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2.5 Week Trip to Germany and Austria

A friend and I spent 2 ½ weeks in Germany and Austria in May. Our trip included overnight stops in Berlin (8 nights), Bad Steben (3 nights), Munich (3 nights), Hallstat (2 nights), and Vienna (1 night); we had day trips to Wittenberg and Leipzig. Previous trips to Germany/Austria had taken us to Nuremberg, Salzburg, and Vienna.

Both of us are single professionals in our 40’s – one male, one female. I am a WW II/Cold War history fan who had been learning German for about 10 months prior to the trip. My travel companion is well-rounded and enjoys just about any life experience, which makes her an easy person with whom to travel. As an aside, we end each day of travel by sitting together and recording our “really cool thing of the day” and our “travel misadventure of the day.” It helps us reflect on the joys of travel and to chuckle about the problems we encounter.

Day 1 – The fun started with landing at Tegel. I felt like I was on holy ground as we taxied at the airport, which was originally built for the Berlin Airlift, one of the US’s most noble endeavors. My friend and I used public transportation to go straight to our B&B, mittendrin, located in the Ku’damm area. It is easily the best B&B in which we have stayed – spotless rooms, amazing breakfast, great Wi-fi, and a lovely owner who was previously an actress in Munich. Our first day activities included visits to the Gemäldegalerie to view 13th – 18th century art and to the Tiergarten. Our attempt to follow the Lonely Planet “Leisurely Tiergarten Meander” was interrupted by a prolonged deluge of rain. We had no rain gear, so we stood under a big tree. It rained so hard, though, that the tree didn’t provide much shelter, and we ended up completely soaked. We laughed, knowing what the travel misadventure of the day was going to be.

Day 2 – The morning was spent with a guide named Dr. Richard Campbell who was about 80 years old but had worked for the US govt in Berlin from the late 1950’s to the 2000’s. His duties had included cultural outreach, intelligence, and VIP hosting (including 3 US Presidents). He was a very interesting guy who on this day showed us around West Berlin, including the poignant Grunewald Gleis 17, the track where Jewish Berliners were “evacuated” to concentration/murder camps; on either side of the track lie metal grates listing each train, its date, and the number of people it transported. At the end of the tour, we set out on our own to find the former post-WWII US military headquarters and current US consulate on Clay Allee. When we found it, I was pretty much giddy to be standing on the street named after General Lucius Clay, staring at the building where he worked. I raised my phone to take a picture, and… got yelled at by security. I totally missed the “Fotografieren Verboten!” sign directly in front of my face. After trying to sweet talk the security guard (unsuccessful), we walked into a nearby neighborhood to find the school named after Gail Halvorsen, the original “Candy Bomber” who dropped candy to the children of Berlin during his Berlin Airlift missions. Then it was off to the Reichstag/Bundestag to walk the cupola as the sun set (an excellent, informative, free activity).

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Day 3 – After a breakfast shared with a family from Norway at the communal table at the B&B, we set out for the Bonhoeffer House, the retirement home of the parents of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the few German theologians to oppose Hitler during WWII. Here, he was arrested by the Gestapo. The house sits in the middle of a neighborhood far from the city center, a location that allowed its century-old houses to largely escape Allied bombs during WWII. It was quite enjoyable to walk through a Berlin neighborhood on a Saturday morning, taking in all the small, perfectly-manicured front lawns/gardens. At the Bonhoeffer house, we had a one-hour lecture on the theologian’s life by the current resident/caretaker and then saw Bonhoeffer’s room. For a Protestant WWII history buff, it was a very special part of the trip. The house is open to visitors only on Saturday mornings and requires an appointment to visit. For the afternoon, we met up with a Context Travel guide, Chris Benedict, to do the company’s Walking the Wall tour. Chris was an 11-year-old living in a committed socialist family in East Berlin on the evening the Berlin Wall fell. What a rich experience to hear her story of growing up in East Berlin, her experience of the fall of the Wall, and her description of life in post-reunification Berlin. For anyone who wants something more than a victor’s history of the fall of the Wall, Chris is an excellent choice for a guide.

