Aug 4, 2015

Travelogue - Hamburg

Hanseatic city of Hamburg, as they address themselves is quite interesting. The word Hanseatic comes from the German word Hanse / Hansa signifying the league of cities or merchant association formed to align the policies to maritime trade.

If the Southern German cities like Stuttgart & Munich are known for their automobile expertise, Hamburg is about shipping & transportation. A huge container port with a beautiful harbour, Hamburg embodies the shipping culture into itself.  The maritime museum dedicated to various aspects of shipping from history to engineering ,  the infamous Reeperbahn ( Hamburg's red-light district ) ,  Hafencity - A modern city formed out of old harbor area & reclaimed land,   a la-Venetian style canal system ,  the city is quite engaging in itself.  

The star-attraction in this city was undoubtedly a place called 'Miniature Wunderland' . See the pics & Video .. This is a place where you should take your kids in the age group 10 - 15. Anyone can enjoy it though.

It actually made me realize why Germany is still an engineering super-power. Kids who grow exposed to this as well as the Maritime museum will develop a keen interest in engineering & shipping. Those interests will be honed naturally in a growing teen.  Probably this is the way in which the automobile industry in southern Germany builds engineering talent as well .  Compare this to the state in India where only a miniscule proportion of the engineering first year students know what they are really getting into.
A model in Miniatur Wunderland

One of the rail models in Miniature Wunderland
Hamburg, just like Singapore, preserves the harmony with nature exceptionally well.. There is this beautiful 'Lake Alster' , right in the middle of the city. Unpolluted, serene, Alster cruise will really make you wonder if you are truly in a big city like Hamburg.  Apparently, many millionaires have bought homes on the shores of Alster, pushing up the real-estate prices to sky-high levels

Just like Berlin, Hamburg is exceptionally well connected with U-bahn & S-bahn services,. We never hired a cab in the two days spent here.

Hamburg is bidding for 2024 summer Olympics. I wish I can return to see the games then in this wonderful city!

Jul 18, 2015

Travelogue - Berlin

Berlin lives & breathes history. No other city in the world would have gone through these many transitions in the last 100 years. From the rule of Kaiser William II, Weimar Republic, Nazi rule , war destruction, cold-war divide, re-unification, I wonder what all a 100 year old Berliner would have gone through. A 5 KM radius from Brandenburg Gate bears a number of sights relating to these times and much earlier as well.

The most remarkable thing about Germany that I've felt is the openness to admit mistakes. That is in-built into their culture. And Berlin has beautifully combined this openness & its apology to humanity with symbolism so that it is ingrained in every child who grows up in this city. Every historical memorial has an interesting twist or the other.

Holocaust Memorial - Berlin
Perhaps the most poignant one is the holocaust memorial next to Brandenburg gate.  Built at a staggering cost of about 25 Million Euros by Peter Eisenman , anyone's first reaction would be  - "Is this a staggering waster of money" ? .. But as you explore this and listen to the stories ( Narrated by our wonderful guide Jess  ), you tend to realize the rationale.. You cannot build an eye-candy to 'celebrate' this dark chapter in history of mankind. The idea is that one should feel a hollowness, should spare a thought for the millions murdered, it should leave an uneasiness in your mind -  all for a reason - so that anything like this should never be allowed to repeat.  As you sit back and think about it, I think this monument makes great sense.  Locate quite near to Hitler's bunker ( which is all covered now  - Only a car park is there at the site ),
Site of  Hitler's Bunker
this is a sad reflection of the generation whose life & aspirations were taken away from them

     Neue Wache , Central Memorial for the
victims of  war & dictatorship

The Neue Wache ( New Guardhouse ) is an interesting memorial along the same lines. Originally built during the time of Kaiser William III, dedicated & rededicated
many times, this houses a statue of a mother crying over her dead son in a war. The building has an opening in the ceiling exposing the statue to the changing weather of snow & rain.

