Cities / Towns Visited: 32
Countries Visited: 11
Steps Taken Today: 15,000
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,271,747
Waking up to another sunny day, we grabbed our standard cheap supermarket breakfast, and headed to the street running parallel to our hostel. What is there to see, you ask? The East Side Gallery. It would be a brief stop before continuing on to the day’s main event, but there is something special about this 1.3km long stretch of remaining Berlin wall, covered with panel after panel of spray painted murals, which have stood here since 1990; only one year after the fall of the wall. Most are images of hope, of freedom, or even of satire; while some show the struggle of those who were imprisoned by this monsterous towering fence. Aside from being beautiful pieces of art, it is the strength of their message of peace that makes them timeless.
After viewing the gallery in its entirety we hopped on the train and made our way out to the west of the city. Wandering along the sun drenched street we eventually arrived at the Charlottenburg Palace. This grand 17th century royal residence, which was built originally as palace for Queen Sophie Charlotte, was a much loved home of the Prussian royal family until their dissolution after WWI, however it was badly damaged, much like a large portion of the cities buildings, during a British bombing raid in WWII. It has since been rebuilt, including the manicured gardens to the rear. The exterior is majestic, and spans widely left and right, but it is clear that it is relatively new in the grander scheme of things; with its fresh paint, and perfectly square corners showing no signs of aging. As we ventured inside with our audioguides and photography permit we began or exploration of the interior.
As you move along, it is hard to ignore the strange mix of original and restored decorations; from crisply painted walls, to old frescos riddled with cracks caused by the shuddering of the building from the impact of the bombs. Some rooms survived untouched, some were completely obliterated, and much of the present furniture is a hodgepodge of rescued pieces from across the royal collection, taken from the Berlin Palace and the Potsdam Palace, both of which were destroyed in the bombings but were not restored. Regardless of old or new, they have faithfully reconstructed it as best they could after war spoilt its beauty, and it still delivers a clear view of the wealth and history held by the monarchy.
Moving on to the New Wing, one of the side wings, that was added later in the palace’s life when it was expanded, the interior was just as impressive, with its massive ballroom, along with elegantly and ornately decorated rooms, and the Prussian crown jewels (by crown jewels I obviously mean just the frames as the jewels themselves are no longer actually on them). It also had its own fascinating history which involved it being occupied by Napoleon when he took over Berlin, and him sleeping in the Queen’s bed during his stay, resulting in her demanding the renovation of one of the sitting rooms into a new bedroom upon the royal families return after his defeat; both amusing and totally understandable.
We then ventured our into the gardens. Stopping at the New Pavilion just beside the New Wing, which houses a large collection of art including paintings by a number of German painters and an extensive exhibition on Karl Friedrich Schinkel, the artist and architect who designed the pavilion. As I’d had my fill of paintings within the palace itself, it was hard to concentrate on the audioguide as it ran through the pieces; this probably wasn’t helped by the fact that it was orated by a man with possibly the most monotone and sleep inducing voice in existence, in a style that resembled the first two chapters of The Hobbit (that is, he did a lot of listing things that are inconsequential or blatantly obvious to the point that it becomes almost painful).
Escaping the pavilion, we meandered tranquilly through the massive gardens, along the riverside, through the trees, and past the lake. Eventually we arrived at the Belvedere, a cute little hidden round building nestled in the greenery, and briefly scurried through, admiring a selection of the royal porcelain collection that had managed to survive the war. From here we continued to the Mausoleum. Again hidden between the sprawling branches, this quiet and secluded resting place houses two royal couples from days gone by. There was something sombre, but extremely peaceful about the cool, marble room, with its checkered floors, and beautiful carved figures of the resting royals atop their plinths. It was the kind of place I think we’d all like to rest, should we be eccentrically rich enough to afford it. It is an elaborate memorial, but its secluded placement makes it obvious it was simply the best way a king knew how to deal with the death of his queen; the expensive show of grief by a man who genuinely cared for his spouse.
The day was growing old, thus we sauntered back through the gardens, passing along the path beside the fountain that sits proudly in the centre of the manicured lawns and garden beds running out from the rear of the main palace. As we approached, and much to our shock, a random man decided to remove all of his clothes and hop into the fountain, showering himself in the cascading water. As we walked by, incredulous and in a brief state of shock, a lady walking past with her friend, and spotting our look of confusion, simply remarked ‘Welcome to Germany!’. An amusing way to end another successful palace visit (but no one want to see that so I’ll throw in a photo of some swans and cygnets, or as I like to call them ‘swanlets’). Still chortling, we hoped back on the train and headed back for the usual homecooked meal and overtly welcome sleep.
As I drifted in and out of sleep I pondered on the tragedy of war, and the damage it has done to the historic features of not only this but many countries worldwide, in the past and presently. The invention of aviation warfare, and the creation of bombs, has truly been a shameful step taken by us as a species. The willful destruction of property, as well as lives, many of whom are often innocent civilians is a gross violation of human rights and to be honest, is a war crime. We should be ashamed of ourselves. You shoot someone who is pointing a loaded gun at you with the same intention, although horrific is at least a fair fight. You drop bombs on defenceless people and that’s just straight up murder. We all seem so willing to kill each other under the guise of seeking freedom and peace, we convince ourselves we’re doing it for the right reasons, but I see no reason why we can’t be just as impassioned by the idea of loving our fellow humans; surely we would gain freedom and peace faster. We cheer at our soldiers slaying the ‘enemy’, but remember ‘one man’s terrorist, is another man’s freedom fighter’; we all believe we’re fighting for the ‘right’, the only problem is our ‘right’ isn’t theirs. Lay down your guns and try a little diplomacy; set down your bombs and try a little tolerance. War breeds war, not peace; hate breeds hate, not love.