Day 4 – On this day, we went to the Wannsee Conference Center and Potsdam with Dr. Campbell. The conference center is the site where “the final solution to the Jewish question” was reached in a 45-minute meeting of mostly mid-level bureaucrats, some of whom escaped any penalty for their contribution to this meeting. The conference center is now a documentation center for the persecution and murder of the Jewish people in Germany. Juxtaposed against the evil decision made there is the beauty of the conference center and the surrounding area. The thought crossed my mind to take a snapshot, but I decided I really didn’t want a picture of a place where such a dark “solution” was reached and implemented. The exhibition is well done and extremely informative. After Wannsee, we visited Cecilienhof, site of the Potsdam Conference at the end of WWII, and Sanssouci Palace.

Day 5 – This was our final morning with Dr. Campbell. We wandered through old East Berlin, ending at Checkpoint Charlie, where Dr. Campbell shared his recollection of the October 1961 standoff between US and unmarked Russian tanks. Of course, hearing about that standoff from someone who was there made “really cool thing of the day.” After the tour, we wandered back to the Deutsches Museum, which has a dizzying amount of information about the history of Germany – one could easily spend an entire day here, if not 2 days. That evening we had dinner at the Fernsehturm (TV tower), timed to allow us to see the sunset as at the Reichstag. Touristy? Yes. Super views? Yes. Food? Actually quite good though obviously priced with a premium for the experience. Anything bad about the experience? Yes, the demanding, “ugly American” couple at the table beside us.

Day 6 – We caught a cab to Britzer Garten, an expansive outdoor area with numerous gardens, groves, creeks, and other fun stuff. We were planning to spend a couple of hours there, but ended up staying about 5 hours because there was so much to see. It’s definitely not a “must do,” but it’s a nice place to go to escape the noise of the city if one has plenty of time in Berlin.

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Day 7 – We went to Templehof Airport and took the English tour of the Nazi-built airport that became an essential part of US operations in post-war Germany, including being the lead airport for the Berlin Airlift. The tour was excellent – one of my favorite things we did in Berlin. We learned about the Nazi vision for the airport and its history as a commercial airport, but also about its transformation by the US (including the installation of a gym with basketball courts). Interestingly, this was the only place we encountered the refugee “crisis” in Germany; some of the support buildings on the apron of the now decommissioned airport have been converted into refugee housing (without plumbing). In addition, there were several hundred bunk beds, along with other furniture, lined up on the apron – an eerie site. Later, we caught an evening chamber orchestra concert at the Berlin Philharmonic building; it was quite good.

Day 8 – The biggest goal for this day was for me to pay tribute to Helmuth Hübener, the youngest German sentenced to death by the Volksgerichtshof or “People’s Court,” an extra-constitutional court established by Hitler to subvert the judicial process. Hübener, a 17-yo Hamburg resident, began surreptitiously listening to the BBC during the war and then began printing anti-Nazi flyers that he and 2 friends distributed in their neighborhood at night. All three ended up being arrested and appearing before the court. Hübener was defiant before the judges, deflecting the wrath of the judges from his friends to himself. When the death sentence was pronounced, the 17-yo responded, “Now, I must die, even though I have committed no crime. So, now it’s my turn, but your turn will come.” To pay our respects, my companion and I headed to the not-so-touristy, 150-year-old Plotzensee Prison (now a prison for juvenile offenders) to see the Memorial there just outside the prison. The memorial consists of a small 2-room building/shed. One room has an exhibition on the more than 2500 people executed there; the other room is the execution room itself, where death was by guillotine (Hübener’s fate) or hanging.

Day 9 – We picked up a rental car and drove to Wittenberg to celebrate the 499th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the castle church. We used a guide, Katia Köhler, recommended in the Rick Steves Germany guide. We found her competent (but not particularly exceptional) during our 2.5-hour tour with her. After about 5-6 hours in Wittenberg, we continued our trip to Bad Steben, a small town known for its spas. We weren’t there for spas; instead, we came to visit 2 young men from my town who were doing an apprenticeship there.

