The trip started in Lübeck, one of the founding cities and capital of the Hanseatic League (an alliance between important shipping and trading centers in the mid 13th century). The most famous landmark is the Holstentor, the main city gate built between 1466-78. The outward-facing ("field") side of the gate has 3.5 meter thick walls, and contained few windows. The city side had many windows and much thinner walls, only 1 meter thick. Backsteingotik (Gothic brick architecture) is predominant throughout this northern area of Germany, and the detail, pattern and intricacy of the masonry we saw throughout the trip was amazing. Brickwork detail, along with a resident of the gate. The center block of the gate, topped with a turreted pediment. The museum inside the Holstentor — a model showing what the city's multiple entry gates and fortications originally looked like. The outer and inner gates were destroyed in the early-to-mid 1800s, not by war, but because they were considered obstacles as the city became more industrialized. Thankfully, the middle gate survived. Canon pointed towards the field side of the gate. Ship models hanging in the western tower. Model of the former Altstadt and city fortifications. The city was rich and powerful, and filled with steeply-gabled brick houses, characteristic Hanseatic architecture. The Eagle of Lübeck The Salzspeicher, six gabled brick buildings just behind the Holstentor and on the river Trave, which were once used to store salt transported from the city of Lüneburg. Pedestrian bridge over the river Trave. Locks of love... a common site now on European bridges. Couples engrave their names (or initials) and date on a padlock, and leave it on the bridge. Nice view of the Holstentor from the bridge. The Trave, with the Marienkirche (two towers) and Petrikirche (one tower, at the right). Petrikirche (St. Peter's), one of the seven spires of Lübeck. Originally built between 1227 and 1250, it is no longer used as a church and is now a center for events and exhibitions. And it has one of the best viewing platform at the top of the tower. Gabled brick rowhouses, seen from the observation deck of the Petrikirche tower. View of the Trave and the eastern end of the Altstadt. Salzspeicher and Holstentor Marienkirche (St. Mary's), Germany's third largest church, and the Marktplatz. Funky roof of the Peek & Cloppenburg clothing store on the Marktplatz. The Rathaus (town hall), another spectacular example of Backsteingotik and built between the 13th and 15th centuries. Lübeck's Rathaus is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Germany. The opposite side of the Rathaus. Brick detail on the Rathaus facade. The Marienkirche, with its 125 meter twin towers (two more of the seven city spires). A bronze statue of the devil sits along one side of the church. There is a charming story about the devil, who thought the building was going to be a wine bar that would send more souls his way. He helped with construction, until he realized it was a church, got angry, and was going to destroy it. He was persuaded to leave the church alone if a wine bar was also built nearby (a wine cellar is in the Rathaus across the street). And so he now sits outside the church, facing that direction. Cute little guy... The interior is the highest vaulted brick ceiling in the world, at 40 meters (131 ft). Vaulting detail Zoomed in, you see not only the detail of the painting, but the individual bricks comprising the complex vault structure. We had always seen such massive churches and cathedrals carved out of stone before... the shear number of bricks, and the detail carved into each one, was unbelievably impressive. Two bells that fell and broke during WWII bombing raids have been left as a memorial beneath the south tower. The northern nave contained a very cool (and still operational) astronomical clock. Den 17. Mai... Cindi's birthday! A unique stained glass window. Towers and buttresses from the west side of the church. The Dom (cathedral), completed in 1341. A modern stained glass window in the Dom. It was a gorgeous day (unfortunately, not weather that would continue), and so decided to circumnavigate the old part of the city (which is completely surrounded by water) by boat. The old Burgtor, a second surviving gate of the historic town fortifications. A modern take on Lübeck's brick gabled architectural style. Lots of park and recreation areas along the east and southern sides of the Altstadt. A view of the Dom (cathedral) as