I had no plans to go anywhere today, as I was due to fly home this afternoon. Instead, having seen the children off to Kindergarten, we headed back to the Stern centre to pick up some memory for the PC, which I noticed had been managing (just about) on 256MB. Having fitted that, we walked into Potsdam centre again and went for a lunchtime kebab, before walking back to the flat and then heading to the station to catch the train directly to Berline Schoenefeld. Peter accompanied me to the airport and then we said our goodbyes and he headed back home whilst I caught the plane back to East Midlands Airport, picking up my car at the airport and then arriving home at 17:45.
I’ve had a nice week out in Potsdam. I went primarily to see Peter and family, timed to coincide with the Helge Schneider concert. Peter and Susi’s kids are growing up fast and because we don’t see them often, it was nice to catch up a little with them and see how they’re getting on.
Potsdam itself has moved on even more since my last visit. The city has been completely transformed since I lived there for several months as a student in 1992. The city is more vibrant and colourful, the old, grey, Eastern block buildings having been given a makeover and are now renovated. The Ikarus buses no longer run, nor do the trolley buses, but the trams are still there and the public transport system is still excellent. The Russian troops have long gone and the city’s main shopping street, the Brandenburger Strasse, now features many shops common across the rest of Germany, including the obligatory Karstadt department store. It’s still an exciting city and, to my mind at least, is still an undiscovered gem and wonderful potential tourist attraction, featuring, as it does a host of palaces, parks, and lakes. I kind of hope it stays relatively undiscovered.
We walked into Potsdam today, where I bought a few things to bring home for Emma and the kids. I was paricularly on the hunt for a small toy figure of Sandmaennchen (the Sand Man, in traditional German culture, a character thought to sprinkle magic sand in children’s eyes, making them rub their eyes and eventually fall asleep) for our youngest, Tristan. He became a cult figure in the days of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), where he was a favourite children’s fixture on TV, marking their bedtime. He was retained following reunification and remains a firm favourite today with a new generation of children.
Following a walk around town, We picked up Peter and Susi’s children from Kindergarten and then caught the train home. Having failed to find a suitable Sandmaennchen figure in town, we headed to the out-of-town Stern centre, where I managed to get exactly what I was looking for.
Before I headed out to Germany, I mentioned to Peter that I’d like to visit Dresden. With this in mind, he suggested that we all visit together and so he hired a funky car to make 130 miles journey down the Autobahn. In the event, he hired an Audi A6 to make the journey, and so we headed down the Autobahn this morning, reaching 130 mph (legally, of course) at one point and arrived in Dresden late this morning.
We headed straight over to the recently reconsecrated Frauenkirche, which had been destroyed in World War 2, along with most of the city and at least 25,000 civilians during a raid in January, 1945. The raid itself was (and remains) one of the most controversial episodes of the war, serving no strategic importance and supposedly designed solely to destroy German morale, which (to most people) was already resigned to defeat following the Normandy landings in 1944.
The Frauenkirche has been completely rebuilt from as much of the original stonework as possible and was, up to its completion, layed out like a giant jigsaw puzzle in the vicinity. Now reopened, it’s an impressive building in its own right and serves as a symbol of reconciliation. Dresden is Coventry’s twin city and the reconciliation theme is common to both cities, suffering, as they both did, the most destruction of any city during the war for their sizes.
Following our visit to the crypt/cellar under the church, we headed back out of the Frauenkirche and walked around the old part of the city, which was rebuilt after the war. Finally, we walked around the shopping area and before heading back to the car and back to Potsdam, via a quick visit to IKEA.
Peter and I headed into Berlin late this morning, initially to have a look around. We planned to visit the Reichstag and to go up into the dome above the parliament chambers, but the dome was closed to the public so we gave up on that idea. On my several visits to Berlin, including when I myself lived in Potsdam as a student in 1992, I have only been in the Reichstag once, and that was during the building’s refurbishment, before the seat of government returned to the Reichstag.
We grabbed some lunch and then caught the U-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz on a quest to visit the former Fuehrerbunker, where one of history’s biggest tits and the man who tainted German history finally did the decent thing (a few years too late) and shot himself. I have a need to visit places of historic significance; to stand on the ground where key events in our history (good and bad) happened. There are mixed feelings over marking the Fuehrerbunker, out of fears that it could become a shrine to right-wing extremists, but the authorities relented in the last few years by marking the spot with a plain information sign. The bunker itself is inaccessible and buried beneath a residential block’s car park and childen’s playground in the middle of Berlin, which is probably as fitting an end as it deserves. Nevertheless, it is a place of great historical significance, as the events that happened there ultimately hastened the end of WW2.
Next, we headed to Friedrichstrasse, where Peter had some employment-related business to attend to. I wandered down the road, almost decided to go around the Checkpoint Charlie museum (another place I haven’t visited), before I decided that it needed a longer time period than I had to do it justice, so I went for a walk around the area, before grabbing a coffee at Starbuck’s.
Peter’s business concluded, we returned to Potsdam.
Flew out to Berlin today to visit my younger brother Peter and family, who live in the neighbouring city of Potsdam. The flight out was fine and Peter met me at the airport and then drove me back to the flat in Potsdam, where I met Susi and their children, Felix and Annie, again. It was good to see them all again and nice of them to invite me over to coincide with the final performance in Helge Schneider’s current tour, which took place at Berlin’s Admiralspalast theatre – a stone’s throw from the Friedrichstrasse train station in the middle of Berlin.
Helge Schneider is a very talented German multi-instrumentalist and comedian, who performs what can only be described as comedy jazz, featuring spoken comedy interludes and ad-libs between songs. He has again assembled a talented group of musisicians for his tour, comprising players from all over the world. It would be difficult to think of a British (or other) parallel, but if you took a mix of Monty Python surrealism, some 1970s tat, and jazz music, you’d be on the right lines. His humour uses wordplay, philosophy, and in complete contrast, occasional smut, to great effect.
His assembled group (Cirque du Kautz – or Owl Circus) itself featured some interesting characters. I was particularly pleased to see Pete York on drums. York formed and played with the Spencer Davis group in the 1960s, but in his own right is an extrememly talented jazz drummer and jazz drummers are simply the best drummers. We (Peter, Susi, and I) all enjoyed the evening and it was nice to have an evening out with them in a nice environment, drinking some nice German beer and being entertained by some good comedy and music.