Day 10 – Our party having expanded to 4, we took a day trip to Leipzig. There, we used another guide recommended in Rick Steves’ guidebook, Gisa Schönfeld. She was EXCELLENT! Energetic and thoughtful, she was a perfect guide – a local enthusiastically showing off her beloved city while incorporating the places we requested to see. The highlight was Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas Church), whose building is less impressive than its history. Monday prayers for peace there in the mid-1980’s evolved into peaceful Monday Demonstrations in 1989 that soon spread to other cities, including Berlin, placing pressure on the East German government to reform. The government obviously did not do that successfully. [A very good book on the fall of the Berlin Wall that includes a discussion of Leipzig’s role is The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall by Mary Elise Sarotte].

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Day 11 – Church, lunch, dinner, and hiking with our 2 friends and other locals in Bad Steben. We also took a short trip to the open air museum at Mödlareuth, a small town straddling a river that separated the former East and West Germanys and therefore had a wall running down the middle of it, earning it the moniker “Little Berlin.”

Day 12 – We drove to Munich, dropped the car at the airport, and rode the train into the city. We stayed at Pension am Jakobsplatz, a small, clean, serviceable B&B with an industrial flare that is located in the heart of the city, but substantially less expensive than most other options there. I would recommend it for price and location (and would stay there again); those looking for a lot of creature comforts, though, would best look elsewhere.

Day 13 – We used Pure Bavaria Tours to arrange a private tour to Garmisch-Partenkirchen to hike through Partnachklamm (Partnach Gorge). Part of the reason for hiring a guide is my fear of driving on narrow Bavarian/alpine roads. There were none, so this trip could definitely be done without a guide. However, we did have an excellent guide, Andy, with whom we discussed day-to-day life in Germany, his experience of the fall of the Wall and reunification, German film, German literature, and many other topics; he was an enormous enhancement to the trip. On the ride back to Munich, he popped in the new CD from Nena (of 99 Luftballons fame); this did not really enhance the trip at all. The entrance to the gorge is right beside the ski jump and stadium used for the 1936 Winter Olympics. At the stadium, there is an exhibition about the Nazis and the ’36 Olympics (nearly all in German); the exhibition is really good if you read German or have someone with you who does (another advantage of the guide!). The Gorge itself is really cool, especially on a rainy day, due to the appearance of numerous waterfalls.

Day 14 – We did a combined Munich city/Nazi Munich tour with Stefan Biro. We originally scheduled with another guide, who tore his ACL and referred us to Stefan. Stefan is on the Tours by Locals website. He did a really nice job of sharing the history of the city. After the tour, we went to the Neue Pinkothek (late hours on Wednesday), where we spotted some works by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Monet, and Manet.

Day 15 – We departed for Hallstatt by train. We met a nice elderly Salzburg couple on the train and had a “Denglish” conversation (their English being much better than my preschool German); in a very nice gesture, the wife gave us hazelnut-cream-filled Manner wafers as a token of friendship. In Hallstatt, we wandered a little, took the funicular up the mountain, and then hiked down it. Our hotel splurge for the entire trip came at Hallstatt. We had rooms with balconies overlooking the lake at the Seehotel Grüner Baum. The rooms were gorgeous, and the balconies huge. For us, this was definitely worth a splurge.

Day 16 – We got up early to watch the sun rise from our balconies. For our single full day in Hallstatt, we went to Dachstein via the bus. We were blessed with a clear, sunny day. We visited the Ice Cave, which I loved and found to be worth the price of admission to the entirety of Dachstein. Despite the brochure warning of cold temperatures in the cave, I wore only a rain slicker, a sweatshirt, a cap, and gloves in addition to my shirt/pants and was perfectly comfortable. We of course rode the gondolas up the mountain, delighted in holding snow in May, and took the trail to the Five Fingers overlook, which provided impressive views of the valley and other snow-capped peaks.

