Saturday 30 July – Part 4

(I’m sorry this blog is in four parts, but our computer is struggling for signal).

 

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By Thursday, our feet were sore, and we decided to take a three hour boat trip around the City.  Unfortunately after Wednesday’s downpour, the river levels had risen and as we turned off the River Spree we were met by red lights on the lock to the Landwehrkanal.   It turned out that the lock mechanism was broken and as it was going to take over an hour to repair, our tour took another route along the River Spree.

Our route took us past the Eastside Gallery – a long length of the Berlin wall still standing which is covered in graffiti on the west side, and just painted white on the east.   We also passed this huge structure of ‘Molecule Man’.

 

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After that our tour took us past many of the sites we’d visited earlier.

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In the afternoon we walked the length of Strasse Des 17 Juni from Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten to the Tiergarten Station which took us past the Siegessaule Triumphal Column; a column that can be seen from many vantage points across the City.

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In the evening we treated ourselves to a meal at the steak restaurant close to our hotel and on Friday morning we set off early for our flight home.    We made it back to the airport easily by train but our journey after that seemed unnecessarily problematic.

Our flight was delayed by nearly two hours, and on arrival back at Manchester we joined the longest queue ever to get through passport control meaning that we missed our intended train.  Once back in Chester, we discovered that the bus time-table for Route 41A contains a typing error which meant that the 1700 hour bus didn’t go near our mooring and instead the next bus was at 18.34.  As we crossed over the road in front of the railway station, a ‘shared space’ area where pedestrians roam and vehicles are supposed to give way, we nearly got run over by a mini-bus from Hull of all places, when the driver put his foot down rather than slowing down.  We thought there had been plenty of time to cross the road when we left the pavement. Thank you Jim Bell Transport!

Laura invited us for tea so instead we headed straight to her house in a black cab where everyone was pleased to see us and she dropped us back to the boat afterwards.

After a good night’s sleep, and a lie in, Laura suggested we meet up for a picnic in the park this morning.   This we thought was her anniversary gift to us, but a further surprise was in store.

Our two gorgeous children and their partners have arranged for us to have a night away at the luxury Rookery Hall Hotel and Spa tomorrow night where our stay is to include Afternoon Tea, Three Course Dinner, Full English Breakfast and unlimited access to the health club and pool.

We’ll start the post holiday diet on Tuesday.

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Saturday 30 July – Part 3

On Wednesday morning we had an appointment at the Reichstag at 9.15 am.   Once our names had been checked against the list, we were herded en-masse through various electronic security doors and into a lift to the viewing platform beside the dome designed by Sir Norman Foster.  Unfortunately the dome was closed this week for cleaning – they’d heard we were coming but thought it was next week!   This platform provided a fantastic vantage point for looking over all of Berlin.   It is possible to identify the old East by the number of cranes visible on the skyline.

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Next we headed to the Holocaust Memorial.  It covers 19,000 sq feet next to the Brandenburg Gate and comprises an undulating field of concrete slabs ranging in height from 0.2m to 4.0m.

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Next we headed to Hackescher Markt area and visited the Hackescher Hofe, a complex of nine interconnecting courtyards surrounded by tall and beautifully proportioned buildings.

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This was once at the heart of the Jewish district and we passed the Gedenkstatte memorial in Grosse Hamburger Strasse commenting Berlin’s jews murdered in the Holocaust.

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The heavens opened while we were enjoying lunch in the Hackescher Markt and we made a dash for the underground and for KaDeWe, the largest department store in Europe.  It opened in 1907 with a slogan ‘In our shop a customer is king and the King is a customer’.   It was fascinating walking through the store, especially the food hall which must be a gourmet’s paradise as there didn’t appear to be anything they didn’t stock.  Without a king’s salary, we couldn’t afford to shop there!   Here we said ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to Fi and Vic as they headed off to Poland.

We headed back towards the hotel but stopped off at The Bauhaus Store.   From outside this store didn’t look much but inside was a different story.   It was like IKEA, B&Q, Wickes, Halfords, Staples, Midland Chandlers, and lots more, all under one roof.  The catalogue of things it sells comprises nearly 2000 pages of very small print!   It was heaven!  It sold things that I wouldn’t know where to buy in the UK!   All the shelves were fully stocked, and the choice of each item was unbelievable.  We spent nearly two hours wandering round and only left when the store started to close.   It was a good job we didn’t have the car with us as I think we would have bought a tow bar and a trailer and filled it full.

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Saturday 30 July – Part 2

On Tuesday morning Fi and Vic offered to take us to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and then to Wannsee where the highest ranking members of the SS met on 20 January 1942 to discuss the ‘Final Solution’; the plan to murder all European Jews.

