This could be a very prosaic entry, as the first day of a trip often is as one gathers one’s thoughts from the rags of jet lag and attempts some sort of orientation; but Berlin is such an interesting place that we’ve been constantly engaged even from our first moments. We have been lucky to end up in a hotel in Mitte, the busy area in old East Berlin, so we are ten minutes walk from the Museum Island and fifteen from the Brandenburger Tor. This morning, on our walk, we got as far as the Tiergarten and felt pretty adventurous. It was not until the afternoon that we realised just how enormous the Tiergarten actually is! It must be bigger than Central Park, and certainly the Prussian regularity of the Unter den Linden puts Paris to shame.

Or it would do if the Reichskanzler hadn’t decided to rebuild Central Berlin, all at once! Down the centre of the axis is a gigantic building site where they are building the long-overdue missing link in the U-bahn, while on every side, buildings are being restored. This includes the opera house, which is roofless at the moment. Even twenty-five years since the wall came down, and seventy years off since the war, this is a town dealing with its past. Every building near the river is marked by bombs and bullets, some repairs better than others, and sometimes there are more dramatic holes where the marks of shells are still there.

20130923-083643.jpg

The tour didn’t start until the briefing in the evening, so our day was spent dealing with a bit of a hit list, and it has turned out that what we have seen doesn’t duplicate what is on the itinerary for tomorrow (Monday). We walked back down the Unter den Linden — I need to note at least once that Berlin has a talent for name dropping when it comes to streets, so crossing Rosa Luxembourg Strasse is no surprise after a while) and eerie suitably impressed by the Dom, although we couldn’t visit like we had done with Marienkirche yesterday.

20130923-084249.jpg
We walked a lot, and managed to get a sense of the old central district and museum island. We found both the Jewish Memorial and the Topographie of Terror, which is the old Gestapo and SH site cleaned up and turned into a memorial.

20130923-172132.jpg

20130923-172149.jpg

20130923-172213.jpg

20130923-172225.jpg

Last, but not least, we visited the Palace of Tears, the checkpoint and control centre for the passage through the Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof. Here was the closest the separated families could get to each other, and where many hopes of contact we’re dashed. We hopped on a river cruise to escape some of that gloom, the returned to the Hotel to meet our group and share a first meal. A pretty good first day.

20130923-172615.jpg