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Day 17 – We departed Hallstatt and headed to Vienna for our final full day of the trip. Originally, we had planned to end the trip at Munich, but I discovered during my trip planning that my favorite conductor, 85-year-old Nikolaus Harnoncourt, was leading his orchestra in performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Musikverein in Vienna on this day. I couldn’t miss the chance to see the conductor one more time. Sadly, though, Herr Harnoncourt unexpectedly retired 5 months before the performance and then passed away 3 months after his retirement. The performance, nonetheless, was rousing. I left the concert hall with a thankful heart for another excellent night of music chosen by (if not directed by) Herr Harnoncourt. It felt like a final gift from this humble, magnificent conductor who had enriched my life through two prior performances – a gift that transformed bittersweet pre-concert emotions into warm memories of an amazing musician.

Day 18 – Returned to the US.

I loved pretty much every minute of this trip.

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Hi,

Great detailed report ...Danke vielmals. You went to some pretty horrendous, grim sites such as Plötzensee Prison, now Gedenkstätte Plötzensee, to see the meat hooks. The other place you would have found fascinating is the Resistance Museum (Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand) on Stauffenberg Straße, not far from the HI Hostel on Kluckstraße. Both Bonhoeffer and Niemöller are featured along with his famous quotation (in German) along the wall. One can't see everything with the time factor involved

On the war you would have (if you're into seeing a battlefield memorial and museum) been interested in visiting Seelow Heights in the town of Seelow, which is accessible by regional train from to Berlin Hbf to Frankfurt an der Oder, change to Seelow on the S-Bahn. I am sure you have seen the doc. film on this event

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Dave, I loved pretty much all of this trip report! Signed up and logged on for the first time to say thanks for this good read. I took a tour of East Berlin in Jan 77, and boy, was it bleak. Going through Checkpoint Charlie was no joke, with the East German guards boarding our buses and checking each face against its passport.

What an interesting guide Dr. Richard Campbell must have been; when I walked through Nuremburg in winter 1978 with my parents, we tried to find the War Trials building; everyone in Nuremburg professed not to know what I was talking about (I was studying in Heidelberg, and fluent in German, so it wasn't the words they were misunderstanding - I think it was just a taboo topic.)

Then I was in Heidelberg on the day the Berlin Wall fell; have also walked the Partnachklamm. You sound like a cool guy to travel with; your friend was lucky to go along with you!

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In Munich did you go to the Feldherrnhalle where in 1923 Hitler staged the Putsch, his attempt to shoot his way into power, and failed, ie just steps from the Odeonplatz, where that photo of him amidst the throng of people cheering for war in 1914.

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Dave,
Thanks for an excellent trip report!! I have been to Berlin and found it a fascinating city. I could easily return, the people are friendly and easy to talk to. I liked your term "Denglish", so true! I am an admirer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was executed on April 9, 1945, a date I cannot forget because it is my mother's birthday. So interesting that you were in his house and spent time walking through a Berlin neighborhood. You did a lot of research to find your guides. Also, I didn't know that Tegel airport was involved in the Berlin Airlift. My plane landed there and I was struck by how old it was! All in all, it sounds like you had a memorable trip.

Judy B

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Thanks for the great report. I have been to the Wansee Villa and the train tracks you describe as part of a trip earning credit toward a master's in Holocaust and genocide studies. I am very interested in human rights and may just print your report out for future reference. Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Can't wait to get back to Germany myself.

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@Fred: Thanks for the comment. I made a quick stop outside the Gedenkstätte deutscher Widerstand on my walk from the Gemäldegalerie to the Tiergarten, but was there too late to enter the museum. I liked Berlin so much, I'm going back again next May for another week -- perhaps I can make it inside the museum this time. Thanks for the recommendation on Seelow Heights -- there's a good chance I will add it to next year's visit to Berlin. I'm definitely open to any other suggestions you might have. (Oh yeah, we went to the Feldherrnhalle; we also walked the golden line a block over on Viscardigasse that commemorates those who bypassed the Feldherrnhalle during Nazi rule, avoiding the requirement to give a Nazi salute when passing it)

@Shelley: I'm honored that you signed up and logged in to comment on my trip. I noticed on your Dollar Tree post that you recently did 3 weeks in Germany and Austria. I would love to read about your trip, too! It's VERY cool that you got to travel in the DDR in the 1970's and that you were in Germany for der Mauerfall. Those seem like pretty amazing life experiences.

