Berlin Bound: Beer bicycle bars rolls through Berlin streets

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

In Berlin, we saw something that brought smiles to our faces: A beer bicycle bar. The circular bar rolled slowly down the street, as patrons pedaled and drank their suds.

We opted instead for a typical beer garden. There are many to choose from, some outside in beautiful parks, others inside.

There’s even beach bars strung along the Spree River bank. 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

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Berlin Bound: Dark history reflects Holocaust in Berlin

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

The history of Berlin can be 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 it, with the blocks soaring as high as 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 the Gestapo and SS. The museum is actually on the site of the old 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, was found and excavated. It was turned into a memorial and museum.
Inside the new center, exhibitions follow the many groups that fell victim to the Nazi regime — gypsies, homosexuals, handicapped. All were slain by the thousands.

After a while, the nightmare of Nazi Germany became too much. We left.

For more information, visit

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Berlin Bound: Residents still remember fall of Berlin Wall

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

The history comes to life when you ask Berliners about it. Many remember vividly the day the gates between the divided city opened on Nov. 9, 1989. Burkhard Kieker, chief executive 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. “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 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.

For more information, visit

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Berlin Bound: City divided by ideologies and Berlin Wall

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

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.

The largest remaining section, in fact, has become a public art display. Called the East Side 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; it was established 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 wall. Visitors can climb the observation tower to see part of the original border.

For more information, visit

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Berlin Bound: Reichstag is the heart of German government

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

This is the very heart of the German state. Its congress, the Bundestag, is housed in the imposing Reichstag building. “Dem deutschen Volke” — to the German people — reads the front of the parliament building that opened in 1894.

A shell after Allied bombing during World War II, the Reichstag features a magnificent glass dome crowning the restored capital. It’s actually the second most visited attraction in Germany. And a stop there will confirm the reason why, but you have to make an appointment.

The dome offers a stunning 360-degree view of Berlin. Walking up the ramps, visitors will see the city spread out below. Braver souls 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 Reichstag 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.

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.

For more information, visit

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25 years after Berlin Wall falls, Berlin still has its surprises

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city still has secrets. Some are sweet. Some are sad. But they combine to make this great city a growing destination spot.

And so I found myself constantly surprised during a visit to Berlin. 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 Germany’s government, it is also home to street art and performances. There’s a dichotomy of spirit here.

A simple walk down a side street will graphically display this dual character. Instead of tearing down its old buildings, Berlin has chosen to restore them.
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.

Wherever you go, it seems there’s a beautiful park just around the corner. Berlin is home to 2,500 public green spaces, making up a third of the city.
Once the hunting grounds of the royal family, the Tiergarten is a wonderful park in the very heart of Berlin. Strolling through the grounds is a delight on a summer day.

For more information, visit

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From Wagner to Wacken – Music is in the air in Germany

During summer, Germany’s festival season is in full swing with events and celebrations everywhere. And with musical heavy weights like Beethoven, Bach, and Wagner being German, music is in our blood. Many concerts are happening outdoors, inviting visitors to fully relish the warm temperatures.

More than 150,000 music fans gather together to enjoy Germany’s biggest rock festival, Rock am Ring in Eifel, with an international line-up of rock bands from June 5 – 8, 2014. The sister festival, Rock im Park, takes place on the same dates but in Nuremberg.

A classical highlight on the calendar is the annual Bachfest in Leipzig (June 13 – 22, 2014). The 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 2014 provides the opportunity to focus on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach’s second oldest son.

Berlin goes all out on the longest day of the year and the official beginning of summer on June 21. Fete de la Musique includes more than 80 open-air stages, a street festival and music variety from reggae to jazz to hip hop.

In July and August, as a tribute to 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner, the town of Bayreuth holds an annual festival playing his operas, including Parsifal. The event has been sold out since 1876!

Germany is also home to the world’s largest open air Heavy Metal Festival taking place every summer in the small town of Wacken. The event, July 31 – August 2, is so popular that in 2014 there is a waiting list and subsequent raffle for tickets.