Fi had visited Berlin last year with a school group of students and we started the day with a detour to a dis-used railway station.  She led us to the edge of the platform where steel grids had been laid side by side on both sides of the platform, and which stretched off way into the distance .  Each grid provided a date, a number of Jews and the name of a concentration camp.  In total over 100,000 jews had left from that station to concentration camps throughout Germany and Poland.    Today it was a very quiet space with no fanfare signage encouraging tourists to visit, but it set the tone for the day.

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Sachsenhausen Concentration camp  was the first new camp to be established after the appointment of Heinrich Himmler as Chief of the German Police in 1936 and many top officials from other nations were invited to observe what work was being undertaken there.

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More than 200,000 people were imprisoned here between 1936 and 1945.  At first mostly political opponents were imprisoned here but soon they were joined by members of groups defined as racially or biologically inferior.  Tens of thousands of them were systematically humiliated and died of starvation, disease, forced labour and maltreatment or were murdered en-masse by the SS.  The prisoners were subject to the almost unrestricted power of the 100 to 250 SS command staff employed there and these included compulsory sterilisation and castration, as well as many other experiments on humans in the name of science.

Thousands of other prisoners died on death marches after the evacuation of the camp. In August 1945, The Soviet Secret Service took over the camp where the facilities were used for the same purposes as before and by the time the camp was closed in March 1950, 60,000 people had been imprisoned there, of whom 12,000 had died of malnutrition and disease.

The camp apparently is one of the smaller ones, but there was still too much information to take in in one day and after lunch we left and headed to Wannsee.

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The beautiful setting for the building, on the edge of the lake, masks the horror of what took place there in 1942.

Saturday, 30 July – Part 1

Thirty five years ago today we got married at York Register Office; a very low-key affair after the previous day’s lavish Royal wedding of Charles and Di.

To celebrate our achievement we decided to treat ourselves to four days in Berlin this week.

Our good friends Fi and Vic, who were on their way to Poland via Berlin, met us at the airport on Sunday afternoon with a laminated board bearing our name.   Their first class taxi service was brilliant and they provided  us both with a chilled bottle of ‘bier’ from a fridge in the boot of their car before dropping us off at our hotel.  We agreed to meet up again in the evening for dinner.

It is 40 years since I studied German for GCSE and regrettably I’ve forgotten most of the vocabulary from that time.  However, Storm was quite impressed when I managed to order breakfast for both of us on Monday morning and even more so when the waitress brought us exactly what we’d chosen.

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After that we headed to the train station for a train into the centre of Berlin.  Our DK Guide of Berlin made buying tickets sound easy but we failed to even find the ticket machine, let alone the ticket validation machine.   We think we’d got the hang of the system by the time we left on Friday morning.  The ticket machines are located at various places within the station complex, and are not always in the most obvious place.

We headed first to the DDR Museum,  billed as ‘a hands-on museum that gives an insight into the daily lives of East Germans and how the secret police kept a watchful eye on the people before the fall of the wall in 1989.’   We felt that this museum would be a real eye opener to today’s young people who cannot live without their mobile phones and internet and who expect everything to just be there for them in today’s global economy!

The mid-day heat hit us as we left the museum and we sought some chilled medication to keep us going.

In the afternoon we headed towards the Jewish Museum, passing through Check Point Charlie.  Gone are the gates, barriers and barbed wire that once surrounded it and instead a replica booth, complete with sandbags and now invites photo opportunities.

We resisted and instead took a detour to the Topographie des Terrors; a museum documenting Nazi crimes.  During the time of the Third Reich this was probably the most frightening place in Berlin as in 1934 three of the most terrifying Nazi political departments had their headquarters here, e.g. SS, the Gestapo et al.   It is possible to see a preserved section of the Berlin wall here which runs alongside the museum.

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Despite being indoors, it was still uncomfortably warm and we had to stop for a cool bier and a bite to eat before heading to the Jewish Museum.

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This building was designed by Daniel Libeskind, the Jewish Polish Architect who also designed Manchester’s Imperial War Museum.  His design of narrow galleries with slanting floors and sharp zig zag turns are designed to make the visitor feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  We felt that the Garden of Exile was the most successful space.

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After the museum we headed to Fi and Vic’s apartment for another cool bier from their fridge before heading out to a Thai restaurant they’d discovered nearby.  This challenged us as we had to order our complete meal at the inside counter by number only and then return to our seat and then be able to recognise our order when it was called out in German by a little Thai lady with an eastern accent.  It helped that we were listening out for 8 numbers being called in quick succession.   When the food arrived it was superb and was probably the best Thai meal we’ve ever had and we thought our favourite restaurant back home was good!

