“East German” heritage

By | Category: Travel destinations

the new Reichstag in Berlin

Hard to believe if you’re of a ‘certain’ age, but 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary since the 97-mile long Berlin Wall was torn down, reuniting East and West Germany. Twenty years which have brought about much change, both good and not-so-good.

Monday marks the day when the first of the demonstrations took place which, a year later, led to German re-unification. For visitors, this virtually unreachable area, (for 28 years,) now offers a wealth of sightseeing and heritage. Fortunately, many of the country’s stately historic buildings and other treasures were restored after falling into terrible disrepair before the fall of the wall. Germany is honouring the castles, parks and gardens of the region with a new tourism campaign, focusing on the states of Brandenburg and Saxony.

From the hip, diverse metropolis of Berlin (Germany’s largest city,) the vitally important sites of Potsdam and Neuhardenburg and to the incredibly rebuilt Dresden, which suffered devastating bombing during the war, the former East Germany is ripe with possibilities of new sights, tastes, and culture for seasoned travelers to explore and enjoy.

A bonus is that prices are far lower here, with its somewhat fledgling economy, than in the western part of the country. Here, you’ll easily find a cup of cappuccino at about £1.30, and a hearty meal of sauerbraten, red cabbage and an enormous dumpling for about£9. A bottle of German beer? I found many for less than £1.50 each! Gorgeous, uber-luxurious hotels are much less expensive than in other cities.

Charlottenburg Palace © Berlin.de / Tobias Droz

We started our week-long adventure in Berlin, the dynamic capital where 3.5 million live in a city known as ‘cutting edge’ for its architecture, fashion, art and culture, where we toured the fabulous Charlottenburg Palace. Charlottenburg, a baroque palace once owned by the Prussian Empress Sophie Charlotte of the Hohenzollern dynasty, is enormous and elegant, and features lovely baroque French-themed gardens as well.

One hour from Berlin sits the capital of Brandenburg, Potsdam – the former summer residence of Prussian kings. This bustling UNESCO World Heritage-listed town is charming, with its historical enclaves of the Dutch quarter, the Russian colony and the exclusive homes of the film industry neighborhood of Babelsberg. Potsdam is best known for the glorious Sanssouci Palace, the former summer home of Frederick the Great, as well as the castle Hotel Cecilienhof, where Truman, Churchill and Stalin signed the crucial ‘Potsdam Treaty’ in 1945, dividing Germany into four zones.

Potsdam is also home to many other palaces, including Castle Belvedere and the exquisite Marble Palace, another summer royal residence. A neoclassical gem, the Marble Palace features an extensive and very valuable collection of Wedgewood pottery and luxurious furnishings throughout.

Last year the city ran four different exhibitions to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Frederick the Great and his influence can be seen throughout the city. In all, there area more than 30 palaces and gardens in Berlin and Brandenburg are available for visitors to discover the brilliant era of the Prussian kings and queens.

© Muskau park - the new castle

Traveling south from Potsdam, you’ll encounter dozens of castles, palaces, enormous parks and estates – many accessible to tourists. The German state of Brandenburg has over 500 palaces, as well as the huge garden park of Bad Muskau, which straddles the border with Poland. Although in two countries, visitors may freely cross over. Its English style gardens were constructed in the nineteenth century by the first owner, Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau, who was a soldier, landscape gardener and travel writer. Today it is UNESCO World Heritage site.

Pillnitz Castle & Park © schloesserland-sachsen

On the way to the Saxon capital city of Dresden, don’t miss Pillnitz, the former summer residence of the Saxon royal court, and also the home of the renowned Museum of Decorative Arts. The castle is unusual in that it has a Chinese element which seems thoroughly out-of- place with the rest of the buildings. Pillnitz, just outside the Dresden city limits, is a delightful palace park from the baroque period. Saxony, until World War II, was the leading industrial region of Germany, dotted throughout with fabulous palaces, villas and estates.

Dresden suffered more than any other German city from the bombing of World War II and is twinned with Coventry, another city that experienced heavy bombing Today, visitors are greeted with an amazing vision – the Dresden of 1945 is recreated, in an almost surreal way. After the war, and the split of Germany, the new government decided to concentrate on rebuilding the outskirts of Dresden, to make housing for its displaced populace. Years of controversy surrounded the center city’s reconstruction, but finally, the central part of Dresden has been almost entirely reborn.

Zwinger Palace © C. Muench

Once again, visitors can tour the Zwinger Fine Arts Palace, Semper Opera, the Green Vault (dating from 1560) with its inconceivable chamber museum treasures and even the beloved Frauenkirche, which was the only building partially standing after the bombing. The world’s most highly esteemed porcelain collection is in Dresden at the Dresden Porzellansammlung, with 20,000 pieces of Chinese, Japanese and Meissen porcelain.

Dresden has airport links via Cityjet into London City so most visitors would probably opt to fly into Berlin and hire a car to drive down to Dresden. Needless to say the train services are punctual and frequent so there is that option if you plan on staying in the cities.

For more information about Berlin, click here, Dresden, click here, for Potsdam, click here

NOTE: Several tour companies are conducting ‘Cold War Tours’ and even bicycle tours of the area. Insider Tours also offers a Cold War Berlin Tour following the former
border, visiting Check Point Charlie and other sites:

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