@Judy B: I found the people in Berlin (and throughout Germany and Austria) to be friendly and easy to talk to, also. Nearly everyone from restaurant servers to museum staff was really nice and patient when I tried to communicate in my "nicht so gut" German (and would bail me out by speaking English if I got into too much trouble!). The only grumpy people who had no time for this were the folks selling train/bus tickets at the airports (both Tegel and Munich). If you have any interest in learning more about the Berlin Airlift, a great book I read on the topic before my trip was "The Candy Bombers: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlift and America's Finest Hour" by Andrei Cherny.

@jlkelman: I think the chain of events that resulted in me being in Berlin in May 2016 started with a 1994 college course on the Holocaust (a bit of an odd choice for a biology/psychology major). It deeply affected me. I have intermittently read on the topic since that time. A survivor's memoir landed in my hands (Hungary native sent to a work camp at age 14) about 3-4 years ago, and I happened to find an e-mail for him. I e-mailed, asking if he would let me take him and his wife to lunch/dinner (I figured the worst he could do is say "no"). To make a long story short, I ended up hanging out with the two of them for a day in Las Vegas. Among the advice they gave me: Travel while you're young. I followed that advice!

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Dave,
Thanks for your reply and for the book rec on the Berlin Airlift, I will look it up. I have been a student of WWII and many topics related to it since I was a fifteen year old girl when babysitting for a neighbor who let me borrow books from their library. I read The Rise And Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I could not believe the horrors of the Holocaust, I had nightmares about it. In fact, I have Berlin Diary on my bookshelf that Shirer wrote in 1941 while living in Europe and reporting for CBS (I think). A fascinating book - I have not finished reading it. I don't know if you have read it or not but it makes you feel you are there experiencing these events in that horrible time.
Again, thanks for a great report.
Judy B

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@ Dave...You're welcome. Most likely I'll be back in Berlin by late May. On suggestions for where to go on war sites, battle field museums, military museums, monuments, military cemeteries, (Kriegsgräberstätten) regional museums (ie, East Prussia, Pomerania, Upper Silesia) esp, those on WW2, lots of them, depending on how much effort and distance you're going to do in tracking these sites down in Germany.

I saw the Feldherrnhalle this last time in June, a few years back it was covered with scaffolding, find it ironic the Bavarians put up only two Feldherrn, one of whom Field Marshal Wedel, having changed sides, tried to stop Napoleon at Hanau...stupid decision, of course, he lost.

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@ Dave ....Regarding seeing East Berlin prior to the vor dem Abriß der Mauer (tearing down of the wall), I was there last in August 1989, my last time in Europe in the 1980s. Had you been there, you could have seen the East German "changing of the guard" (Wachablösung) with their goose-stepping routine on Unter den Linden. Of course, that could have been seen in (West ) Berlin too at the Soviet Memorial for the "changing of the guard" near the Tiergarten on Strasse des 17. Juni , which was more from a distance. Both the Soviets and East Germans used the goose stepping in their ceremony. I saw it a few times. That ended in 1992 with their withdrawal from Berlin and Germany.

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@ Judy B: I am familiar with "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," but I have not yet tackled it. I was unfamiliar with Berlin Diary before your mention of it but looked it up on Amazon and it looks remarkably good -- it's added to my reading list! As an aside, I really like your mention of babysitting for a neighbor who let you borrow books from their library. That warms my heart. Except for the part about it causing nightmares. Among other things, I'm a card-carrying associate member of the American Library Association (associate member = non-librarian).

@Fred: Thanks for sharing your experiences. I love hearing people talk about what that have seen in Germany (especially when it involves the DDR). My May 2016 trip will last 3 weeks and include Berlin (8 nights), the Black Forest (4-5 nights, Freiburg as a base), the Bodensee (5 nights, perhaps Lindau as base), and Berchtesgaden (4-5 nights). My travel companion has broad interests but does have a war/atrocity limit. Once I get past an upcoming trip to Normandy/Paris (first part of October), I will piece together a more thorough itinerary. If I have holes in Berlin (or elsewhere), I'll post for ideas on the Germany travel board. I think I'm going to go ahead and post over there about thoughts on Freiburg and Lindau as bases in their respective regions.

