Berlin offers many surprises, sweet and sad

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Photos courtesy of visitBerlin

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer
Berlin has secrets. Some are sweet. Some are sad. All are surprising.
And so it was on a recent visit to Berlin, that I found myself constantly surprised. Surprised at the livability of this great city. Surprised at the affordability of Germany’s capital. Surprised at the rebirth of this once divided metropolis.
In many ways, Berlin still has a split personality. The center of government, it is also home to street art and performances. A simple walk down a side street will graphically display this dual character. Instead of tearing down many of its old buildings, Berlin has chosen to restore them.
Lending a historic look that many others have lost with all the modern architecture. But right beside a beautifully restored building, a trashed hulk will rise, windowless and covered in graffiti.
Some call it street art, others urban redevelopment. But it’s everywhere.
Only a short walk away, however, visitors will be surprised to find a beautiful park. Berlin is home to 2,500 public green spaces, making up a third of the city. Just another secret, Berlin is a green city.
Once the hunting grounds of the royal family, the Tiergarten is a large park located in the very heart of Berlin. Strolling through the grounds is a delight on a summer day. And your jaunt will lead you to the very heart of the German government.
 Its congress, the Bundestag, is housed in the Reichstag building. “Dem deutschen Volke” to the German people reads the front of the parliament building that opened in 1894.
Be sure to make an appointment to visit the magnificent glass dome crowning the restored capital. It’s actually the second most visited attraction in Germany. And a visit will confirm the reason why.

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The dome offers a stunning 360 degree view of Berlin. Walking up the ramps, visitor will see the city spread out below them. Braver soles can look directly down into the main hall of parliament, which is lit by a column of mirrors hanging from the center of the glass cupola.
Be sure to walk along the parapets outside the dome. In addition to the statues from Imperial Germany, visitors can still see graffiti scrawled by Soviet soldiers. The Riechstag was a major target of the Red Army during the battle for Berlin in 1945. During reconstruction, the architect kept the graffiti on the smoky walls as well as the roof.
In fact, a huge Soviet war memorial can be seen a short distance away in the Tiergarten. Built out stones from the destroyed German chancellery, the memorial commemorates the 80,000 Soviet soldiers killed in the battle. Red Army tanks and howitzers flank the imposing statue of a Russian soldier.
The rise of communism can be seen everywhere in Berlin, a city divided by two ideologies after World War II. A double line of bricks down the boulevard marks the location of the dreaded Berlin wall.
The wall was constructed by East Germany as an “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.”  Today, most of the wall has disappeared, leaving only memories for those old enough to remember it.

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The largest remaining section, in fact, has become a public art display. Called the Eastside Gallery, the wall is covered by 105 paintings by artists from all over the world.
But to get a real feeling for this Iron Curtain, visit the Berlin Wall Memorial established it in 1998 “in memory of the city’s division from 13 August 1961 to 9 November 1989 and of the victims of communist tyranny.” It preserves 60 yards of the former “no man’s land” as a physical reminder of the Wall.
One can also imagine the courage it would take to cross this dead zone, where guards in nearby watch towers waited to arrest and shoot anyone attempting to escape to the west.
The documentation center is also part of the Berlin Wall Memorial, offering the history behind the building of the Berlin Wall. Visitors can climb the observation tower to see part of the original border.
The history comes to life when you ask Berliners about the Wall. Many remember vividly the day the gates between the divided city opened on Nov. 9, 1989. Burkhard Kieker, CEO of visitBerlin, still recalls that day.
“When I heard the gates had been opened, I rushed to a entry point,” Kieker remembered. “The East Germans stood in front of the open gate, afraid to cross in case it was a trick. They looked at a border guard who was yelling into a telephone. Finally, the guard looked at the people with disgust on his face and waved them through.”
The young journalist later saw a British armored car pull up.

