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Germany

22-25 Sept 

Berlin was our target on the eve of the 23rd. The distance was a bit much for us and we pulled up short at a truck stop about 170km north. Again, a stunner of a day. The Baltic sea, or a very small part of it, was like a billiard table. We stood out on the deck for some of the time but that was a bit much in a cotton shirt, even on a very mild day! Everything in Denmark just seems to happen with a minimum of fuss. Loading the ferry was like clockwork. The Greeks could learn. Last time we crossed from Patras to Bari it took them hours to load! We managed to spend every last kroner on the boat. How clever of us! Usually we have assorted bits left over that we remember just after we've crossed the border!

 Puttgarden, the ferry terminal on the German side was in the old East Germany. Much seems to have changed in this the northern door to the 'new Germany'. Old autobahns, probably constructed in the 30s, have been ripped up and replaced by the standard German engineering marvel.

 Ever dream of driving alone on a smooth super highway with no traffic in sight? Northern Germany is the place, except in the dream it wasn't a 2500cc diesel Ford Transit!

 The northern plains of Germany are far less densely populated than one might imagine. Unlike the 'Dutch veldt', this is true 'open country'. Although it is fairly heavily cultivated and grazed, it has open vistas more familiar to us.

 Coming into Berlin on a Sunday afternoon was relatively easy. For once we drove almost directly to the camping ground, which wasn't bad as Janita had to follow directions in German, the language of the Camping Grounds book supplied with the van. Not our best foreign language! 

Outer suburban Berlin on the old eastern side is rather pleasant. At fifteen or so kms from the city centre we are in a cluster of villages, only slightly spoilt by new industry that is the obvious result of reunification. However, as we travelled into the city by train the decayed remnants of GDR were all around. Derelict factories lined the track for miles. We also suspect that the current line was simply built beside the old, as there are five or six huge, deserted, rusted marshalling yards adjacent to the main S-bahn line. The overall impression that we were left with was that the rebuilding of Berlin is a bit bigger task than the German government first envisaged. Even central Berlin is somewhat decrepit.

 

 

On the upside, we visited the Pergamon Museum. Whole ancient buildings have been reconstructed, shipped (looted!) from Turkey and the Middle East in the early part of the 20th century and painstakingly assembled in the purpose-built museum.

 Through a haze of snow (electronic!) we watched Cathy Freeman win the 400m this morning (25/9). Even if the call was in German, the excitement of the race and the adulation accorded transcended language. The games have put Australia well and truly on the map, if only for a few weeks. Every radio station we scan past is constantly on

about Sydney, Australia, Cathy Freeman... and bloody Marion Jones (US)!!! What the hell did she do? We figure she won the 100m, but what else has got them all worked up? Every thing that is not Australia is Odl.. doo .delee.. Marion Jones! Men at Work's, 'Land Downunder' is even played on the muzac in the toilets! Savage (bloody) Garden, and even Olivia Neutron Bomb flood the airwaves. McD's promotion that was on at home, 'If Australia wins ... you win!" is also on in Germany - and it is just that - If Australia wins they get a free ...something? 

A quiet day today (25/9). Cleaned up a bit. Went shopping at a nearby village supermarket. Terrorised the locals with our 'German' and came home. Nice park. by the sea. If it was a little warmer (22C today) I'm sure we would have seen some crazy Germans swimming. 

26 September - 3 October

 Slept-in, badly, this morning! Woke at 9.00am, having to catch the bus at 10.05. Now that might sound like plenty of time BUT we are on holidays and we don't move that fast. However we made it in time and made our three other connections to get to the city at a civilised hour, about 11.30am.

 Cranes everywhere attest to the creation of the new Germany. But as mentioned before, this is a huge task and the end product may not be evident for another decade.

 Moving about in big cities - and Berlin is a very big city! can be daunting but also fun and part of the challenge of travel. We seem to get lost less frequently, but walking into a station ten times the size of Brisbane Central with thousands of people who DO know where they are going is not easy. On the way home the trains were packed. Hands on cameras, wallets and passports.

 Truckies have been blockading the city for weeks now over fuel taxes. We are not sure but today seems to have been more full-on than anything so far. There were literally thousands of trucks. The news tonight said seven thousand! That's a lot of trucks. The politzei were every where but there were no real problems. All seemed peaceful. From the Column of Victory which stands on the Strasse de 17 Juni, we could see trucks to the Reichstag at one end and out to the distance beyond our sight the other way.