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@ Dave.... You're welcome. You would have been interested , maybe fascinated, in seeing Potsdam prior to Nov 1989. I went there on a tour from West Berlin in Aug 1987, lasted all day, included lunch too. That was the only way of going to Potsdam, ie, by way of a tour which you boarded on Kurfürstendamm. Except for a few foreigners, ( I was one of them ), no other Americans at all, the tour was almost exclusively German, mostly conducted in German. I brought along several rolls of 35mm slide film thinking when am I going to get another chance at seeing Potsdam. The day was overcast. gray, no sunlight, looked gloomy, haunting and fascinating. You had this feeling that time had stopped in 1945 as the tour bus drove through the town. The streets and side walks were still of cobble stones, some streets looked dilapidated...captivating. My feeling was I couldn't believe I was there. Of course, it goes without saying that one needed one's passport.

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@Fred... another great story. That would have been absolutely amazing. We saw many of the old buildings used by the Soviets as we drove through in May; I can only imagine what it would be like during Soviet/DDR days. I'm surprised you were allowed to have a camera and film, especially being an American. There is probably a Stasi file on you somewhere!

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In East Berlin and on this Potsdam tour I always took slides, obviously, in their tourist area showcase on Unter den Linden in those days of yesteryear. Lots of people had cameras on that Potsdam tour. I never felt any restriction in that regard. The times I saw the East German NVA soldiers do their goose stepping routine (Stechschritt) in the "changing of the guard" (Wachablösung), I was clicking away with my simple 35 mm, so were other onlookers. No one said, "Fotographieren verboten."

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Outstanding trip report. Sounds like you found some really great guides to enhance your visits. Would love to meet Dr. Campbell!
Found Track 17 to be very moving and it makes me wonder that so few people go there.
Spent 6 hours in the Deutsche Museum. Truly an all day museum.

The Berlin Airlift is one of my favorite passions. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Halvorsen a few years ago, shook his hand and got his autograph. He was traveling around with some of the crew and it was so fantastic to listen to them and hear their stories. Have met several people who remember catching the candy falling from the planes. The book I have about him, was written by him. Really excellent with lots of photos and personal stories. One man caused 2 nations to go from being enemies to being friends.

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@Ms. Jo... I'm ashamed to admit that I knew nothing about the Berlin Airlift until about 12 months ago when I was planning this trip and asked my German tutor, who grew up in Bonn and lived in Berlin, about interesting things to see in Berlin. He recommended the Deutsches Technikmuseum and mentioned in passing that it had a "Rosinenbomber" (raisin bomber) on top of it. The more I learned about it, the more impressed I am by it. It truly is one of America's greatest moments/endeavors -- made more so by Colonel Halvorsen. I am working on trying to catch him at a public appearance here in the states. Missed one a few days ago in Utah because of a prior commitment. Hope to meet him before the end of the year!

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@ Dave...your high school didn't cover the Berlin Airlift? You refer to Tempelhof and Tegel. My first trip to Europe in 1971 included going to (West) Berlin, naturally. Since I didn't want to be bothered with the East Germans, their red tape, etc. I decided to fly through one of the air corridors, ie from Hannover to Berlin. So, on 20 July 1971 I flew (can't remember the carrier, " British ???" ) to Berlin, landed at Tempelhof, where you were and the memorials to the Airlift can be seen. I was thrilled to be there and in West Berlin.

Two years later , exactly , in July 1973, I was over for my second trip and also flew to Berlin but from Hamburg., the other air corridor. The difference this time was the landing was not at Tempelhof but at Tegel. Before the fall of the wall I made three more trips in 1980s to Berlin, each time flying into and out of Tegel. So, sometime between July '71 and July '73, Tegel took over as the airport for (Western) Berlin. At least, I landed at the famous Tempelhof once.

