We docked in Rostock (Warnemunde) Cruise Port around 7am, and scampered to Bus #1 not long after the gangways were readied. Thank goodness for room service.
Alison and Marion got us on to a small group tour (OE – Oceana Exclusive), which maxed out at 16 people. With a truck and bus speed limit of 100 km/hour, or about 65 mph, we had a three hour ride, on beautiful highways and scenery – lots of wind farms – into Berlin, which has a population of about 3.2 million.
Our guide from Rostock, Rougui, has been a lifelong resident of “East Germany”, and was delightful company for the bus ends of the tour, providing us with lots of information. The bear is the national symbol, and when we passed a bear statue in the median of the highway, we were told that we arrived in Berlin. Shortly thereafter, we picked up Sonia, our guide for Berlin. She has a German father and an English mother and was raised in South Africa, Iran, England, and now calls Germany home – married with a little girl. We continued with a bus tour of Berlin, to begin with. We noticed a large number of television news vans at more than one stop. Why? The national elections were scheduled for the next day, Sunday, September 22, 2013. Angela Merkel is the popular incumbent, but there was concern that a lazy attitude could impact election turnout and her chances. Well, to give you a sneak peek at the headlines Sunday night: In Berlin, “Merkel romps to victory in German election” There was a 70% turnout – not shabby.
We saw Brandenburg Gate, which was in the middle of the “kill zone”, which was considered part of the Berlin Wall. We also saw the Reichstag, which is the German Parliamentary building – lots of TV cameras for the election, and a lot of preparation for the Berlin Marathon, which was coming up on the 28th. During the latest reconstruction, there is a famous dome, in which you can buy tickets and walk up. The Brandenburg Gate is also the end of the marathon, which is where President Reagan uttered those famous words, “Tear down this wall.”
One inspirational item we saw – suitable for beer drinkers – was the “Beer Bike” – https://www.google.com/search?q=beer+bike+germany&rlz=1C1CHVN_enUS535US535&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=ga5CUsqpJfW14APy7oHIDQ&ved=0CDYQsAQ
We visited the Jewish Memorial sculpture, which was interesting – and near Hitler’s unmarked bunker, basically a dirty empty parking lot, at this point. The Jewish population is growing – up to about 17,000 people, today.
Next stop – the Wall – a section 1km long, that was left standing – the “east side gallery”. Artists, basically graffiti artists, have appropriately decorated this section of the wall. We then drove around and saw museum island, which had about 5 museums, then passed the square where the famous Nazi book burnings took place.
We had free time for lunch, and the four of us selected a small restaurant that the locals seemed to appreciate. We had “sausage” and meatballs and veal with local beer, which we enjoyed – and saw an apple strudel at the table next to us, and we just had to have it! Good lunch.
Next stop, Checkpoint Charlie – not the original, and it has signs and actors present. There is a double set of cobble stones that mark the location of the original wall. The area itself is highly commercialized, but you still got the feeling of what it was like.
Did you know that West Berlin (the good guys) were an island within East Germany. The Russians tried to force the inhabitants out of West Berlin, after the war, but between 1948 and 1949, for 13 months, all supplies were flown in to keep it going, with a commitment that we would never stop. Flights averaged every minute or so, which is incredible. The airfield was closed to air traffic just 4 years ago, and is now used by the public for recreation. The Templehof Airlift Memorial is a large memorial to the pilots who died during that effort. The Germans are still trying to figure out what to do with the massive facilities in the area. There is a Allied Museum, which we visited, which included the original Checkpoint Charlie, a piece of the wall and a watch tower, and a Haviland aircraft that was used during the airlift.
One interesting story of the airlift was a pilot who saw the children around the airport – close to starving. He decided to tie handkerchiefs to Hershey bars and drop them, parachute style, during the airlift – thousands of candy bars. He became known as the Candy Bear. He is now 92 years old, lives in Florida, and still gives inspirational speeches.
The bus arrived back at the ship around 8:30 and we were surprised that the staff was lined up on the dock to welcome us back to the ship, there was a big banner, and a band playing music. Nice. We basically just had dinner and crashed.