Berlin on foot
Years ago, I visited Germany’s Bavaria and thought when I first set eyes on it that I’d just discovered what was surely meant to be my home all along. Where we were, nestled among the foothills of the Alps, was a charm unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Cows, their hollow bells clacking as they swayed side to side, were led through quiet streets by men in short leather pants, embroidered suspenders, tall socks and loden-green feathered caps. The architecture too seemed out of a fairy tale. Buildings were painted white, freshly every year, some decorated with murals, and it seemed that from every window hung flowers overspilling their wooden planters. Shop windows were filled with eiderdown comforters, traditional Bavarian/Alpine clothing, kitchen wares, and the most elaborate cakes and marzipan confections I’d ever seen. Each late afternoon or evening whole families (all ages) picked up their walking sticks and strolled through the hills. Their voices rose like a murmured chorus through the woods. It was a hum I’ll never forget. The leaves were turning, the air was clean and Autumn-crisp, and the lakes shimmered. It was idyllic. Pretty much
(People actually lived like this!)
Berlin is a large and vibrant city
(and – I was kindly reminded – Berlin’s no Bavaria – and if you yodel, people will stare.)
We were to launch our vacation from Berlin where my husband was called to business. We arrived a couple days in advance of his meetings to acquaint ourselves with the city by walking it. We were to have four full days there, but weren’t driving so our acquaintance with this bustling modern city would be limited to what we could get to on foot. By no means could we see it all. The weather was beautiful so we chose outdoors. We walked the streets and parks and bridges. We missed museums and what I hear is a thriving art and music scene. But what we saw and tasted made an indelible impression.
Berlin – I hadn’t known – got its name from the German words for bear and little. And as we moved through the city, we found little bears everywhere. There’s quite a fondness here for their little mascot.
Bear statues, each with the same basic form but painted uniquely, were seen all over the city. The one outside our hotel was “wearing” Marlene Dietrich. (For those of you too young to know – as am I too of course – Marlene was a famously sultry, satin & silk, smoky-voiced German actress and singer – of the 40’s I think.) Here she is outside our hotel at the entrance to the bar that bears her name – (though only a quick shot with my phone, I couldn’t resist) –
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Most of us probably think of vacation as a bit of an “escape”. But the escape that this trip offered wasn’t to begin for me here. You visit Berlin, and first it strikes – and then it settles on you, hard – Berlin’s is not a feint history – it’s one of such enormity that I struggle still to put into words the effect it had on me. Some of the most brilliant heights ~ and the most depraved depths ~ of humankind’s time on earth were lived in and around here. And everywhere you walk in this city, its history is evident. Berlin’s gravitas does not – cannot – escape you.
The Brandenburg Gate was completed in the 1700’s as a triumphal arch and was the gateway through which people would enter the city. Though a great number of buildings were destroyed during the war, many that still stand speak loudly (as this does) of Germany’s once-imperial greatness.
One imperial address was that of the summer palace of Sophie Charlotte (Queen of Prussia & grandmother of Germany’s beloved Frederich the Great.) The palace was finished in 1705. Though not readily apparent, every attempt was made to be mindful of avoiding “excesses” during the construction of this summer home. Sophie had learned by way of Marie Antoinette’s unfortunate example that “the people” don’t take kindly to royal over-indulgences. (Keep this attempt at “understated elegance” in mind as you stroll through the next photos of the Sophie Charlottenburg Palace.) Though the palace was hit by airstrikes during World War II and completely destroyed by fire, it was meticulously rebuilt (from photographs) after the war.