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@ Dave - re: January 1977, my trip to East Berlin: Oh, it was a freezing cold, grey week. Our trip was underwritten and sponsored by the University of Heidelberg for probably 30 Deutsche Mark for the entire week, hotel, bus trip, one ticket to the Deutsches Museum, and one ticket to the Berliner Philharmonik , but not our food. On the day we went to East Berlin, we were made to exchange some quantity of Deutschmarks for East German money (probably around 25 DM or so), and the coins they gave me were aluminum - like play money. I walked around Alexanderplatz, despairing of finding something to spend this money on; I found a bookstore, and purchased some books. There was literally nothing else to purchase. Many of the tall buildings on the A-Platz were fake, and empty up to 6 or 7 stories when you got inside. The city had these wide boulevards, but only now and then a car drove past. I saw the goose-stepping changing-of-the-guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier, and in 1977 there were still some burned-out, war-torn buildings and rubble heaps to be seen.

We also toured West Berlin, full of life, noise, and discos. I purchased a wonderful big Berlin bear flag (similar to our California Bear Flag), but that flag, plus the books I had purchased, plus my camera, were stolen from underneath the bus at the East German border check, as we were not allowed to get out of the bus there. I didn't know they were rifling through my/our stuff, which was just in a canvas totebag, ripe for the taking.

And during those times, West Berlin had an underground Metro, complete with stops built in for East Berlin, but those stops were boarded up. Army guards with machine guns stood watch underground at those phantom stops, and the Metros would slow down, but not stop there, of course. What an awful job to have: stand with a machine gun all day at a Metro stop that would never in decades be used. Later, as I got to know a young woman who came west 2 days after the fall of the wall, I asked her, "What made you leave?" She said, "I had a young baby, and I often couldn't get milk for her. After this happened for several weeks in a row, I lost my fear, and got mad. And then, when the wall came down I told my mom 'I'm leaving and taking Katja. But I'll be back!' And you know, the propaganda led us to believe that the West Germans hated us, but now we know that wasn't true."

Dave, you have an interest in WWII: I have an interest in the East Berlin Stasi (State Security Police). I've read some articles but I need to find a good book or two on that subject.

Fast forward to 1989 - wall falls down; Hasselhof sings; I'm in Heidelberg. 18 hours later, teeny tiny little Trabant cars begin tootling through the streets of towns all over West Germany: looking like Ma and Pa in a little cartoon car. And you see these grown West German men crying, reaching into their wallets and shoving 100-mark notes in through the open windows of these little cars to the East German newcomers, who are wide-eyed at the beautiful splendor that is - you know, Heidelberg. One year later, when re-unification happened, I was at a NATO party, and we sang, "Dona Nobis Pacem, Pacem" (Grant Us Peace) and I told my German friends there I would never forget that evening.

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Gray and bleak in East Berlin in 1977...I should have been there and did have that chance. In Sept 1977 I was traveling in (west) Germany, had planned to go to (West) Berlin, stay at the same Pension as on the previous two trips but I cancelled going. I never saw east Berlin until Aug. 1984, then with a bus tour from Kurfürstendamm only of East Berlin, went through Check Point Charlie for the passport check. What struck me was that the buildings, columns were black. It was bleak , no one out in the streets, hardly.

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1921 posts

@Fred...I love it that you got to land at Tempelhof. I've read that the approach was a little difficult, with buildings on either side of the flight path into the airport. I took AP US History in 11th grade, had an excellent teacher, and did well on the AP exam, but I don't remember learning about the Berlin Airlift. It was probably covered in our history book/class, but I apparently did not process it very deeply. My world history teacher in 10th grade was awful; I learned nothing in that class. I read about 25 books -- some were written by historians, some were just memoirs -- in the year before going to Berlin. It helped me understand the history a little bit better, but there is still much for me to learn! Through my reading, I've come to like Harry Truman quite a bit. I traveled to his Presidential library and museum about a month ago. Not surprisingly, the museum has a lot in it about Germany, the end of WWII, and the Cold War. One area has front pages of newspapers chronicling the end of the war. I read the entirety of each front page (there was a brief story about a guy listed in the phonebook as V.E. Day, who got a lot of phone calls on May 8 & 9). Independence MO is kind of an ugly place apart from the Truman area, but it was a worthwhile visit, and Kansas City is nearby. At some point our conversation on this thread will end, but I want to make sure that you know that I really appreciate your comments and insights.