 Yoko Ono has committed an 'act d'art' on the Unter den Linden (the place to see and be seen!). A standard railway wagon stands on a small length of track in a very sedate square which is actually the site of the old Palace of Berlin which the East German government decided was beyond help following war damage. It was destroyed in 1950. The wagon has been raked with gun fire from inside and out.. And that's it!

 Checkpoint Charlie was a bit of a non-event - a little sentry box twice the size of a "dunny" - sandbagged, and with a mini-billboard featuring a US soldier in front of it. We missed the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie as we were anxious to catch the train to link us with the tram which would enable us to catch the last bus home. But, as we remember the way it was in 1987, it tugged at the heartstrings nonetheless. 

It seems so odd to be in a strange country with a strange language and come across "familiar "sights. The TV tower as we passed it struck a chord. We remember seeing it last time - even the side of the street we were on - also the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - there was a baby East German soldier there whom we photographed with James last time. Most of it however is new and unusual - the language especially - What the hell are they saying over the microphones/TV/radio?  Should we evacuate?  Or celebrate????  People seem to be willing to help us poor Philistines - especially kids who have learned English in school. When we jabber away to each other, they ask if they can help or speak to us in English -- so comforting to those of us who struggle with menus, directions and S-Bahn lines.

 Tomorrow we move on to Dresden and then to Poland. More reconstructed Eastern countryside and cities await. We suspect that what we have seen in the old GDR will be far better progress than in the rest of the old Soviet empire. But that's what we came to see....... 

 September 27

 A "short" drive down the highway, with bits of 'unreconstructed' East German road to forewarn us of what we can expect in Poland. On to Dresden or thereabouts. Stopped near Moritzberg - Camping am Sonnenland - about 20 minutes by bus outside Dresden. The drive here was just long enough to dry our "smalls" over the heater vents. Perfect.

 Dresden is amazing! It was re-constructed after the 1945 fire-bombing. You can understand why the Germans were so 'issed off with the bombing. What a beautiful city it must have been.  

Reconstruction has continued since the end of the war. The Russians did pretty well it seemed to us - although we could see the newer bits among the old. However, it seems it was not good enough for the "New Germany"  - they're re-constructing the re-constructions - roads, schlosses. bridges - you name it! The old (original?) bits lie in piles beside the re-constructions - carefully numbered of course - but .... if they're going to re-build the Frauenkirche, they're going to need more "bits".  Is this a way of honouring the long-since past or simply eradicating the last forty years of Russian rule??  All in all, an interesting city, with its Neustadt and Altstadt clearly delineated by the Augustusbrucke (bridge). We are 20 minutes outside the centre of town and we're in the middle of farming land. Imagine Holland Park as the centre of a huge farm!!!!!!

 Europeans are so-o-o-o obedient!! If the speed limit is 80 that's what we go - if there is a little red man we 'nein walk' - passing lanes are just that!!  Makes life easier for us dumb tourists.

 Seventy five km to the Polish border tomorrow. I suppose we expect much the same as we encountered 12 years ago going into East Germany. We suspect things might be a little less formal. But with visas to inspect and car papers to scrutinise there is still ample opportunity for a 'non-reconstructed' Polish border guard to 'make our day!'........

 28 September 

Ignominy! Turned away from the Polish border! After a wait of no more than 20 mins - surprising after all the horror stories we have read - we were waved into a holding bay. Seems our visas are effective from 2 October,-  three days away! A very apologetic border guard (obviously reconstructed!) explained the problem and was very clear that if we came back in three days there would be 'no problem'. Rather than cruise around rural East Germany for another three days, we elected to return to Dresden (about 80km) and set off tomorrow for Prague. We will go back north into Poland later. At least we fared better than the several kms of trucks and Polish-registered vehicles towing cars (wonder why?) who are probably still there!

 The motorway from Dresden to the Polish border is probably the best of the best we have driven on to date, and we should know - we drove it twice today! One can't help wondering whether if the Germans are hedging their bets in case they ever need to invade Poland AGAIN! - History would say that there is always a good chance someone will want to invade Poland.

 The countryside is still very open and lightly populated. Weather still great, warm, 22C+, some haze? We are not sure whether it is pollution (doubt it) or a normal seasonal phenomenon. Except for a few light drops last night we still have seen no rain! Strange thunder too. It seemed as if a rogue thundercloud rumbled past - much like every car on the autobahn - Brrroooom!  -  on its way somewhere else!

 A Greek ferry sank somewhere yesterday - we think - saw it on TV last night (part of our mobile telecommunications set-up) - but we're not sure when or why and Lizzie has, so far, been unable to enlighten us, although she is keeping us up to date with the medal tally via SMS messages. This modern technology is so-o-o-o-o cool!

 

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