we rounded the northern tip of the island. Marienkirche and Petrikirche back in view again. All-in-all, a great birthday in a beautiful and historic city! Lübeck is famous for its marzipan (it's been made there since at least 1530), an almond/sugar/rosewater confection that can also be molded into shapes. Fruit is a popular form, and in the marzipan museum there were lifesize samples that were airbrushed to look almost real. Marzipan molds Prominent life-size figures from the history of Lübeck or the marzipan industry were sculpted out of marzipan... this was only half of the display. Jakobikirche (St. Jacob's), built in 1334 with an unusually-shaped spherical globe base to the tower. It was undamaged during WWII, and serves as a memorial site for international seafarers. The Haus der Schiffergesellschaft (House of the Marine Guild), dating from 1535, is now one of Lübeck's best restaurants. Fountain feature built into the pedestrian square... the art installation engaged lots of kids during the day, and drunk adults at night! The coastal town of Travemünde, where the Trave river flows into the Baltic Sea, was purchased by Lübeck in 1329 to control the shipping route to the Baltic and access to Travemünde's harbor. The <em>Passat</em>, a former sailing ship, is now a museum and one of the town's main attractions. Travemünde is still a major port, with lots of cargo ship traffic...0 ... and ferry service to ports throughout the Baltic region. The beach and promenade, viewed from the main pier. The lighthouse at the end of the pier, marking the entrance to the river Trave. A view up the Trave, toward the <em>Passat</em> and the center of town. Strandkörber ("beach baskets"), a common occurance at the beaches in Germany. A Strandkorb can be rented by beachgoers, offering privacy and some protection from the wind and sun. Fountain and manicured trees along the promenade. Gorgeous flower arrangements everywhere! The promenade, with flags flying for each of the German federal states. Very cool benches along the promenade (and to Ben's delight, they even rocked). A jazz festival was taking place that day along the promenade... ... a great opportunity to stop and listen to some good music... ... and eat... ... and drink, always favorite activities of ours in Germany! We took a ferry across the Trave to go tour the <em>Passat</em>. During her sailing days in the early-to-mid 20th century, the <em>Passat</em> carried freight across the ocean and around South America's Cape Horn. She was the last freight sailing ship to sail around Cape Horn, and was retired in 1957 after nearly sinking in an Atlantic hurricane. Playing around on deck. Below deck Looking back towards town. The Alter Leuchtturm (old lighthouse), the oldest lighthouse in Germany. After nearly 450 years of uninterrupted service, it was retired in 1972 and is now a maritime museum. Throughout the areas we travelled in, huge fields were carpeted in beautiful yellow flowers. They were everywhere, and absolutely gorgeous! We encountered this field along a backroad on the way to Wismar. We asked at one point what they were, and discovered they were canola fields. They had the most wonderful, subtle, sweet fragrance... every time we drove by a field, we rolled the windows down to soak in as much of the scent as possible. Baltic Sea beach at the tiny resort town of Boltenhagen, with another canola field in the distance. A canal running through the town of Wismar, another important Hanseatic trading city. Nikolaikirche, dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. The back end of the Nikolaikirche. The vaulted main nave is 37 meters (121 ft.) high (the fourth highest in Germany)... again, amazingly impressive brick artistry typical of the Baltic region. Star vaults in the side nave, which we would get a closer look at from above. We got to climb up the tower, into the "attic" space above the side nave. The pictures probably don't communicate it properly, but this was really, <em>really</em> cool!! Walking towards the back end of the church. One of the star vaults from above, where you could really see the elaborate brick work that went in to creating the complex vaulted structures. One of them had a hole cut out so you could see straight down to the church floor. A long drop, and even more impressive knowing that we were only standing over the shorter side nave. At the back end of the church, a roof opening allowed views out onto the city... ... and up towards the back end