Rheinsberg, Sonnenberg, Berlin, Ketzin
75 days away
155 miles / 249 km since last post
4,898 miles / 7,883 km total
On Sunday we drove to Rheinsberg, parked up and set out on the bikes to the Rheinsberg Castle. Unfortunately, they had a lot of signs up around the castle and gardens saying that bikes were not allowed, so we spent most of the time just pushing them along. The castle and gardens were nice and it was a pleasant hour or so.
We decided to head straight to a camper stop after visiting the castle, finding a quiet spot next to a restaurant called Märkischer Waidmann in a little village called Sonnenberg. Our camperstop book advertised it as the dream stop - quiet, small, with showers, toilet, internet etc. It was a little bit of an exaggeration as there was no internet or showers, and the toilets were available but only during the restaurant opening hours. However, it was correct about it being a small, quiet spot so at least the best parts of it were true. Only one other motorhome turned up the whole time we were there.
After relaxing for a couple of hours we decided to take the bikes on a ride around the nearby lake Huwenow, and this also lead towards Meseberg Schloss. It ended up being a more demanding ride than originally planned, but it was great to get out for some exercise and see the surrounding area on such a nice afternoon. We took a couple of beers with us so we could enjoy a little break along the way. Stu note: Sarah has failed to mention the couple getting up to public hanky-panky in the field!
On Monday we took things easy in the morning, then headed out in the direction of Berlin. We decided we wanted to spend time researching things we'd like to see in Berlin first, so instead of heading straight into the city we found a campsite not too far away. We had to wait half an hour for the campsite to let us in - apparently they have a quiet time over lunch when they don't let traffic in or out - we haven't come across that before. When we did get in it turned out that they didn't accept our credit cards, and we had barely any cash on us. Fortunately, after scraping around for all the coins we had in our bag we had just barely enough for a night's stay and use of the internet - a bit of a relief.
It was a nice relaxing afternoon - they had an indoor swimming pool which Stu and I made good use of. Apparently a man came along later when Stu was in there alone and made it clear to Stu that we were supposed to pay to use the pool. Oops! Perhaps they should put a sign up or something.
On Tuesday we decided to head for Berlin. After some previous research we discovered that in order to drive through most major cities in Germany you need to acquire an umweltplakette (emissions sticker) which is fixed to the front window of your vehicle and means you can pass through certain emission zones. These can be obtained through the post before leaving the UK, but obviously it was a bit late for us to do that. We could also obtain them from most car garages and dealers too, so we located one on our way to Berlin.
At the car dealers I was quite pleased with myself that I managed to conduct the whole request with the saleman in German (that GCSE being put to great use again). It was only while the salesman was fixing the sticker to the window of the motorhome that we discovered he didn't accept credit cards, and we had no cash at all after the last campsite. He also said there wasn't a a cash machine nearby. He then said not to worry about paying. I told him that we should pay, but he then insisted that we just enjoy Berlin and have a pleasant trip. The sticker would only cost €5 but it was still very kind of him to let us have it for free. So, in a good mood, we headed for our Berlin campsite.
Stu managed to find us a stop which was fairly quiet and reasonably priced, considering it was in a capital city. It was a few miles out of the centre of Berlin, but it had connections via the U-bahn (underground train) and we were happy to compromise on that for the sake of a quiet spot. We arrived mid afternoon, and decided we would relax for the rest of the day and head into Berlin for a full day tomorrow.
Wednesday morning we got up a bit earlier than usual so we could make the most of our day in Berlin. It was about a 15 minute walk to the Alt-Tegel U-bahn station, and then around 20 minutes or so on the train into the Friedrichstrasse stop. From here we made our way to the bus stop for the city circle tour. We had taken a similar tour when we were in Singapore a few months back, and it seemed a good way to orientate ourselves in the city. It would also be a good way to see things which we might not have time to see otherwise. Obviously getting a day ticket on the U-bahn would be a cheaper way to get around, and probably quicker, but this would be a much more scenic way to do it. We could get a ticket which lasted two days too.
We stayed on the bus for the whole route to start with, which took about 2.5 hours. It was nice to sit on the open top deck, and there was also a running commentary as we went along. We saw everything from the Brandenburg Gate, to Checkpoint Charlie, to the preserved sections of the Berlin Wall which are still standing. Berlin certainly has some amazing things to see. The longest stretch of the Berlin Wall which remains is now known as the East Side Gallery, and it is the longest permanent art installation in the world, featuring various artwork painted on the sides.
