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Going to the East Side

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

It’s still crazy to me to think that just 30 years ago East Germany meant something a lot different than it does now. Now it’s simply a region, and an area that we decided to spend our last week in Germany in. Before 1990, East Germany was considered another country, with a communist government and a closed border to the West. We’ll see the effect of this later, but first we paid a visit to Bavaria, which although in the east fell into the American controlled part of West Germany. With so much history and culture, I am glad the way of life in this region was not lost.

Marienplatz in Munich

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We used Munich as our base for seeing the region, which was the capital of Bavaria until the kingdom was dissolved in 1918 at the end of World War I. On our first day in Bavaria we sped south to the town of Füssen to visit two castles that exist just outside the city. Although there is a royal palace in Munich (more on that later), these castles were built and also used by the royal family, which are located in forested land surrounded by lakes, as a getaway of sorts. You can never have too many castles, right?

Who wouldn't build a castle here?

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Of the two castles built near Füssen, we first visited Hohenschwangau. Impressive in its own right, it was the precursor for the much more popular Neuschwanstein Castle. Ludwig II, soon to be king of Bavaria, grew up in Hohenschwangau amid the forest and lakes, and developed a desire for all things fantastical. When his father died and he was only 18 years of age, he retreated into his world of fantasy and had Neuschwanstein built for himself to be isolated from the struggles of kingly life. In each room there are fantasy scenes that helped take the young king away from the real world. Surprisingly enough, the castle was never finished before Ludwig II was found drowned in a lake at only 41. No one knows the circumstances behind his death, and the royal family immediately put an end to all the funds going into the castle, and it remains unfinished even today. Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures inside, but it is just as impressive from the outside!

Hohenschwangau Castle

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Neuschwanstein Castle

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We spent the rest of our time in Bavaria in Munich and explored what the city had to offer. We started off with a really nice walking tour that helped us to better understand the history and culture of the region. It was amazing to me to think that in the same part of the city you can find information about kings from 300 years ago and also realize that Hitler led a march there in 1929. Actually, because of Hitler’s war, about 85 percent of the city of Munich was completely destroyed. Many rebuilt buildings were constructed from concrete and were painted with a design of how they may have looked a few hundred years ago.

Most of this is surprisingly new

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After our tour we went to one of the city’s many beer gardens, which is as it sounds – an outdoor space to drink, eat, converse and enjoy the day. With Munich being known for its beer and strict rules surrounding its production, I felt it necessary to try one along with some delicious pretzels. We ended up sitting next to some guys who were on our tour and had some good conversation, feeling like true citizens of Munich. Catherine had a lemonade and beer mixture, and Ethan had a Fanta/Coca-Cola fusion. I think everyone really liked their drinks!

Biergarten!

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We spent the rest of our time just walking through the old city, checking out churches and buildings new and old. We visited the Residenz, which is the main palace of the Bavarian kings and is one of the largest in Europe, even today. We even took a trip out to Schloss Nymphenburg, but after our first large castle tour we were a bit drained to also go inside this one. We did however stroll through the gardens and enjoy the scenery from the outside.

More of Munich

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The Residenz

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One of hundreds of Residenz rooms

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Nymphenburg Palace

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Jumping on a late train, we passed the 5 hours eating dinner and relaxing as we traveled to Berlin. We got up the following morning and did a walking tour here as well to get a feel for the city. In Berlin, though, it is all about relatively recent history, with information from only as far back as the early 1900s. I’m sure you all know why this era was so important in history.

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It seems like, as you walk through Berlin, you are constantly traveling between 1940 and 1960. We were able to see the site of Hitler’s bunker during the final stages of the war, and the memorials and museums dedicated to the atrocities that were committed as a result of his actions. The Berlin memorial to the Holocaust is nothing more than a series of concrete slabs, presumably created to look like graves. The truly touching aspect of the site though is how quickly you get “lost” among the slabs as you walk through it.

Holocaust Memorial

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Even more apparent in the city though are the remains of the Berlin wall. With Berlin (and all of Germany for that matter) being split between America, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union after the war, it’s amazing to think that due to tensions and people quickly leaving Soviet Berlin that the Soviets built a wall entirely around West Berlin seemingly overnight in 1961. It wasn’t built to keep people out, rather to keep everyone inside East Berlin that were so desperately trying to leave. When the wall came down in 1989, the city did a great job of preserving the past by keeping an outline of the entire wall and even leaving up the wall in a few places to see. Even the location of the most famous border checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie, is still able to be visited. It’s crazy to think there were once American and Soviet tanks on either side of the gate, and where one loud noise could have triggered the beginning of World War 3!

About all that's left of the wall

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Checkpoint Charlie (and McDonald's)

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All that being said, Berlin is known for a lot more than those events. We also took the time to visit museum island, which is a literal island in the heart of the city housing 5 different museum complexes. Each museum has a different specialty, but we chose to visit the Neues (New) Museum which houses a lot of ancient relics from the beginnings of recorded history. The impressive Berlin Cathedral also sits on this island, and we went to a short service there partly for the experience and partly to see what the inside looked like without having to pay the expensive entrance fee!

Inside the Neues Museum

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Berlin Cathedral

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Berlin Cathedral from the inside

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Also during our time here we visited some seats of power. The Reichstag building is the current home of parliament in a unique hybrid building of old and new architecture. You can tour more of the building when the parliament is not in session, but we were still able to go to the rooftop dome for views of the city and hear commentary on Germany’s government. It was actually more interesting than it sounds! We also went back a few hundred years to visit Charlottenburg Castle on the edge of the city, where the kings of Prussia spent at least some of their time.

Berlin's Reichstag

Charlottenburg Palace

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While Berlin is a city full of interesting sites and history, there’s nothing more enjoyable than just walking through it, discovering things along the way. A visit to Potsdamer Platz revealed modern buildings, as this entire area was once inside the “death strip”, the area between East and West Berlin between the walls that would spell death for anyone who tried to cross. As you stroll the streets, you’ll randomly come across markings showing you’re crossing from East to West Berlin or vice-versa, and it always causes you to pause and reflect on how hard that once was.

Strolling through Berlin

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Potsdamer Platz

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With our time in Germany at its end, we got to see a lot and as always got to only see a small part of a country. I’m glad we got to see all that we did, as each region which was once a separate country helped us to understand what Germany is today. We’re now on our way to Poland, but since we’ve both spent some time there we’re limiting the visit to Krakow and the surrounding area. Stay tuned for our adventures there!

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