of the church and the flying buttresses. It was a very cool experience, a perspective you usually don't get to see. A window was also cut out right above the altar, giving a unique view down into the church. The enormous Marktplatz The Wasserkunst, a wellhouse/pumping station originally built in 1595-1602 to distribute fresh spring water to the city and its breweries (used up until 1897). Water spouts on the Wasserkunst. The Alter Schwede ("old Swede"), built around 1380. Wismar was actually under Swedish rule from 1648 to 1803. The town's emblem is the Schwedenkopf (Swedish Head), one of two busts that had been used to mark the entrance to the harbor. Backsteingotik... more amazing brick craftsmanship. Fish boats were lined up along the waterfront... ... selling salmon, herring in about a bazillion variations, smoked eel... basically, anything from the Baltic. Ben enjoying his herring sandwich, fresh off the boat. Replicas of the two Schwedenköpfe that had marked the harbor's entrance. Nikolaikirche, seen from the waterfront. The Wismar waterfront, with the Marienkirche off to the right. Only the church tower still stands. The church itself was damaged prior to WWII, and then demolished in 1960. After leaving Wismar, our drive down to Schwerin included a slight detour through the tiny village of Wendisch-Rambow, the place where Till Lindemann (the lead singer of Rammstein) grew up. We were right there... I just had to do it! A narrow dirt road, surrounded by canola fields, led to the village consisting of only about 15 or so houses. And the road back out. We passed an older couple out for a walk who were obviously quite perplexed as to what these strangers were doing on this road. They looked back at our car at least four times. Simple answer... Till-tourism! The road into Schwerin was lined with flowering trees, surrounded on both sides by canola fields. Gorgeous! After checking in to our hotel, we headed straight to the center of town. First view, the Pfaffenteich (a man-made pond) and the Schweriner Dom (cathedral). Drachenreich am Pfaffenteich – the Pfaffenteich dragon. Looking back over the Pfaffenteich towards the north. The city's main attraction, the Schweriner Schloß. The castle was primarily built from 1845-57, and contains a mix of architectural styles including gothic and renaissance turrets, Slavic onion domes, Ottoman features and Hanseatic stepped gables. A statue of Niklot, a lord of Schwerin who was killed in 1160, above the main entrance gate. Schwerin is the capital of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and today the Schloß also houses the state parliament. It is known as the most beautiful state parliament building in Germany. No arguments there! Turrets and towers everywhere... the Schloß was originally designed to have 365 of them, one for every day of the year. The Schloßkapelle (castle chapel) was Mecklenburg's first protestant church, and was build between 1560-63 (significantly older than the Schloß itself). The most spectacular thing to see here was the intricate, star-vaulted ceiling. The intricately vaulted ceiling contains 8758 gold stars. The Blumenzimmer (Flower Room), a round room overlooking the elaborate gardens. View out on the palace gardens (Burggarten) and Schweriner See. The Thronsaal (Throne Room), decorated with ornate, guilded stucco work. Thronsaal Behind the Schloß were beautifully manicured gardens, including the orangerie... ... and a grotto built out into the Schweriner See. Lilacs were in full bloom, and smelling fantastic! Various musical ensembles were playing all over the palace grounds, a celebration of the Pfingsten (Pentacost) holiday weekend. The outside of the Schloßkapelle (chapel) The outside entrance to the grotto And inside Ben has always loved wisteria, which was draping down over the side of the grotto. Gorgeous flower beds everywhere! The Schloß sits on an island, connected to the main city on one side and a larger Schlossgarten (castle garden, pictured here) on the other. Statue of Friedrich Franz II, a Prussian officer and Grand Duke of Mecklenburg in the mid-to-late 1800s. Covered path in the garden Looking back towards the Schloß Schwerin is all about the Schweriner See (the second largest lake in Germany) and boating Leaving the Schloß grounds, we encountered probably the most beautiful facade view of all. We decided to go on a boat tour of the lake, and walked up about one minute before the last trip of the day was getting ready to depart. The