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Germany celebrates Bach, Strauss and Mendelssohn’s legacies

Although they never met, these three German composers changed the musical world. 2014 marks the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, 150th birthday of Richard Strauss and the 205th birthday of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Born in 1714, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian Bach, was an influential composer during the time between the Baroque and Classic movements. Having developed his very own style known as “empfindsamer Stil” or sensitive style, he was well-regarded amongst his peers.  CPE Bach’s musical works include chamber music, piano sonatas, symphonies, as well as spiritual and secular pieces.

This year marks the 300th birthday of CPE Bach and it will be celebrated all over Germany. From Hamburg to Potsdam, Berlin to Frankfurt Oder, Leipzig to Weimar – all of these cities influenced Bach’s life thus his music. Concerts, exhibitions and readings are planned during the year to celebrate this musical genius.

Another musical influencer was born in 1864 in Munich: Richard Strauss. He is known as a master of modern instrumentation and innovative tone colors. After stops in Munich and Berlin, Strauss moved to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Southern Bavaria. Today, the town honors its most famous resident with the annual Strauss Festival (June 11-19, 2014). Orchestra and chamber concerts, lieder evenings or choral concerts – visitors can expect a variety of Strauss’ works to be played. The composer earned his international recognition with operas such as ‘Salome and Elektra’ as well as symphonic poems like ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’.

Being called a musical prodigy can be a burden, but Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy made the best out of it. Born in 1809, during the early Romantic period, Mendelssohn wrote symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano music and chamber music. His best known work might be ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. At the age of 26, Mendelssohn Bartholdy settled in Leipzig working with the city orchestra, the opera house and the Choir of St. Thomas Church.

On February 3, 2014, the 205th anniversary of his birth, the extended Mendelssohn House in Leipzig reopened. With a total size of 9,700 square feet it exhibits his life and achievements. Among the attractions is a so-called “Effektorium” – a unique, digital conductor‘s podium to conduct a virtual orchestra.

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Rail Europe offers discounts on German rail passes

Rail Europe is offering 10% savings on the 5-days or 20% off the 10-days German Rail Passes for travel over a one-month time period. Book by April 29, 2014 for travel now through May 31, 2014 and explore Germany’s cosmopolitan cities, charming villages and beautiful countryside via the country’s extensive rail system.

If you’re thinking about visiting Germany, Rail Europe makes a suggestion. Don’t just visit it: see it. Really see it by taking the train because even the most beautifully engineered German car in the world, and there are many, can’t take you to as many places, as fast, as the Deutsche Bahn (DB) can.

Germany’s varied terrain and multi-faceted charms make train travel an ideal way to immerse yourself in its culture instead of just flying through it. Whether your enticement is its spectacular mountains, quaint villages, or some of the most cosmopolitan cities on earth. The train doesn’t just leave you in the center of things, but lets you go to the hinterlands while doing something even more magnificent – take your eyes off the road.

So why make your travel plans with Rail Europe?

Because only Rail Europe has a direct connection to the DB system, providing live availabilities and instant confirmation for all trains in Germany, as well as e-tickets. Plus Rail Europe offers tickets for international trains between Germany and France, Switzerland, Italy and more.

They offer the same full range of fares as if you were in Germany, and a price guarantee to make sure you get the lowest price. So what are the differences between booking with Rail Europe and getting tickets or passes elsewhere? Let’s start with stress-free and budget-friendly travel, online exchange, guaranteed seats and booking in English, French or Spanish.

In addition, Rail Europe also gives you the best tools to help you choose between train tickets, rail passes and activities using the multi-city search, Pass Finder and Activity Wizard options, as well as a comprehensive rail help section to answer any questions you may have about traveling by train – before, during and after your trip. Plus, they have a handy iPhone App and mobile site to assist those who are always on the go.

And still, there’s more. Rail Europe is more than a unified booking experience for Germany. It’s a Single Stop for European Rail Travel, combining the maps, schedules and fares for over 50 different train companies across Europe, creating one stop to plan and book your trip.

So start planning, booking, and traveling with Rail Europe now – your dream trip to Germany is just a click away!

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