@Shelley... Thanks so much for sharing your memories of the 1977 trip! I really enjoyed reading it. It must have been pretty stunning (especially as an American college student studying abroad) to encounter the stark difference between East and West Berlin. It's also pretty crazy that your stuff got ripped off by the German border guards! I have an interest in the STASI, too. I popped into the Stasi museum in Leipzig; I spent a couple of hours there. For my May 2017 trip, I have one day where Gedenkstätte Berlin-Hohenschönhausen (the old Stasi prison in East Berlin) is the "bad weather" alternative; if I don't see it this time, I will see it next time. I've been thinking about reading a book about the Stasi, too. Your post gave me a good reason to look for a book. I had a friend tell me she read Stasiland by Anna Funder and liked it. Some of the reviewers on Amazon found it to be more about the author and her research than about the Stasi. One of those reviewers recommended The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi by Gary Bruce (though it's noted to be a little dry and academic by others) and Stasi: The Untold Story of the German Secret Police by John O'Koehler. I'm still deciding which one to pick! Thanks again for posting about your 1977 trip; it was a great read!

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@ Dave... You've prepared well for your trip by doing a ton of reading, I know sometimes, tedious. In AP US Hist. the Berlin Airlift would have been covered as the US response to the Blockade, which Stalin started knowing the US still had the atomic monoply. In Aug 1989 I made it to Berlin-Karlshorst (the eastern part of east Berlin) to see a historical site turned into a war museum. The building was connected with the Wehrmacht, it was the site on 9 May 1945 where the Germans surrendered to the Russians, I'm sure you've seen the famous photo connected with that event of Keitel raising his Field Marshal's baton.

In 1989 the building housed the Soviet war museum on the Eastern Front, telling the Soviet side of WW2, pretty selective history. explanations all in Russian, only a little German. You would have found this exhibition historically interesting. Obviously, when the Soviets left Berlin in 1992, the museum left too. The Soviet tanks , mainly T-34s, on the premises, did stay. Now, that building is the site of the Ger-Russ Relations Museum, saw it in June, refurbished, modernised, has audio guides to offer. In 1999 I was there too, the orientation of the museum was different then from its present one.

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@ Dave...With eight nights for Berlin, there is a day trip which is logistically feasible and could substitute for going to Seelow, (Gedenkstätte Seelower Höhen). There is the tank museum in Munster/Õrtze, three hours one way from Berlin, (I don't see Hamburg in your itinerary, much closer from there) which means you'll have at least 3.5 hrs to devote to the museum giving it your "undivided attention." Walking to the museum from the train station takes ca 20 mins Signs point the way. You can be back in Berlin by 2100 or so. I know it's a bit of distance and time involved for a day trip but it's a matter of priorities, depends on how desperate you are. I would do it. When I went, I always took the train from Lüneburg transfering once in Uelzen

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@Fred... I loved everything I read in preparation for the trip -- it wasn't tedious at all. Thanks for the memory of the Karlshorst museum. It would have been very interesting to see the Russian version of WWII victor's history in museum form. The German-Russian Relations Museum is on my list of things to see in Berlin, but I don't think I'm going to make it on the upcoming trip to Berlin. So much to see there! And... I've started a Hamburg file on the laptop, with the tank museum as the first entry.

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@ Dave...Make sure you know that the tank museum is not in Hamburg but a little over one hour from Hamburg in the town of Munster/Õrtze. Follow the route Hamburg to Lüneburg, south to Uelzen, then west of Uelzen is Munster/Õrtze....all of it lovely country in North Germany.

But if you want something historical in Hamburg, other than the concentration/force labor camp (liberated by the British) at Neuengamme near Bergedorf (take the S-Bahn from Hamburg Hbf to Bergedorf), there is the "Bismarck House/Museum" at Friedrichsruh, where he lived, and if you want to see an esoteric Prussian museum on a specific geographical part of East Prussia, there is the "Samland Museum" in Pinneberg. They may have modernised by now with audio phones but don't bet on it. In 1989 when I was there everything was in German (good !) Both these places Pinneberg and Friedrichsruh can be accessed by taking the S-Bahn from Hamburg Hbf....a direct shot.