As I head out on the S7 towards Wannsee, there are thin traces of snow on the ground. It seems like my quest for snow has been fulfilled, even if it's not in the city centre.

Wannsee itself is quiet. In the summer, it's a popular destination for both tourists and Berliners, but now, everything's boarded up for the winter. A mist rolls in across the water and a few last flakes of snow fall from the sky.


A pier at Wannsee


Nice though Wannsee is though, it's not what I've come here for. As you might have already guessed, there's something far more obscure lurking not too far away.

I wander off along the Potsdamer Chaussee, then turn off and follow this tree-lined path:


A tree-lined path


Further down the path, around the corner, straddling the busy Autobahn is...


A mysterious faded red structure!


A dilapidated service station? Not quite. You'd be forgiven for thinking that, because of the lack of coach parties of happy-snapping tourists, this can't be anything as important as Checkpoint Charlie, which attracts them in droves. The sign over the door might make you realise that's not quite the case, though:


Allied Checkpoint Bravo entrance


This is Checkpoint Bravo which, unlike Checkpoint Charlie, is still in its original position, virtually unchanged since it was built between 1968 and 1972, to designs by Rainer Rümmler and Hans Joachim Schröder.

This checkpoint was for vehicles passing between West Berlin and Helmstedt, site of Checkpoint Alpha. It's now a customs office.

The round rest stop building is up for sale:


Dreilinden rest stop


I should say that the picture of Erich Honecker is removable, in case that's all that's putting you off buying it. He's saying "Ohne mich... ...hätte es auch dieses Gebäude nicht gegeben" (without me... even this building wouldn't have existed). Funny how things have reached a stage where advertisers are putting Erich Honecker's face on something to make it more attractive to buyers...
Underneath, it says "Historischer Standort sucht geniale Idee!" (historic location seeks ingenious idea)...I should say so too, it's hard to imagine many businesses wanting a location like it, other than those wanting to cater to drivers on the Autobahn.

As an added bonus, I've read that the small strip of land in the middle of the Autobahn, on which this bear stands, is also included.


The Berlin bear


He's quite a well known little bear, welcoming travelers to Berlin. He was cast in bronze by Renée Sintenis in 1956. A small version of him is given to prize winners at the Berlinale film festival every year.

Behind him in the picture is one of two former petrol stations (one on each side of the road), both fallen into disuse along with the rest stop.


The former SVG petrol station


After my brief wander around Checkpoint Bravo, I head back up to the station to get the train to Griebnitzsee, where another chapter of the story awaits...

Unlike most German Christmas markets, the Weihnachtszauber market at Gendarmenmarkt charges an entry fee (though a new development this year is having a few stalls outside the fenced off area, accessible for free). It's only 1 euro, but when there are so many others which you don't need to pay to get into, it's certainly easy to wonder whether it's worth the money. I'd say it's worth a look though, as it's different enough to all the others to stop it from feeling like you've paid to see something you could have seen for free elsewhere. It usually runs from around the last week in November until the end of December.

While we're at it, let's have a bit of a look around Gendarmenmarkt...

The three main buildings on Gendarmenmarkt were heavily damaged during World War II and lay partially in ruins right up until the 1980s. Since 1990, it's been styled into one of Berlin's more upmarket areas, making it easy to forget that it was once firmly within East Berlin.

On the northern side of Gendarmenmarkt is the Französischer Dom:


The Französischer Dom with the Christmas Market in front


The word Dom in its name gets mistranslated as Cathedral. In the case of the two buildings on Gendarmenmarkt, it's a word (can I say 'homograph' without anyone sniggering?) which has its roots in a completely different place to the commonly used word Dom (which comes from 'domus Dei' - house of God). It comes from the French word dôme, meaning dome and in the case of the Französischer Dom (French dome) the name refers only to the portion of the building with the dome.

The church next to it is called the Französische Friedrichstadtkirche (French church of Friedrichstadt) and is - despite sharing a wall with it - entirely separate. The church was built between 1701 and 1705, designed by Louis Cayart and Abraham Quesnay, to serve Berlin's large community of Huguenots.
The domed building was designed by Carl von Gontard and built between 1780 and 1785 at the request of Friedrich II, to bring symmetry to Gendarmenmarkt.


The Deutscher Dom with the Christmas Market in front


Unlike the Französischer Dom, the Deutscher Dom (German dome) is connected to its neighbouring church building, the Neue Kirche (new church - sometimes also known as the Deutsche Kirche, German church). The church was built between 1701 and 1708 by Giovanni Simonetti, to plans by Martin Grünberg. The tower, like the Französischer Dom, was added by Carl von Gontard.

