The next morning, we woke up to an overcast day that looked so cold and damp, it made us want to crawl back into bed. But more sights of Berlin await us so we pushed our laziness to one side and drowned it with coffee. We then walked towards our now favourite mode of transport, the U-bahn.
By now, we were getting quite comfortable riding the trains in Berlin. They are really a breeze. Between the U-bahn (underground trains) and the S-bahn (suburban trains), we pretty much got around everywhere.
The 2 hour tickets which are 2,70 euros each for zones AB suited us just fine. We figured we would spend most of the time walking anyway between sights which we did. Our destination today was Alexanderplatz, the central square in Mitte district and home to some popular buildings. The first of which you will no doubt see from almost anywhere in Berlin – The Berlin TV tower.
Being the tallest building in the entire city, you can spot it from numerous vantage points everywhere you go. If I am not mistaken, it is the second tallest building in the European Union. Some say it is futuristic looking but with all the other modern architecture around, it does begin to look dated. But then it really is. Built in 1969 by the GDR (German Democratic Republic), it was meant to be a symbol of Berlin in those dark days. Myth has it, the height was deliberately set at 365m by then leader Walter Ulbricht so that every child would remember it easily (being the number of days in a year). But alas, modern technology put an end to that when the old antenna had to be replaced by a new one that was 3m higher, making it 368m tall today!
The second, more colorful story around it was that when it was finally finished, the steel ball at the top casts a shadow of a giant cross over the landscape. This of course was completely unplanned by the authorities. The regime at the time had in fact been cracking down on churches and removing their crucifixes. So, the irony of the Berlin tower casting the shadow of a cross on Berlin was not lost on anyone. And hence it was popularly nicknamed the “Pope’s Revenge!”
The views are said to be spectacular but having been to Reichstag already, we decided to give it a miss when we arrived at Alexanderplatz. Besides we were a bit pressed for time. We had booked a river cruise earlier thinking it would be one way to get out of the rain if the heavens opened up. So we walked right past the Berlin TV tower and turned towards the river spree.
Almost immediately, we caught sight of a quaint looking church. It seemed a bit out of place next to the Berlin tower. But as it is said that the Berlin TV tower was plonked right in the middle of the old city perhaps we should not have been surprised. This is Marienkirche or St Mary’s Church. In the entrance hall, there is a large fresco called “The Dance of Death”. Believed to be painted when the plague epidemic beset the city in the dark ages, it is supposed to show people dancing with death. Interestingly, it was lost for centuries and only discovered in 1860 under other layers of paint. There has been attempts at restorations since with some only making it worse. So, unsurprisingly, it is currently being restored again with funds raised by the church and other visitors. (for €2.50, visitors can add a colored mosaic tile to a replica of the fresco.) Alas, again we did not stop.
Our haste rewarded us in the end as we inevitably took a wrong turn and ended up not where we thought we would be. You can be forgiven to think how hard is it to find a boat on a river! But there is more than one river cruise company so it always helps to find the right one! But in any case, because we had hurried so much, we found we had time to to spare and found our boat parked right next to the Marx-Engles-Forum.
Here we noticed two grandfatherly looking statues. You probably know who they are but I certainly did not. Or rather I could have guessed one of them simply because they were pretty popular with the tourists. They are the statues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. I said popular because you can see that certain parts of the statues (hands, knees and feet) are lighter in colour. Apparently, everyone likes to sit on Karl Marx’s knees like he is Santa. If I had known, I think I would have done the same. But being the timid tourists, we were probably worried we would break some rule and be dragged off to the local police station for questioning. Or worse, break a bone by slipping and falling of Mr Marx. So, we happily let others do the posing instead.