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“A British general got out and when he saw the people passing peacefully back and forth, tears began rolling down his face,” Kieker said.
The reunification had begun. In some ways, it made Berlin even better.
“Now we have two of everything, since Berlin was also the capital of East Germany,” Kieker explained.
Long a center of German culture, Berlin offers 180 museums, 440 galleries, three opera houses and 10 orchestras.
Be sure to visit Museum Island, a world-famous collection of five museums with UNESCO World Heritage recognition. Many were damaged during World War II, but have been restored.
We were lucky enough to get tickets to the Pergamon Panorama, a 360 degree view of this Greco-Roman city erected in the Pergamon Museum’s courtyard. Measuring 75 feet high and 309 feet in length, the mammoth panorama depicts the acropolis of Pergamon.
The spectacular view recreates day-to-day life of this ancient city. Atmospheric sounds and background music take visitors back to Emperor Hadrian’s side in the year 129 AD.
Pergamon was the capital of a powerful empire in what is now Turkey in the second and third century BC. Inside the museum, visitors will find massive reconstructions of the Great Altar of Pergamon, the Roman Market Gate of Miletus and Babylonian Ishtar Gate.
Nearby, visitors will find the restored Neues Museum, home of the famous bust of Egyptian queen Nerftiti. This artifact is an amazingly life like, her regal gaze looking out for all eternity.

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The Altes Museum offers a collection of Greek, Roman and Etruscan art and sculpture, while the Bode Museum has a wonderful collection of Byzantine art.
Nearby, the German Historical Museum studies 2,000 years of German history, while the Jewish Museum Berlin discusses the history of German Jews.
And that history is quite dark. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe reflects the brutal Holocaust caused by Nazi Germany. Officials estimate that between five and six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
The 2,711 concrete stelae of the memorial are deceptive. While the tops of the concrete blocks seem level from a distance, walking down into the memorial is quite an experience. Tourists will find themselves lost in the heart of the memorial, with the blocks soaring up to 15 feet above them.
The eerie silence is broken only by the murmuring of visitors navigating the sloping field. An underground center holds the names of all known Jewish Holocaust victims.
Another center, the Topography of Terror traces the rise of Gestapo and SS. The museum is actually located on the site of their headquarters. The buildings were largely destroyed by Allied bombing in 1945 and the ruins demolished after the war.
In 1987, the cellar of the Gestapo headquarters, where many political prisoners were tortured and executed, were found and excavated. It was turned into a memorial and museum.
Inside the new center, exhibitions follow the many groups that fell victims to the Nazi regime — gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped. All were slain in the thousands.

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After a while it all became to much and we had to escape the nightmare of Nazi Germany.
But only a short walk away we saw something that brought smiles to our faces. A beer bicycle rolled slowly down the street, patrons sitting around a circular bar while pedaling for their suds.
We opted instead for a typical beer garden. There are many to choose from, some outside in beautiful parks, others inside.
If you miss Los Angeles, there’s even beach bars strung along the river. In the summertime, Berliners love to have a drink while wiggling their toes in the warm sand. The mood is quite festive.
Just one of the many surprises that visitors will find in Berlin. For more information, visit www.visitBerlin.com

airberlin’s new nonstop to Berlin a wonderful flight

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Photos courtesy of airberlin
By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer
It all began on a typical Friday with
dinner and a movie. Granted the fish was exceptional and the wines were
French and Italian. C’est la vie.
And the movie turned out to be an
amusing romantic romp. So, I had no problem falling asleep after another
busy week in L.A. But things started to get a little strange when I
awoke to a breakfast of cold cuts and cheese. And the pilot announced
that we were beginning our final descent into Berlin.
I had slept
soundly across the United States, Canada, Iceland and Greenland. Now
6,000 miles later I was dropping through into Europe after crossing nine
time zones.
But I felt fresh and ready to hit the ground to tour Germany’s fabled capital.
Friends
and family think I’m crazy when I tell them that I’m going to Europe
for a week. They dread the thought of an 11-hour flight. Then I remind
them of a recent flight to Norfolk, Virginia, which took nearly as long
with connecting flights through Dallas/Fort Worth from Los Angeles.
And I
dread the thought of that transcontinental trek with its cramped cabins
and poor service. In fact, I swore I’d never fly that carrier again.