The stall in front is selling Gebrannte Mandeln - almonds which are roasted in a pan in sugar and cinnamon until the sugar caramelises.

Between the two is the Schauspielhaus (playhouse) by Karl Friedrich Schinkel:


The Schauspielhaus, again with the Christmas Market in front!


It was designed as a theatre and opened as the Königliches Schauspielhaus (royal playhouse) in 1821. It was badly damaged in World War II and rebuilt between 1979 and 1984 as a concert hall, East Berlin being perceived as in greater need of a concert hall than a theatre.

Around the base of the Fernsehturm is a construction which I think could best be described as a spiky thing. It could alternatively be described as a pavilion with ridged triangular reinforced concrete roofs, designed by the architects' collective Walter Herzog and Herbert Aust. You might think of concrete as a hard, inflexible material, but if you've ever seen anyone jump on one of these roofs, you'll know that's not true (I'm sure they weren't designed as trampolines though, so I'd not recommend trying it yourself).

There are stairs leading from the ground to an upper level, but it's rare to see anyone go up there. Does that make it sound exciting and mysterious to you? It does to me...let's see what's up there...


View towards the Rotes Rathaus from the Fernsehturm Pavilion


There's a walkway running all the way round. There's nothing super-exciting up here (like the entrance to the control room from which the Fernsehturm can be launched into space, something which must exist somewhere if the man who once sidled up to me while I was taking pictures and told me that the Fernsehturm is in fact the top of a spaceship is to be believed) but it does offer a different perspective on the surrounding buildings.


The Rotes Rathaus


The view of the Rathaus from this height makes a change from always looking up at it from the ground, or down on it from the Fernsehturm.

There's also a nice view across to the Christmas market, with the fountains (currently switched off for the winter) in the foreground:


The ferris wheel of the Christmas market, with switched-off fountains in the foreground


They used to put up an identical ferris wheel in front of the Palast der Republik, in the years just before it was demolished. I used to find it fascinating to see its bright lights reflected in the Palast's dull bronze glass.

The Berliner Rathaus (Berlin town hall), designed by Hermann Friedrich Waesemann and completed in 1869, houses the government of the federal state of Berlin, led by the mayor of Berlin (currently the Social Democrat Klaus Wowereit). Its colloquial name, Rotes Rathaus (red town hall), refers to the colour of the bricks it's built from, rather than being anything to do with its politics, though it did serve as the town hall of communist East Berlin.

The area between it and the Marienkirche (St Mary's church) was cleared of buildings after World War II, a pedestrianised square with trees, fountains and flowerbeds taking its place. The perfect place for a Christmas market!


The Christmas market in front of the Rotes Rathaus


The wooden huts are a feature of virtually every German Christmas market and help keep at least some of the cold winter weather off the stallholders inside.

In front of the Marienkirche (I'll save its history for another post) is the Neptunbrunnen (Neptune fountain) which once stood in front of the Berliner Stadtschloß. It was put into storage after the Schloß was demolished and put here by the Marienkirche in 1969. What Neptune, Roman god of the sea, would think of the fountain having a skating rink put around it is anyone's guess, but the Berliners seem to like it:


The skating rink around the Neptunbrunnen, with the Marienkirche behind it



The skating rink with the Rotes Rathaus behind it


Berlin is a city built on shifting sands. The foundations of the Palast der Republik stand like a rift in the city's very fabric, a place where time has started to go backwards and forwards at the same time...


A couple peers over the edge of the Palast der Republik's foundations, the Berliner Dom behind them


It's strange to come back here at this time of year and see the spot so empty. There used to be a Christmas market on Schloßplatz before it became a lawn, the Palast der Republik's increasingly skeletal presence looming over it. It always did have a rather deserted feel though, even with the crowds of people and the flashing and spinning fairground rides.
I have the impression that the Palast der Republik was somewhere where there was always something happening. It was no doubt not universally loved, but it seems that many East Germans valued it as a place to go for a day out. Pictures from its heyday seem to always show it full of life and, while they may have been cherrypicked so as to present it to the world as the great socialist triumph the government wanted it to be seen as, it's hard not to mentally compare those scenes to that of the graffiti-covered concrete and deserted lawns which mark the spot now.


Graffiti on the Palast der Republik's foundation walls



The graffiti here says "Wir fördern Bürgerkrieg gegen die korrupten Beamten" - we're supporting the civil war against the corrupt officials. Political graffiti is very common in Berlin, as are things which are clearly intended to make people stop and think.

