Our first day of sightseeing was a very overcast day but it was so hot and muggy I really thought I was going to melt.  There was not even a trace of a breeze blowing and my clothes stuck to me like glue.  It made me very sleepy and I hardly dragged my butt around the city.  Thank goodness we went on a boat tour and once it gathered speed we finally had some wind.  Everyone really liked Hamburg and I did too but it didn’t thrill me.  Other than the lake I didn’t find anything about it that spectacular.  That’s just my opinion though.








Dinner in Hamburg, on the lake


The next day we had dinner at a beer garden that was specially set up by residents of Southern Germany in order for them to show and share their food and beer that is specific to their region.  It was really great because they had row upon row of tents set up with long tables and benches set up and the place was packed.  There were a bunch of little huts that you could choose your food and wine/beer from and then you would sit and eat and listen to German folk music.  They had the full costumes on and they played the accordion and sang German songs.  It was very authentic and very packed full of people.  We laughed a lot that night because Ron was getting roughed up with everything he did.  He ordered food from one hut and sat in the seating area of another hut and the waiter gave him a bit of a hard time.  Then, because the tables were so close together, when the people behind him sat down, the one guy was so close to Ron, their backs were touching.  No matter what he did, the poor guy couldn’t catch a break, it was all very funny!





Check point Charlie, Berlin




After spending a few days there we squished everyone and all of our luggage into our little bread truck and headed to Berlin.  Poor Ron volunteered to sit in the back seat and had a mountain of luggage piled beside him.  He swore that he was comfortable but I highly doubt it.  Again, our road trip seemed to just fly by and with their wonderful company we made it to Berlin in no time. 

Berlin is a huge city and it was certainly a lot ‘prettier’ then I imagined.  It was amazing as we drove along to our hotel, the contrast between the new and the old.  Some parts of the city were all newer buildings and some parts had a combination of both, others had just older, heritage buildings.  Again, the history here is mind-boggling and we were eager to get to our hotel and start touring!

We got to the Crowne Plaza right in the city centre and were extremely disappointed with our rooms.  When Steve booked through Priority Club they told him we would have two double beds in each room.  Well, when we walked into the room there were two single beds.  They did end up setting up a cot in our bedroom but the next morning the cot was removed and we were told that we could not have four people in one room.  Well, I kind of lost it and went storming down to complain.  This is something I NEVER do and afterwards I realized why.  I felt lousy and it is definitely not worth it.  They did bring back the cot and they did apologize for the miscommunication but they were very rude to us for the rest of our stay.  We have had nothing but great experiences with both the Holiday Inn and the Crowne Plaza but there’s always one stinker in every group.  We had hoped that they would have given us a different room with bigger beds BUT, what we didn’t realize when we booked was that the city was hosting one of the biggest gay parades in the world that same weekend and 500,000 people were in the city at the same time as us.  Ha Ha!

We contemplated whether we should take the kids to the parade and decided to do it.   They have seen so much on this trip, why not a gay parade as well.  It was actually quite hilarious, outrageous, extravagant and once or twice a little sick.  But we didn’t watch for too long and right afterwards it started raining so Denise and I (and Ron) went shopping!


The next day we hopped on one of those double decker city tour buses and it took us all around Berlin.  When we got to the site of the Berlin Wall, we got off and walked up to the section that they have left standing.  It is quite remarkable when you stand on the East Berlin side and stare at that wall and consider what happened not that long ago.  The wall itself is not as tall as we would have guessed it to be.  When I saw the site of the twin towers in New York in December I told Steve that it probably would have impacted me a lot more if I had actually seen the towers before that fateful day.  I felt the same way about the wall.  I’ve talked to a few people that actually saw the wall and drove through it on occasion for business when it was still there.  To see what it was like then with all the guards and search lights and barbed wire and guard dogs and to see it today must be a remarkable feeling. 

The history behind the wall is documented on the western side of the wall and it has become quite a touristy place because there are merchants selling pieces of the wall in little plastic bags. 

From there we walked over to Checkpoint Charlie which was the U.S. part of Berlin and was named Charlie because it was checkpoint C.  For example, checkpoint A was called Checkpoint Alpha, b was Checkpoint Beta and so forth.  This area is also full of tourists and there is a great museum there that is a must-see.  It has pictures and documentation of the full history of the wall from before it was built to the day it came down.  The stories cover everything from attempted crossings, both successful and unsuccessful, to the stories of some of the guards that had to defend it’s border.  It was very interesting and quite disturbing. 

Outside the museum and half way down the street was an area of gravel on both sides of the street that had rows of crosses that each stood about seven feet.  On each cross was the picture of each victim of the wall with the date and area where they died while trying to cross.  The ironic part is that about three weeks after we left from there Ron had e-mailed us to tell us that he had read in the Vancouver newspaper that the city had taken all those crosses down.  We were quite surprised and still haven’t figured out the exact reason for that.

There was a lot of Berlin we did not see and that is one thing that we are noticing during our travels.  You need A LOT of time to really appreciate and truly uncover the secrets and beauties of a city with tons of history.  We just don’t have enough time and we seem to just scratch the surface of some of these amazing cities.  I guess the idea is to see a little of everything and if we want we can come back one day to the ones that interest us the most.  Berlin would definitely be one!


From Berlin we decided to be a bit adventurous and see Prague in the Czech Republic.  Many people that we have met have told us that it is a must-see.  So we packed up again and headed East toward our next destination with no idea what to expect.  When we got to the border it was the first time in our travels through Europe where we actually had to stop at a border crossing and show our passports.  When we drove up they asked for our passports, took them and told us to pull over and wait on the side of the road.  Well, we did that and waited for quite a while.  We were getting a little nervous when finally a guard came out, handed the passports back to Steve, smiled and walked away.  That was it.  Off we went.

As we drove into the country we started to notice that every kilometer or so there would be a little shack on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere because it was all wilderness here.  These shacks had at least two or three women sitting or standing in front of them.  At first we thought they were just roadside shops or something until we started noticing that the women were half naked and they were waving at all the cars and trucks going by.  It quickly dawned on us that they were actually prostitutes.  It was quite sad to see this and it certainly wasn’t a great first impression of this country we came to see.  We learned later that most of them are from Romania and Russia and that this started just after the fall of communism.  Interesting.

We stayed at the Crowne Plaza quite a ways outside of the city centre and it was a beautiful old hotel that looked like a castle.         


(to be continued)