We managed to find our way back to our hotel using the underground.  Our room was very warm as someone had closed all the windows and having opened the windows as wide as they would go we both took a cold shower to cool down before trying to get some sleep in the airless room.

… to be continued

 

Saturday 23 July

Another week has passed where we haven’t moved the boat.

We spent last Saturday night at Laura’s babysitting while she and Marc had a night away to celebrate her birthday.

On Tuesday, (Laura’s actual birthday), we took her out for a pub lunch at The Alyn, in the pretty village of Rossett.  We found a table outside in the shade, beside the River.  Unfortunately they’d run out of plates – our meals were served on roof slates!   Nevertheless the food was very good.

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In the evening we had a family BBQ and it was a real treat to stand in Summer’s paddling pool to cool down.  I didn’t mind being drenched by an enthusiastic Summer who thought it such fun to try to drown me while I was fully clothed.   When we got back to the boat, the internal temperature was 100F and we struggled to cool down.

Chilling in the shade

Chilling in the shade

Chilling with icecream soda ...

Chilling complete with icecream soda …

Laura and I went swimming again on Wednesday, and this time we managed 40 lengths in just under an hour.

Storm and I are heading to Berlin for five nights tomorrow and so Thursday morning was spent collecting Euros and making sure we had all we needed.

I looked after Summer and Joseph for an hour yesterday while Laura went grocery shopping.   We had to play “Nursery” in Summer’s bedroom.  I know the staff at her nursery aren’t bossy, but I had to do as I was told  and ‘sit properly with fingers on lips!!’

Storm short sanding!

Storm short sanding!

Smart foredeck

Smart foredeck

While I was away, Storm spent the morning smartening up our front deck and lockers with a coat of paint.

Growing cygnets

Growing cygnets …

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First sighting back in May

Our local family of swans popped by to show off how the five cygnets are growing.  Mum is known locally as ‘Broken Beak’ as she has a large piece of beak missing and is easily recognised.

Today we’ve had a quiet day on board soaking up the sun and reading the papers.

Wednesday 13 July

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Sunday morning we headed up through the locks back to the Cheshire Cat.  We shared the locks with fellow Yorkshire people on NB Pastorale.  Storm worked the locks for team Blackbird and once we’d cleared the last one, he headed back on foot to collect the car, whilst I continued on and moored up outside the pub and prepared lunch ready for his return.  The afternoon was spent quietly reading the papers.

Our new shiny singing propeller

Our new shiny singing propeller

Monday morning saw Storm at the helm whilst I drove the car back to the mooring.  Our new propellor ‘sings’ – a problem that was brought to our attention before we left the boat yard and one that will resolve itself in time apparently.   We have bought a prop with thicker blades this time as we hope this means it will be harder to bend.  However, if the singing annoys us too much it is  possible to shave a bit off the leading edge of one of the blades which should stop the ‘singing’, but this would mean another trip to the dry dock.  When we first started out, the noise from the prop was quite alarming but as we continued, I thought the sound grew less.  Storm wanted to judge for himself whether it was diminishing.  He thinks it is now only present when cruising at 1000 rpm.  We will just have to avoid cruising at that speed for a little while!

On Tuesday morning I shot out of bed as one glance at the clock showed I was already fifteen minutes late for an appointment with Laura.   I had offered to drive her to her friend’s house in Liverpool.   I dropped her a quick text to let her know I was on my way as I hopped into my clothes.

As neither of us knew where we were going we allowed her Sat Nav to guide us and we selected the softer tones of Irish ‘Sean’ to guide us.   I don’t usually rely on Sat Nav, preferring a map instead, and I found it a little disconcerting when it stayed completely silent for miles and then made me jump when it suddenly pipes up and tells me to ‘turn left’ when what  it really meant was that ‘the road ahead veers to the left’.   Laura kindly provided some additional soundtrack of encouragement telling me I was ‘doing grand to be sure, to be sure!’.

This morning after a lazy start, Storm and I went off to explore the southern shores of the Wirral peninsula.   We have driven along the peninsula many times and have never before been aware of the extent of posh houses to be found there.  Today we kept turning left off the A540 and down towards the shore where we came across some beautiful historic villages such as Parkgate and Neston and stunning views across the estuary, most of which is an RSPB marshland.  We parked up and enjoyed a pleasant walk with Max beside the Dee looking towards the Welsh hills.   After some reviving chilled medication we headed back to the car to continue our exploration and as we headed further west the views from on high across the Dee towards the sea were truly stunning in the sunshine, with house prices reflecting the value of the view.

This evening Laura and I went swimming at Christleton High School  which has an amazing olympic sized pool that is shared with the public once school’s out!  There were just four of us lane swimming, with lanes to spare, and we managed thirty lengths each – not bad considering we thought we were unfit and out of practice.