See the black and beige blobs all along the bottom of the wall there? Those definitely fall into the 'stop and think' category...


Animal shapes on the Palast's foundations


They're silhouettes of sheep, cut from the synthetic fleece lining of clothes. The one on the right still has the arms on it; some of them have pockets. Polyester sheep grazing amidst the brick and concrete artifice of the city...most intriguing.

I get on the eastbound S-Bahn at Zoologischer Garten. I have in mind that I'll go round to Alexanderplatz, but end up getting off at Bellevue instead and heading out into the Tiergarten.

The Tiergarten (animal garden, more formally called Großer Tiergarten - great animal garden) started life as a hunting reserve for the Kurfürsten (prince electors) of Brandenburg. Under king Friedrich II (otherwise known as Friedrich der Große - Frederick the Great) of Prussia (also Kurfürst of Brandenburg), the reserve was turned into an ornamental park, with Friedrich not having much interest in hunting.

The trees were cut down after World War II to be used as firewood. In their place, potatoes were planted, to help combat the food shortages of the immediate post war years. It has of course been replanted with trees since!


The Siegessäule with subway entrance


In the middle is the Siegessäule (victory column), completed in 1873. It stands at the centre of the Großer Stern (great star), where five roads converge. Leading eastwards from the Großer Stern towards the Brandenburg Gate is Straße des 17. Juni (17th June Street). Originally called Charlottenburger Chaussee, it was renamed in memory of the protests in East Berlin on June 17th 1953, which were brutally crushed by East German police and Soviet soldiers. The border with East Berlin was just at the end of Charlottenburger Chaussee; the street continues beyond the Brandenburg Gate as Unter den Linden (beneath the lime trees), where the June 17th protests came to a head.

The Siegessäule used to stand in front of the Reichstag, a location which, come the 1930s, Hitler had his eyes on as the site of the Großer Platz (great square), the centre of his new Welthauptstadt Germania. Because of this, it was moved to the middle of the Großer Stern in 1938-39. At the same time, the Charlottenburger Chaussee was widened (creating an east-west axis to counterbalance the north-south axis I mentioned in relation to the Schwerbelastungkörper) and a new set of tunnels were added to allow easy pedestrian access to the Siegessäule.


A subway entrance on the Großer Stern



The subway entrances were designed by Albert Speer. There are four in total, two on the east side and two on the west side of the Großer Stern, one on each side of Straße des 17. Juni. This one is on the north-west side. Over on the south west side, it looks like the motorists have got some entertainment as they wait at the lights:


A man with devil sticks


While it might look like the man is knitting an invisible jumper, it's actually a form of juggling - called devil sticks apparently.

The tunnel brings you up in the middle of the Großer Stern, right below the Siegessäule.


The Siegessäule, seen from the subway exit


It was designed after the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian war in 1864; cannons captured in the war and gilded decorate the bottom ring of the column. During the column's construction, the Prussians also fought wars against Austria and France, in 1866 and 1870-71 respectively. Their victories in these wars were also commemorated on the Siegessäule - the second ring is decorated with Austrian cannons, the third with French cannons. The fourth ring was added by the Nazis to commemorate the annexation of Austria in 1938, increasing the column's height by 7.5 metres. It now stands at a height of 66.89 metres (measured to the highest point of the statue); there's a viewing platform at 50.66 metres, which offers nice views across the Tiergarten, if you can face climbing the 285 steps to the top (I decided to pass on it this time round).

The statue on top is Victoria, goddess of victory, sometimes referred to as Goldelse (golden Lizzy).

Yes, I did do more yesterday than ride the bus and eat Currywurst, but time is once again trying its best to run away from me, so the rest will have to wait until later.

The clouds which gathered yesterday are still here today, though it's slightly warmer (a positively tropical 0 degrees). Time to head out into the city again!






What better thing to do on a cold day in Berlin than seek out a hot Currywurst? Go inside instead of standing out in the cold getting sauce all over your gloves, I suppose. Well still, this is Witty's on Wittenbergplatz (just over the road from Ka De We), which sells organic Currywurst. It's been going for 25 years and has built up a reputation for the quality of its Wurst. The sauce is noticeably different to Konnopke's, with more of a sharp tomato flavour (the Konnopke's secret sauce has a rounder flavour with hints of green chilli and paprika)...and yes, that is mayonnaise on the chips, something which the Germans inherited from the Belgians. Witty's is rather more expensive than the average Imbiß (this lot came to 6.20€), but it's definitely worth a try.

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