captain greeted us on board by saying "Sie haben Glück gehabt!" ("You got lucky!"). It was a little chilly out on the water, but decided to enjoy our Pils up on deck anyway. We took an hour long ride around the southern end of the lake, ending with some nice views back on the town and Schloß. The 14th century gothic Dom (cathedral), another of northern Germany's great examples of Backsteingotik. Schloß from the boat The Kapelle and grotto This house, dating from 1698, was partly hanging over the already narrow alley. Basically, gave enough clearance underneath for people to still walk past. And the name of the alley?? That's right... <em>Enge Straße</em> – "Narrow Street"! To be exact, the "3rd Narrow Street" – there are three of them named this way in the town. On our last morning in Schwerin, we had hoped to climb the tower of the Dom for good views of the lake and Schloß. Unfortunately, because of the Pfingsten holiday, it didn't open until hours later and we couldn't wait... needed to get up to the island of Rügen while the weather was still decent. Rügen is the largest island in Germany, and known for its resort beach towns and white chalk cliffs. We started up in Jasmund National Park, with about a mile and a half hike through beautiful beech forests to the chalk cliff lookouts. A beautiful walk... The main attraction... the lookout at Königsstuhl. We'd never seen chalk cliffs before, and they were gorgeous! Viktoria-Sicht overlook Ben and the Viktoria-Sicht overlook We opted to hike down to the beach, in spite of the grueling climb back up. Views of the cliffs from the bottom were well worth the effort! Ben on the beach. Details in the chalk. The water was frigid, but we both went in up to our ankles just to say we'd been <em>in</em> the Baltic. View back up at Königsstuhl Chalky bits at the top of the beach. The pieces would literally crumble in your hands with the slightest pressure... amazing that erosion of the cliffs doesn't happen any faster than it does. Time to pay for those views... the hike back up. Next, headed over to the Viktoria-Sicht outlook, which was actually even nicer than the view from the main viewing platform at Königsstuhl. A view down to the sea (which despite its naturally green color, had amazingly good visibility) and the beach. The specks on the beach are people — a good context for how high these cliffs were. A zoomed view Amazing textures on the top surface of this peak. Another view back towards Königsstuhl. The Koloss von Prora ("Colossus of Prora"), a massive building complex (8 buildings in total) constructed by the Nazis in the town of Prora. The planned holiday resort was supposed to support up to 20,000 tourists. The beach-facing facade, long, flat and featureless. Construction stopped in 1939 with the outbreak of WWII, and was never completed. There is much debate over what to do with the complex. Today, it houses a museum and the largest youth hostel in Germany. The beach at Prora — super fine, beautiful sand, but no way this place would have supported 20,000 vacationers! Entrance to the pier at the resort town of Binz on the eastern side of Rügen. The beach at Binz. A view of the promenade from the end of the pier. Binz's long sea promenade, lined with nice restaurants, shops and boutique hotels. The pier in the town of Sellin. Sellin's beach. Sellin's pier. Strandkörber (beach baskets) waiting to be rented. The beach at Sellin. The stairs back up from the beach. You could take a cable car if you wanted... we walked. "Bäderarchitektur" (resort/spa architecture) in Sellin. St. Marienkirche, which was right across the street from our hotel. Our room faced the bell tower, so beautiful bells ringing every 15 minutes. And no, that wasn't annoying... they sounded beautiful! The church was built in 1383-1473, and is another supurb example of northern German Backsteingotik. It is the second largest brick Gothic church in the Baltic Sea area. The interior reaches a height of 99 meters (325 ft). Detailed painting on the star vaulting The huge baroque pipe organ is used for summer concerts (unfortunately none while we were there). Vaulting in the back of the church was being restored – replastering over the brick foundation and repainting. We were able to climb the main bell tower... 