Back in 1961, the leaders of East Germany probably didn’t imagine that the foreboding wall they were putting up around Berlin – to keep East Germans in – would someday be a big tourist attraction.
But visit Berlin in 2009, as I did a couple of months ago, and you’ll find remnants of the concrete barrier – and the culture of GDR (German Democratic Republic) – are very much part of the tourist scene in Berlin.
Today is the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, and through the end of the year there are special exhibits highlighting the Wall years and peaceful revolution that led to the fall of the wall and end of the GDR (including at Alexanderplatz, the square in the heart of the city).
The wall that divided the city was really two walls, separated by a “death strip.” Border crossings allowed those from the West to enter the East, but East Germans were not allowed to leave. Hundreds died trying to flee.
In the euphoria that followed the breach of the wall in 1989, much of the concrete was dismantled (pieces of the Berlin Wall now reside not only in Berlin but around the world including in New York). But there is still plenty in Berlin to remind travelers and locals alike of this chapter in world history. (more…)
Mother Nature has caused a little change of plans here in Germany, and it’s due to too much sunshine. The Viking Legend has been cruising the Danube on its way from Budapest to Amsterdam (on the Danube, Main and Rhine) on a two-week Grand Europe voyage. Well, that was the plan. But yesterday the Captain and program manager met with passengers to explain that a stretch of the Danube is experiencing unusually low water levels and the ship may not be able to get through between Regensburg to Nuremberg. The Legend, a brand new river ship, has a draft of 1.59 centimeters. Apparently that’s about .10 centimeters too deep for the current water level. Short of doing a rain dance (it did rain a couple of days ago when we were in Melk, but not enough) there’s not much the crew can do. Passengers were advised they will have to take buses to some destinations (we’ve already had some minor itinerary changes including an overnight near Passau and an unscheduled stop at Vil Sofen, from which passengers were bused to Regensburg for a day of touring the medieval Old City there), and may have to disembark the ship and stay in a hotel for a few nights to continue the journey, though nothing is definite yet. Some passengers among the 180 onboard are vocally complaining, though most seem willing to wait and see what happens next.
Meanwhile, after leaving Vienna, we cruised through the very green Wachau Valley countryside of Austria – there were sheep on some hillsides – and visited the 900-year-old, baroque-style Melk Abbey, which with its 500 rooms occupies a hillside and still has monks and a parochial school too. Our tour included a glimpse at medieval manuscripts in the abbey’s amazing library (you can imagine writer Dan Brown doing research here).
The abbey also has an impressively modern museum outlining its history and of course a beautiful chapel.
Friday, we visited the cobblestone streets of the lovely university town of Passau, Germany, also known as the City of Three Rivers for its location on the Danube, Ils and Inn rivers. The cathedral in Passau boasts the largest church organ in the world – some of the pipes are 30 feet tall, others less than 3 inches – and we were treated to a noontime concert, the bass notes so deep you could feel them in your chest (one song reminded me of the type of music you might here in a Frankenstein movie, deep and spooky).
The Town Hall boasts a depiction of the Danube as a very buxom woman. But whether she can help make the water levels rise remains to be seen.
Bet you’re heard of Bratislava, even if you don’t remember hearing it. The Slovakian captial of 500,000 is where SNL’s original “wild and crazy guys” come from, as in “We’re two wild and crazy guys from Bratislava.”
I knew this, but didn’t expect to encounter such a type even before I got off the boat. Yet as I opened the sliding glass window of my cabin for a better view as we got near the city, there he was onshore, a John Belushi-esque construction worker, mooning and patting his butt as we passed by. Sorry, I did not react fast enough to get a photo.
Touring the city on the free tour provided by Viking River Cruises (I am a passenger this week on the new Viking Legend), our guide was a less-wild Med student and we saw the Old Town including beautiful St. Martin’s Cathedral, where Hungarian kings were once crowned (way back when Bratislava was capital of Hungary) and the impressive 15th century Michael’s Gate. Slovakia has only been a country since 1993, when it split from what’s now the Czech (more…)