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I’ve
found that foreign carriers deliver a superior experience when it comes
to long-distance travel. Quantas, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Air
New Zealand — they all do a wonderful job of getting you across the
ocean to a fabled destination.
So it piqued my interest when I found
out that airberlin was starting a new nonstop service from Los Angeles
to Berlin. I’ve always wanted to see Germany’s leading city, but my
travels had always taken me to see friends and relatives in southern
Germany.
So when I was asked to join the inaugural flight, I didn’t hesitate.
Most
Americans have never heard of airberlin. But it is Germany’s second
largest airline, carrying more than 30 million passengers.
Interesting
enough, the airline was founded in 1978 by a former Pan Am pilot as a
U.S. airline in Oregon because of West Berlin’s special legal status
during the Cold War. At the time, air service to the beleaguered city
was restricted to the Allied nations of World War II. Flight crews
through the Allied air corridors had to be citizens of the United
States, United Kingdom, France or the Soviet Union — which explains
airberlin’s strange origin.
In 1990, Germany’s reunification led to
the end of Berlin’s special status German investors acquired a majority
stake in the company.

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Through acquisitions and takeovers, airberlin has become a major airline.
“Los
Angeles is a major route expansion for our Berlin hub. Attractive
destinations such as Los Angeles make our hub an engine of growth for
airberlin, for tourism and the economy,” said CEO Hartmut Mehdorn. “With
this offer, we particularly want to attract connecting passengers from
our German and European route network.”
So it was that I found myself
driving to LAX for my European adventure. As usual, I quickly worked my
way through the friendly ticket counter and the usual security
checkpoints.
But I was a little surprised to arrive at the gate in
the Tom Bradley International Terminal to find a party going on.
Balloons festooned the gate, while a grand cake with bottles of
sparkling cider waited to greet the first airberlin flight arriving from
Berlin.
Also waiting were L.A. councilman Tom LaBonge, who kidded
about where to find the best currywurst in Berlin, and Wolfgang Drautz,
the German consul general in Los Angeles.
After the large Airbus 330
landed, airport fire trucks welcomed it by forming arches of cascading
water as it taxied to the gate. City officials greeted the newest
airline flying out of the City of Angels.
Soon we were ushered aboard
the colorful red and white Airbus 330, strapping in for our
transcontinental journey. Fortunately, the seats were comfortable for
the long trip.
I highly recommend noise-canceling headphones. They
block the hum of the engines while you’re sleeping and the movie
soundtracks are much crisper and clearer. Besides, the cost of these
headsets have fallen from hundreds of dollars to as low as $25. Whatever
you buy, they’re worth it.
Our plane came equipped with a great individual entertainment system.
There
were literally more than 200 hours of entertainment available: current
movies, TV series, games and audio books. That’s on top of a wide range
of music, all at your command.
Dinner really was exceptional as I
noted in the beginning of the story. How European airlines manage top
restaurant meals has always been a mystery to me.

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Passengers in
economy have a choice of two hot selections. I was fortunate enough to
have been upgraded to business, where we were served multi-course menus. We had a choice of
several main courses as well as six wines.
The service was great,
especially in business where they add all the frills such as linen
tablecloths. The wide leather seats also offer in-seat power for your
laptops, which is great for businessmen such as my seatmate Steven
Rivera, a program manager for Synchronous Aerospace in Santa Ana.
“I
usually fly Air France to Italy several times a year,” Steve explained.
“But I’ve never explored Berlin so I thought this would be an
interesting alternative.”
The Orange County businessman later gave airberlin high marks for its service.
The
German airline offers the nonstop service to Berlin on Mondays,
Wednesdays and Fridays. That means Los Angeles travelers arrive
midmorning on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Flights one way from
Los Angeles to Berlin average $500. This jumps to nearly $1,000 one-way
coming back during the busy summer season. If you can wait until
September, you can book a round-trip for a little more than $1,000.
Either
way, be sure to sign up for airberlin’s topbonus frequent flyer
program. It’s a part of the oneworld alliance so you can use the miles
on a number of partner airlines.
For more information, visit airberlin’s website at www.airberlin.com or call 866-266-5588.

Summer concerts in San Francisco

It wouldn’t be summer in San Francisco without outdoor concerts and performances. Hundreds of them, in fact, and all for free.

 Since
these events are free to audiences, but not free to produce, if you see
a “Donations Welcome” bucket at the entrance or a friendly volunteer
asking for a few dollars, do give. You’ll
gain a lot for many summers to come.