366 steps of pure hell. A view on the way up confirmed that the hard work was going to be worth it though. Passed right next to the four bells near the top, which thankfully did not go off while we were right next to them. Staircase and beam structure around the bells. Framing inside the top of the tower. And our ultimate reward... in spite of some light rain, a beautiful view of the entire city. Looking down at our hotel room. The Altstadt of Stralsund is completely surrounded by water – the Baltic Sea on the east, and other lakes/ponds (including this one, the Knieperteich) on other sides. The Frankenteich The Nikolaikirche (left) and Kulturkirche Sankt Jakobi (right), with the Baltic and the island of Rügen in the background. Kulturkirche Sankt Jakobi and the modern Ozeaneum aquarium in the background. Nikolaikirche, with the island of Rügen in the background. The bridge to Rügen. Ben and the beautiful view. Kulturkirche Sankt Jakobi The Nikolaikirche, built from 1270-1360 The interior was in the process of being renovated. Bright, bright paint colors everywhere, which quite honestly, I didn't like nearly as much as some of the more subdued interiors that we had seen. The Rathaus (town hall), built in 1370, with typical Hanseatic-style turrents and intricate brickwork. The Rathaus, with the Nikolaikirche in the background. Gothic spires, with cutouts in the facade for stability in the wind. Old gabled merchant houses along the Alter Market (old market square), the Wulflamhaus (left) and the Dielenhaus (right). Lavish gables demonstrated the wealth and power of the merchants in this powerful Hanseatic city. Town wall, from the inside and the outside Sculpture along the waterfront Huge buoys used to keep cars out of the pedestrian zone along the waterfront. Ben trying out a Strandkorb at one of the waterfront restaurants (although we ate somewhere else). We had a great meal at one of the traditional waterfront restaurants featuring Baltic fish specialties, and Ben finished off the meal with a shot of Fischer-Geist, a high alcohol (56%) spirit that is lit on fire when served. The modern Ozeaneum, which won the European Museum of the Year award in 2010. It is dedicated to the science of the oceans, with a particular emphasis on the Baltic Sea environment. Seal sculpture outside the Ozeaneum First stop once inside was the Humboldt penguin exhibit on the roof deck, where there is a daily feeding at 11:30. Tried to get some good pictures of them in the water while we waited, but that proved difficult... they are quite fast! Once the caretaker came out however, they hopped out and waddled over to her as quickly as they could... a rather amusing spectacle!! No need to track who's been fed... they eat until they are full, then waddle back to the water. She just kept feeding until the last one was satiated. Seriously, this woman has my dream job, I think. The black spots on the penguin's chest are unique, and the pattern can be used to identify individuals (although different colored armbands are also used for this purpose). SO cute!!! I could have watched them all day... there is just something about them that just makes you happy. But there was a lot more museum to see, including information on the three species of seals found around the Baltic (this one is a ringed seal). A huge tank filled with very large sturgeon (up to 6 feet long). I must say, I prefer seeing these guys out in the open ocean while diving. The beautiful underside of a stingray as it swam up the side of the tank. A stuffed Eisbär (literally translated, an "ice bear"). Model of a basking shark, a large filter feeder. The final exhibit space was a huge hall filled with life-size models of the ocean's giants. Here, a sperm whale battling a giant squid. Of course the sun came out the morning we had to leave! But got a great shot of the Marienkirche as we rolled our luggage to the car. Not a cloud in the sky... after a week in Germany, only our second truly beautiful day weather-wise (and there would only be one more in the upcoming week). On the way to Berlin, we decided to see a bit of the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern lakes district, and took a short detour off the Autobahn to Müritz, the third largest lake in Germany. The "resort" we stopped at was a horrendous, DDR-era building... ... but the grounds and lake were beautiful. Our hotel in Berlin was right off the Ku'damm, near the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche. It was still clad in scaffolding undergoing renovation (as it was a year and a half ago when we were last in Berlin). At least this time, part of the scaffolding at the top had been removed, and we could at least see the top of