The Hauptbahnhof (chief railroad station) in Berlin is a marvel. There are at least four stories of shops and corridors and offices, with trains on at least two of these levels. Both elevated and underground tracks enter and leave the station. Our train ride from Brussels had taken about The new Berlin Hauptbahnhof 8 hours, so we did not linger in the station but strode out briskly toward our hotel. Only a couple of blocks from the station, we read a memorial notice of a young man who had been shot to death while trying to escape over the Berlin wall, but now there was no wall to see, just a small vacant lot. Further on, we passed the grounds of the annual sandcastle contest. We were seeing the first elements which repeated themselves during our week in Berlin: The removal of the wall is marked all over the city, which is rebuilding itself and emphasizing exuberance and good will.
Our hotel the Hotel Zarenhof, was in the former East Berlin. It is an old building, recently remodeled so that one half is apartments and the other half hotel rooms - about 12 of each. We had an apartment on the hotel side, on the third floor -- Berlin's Zahrenhof Hotel which meant three flights of stairs to negotiate, the only disadvantage. Otherwise, it was quite comfortable; Emily had her own room and her own TV, we had a kitchen plus an incomprehensible washing machine (which nevertheless completely restored Elsa's pants) and a work desk where we could receive the Internet on our laptop. The breakfasts were outstanding, with -- in addition to the customary plates of cold cuts and cheese, the baskets of rolls and bread, pitchers of juice and bowls of fruit -- smoked salmon and salmon roe and small Russian blinis. In the lobby were many photos of Czar Nicholas' family and various other Russian decorations. Later we figured out - duh - that Zarenhof means "Tsar's home," and this was the hotel's theme. The subway stations (both the S-Bahn and the U-Bahn) were just two blocks from the hotel, and we made an Kaiser Wilhelm Church excellent purchase: one-week passes which allowed us to ride everything -- bus, subway, light rail, tram, even transportation in nearby Potsdam.
Our first Berlin outing was a two-hour sightseeing tour by double-decker bus -- again a great choice, for this capital city of 3.4 million is as complex and multifaceted as any in Europe. We had headphones to listen to English language narration, which pretty well kept pace with the sights we were seeing. The tour helped us locate ourselves on subsequent explorations, and pointed to a month's worth of districts, monuments, museums and buildings to visit at leisure.
After the tour, we went hunting for lunch and found a most unusual restaurant. Inside the Peugeot showroom on Unter den Linden, a charming small restaurant can be found, serving French cuisine in keeping with its sponsor. We had Ceiling of ruined church a comfortable table on a balcony overlooking the futuristic sports cars, while two groups of businessmen held a business lunch at the other end of the room. After lunch we window-shopped at KADEWE, which stands for Kaufhaus des Westens, the German equivalent of Harrods of London.
Just down the Kurfuerstendamm from KADEWE stands the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, an iconic monument to the ravages of World War II bombing raids. A decision was made to leave the remains of the old church and rebuild a new one, adjacent to the old. A cross was constructed with nails taken from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by the Luftwaffe in their bombing raids, and the two churches - one in Berlin and one in England - were consecrated on the same day, May 25, 1962. Fortunately, the painted walls and ceiling of the old Kaiser Wilhelm church remain to be seen by visitors.