Well, here we are on the last day of our trip. And we have to cut it just a little short since we have to leave for the airport at 4:30 tomorrow morning. (Gee and I thought I left that kind of stuff behind a couple of years ago.).
With that in mind, we were up and at ‘em rather early and headed to breakfast. Since our Berlin stay is part of our Viking trip, breakfasts at the hotel are free. Well, okay, I guess we actually paid for it as part of the cost of the cruise. Yeah true, but we like to look at it as starting out the day ahead of the game.
The breakfast buffet is quite expansive, with a lot of good ol’ typical “Amerikun” fare. But they cater to the European travelers as well, so there are fresh meats (like salami), cheeses, boiled tomatoes, blood pudding, and the like. So, why do I bring this little factoid up? Well, remember that olive “problem” we had on Sunday night – we ordered olives from Room Service so we could fix martinis with the gin and vermouth we had brought with us. Room Service brought us the only olives they had, which turned out to be stuffed with almonds and chili (That was a martini experience if there ever was one).
Hang on, hang on, I’m coming to the tie in. At the buffet, I had wandered around, gotten what I wanted, and plopped down to dig in. A couple of minutes later here comes Joye with her stuff plus a bowl of something. She was beaming and said “Lookie here.” And in that bowl were a bunch of green olives just perfect for martini makin' a little later on. Well, well, green olives on a breakfast buffet. It was an even more expansive buffet than I thought. (I promise we didn’t rush up to our room and mix up martinis for breakfast.)
After breakfast we headed out to do a little shopping; want to pick up some gifts for the family, Joye’s staff, and such. A couple of blocks up from the hotel is Friedrickstrasse. Before WW II it was the heart of Berlin – the main cabaret drag. Now Friedrickstrasse has a number of high end shops and cafes. It was a great walk just for a look – see. I mean we love the family and J’s staff but, uh, Friedrickstrasse is a bit out of our price range. Love ya’ baby but……
We didn’t chuck it all though. I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that we hopped over a couple of streets and scored what we needed.
After our successful shopping “spree”, we did what we love to do. We stopped in at a place on the street to watch the world go by. In this instance, it was a combination bagel and sandwich shop. We grabbed some coffee and sat down on a couple of stools to just take it easy and take it all in. It was a “come and go” place with two entrances off of two streets. A lot of university students with their backpacks and iphones coming through nonstop. They were having a great time, heading off to who knows where. What can I say; we enjoy simple pleasures.
We just kicked back and hung out there for awhile. We had no guided tours to take; no set time to be back at the ship. As wonderful as the Viking cruises are, this is a nice change.
Hey, we gotta mention one other thing we came across in our wanderings around the streets of Berlin. What we came across are some “interesting” intersections. We walk up to an intersection and there are no traffic lights, no stop signs, no yield signs – no nothin’. Cars coming from every direction. You’re on your own. Good luck. Be alert. Be nimble.
The main thing we wanted to take in today was the famous (“infamous”?) Checkpoint Charlie. It is by far the most well known, most referenced checkpoint at the boundary between the American and Soviet sectors of Berlin. It’s interesting that the term “Checkpoint Charlie” has, over the years, slipped right into our lexicon. Think about it. You’re stuck somewhere in a long line that’s barely moving. Finally, in exasperation you shout out “What’s goin’ on up there? What is this – Checkpoint Charlie!?” And everybody, well at least those of us of a certain age, immediately can relate.
Luckily, Checkpoint Charlie was not too far from our hotel – less than a 30 minute walk and there you are. Quick history on this checkpoint. The U.S. actually built it in 1961 in response to the Soviets erecting the Berlin Wall. Checkpoint Charlie was the only place where foreigners (including diplomats) could cross between East and West Berlin.
Honestly, when you get there, there isn’t much “there” there. Those of you who have seen pictures of it, or actually seen it, know this isn’t some major fortification with gun turrets and all. It’s a guard post shack with sandbags piled around it and two barricade arms like you would see at a railroad crossing.
I can just imagine taking our grandkids to this spot and telling them how important Checkpoint Charlie was and how symbolic of the Cold War it was for thirty years. They would probably gaze at that guard shack and then give me a look that says “Did you fall off a Fruit Loop truck or somethin’?” But, man oh man, important it was.
The checkpoint itself is historically accurate and is as it was when it was an active place. But, it is “touristy” now and draws a lot of people. In fact, from a distance it’s hard to see it because of all the people around it. Sure didn’t look like that in the ‘60’s.
There are two guys dressed up in American and Soviet military uniforms at the checkpoint and for a euro you can get your picture taken with them. Nearby there are some cheap souvenir shops and a small museum. Like we said, it’s touristy.
But at Checkpoint Charlie is a sign left up from the 1960’ that says: “Stop. You are now leaving the American Sector.” Seeing that, all the touristy stuff melts away and you remember that this was very serious business.
The most informative part of Checkpoint Charlie is a large photo gallery that stretches for a block along a sidewalk just up from the checkpoint. It is a series of very large photos with explanations that depict in chronological order significant events that occurred during the Cold War. Many, but not all of them are related to Germany.
The sequence starts with photos from the Potsdam Conference in 1945. To refresh: This conference is where Truman, Stalin, and Churchill/Atlee made the final decision on how to handle a post-war Germany: governance, economic revitalization, restoration, and a whole host of really tough stuff.Then you walk on and see photos from such events as the first East German uprising against the Soviets (in 1953); the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962; President Kennedy’s visit to West Berlin in 1962 (“Ich bin ein Berliner.”); and much more, culminating with the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989.
That pictorial display was impressive. Regardless of the kitschy surroundings and “Hollywood feel”, Checkpoint Charlie is an important symbol of the tensions in the Cold War. We think it’s definitely worth your time.
By early evening we felt we better go ahead and get dinner since it’s early up in the morning. Met up with Cheryl and Dwayne (Florida) and we found a nice little German restaurant not too far from our hotel. One more round of schnitzel, brats, German beer, and the like. Which reminds me to mention one other thing we tend to encounter in Europe – the “Great Ice Cube Conundrum.” As follows:
The Europeans seem not to have the same attachment to ice cubes as we Americans. In Europe if you order, say, a Coke in a glass, you get a Coke “naked” (i.e. no ice). So you ask for ice cubes. The waiter comes back with one ice cube. So you can either try again or just go with the European flow. You know- when in Rome…. or Paris…. or Berlin. Having said all that, our waiter at this German restaurant got it right off the bat and we had all the ice we needed. “Ice”ing on the cake, so to speak (Groan; sorry).
Back in our hotel room, it didn’t take us long to get all packed and ready to go for the morning. Well, not quite completely all packed. Joye went to the mini bar and pulled out the olives she had pilfered at breakfast and we broke out the gin for a few final martinis to salute our trip. Oh, and there was an ice machine on our floor. Woo-hoo!