Almost opposite to this, is this area called BebelPlatz where Nazis did the infamous book-burnings . An empty shelf underground which can be seen though glass stands as the memorial. Engraved on a plaque next to it - "Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen"  ( "That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people" ) 
East German Mural painting giving a propaganda about how
good life is under Communist Rule

A photograph of an East German uprising crushed by Soviets.
The photo is of the same dimensions as the painting

This symbolism is not just limited to the war era. There is this Mural painting by East Germans depicting " how good" is the life in East Germany during the cold war time. Next to it, there is a photo of the same length which frames a picture of an uprising in East Germany which was crushed by the communist rulers with Soviet backing. 

The area from the holocaust memorial to Check-Point Charlie & beyond is referred as 'Topography of Terror' which has several of the infamous Third Reich buildings of SS, Gestapo & much more. 

Numerous graffiti adorn most of the sections of Berlin wall as well as check-point Charlie.

To sum it up, Berlin beautifully combines history, its apology to the world and sensitizes the current generation of the past . Happened to
At Check-Point Charlie, The military check point separating
Berlin into different zones during the cold war
hear a teacher explaining the Nazi rule, war & its aftermath to a set of school kids. The way they are explaining is by telling the history objectively - telling the kids that our nation made terrible mistakes once upon a time - takes a lot of candidness

There are a large number of museums / exhibitions in the city. We could see Reichstag only from outside as well. To cover this city fully, one would need a full week I think.

Perhaps the city with the most integrated public transport system that I've seen so far. Buses,trams, U-bahn, S-bahn.  If you are physically fit, there is no reason for you to hire a cab to see this city. The 3 day Berliner pass was well worth it with discounts in museum entries as well.

Highly Recommended if you are in Berlin - Original Berlin Walks  . Perhaps the best way to experience this city 

Also , read my visit to a concentration camp memorial @ Dachau , last year

Jul 1, 2015

Travelogue - Prague

"None of us remember how or when we reached back. But all of us reached back hostel at some point in time"   - Overheard from a group of students who were discussing about last night's party. That signifies Prague for the youth .  Perhaps one of the cheapest partying capitals of the world.

Prague @ Night
The first impression that you get once you land in Prague is just like any other modern European city - impressive duty free shops, modern cars, you would find it difficult to spot any of those remnants of socialism or communism.  City is very well connected by a tram, metro & bus service .
Astronomical Clock

What Not To Do in Prague

We took an unplanned cruise through river Vltava which flows through the Czech capital. Perhaps, I'm drawn a lot more into these cruises after the magnificent Bosphorous cruise in Istanbul . Prague has nothing much to offer in this cruise other than Czech Music & good food - and perhaps a few photographic opportunities. So, if you are in Prague, this is something that one should not waste their time & money in.

What To Do in Prague

Take a walking tour escorted by a guide - We did this next morning and was really good. You are taken on top of Prague Castle Hill and from there, you start the walk down all the way seeing the castle, nearby shopping streets , Charles Bridge & Astronomical Clock.

Musicians, Portrait artists & road-side vendors along with the crowd gives sort of an old-life charm to Charles Bridge .A relic of the old Roman Empire -  Kamenný most  as they call in local language -  the bridge is perhaps the most visited landmark in Prague

What captured my imagination in Prague was a different landmark - John Lennon's wall -  
It was interesting to see the outpouring point of protests of an oppressed society. More on this in a separate post later
Charles Bridger @ Night

Franz Kafka lived in Prague . His house is converted into a museum now. If you are into those kind of philosophies, it could be an interesting visit as well

The so called Velvet revolution changed the face of Prague. For Czechs, it was an immersion into the end-less world of opportunities. Its leader & first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia - Vaclav Havell - has a unique place in the heart of people over here. The airport in Prague is named after him.

Prague's beauty is that it is converging point of the new world partying crowd & the old / middle aged crowd who throng to see the medieval part .  It gives an impression that everyone - from the street-side artist to the elite rich can enjoy life here .