"I wouldn't cook goose dear, it's very fatty!" were the words of wisdom my grandmother imparted on coming to stay for Christmas one year. We weren't planning on having goose, but still she felt it worth saying, repeating "Very fatty, dear" even after she'd been assured we weren't having it.

A traditional German Christmas meal...plus the beer Germans might call 'the black stuff'.

The Erna-Berger-Straße watchtower seems to find its way into a fair few walking tours and tourist guides and I've caught some people saying it's the only surviving watchtower in Berlin. Naughty. There's only one of its type, but there are three watchtowers in central Berlin...one of them is this one, hiding among the trees of the Schlesischer Busch park just off Puschkinallee:

Treptower Park (S41, S42, S8, S9)
Schlesisches Tor (U1)
The Puschkinallee watchtower in snow
A former command post in the Schlesischer Busch.

This watchtower was a command post, once one of 31 along the course of the Berlin wall. As well as being used as an observation tower, its occupants were also responsible for the command of border troops in watchtowers and other facilities in the surrounding area. All the signals from the sector's signal fences came through this watchtower first; if somebody triggered the alarm by attempting to get over one, it would sound in this watchtower first, before the troops in the relevant watchtower were notified. Communications were also routed through here, plus it was the only type of watchtower with heating and a toilet!

If you've been to Alexanderplatz, you'll probably have noticed the building with the big flashing neon Sharp Aquos advertisement on it.

Of course the building actually has nothing to do with the Japanese electronics firm. A quick peek round the back reveals a clue to its history...

The Haus des Reisens seen from behind, the old 'Reisebüro' sign still visible.
The former one stop shop for travellers in East Germany.

Designed by Roland Korn, Johannes Briske and Roland Steiger, with interiors by Hans Bogatzky, the Haus des Reisens was completed in 1971 and was built to house East Germany's state travel agency. It also contained a booking office for East Germany's airline, Interflug, a police registration office for foreigners, a foreigners' advice centre, a bureau de change of the Industrie- und Handelsbank (Industry and Trade Bank) and the tariff office of the ministry of transportation...plus a café!

Its roof features unique scalloped elements and the side facing Otto-Braun-Straße features a copper relief by renowned Socialist Realist artist Walter Womacka. Wander round the back and you'll spot an original 'Reisebüro' (travel agency) sign up at the top of the building.

Its top floors are occupied by the club Weekend, which also has a terrace on the roof, with views over the surrounding area.

Look up Quarkkeulchen on the internet and you'll read that they're small pancakes from Saxony, made with potatoes, quark (a soft cheese product a bit like fromage frais), eggs, flour and sugar, fried in a pan. That's all well and good...except somewhere along the way, the Berliners decided the world of Quarkkeulchen was round. It doesn't seem like the rest of the world's worked that out yet, though, so let's take a look at the things and help spread the word...

A deep fried treat - not to be confused with the identically named flat pancakes from Saxony!

I've already said a little about Carl von Gontard's Französischer Dom tower from 1785 on Gendarmenmarkt. What I didn't say at the time was that, for 2 euros 50, you can climb the tower (via the stairs, of course - I imagine it'll cost a lot more if you want to do a spiderman) and enjoy the view from the balustrade.

Stadtmitte (U2, U6)
A climb up to the top of the Französischer Dom on Gendarmenmarkt, thanks to a staircase built in the 1970s.

"Someone needs to give that a good going over with a cloth"

I'm stood looking at the mosaics in a doorway on Karl Marx Allee. I've been here many times before, but the golden light of this winter's afternoon on the towers of Frankfurter Tor has attracted me back. The sight of me with a camera has attracted the attentions of an old lady, who just a moment ago had been hobbling, walking-stick in hand, along the snow-covered street.

Weberwiese (U5)
I examine some mosaics on Karl Marx Allee and get drawn into conversation with one of its residents.

It's a striking scene in the 2003 film 'Good Bye, Lenin!' where the huge Lenin statue is lifted up by helicopter and flies off over the city, pointing as it goes. As you might imagine, the scene was invented for the film, but there was a Lenin statue in Berlin and it did meet a fairly bizarre fate.

An experiment in Plattenbau by East Germany's best known architect, Hermann Henselmann.

Originally called Landsberger Platz, the current Platz der Vereinten Nationen (united nations square) was called Leninplatz between 1950 and 1992. A competition was held in 1967 to find a new scheme for the rebuilding of the square, which was won by a collective led by Hermann Henselmann and Heinz Mehlan.

What the pair presented was an experiment with prefabricated building parts, moving away from the standard rectangular building shapes towards more creative designs. It consists of a 77 metre tower block on one corner, plus a pair of curvy, longer blocks, one s-shaped, the other boomerang shaped, taking up the adjacent two corners. The fourth corner is home to a small low-rise supermarket building and a conventional rectangular housing block.

The development's original focal point was a 19 metre high statue of Lenin, carved in red Ukrainian granite by Russian sculptor Nikolai Tomsky. It was removed in 1991, when it was broken into pieces and, in rather strange ritual fashion, buried in a sand pit south east of Berlin. The square was renamed shortly afterwards, and the statue's place was taken by a fountain, with boulders representing the continents of the world.

The Polish memorial in snow

On the northern edge of Volkspark Friedrichshain stands an imposing memorial.

Having just been in Warsaw, this one seems particularly appropriate, as it's a memorial to Polish soldiers who fought in World War II, as well as to the German anti-fascist resistance.

Landsberger Allee (S8, S41, S42, S85)
A communist-era memorial to Polish communist soldiers and German resistance, now re-dedicated to include all Polish and German resistance.

This imposing memorial is dedicated to Polish soldiers who fought in World War II, as well as to the German anti-fascist resistance. It was built in 1972, in the spirit of improving relations between Poland and East Germany. East Germany was keen to establish its identity as a state formed by victims and opponents of fascism, so memorials to communist war heroes were fairly commonplace. It was originally dedicated only to communist Polish soldiers who fought on the side of the Soviets, ignoring, for example, the Polish Home Army resistance. It was rededicated in 1995 to include those left out in the monument's original dedication.

The figures are a Soviet soldier, a Polish soldier and a German resistance fighter, depicted in a classic socialist realist style. The column carries the Polish eagle on one side and the GDR's hammer and compass on the other. The large inscription says "Za naszą i waszą wolność"/"Für eure und unsere Freiheit" - for our freedom and yours (the German actually says the reverse of the Polish: for your freedom and ours), a motto popular with Polish forces in the 19th century, then later appropriated by communists. The memorial was designed by Zofia Wolska, Tadeusz Łodzian, Arnd Wittig and Günter Merkel.

My friend and I arrive at Warszawa Centralna - Warsaw's central station - at just after 6am. The sun has yet to rise and the cold hangs in the air of the dark rabbit warren of underground tunnels that makes up the bulk of the station. It's a bizarre world of eternal night down here; even when the sun does rise, there's little chance for it to reach this far and the dark, seedy atmosphere remains.

Exploring the maze of tunnels underneath Warszawa Centralna station before taking the train to Berlin.

It's a dark and icy afternoon as we head through quiet streets towards Warsaw's Nożyk Synagogue. It's an unassuming location, tucked away behind the buildings that face onto Ulica Twarda and Plac Grzybowski.

The synagogue was designed by Leandro Marconi, who was also responsible for the design of Warsaw's Great Synagogue.

Warsaw's oldest active synagogue.


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