Visitors
are encouraged to walk, bike or take public transit to all events. For
regional transit information call 511 within the nine San Francisco Bay
Area counties or visit
www.511.org. For information on public transit within San Francisco, telephone 311 or visit
www.sfmta.org.

 There are more than 400 free concerts, performances and film screenings. Complete listings are available at:

http://www.sanfrancisco.travel/media/Summer-Delights-San-Franciscos-Free-Outdoor-Performances.html.

Mountain High opens Sky High Disc Golf Course in Wrightwood

Play a
round of disc golf at Southern California’s only
course above 6,000 feet.  Originally designed by Dave Dunnipace, owner
of Innova Disc Golf, Mountain High’s Sky High Disc Golf Course is one of the best in the region with its incredible variety and
scenic views. 

Broken into three 9-hole courses, a full outing takes you
on a 2.5 mile hike through the historic Angeles National forest where
players are apt to see hawks, deer, coyotes and more.  Snowcapped
mountains to the West and long, desert vistas to the East provide a
landscape of scenery that can only found at Mountain High. 

 “The design of the course is brilliant. 
Most Southern California courses are found in regional parks but this
one has all kinds of variety with long holes, short holes, uphill,
downhill, you name it.  And it is one of the most beautiful courses I’ve
ever played,” says
Tom Bant, avid disc golfer.

The Sky High Disc Golf course is open from 9am to 7pm Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays through Oct. 8
Prices are just $7 for a full round of 27 holes or $35 for a
season pass. 

Mountain High offers a full line of disc golfing
accessories including everything a beginner needs to get started.  There
are also drinks and snacks in the pro shop to satisfy all members of
the family.

 

Mountain
High hosts a variety of events each summer including the Sky High
Showdown in early June, part of the Southern California Disc Golf Tour
and the PDGA Tour.  These contests regularly sell out so for more
information on competitions or the course itself, please call (888) 754
7878 ext 7858. 

 

The
Sky High Disc Golf Course is located at Mountain High’s North Resort,
located just across the road from its main area.  Directions can be
found at http://www.mthigh.com/mountain/directions

Diana: Legacy of a Princess opens at Queen Mary on June 16

The Queen Mary in Long Beach will hold the public opening of
Diana: Legacy of a Princess, on Saturday, June 16. The exhibition of priceless
historic artifacts and memorabilia associated with Princess Diana and
the British Royal Family includes many items now displayed for the first
time, anywhere.

These include:
A striking ball gown worn by Diana to the America’s Cup Ball
Jeweled evening gown worn to a Red Cross Gala
Floral print ruched dress worn during Australia’s Bicentennial Celebration
A cocktail dress never publicly seen but worn to private events
Dresses and other accessories chosen by Kate Middleton / Duchess of Cambridge

Fathers receive discounts on Mendocino Coast

On Father’s Day, dad plays for half price at the Little River Inn’s Golf Course
on the North Mendocino Coast. Tucked among the hills and redwoods, the
nine-hole course presents unexpected challenges to golfers.

Stunning
ocean views distract first time players, and you may spot a wandering
deer crossing the putting green – this is an Audubon-certified
sanctuary, after all.  All greens fees are 50% off for fathers on June
17. www.littleriverinn.com or (707) 937-5667

 

Ricochet Ridge Ranch
would like to invite folks to bring their fathers for a special private
trail ride any day during the week before, during or after Father’s Day
weekend. Dad’s own horse ride will be 20% off if two people ride, 35%
off if 3 people ride, and 50% off if 4 people ride.

Bring a group of 5,
and Dad’s ride is 75% off. Six in the group? Dad rides for free! This
special will apply to private trail rides on Ten Mile Beach for 1.5 or 3
hours, for rides in the redwood forests and cattle ranch for 4 hours,
or for a 4 hour ride both on the beach and through the forests. www.horse-vacation.com or 707-964-7669

 

On June 17, Treat Dad to a ride aboard the historic Skunk Train,
which includes a gourmet barbeque lunch at Northspur Station, deep in
the heart of the redwoods. Train departs the Fort Bragg Depot at 10:00am
and the Willits Depot at 9:45am, with both cars returning at 3:00pm.
Adults $70, Children $40. www.skunktrain.com or (707) 964-6371