the WWII-damaged steeple. One of these days, we'll see the church in its entirety. That night, we met one of Cindi's Rammstein Facebook friends Ann(and some others, from all over the world who were in town for the concerts like we were), for dinner at Marjellchen, a fabulous Prussian restaurant in the area. On our first full day in Berlin, we decided to head to the famous Berlin zoo (also near our hotel) for a few hours before heading over to the concert grounds. Nashorn (rhino) An interesting study in plate tectonics!! Sibirischer Steinbock (Asiatic Ibex), with baby Flußpferd (literally, "river horse") Warzenschwein (warthog)... not something you normally think of as cute, but the babies were adorable (and just 1 month old). Mama was looking a tad bit emaciated, however. Eisbär (polar bear) – although the famous Knut is unfortunately no longer around, the other polar bears were equally beautiful. A little bear bonding! And more Humboldtpinguine!! Reflections... Königspinguin (King's penguin) Felsenpinguin (Rockhopper penguin) Heller Kronenkranich (Grey crowned crane) Löwe (lion) This guy's pose reminded us of our Toby at home. Hinterindische Tiger (Indochinese tiger) The whole reason for the trip... our 11th and 12th Rammstein concerts at the iconic Kindl-Bühne at Wuhlheide. We opted for seats in the open-air amphitheater the first night. The pit crowd seemed pretty tame and we wanted a better view, so Saturday decided to stand on the second rail for a closer-up experience. Yes, there was a Brezel vendor walking the crowd (you can kind of make out the pretzel icon on his flag)... only in Germany! And yes, of course we bought some! Waiting for the show to start. Till's entrance for the first song, <em>Ich tu dir weh</em> <em>Mein Teil</em> <em>Benzin</em> was back on the set list, complete with the gas pump and fan-on-fire from the LIFAD tour! <em>Du hast</em> <em>Sonne</em> The Siegessäule (Victory Column), designed after 1864 to commemorate Prussian war victories. Three of the column's sandstone block layers are decorated by cannons taken from the enemies during three separate wars during the last half of the 19th century (Danish-Prussian war, Austro-Prussian war, and the Franco-Prussian war). The fourth tier was added by the Nazis, when they moved the column from its original location in front of the Reichstag to its current position in the Tiergarten. A 27 foot tall sculpture of Victoria, nicknamed Goldelse, stands atop the column. Bronze reliefs at the foundation depict scenes from the wars. The reliefs, and stone foundation, still show WWII damage. 285 steps up results in fantastic views over the Tiergarten park and the city. This view faces down the Strasse des 17. Juni, towards the Brandenburger Tor and the TV tower. A zoomed view of the end of the street. Many famous Berlin landmarks are visible – the Berliner Dom (cathedral), Rathaus (town hall), Humboldt Box, Brandenburger Tor, and Nikolaikirche. And cranes EVERYWHERE... it was crazy how much construction was going on in that part of town. The Reichstag, with its beautiful glass dome. We skipped the tour this time, since we had visited it on our last trip to Berlin. The Sony Center's architectural roof at Potsdamer Platz, and the Berlin Philharmonic. After descending, we decided to take a walk through the Tiergarten, a huge park in the middle of Berlin. It was originally founded in the early 1500s as a hunting area for the king, and today covers about 520 acres. We were just blocks away from the busy city streets, but it was as quiet and peaceful as you could ever imagine. And then we came across a rhododendron garden (<em>forest</em> would actually be a more apt description, based on how tall they were and how big an area they covered) in full bloom. It was the most beautiful, most amazing collection of these plants that we have ever seen. Everywhere we walked, there seemed to be another little path with more of the plants. A sense of scale... some of these plants were 10 feet tall or higher. A bit nervous, but willing to strike a pose for me nonetheless. Next stop, the Sony Center at Potsdamer Platz, which flanks the Tiergarten. Wanted to see the cool architectural roof from the inside. Back in the Tiergarten, on the way towards the Brandenburger Tor, we encountered the "Global Stone Project", a peace garden of sorts with large enscribed boulders from five different continents. This red quartz granite was from Venezuela, representing the Americas, and sybolizes "love". And, got