The Victory Tower, designed by Heinrich Strack after 1864 to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, was a pretty awesome sight with it's huge golden statue on the top. As too is the Brandenburg Gate of course. After we had completed the full bus tour, we got off the bus right next to the Berliner Dom (Catherdral) which is an awesome cathedral dating back to 1454. We then took a walk over to the Brandenburg Gate - another impressive sight not to be missed. Nearby here is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. This is a massive installation of 2711 concrete blocks of varying heights, laid out over an area of 19,000 square metres. It is an unusual sight, and I can't make up my mind whether I like it or not. However, you can get yourself lost in amongst the blocks as they reach quite a height. They have security standing by to prevent people jumping on them. Below this area is the Information Centre, which is free to enter. We only had to wait a couple of minutes queueing outside - as it is a popular place - then after a security check we were allowed through. The centre itself was pretty sombre, as expected with this subject matter. Everyone inside was in virtual silence going past each display. The information was very well laid out and was really informative and interesting. I don't think you ever get used to reading about the horrors of the Holocaust. In one section there were huge displays showing snippets of letters people wrote to their loved ones from inside the extermination camps - some of them knowing full well the fate that awaited them. Another section focused on particular families and their individual stories and what became of them all. It was pretty heartbreaking stuff, some of it quite hard to read, but it was certainly worthwhile paying a visit here and the information displayed had been done so carefully and sympathetically to the subject matter.
After this we decided to take a drink break at a nearby restaurant, before walking a few streets away to the location of Hitler's Bunker. The bunker is, of course, no longer there - it is now car park! There was an information board there explaining the events of the last few days of the war and of Hitler's life in the bunker which was quite interesting though.
Next we walked around to the Reichstag (Parliament Building) and took a few pictures, then made our way back to the U-bahn station to get back to the campsite in time for some dinner.
The next day (Thursday) we headed back into the city once again. We got back on the city circle bus, getting off at Charlottenburg Palace. This is the largest palace in Berlin and was built at the end of the 17th century. Like a lot of things in Berlin it was damaged badly during the Second World War, but it has been reconstructed beautifully. We weren't too bothered about taking a tour inside, instead looking at the pictures of the interior in some of the museum shop books!
We got back on the bus, alighting this time at Potsdamer Platz. It is an important public square and traffic intersection in the centre of the city and it marks the point where the old road from Potsdam passed through the city wall of Berlin at the Potsdam Gate. It was totally laid to waste during the Second World War and also during the Cold War era. Since German reunification, Potsdamer Platz has been the site of major redevelopment projects, and there are lots of hotels and shops here, including the Sony Centre. We stopped here to get a bit of free wifi, and also took a look at a couple of sections of the Berlin Wall which they had on display. We then caught the bus once again and went to the DDR Museum, located in the former governmental district of East Germany. This is an interactive museum which shows the daily life in East Germany (known in German as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR). We found the museum to be quite interesting, and there were some good exhibits, but we did feel that the 'quirky' nature of the displays perhaps wasn't in keeping with the oppressive regime which it was supposed to be conveying to you.
Feeling thirsty we grabbed a couple of beers at the restaurant next door, sitting in a nice spot outside with a great view of the cathedral, just across the river Spree. We then had to head slightly out of the tourist area of Berlin as we were meeting up with a friend, Stephan, who Stu had worked with back in Australia a few years ago. We were a bit pressed for time and didn't fancy walking the mile or so in the heat, so we got into a bicycle rickshaw. The driver, a friendly Portuguese guy, cycled us over to Stephan's workplace in fairly good time. After meeting up with Stephan we headed to the White Trash pub nearby, a well known English speaking place with English menus. It was actually a good place, the music was good and the burgers and beer were great. A fantastic evening had by all.
This ended up being a late night for us as we still had to make our way back to the campsite on the U-bahn. Not getting in until gone midnight - not helped by one of our connections on the U-bahn not running so having to get a taxi part of the way.
Feeling a little tired after a night of beer drinking, today (Friday) we decided to head out of Berlin and find a quiet campsite for the rest of the day - just what was needed.
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