Saturday, August 13, 2011


During our  trip I read the book In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Berlin by Erik Larson. (See a review here.) It tells the story of the American ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, and his daughter Martha, who lived in Berlin in 1933 just as Hitler was consolidating power.  I have read many books set during World War II, but this was the first I've read that was set in Germany during the pre-war years.  It was fascinating, and I highly recommend it.

The book added a lot to my travel experience. In 1933 the Embassy was located near Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, and a lot of the story took place in that area.  It was exciting to get to Berlin and connect places in the book with physical locations.

Our tour group stopped twice in Berlin. The first time we used it as a way station en route to other places, flying into the Berlin airport in the early evening and hopping on a bus bound for Lubeck, Germany, first thing the next morning.

In Moscow we had made friends with Jan and Dennis James, fellow travelers from Ogden, and while many of our group had dinner and went to bed, Jan and Dennis invited us to join them on an adventurous evening foray into the historical part of the city.  We took a bus from our hotel to Museum Island, a little patch of land in the Spree River (which isn't that wide) that houses five art museums, among which are:
The Atles Museum, which was built in 1830 to house the Prussian royal family art collection and now contains the Collection of Classical Antiquities

The Bode Museum, built in 1904, now the sculpture museum
Also on Museum Island is the magnificent Berlin Cathedral, an imposing structure consecrated in 1454 as a Roman Catholic cathedral, but which became Lutheran in 1539, Calvinist in 1613, and Evangelical in 1817, which it is today. During those transitions it was also substantially redesigned and rebuilt several times, encompassing several architectural styles (Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Neo-Renaissance, which it is now).

Jan James and I (with Dennis James in the background taking a picture)

When the cathedral was hit by an Allied bomb in May 1944, part of the main dome collapsed onto the cathedral floor. As this cathedral (and all of Museum Island) is in EAST Berlin (the Soviet sector), rebuilding was problematic.  Finally, in 1975, the East Berlin Evangelical church worked out a deal with the western sector church and money flowed in to rebuild. The main hall was reopened in 1993.  The interior:


The imposing Sauer Organ, the largest organ in all of Europe at the time of its construction in 1905.  It has 7,269 pipes and 113 registers. (The Tabernacle Organ in Salt Lake City originally had just 700 pipes.  In 1948, it was completely rebuilt to have 11,623 pipes!)
After walking around Museum Island, we hopped on a low-slung river boat that cruised the Spree River as it encircled the island.

We went under a series of very low bridges like this one where passengers could reach up and touch the bridge--if they wanted to--as their boat passed beneath.
This face on the bridge seemed to be warning pesky American tourists NOT to reach up and touch.
Jan and Dennis in front with us behind
One of the fun things about this little boat trip was watching the people on land.  The river was lined with museums and restaurants, and hundreds of people were relaxing outside and watching the river boats go by.  Many had lawn chairs and picnics. Several restaurants with outdoor seating also had dance floors, and it was entertaining to watch the Berliners enjoying themselves there.  It was a Monday night, and we were surprised at the weekend-like atmosphere.

After our mini-cruise, we stopped for a quick dinner of currywurst (recommended by Andrew):
For a fun description of this dish's history, go here, which is where I also stole this picture because we forgot to take one of our own. Our currywurst, however, looked exactly like this.
It was getting late, but there was still one more place we had to go before returning to our hotel.

Next up: The Brandenburg Gate


  1. I've just started the book you mention.

    The Cathedral is beautiful. Some of the war damaged wasn't repaired until 1993? That's a long time.

  2. The bust on that bridge reminds me of Statler and Waldorf from the muppets.