a nice view of the Fernsehturm (TV tower) in the background. The black granite boulder from South Africa represents "hope". Other boulders represented the ideas of awakening, forgiveness and peace. The boulders are partially polished, and positioned so that they reflect light back towards the sun on June 21. Sister stones in the countries of origin do the same, and the artist intended this all to symbolize a united mankind. The most famous landmark of Berlin, the Brandenburger Tor. It was so crowded and overly touristy... tried to snap a few pictures quickly and get out. The <em>Quadriga</em> sculpture crowning the gate. The Holocaust Memorial, consisting of 2711 concrete blocks of varying heights arranged in a grid pattern. Unter den Linden, one of the most famous streets in Berlin, connecting the Brandenburger Tor on one end and Museumsinsel (museum island) on the other. After a day of so much climbing and walking, a short beer break was in order. A couple of the Buddy Bär statues (a bear is the symbol of Berlin) we saw... you find these throughout the city, each painted in a unique style by a different artist. Humboldt University, along Unter den Linden. Next to the university building, the Neue Wache (built from 1816-1818) is a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny. Inside is a sculpture by the famous German artist Käthe Kollwitz – "Mutter mit totem Sohn" (<em>Mother with her Dead Son</em>) It turned out to be more moving than I had anticipated. Gorgeous weather called for a boat trip on the Spree River. The Nationalgallerie on Museumsinsel (museum island). Bode Museum at the northern point of Museumsinsel Berlin is built on wet land, with the water table only about 2 meters below the surface, and that water must be pumped away from building foundations and construction sites. These blue and pink tubes throughout the city carry the water away to the Spree River or one of the city's canals. Floating into the government quarter, starting with the Reichstag (the German parliament building). Government office building, with a riverfront "beach". There are quite a few of these relaxation spots along the Spree (these types of beaches are actually popular in cities throughout Germany), some of them actually with imported sand. Angela Merkel's (the German Chancellor) primary office is in this building. The Berliners love to nickname their buildings, and this one is refered to as "Angies Waschmaschine" (<em>Angie's washing machine</em>), due to the architectural style making it look a bit appliance-like. Berlin's Hauptbahnhof (main train station) Another Spree beach (this one complete with sand and palm trees). Fernsehturm (TV tower) and Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) at Alexanderplatz The television tower was built by the East German government in 1969, and at 368 meters is the tallest structure in Germany. The metal sphere contains a rotating restaurant and viewing platform. We went up for the view last time we were in town, but skipped it this time. The world clock in Alexanderplatz – an 8 hour difference between Germany and Minneapolis. The Neptun-Brunnen (Neptune fountain) and Marienkirche at Alexanderplatz Berliner Dom (cathedral) The altar area inside the Dom A look directly up into the Dom's, well, dome. A view of the Spree, looking north from the observation platform. And south towards the Nikolaiviertel and the Nikolaikirche, the oldest church in Berlin. It was originally built between 1220 and 1230, but was significantly damaged during WWII and rebuilt. Much of what is visible today is a reconstruction. The Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden) in front of the Altes Museum The HumboldtBox, a center with information on the reconstruction of the Berliner Schloß (the Berlin Palace). The palace which was once the winter residence of the Kings of Prussia is being reconstructed. It was originally built in the 15th century, but heavily damaged in WWII and demolished in 1950. Rotes Rathaus, Berlin's town hall A lovely walk along the Spree on the way to dinner. We had a lovely waterfront table with great views, but the meal was unfortunately disappointing... a rarity for us in Germany! Our last full day in Berlin started with a visit to the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 kilometer stretch of the Berlin Wall. The side facing the Spree is filled with graffiti... The other side contains 105 paintings, created in 1990 by artists from around the world. And as to be expected, many of the paintings deal with politics, war and/or communist occupation ("Politics is the continuation of war via other means."). Loved this one... a Trabi breaking through the wall. And as this painting illustrates, unfortunately the graffiti isn't contained to the back side of the wall. In spite of warnings about it being illegal to deface the wall, tourists have left their marks all over the paintings. "Emperor" Honecker By far the most famous painting in the gallery, <em>Bruderkuss</em> (Brother kiss), depicting Brezhnev and Honecker. The caption reads, "My God. Help me survive this deadly love." The inset shows what this beautiful piece of art looked like when we saw it in November 2011 – in a mere year and a half, tourists have managed to completely deface this historical piece. People are idiots! Inspirational... The Oberbaumbrücke, one of the most famous bridges in Berlin. And for anyone who's going to Berlin, there is a <em>fabulous</em> (and cheap!) Schnitzel joint under the end of the bridge on the east side of the river. We discovered it when it had first opened in Nov. 2011 (owned and run by a trained chef who is a super cool guy), and will go back every time we're in town! Molecule Man sculpture in the Spree River Sculpted by the American artist Jonathan Borofsky, the 30 meter tall aluminum sculpture has been displayed in Berlin since 1999. With the Oberbaumbrücke in the background. With three figures uniting to create a whole, the artist's message is that "that both people and molecules exist in a world of probability and that the aim of all creative and intellectual traditions is to find wholeness and unity within the world." The Nikolaikirche in the Nikolaiviertel near Alexanderplatz The Asisi Panometer exhibit, Die Mauer (The Wall). Yadegar Asisi, the artist, paints large panoramic murals with a viewing platform in the middle. This particular exhibit, near Checkpoint Charlie, depicts the divided Berlin from a vantage point near the intersection of Sebastianstraße and Dresdener Straße in West Berlin, looking across The Wall into the eastern zone. The drab, run-down state of the East contrasted greatly with the daily street life scenes depicted in the West. Quite a moving exhibit (particularly considering the personal stories and photos of former East Berliners on display in the entrance area. A paved line runs through the city, marking where The Wall once stood. An additional exhibit about the wall was across the street from the panometer. Piping along the top of the concrete barrier prevented people from pulling themselves up the wall. On a much more pleasant note, a chocalatier near Gendarmenmarkt had displays of Berlin's famous landmarks, all made out of chocolate. Here, the Brandenburger Tor... ... and the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtnis-Kirche The Ampelmann store at Gendarmentmarkt. The Ampelmann (literally, <em>traffic light man</em>) is the beloved, old style East German pedestrian traffic symbol, eliminated after reunification but brought back after a grass-roots movement. Gendarmenmarkt, a large square that is the site of one of Berlin's most popular Christmas markets. The Französischer Dom ("French Cathedral") on the north end of the square. This cathedral was built in the 1700s, modelled after a Huguenot church in France. The Konzerthaus is the most recent building on the Gendarmenmarkt, built in 1821 and today used as an orchestra hall. The Deutscher Dom (" German Cathedral") at the south end of Gendarmenmarkt is very similar in style to the Französischer Dom it faces. It was nearly completely destroyed during WWII, and rebuilt from 1977-1988. Today it houses a museum on German democracy. On our last evening in Berlin, we ended up back at Prater for a few drinks. Despite some light rain, we initially tried to sit outdoors in the Biergarten proper, but got forced indoors when a lightning storm started. Finally tried the Berliner Kindl Weisse beer... we'd seen this on menus with the options of "red" or "green", and didn't quite know what it was. The wheat beer by itself has a sour, very undrinkable flavor (the waitress let us try it before being mixed), but is delicious when mixed with either the raspberry or Waldmeister syrups. The plan was to leave and have dinner elsewhere, but then Till Lindemann (singer for Rammstein) walked in and sat down two tables away from us (his friend owns the place). Needless to say, we stayed. A perfect ending to a fabulous trip!