Berlin (Nov 2005)
Flew in with Easyjet from Tallinn. Much to my relief Hostel accommodation, food and drink were cheaper than Helsinki. I had excellent Vietnamese food for £3 in a restaurant opposite my hostel - the Circus Hostel, Weinbergsweg, which is 10 minutes walk from Alexander Platz. Pretty decent hostel with helpful staff, they were trialling WIFI internet when I was there so it was free - but they intend to charge.
When my parents visited Berlin in 1994 there were 20,000 building sites. Berlin certainly looks modern, I saw little evidence of pre 1989 East Berlin apart from the odd brown prefab block of flats, bits of the outer (west side) Berlin wall and a gold coloured Communist administrative building (I can't make out if it is ugly or just neglected)which is shortly to be demolished to the dismay of many East Germans.
Likewise there few buildings which you would automatically associate with WWII when much of it had been bombed and shelled to the ground.
Despite giving the impression of a modern rather than old city, I got a greater sense of modern History and World Events (with the help of a walking tour) in this place than anywhere else I have been.
There are a number of walking tours, I did Brewer's 8 hour tour which was recommended by everyone I met. The tour covers old and new, and our guide Vicki was fun, knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm.
I like things that are free, so for an excellent history lesson I would also recommend the Topography of Terrors, located in the bombed out basement/foundations of an SS Headquarters. It is an open air guide to the SS, Gestapo and post war war-crime trials, allow two to three hours to walk around.
The building below is an Artists Squat. It is one of the few buildings that still shows the effects of the war.
It has a number of bars, and at night you can watch graphic art/video projected onto a wall opposite the building. I thought it would be an interesting place to visit so persuaded a group from my hostel to come along. Evidently others thought it would be an experience too as the "roof" top bar was full of tourists like ourselves. Obviously quite a money spinner not what I expected from a squat.
A bar a few floors down was mainly German, but mostly couples so not an ideal environment for inflicting myself on and mingling with the natives, so I spent my time here talking to the barmaid. She was very friendly and appeared keen to talk and interested in what I had to say (Germans are very polite!). There is also a ground floor bar but it is invitation/ticket only, I expect this would have had the real feel of the art house.
Up the hill from the hostel on Weinbergsweg are a lot of "trendy" but relaxed bars and restaurants, but to practice my non-existent German on unsuspecting Berliners I picked a fairly quiet bar that appeared the equivalent of a "local" UK pub.
A weird evening with me attempting to speak some German but needing responses in English, and playing chess (with Alf below) whilst under the influence of jaegermeister and rather funny cigarettes. This surprised me as the bar was not on a side street but a main thoroughfare and I thought Germans were sticklers for rules. I left at about 1230pm intending to meet up with people in the hostel bar, but I struggled to get through the door without falling over (I think the term is wasted) so wisely decided to retire to bed rather than make a t-t of myself. I had an excellent nights sleep.
I took the train from Berlin to Prague - I suppose the journey was through the less developed East Germany but I was surprised at the near uninterrupted green countryside which stretched to Dresden. The significance of the Green Party in German politics was evident from the large numbers of wind (turbine) farms present in this countryside. Dresden looked very interesting from the train window, but my father had advised me not to stop as it was busy due to the re-opening ceremonies of the Cathedral which had been "destroyed" during the war. The route into the Czech Republic also ran along the Elbe valley, I have never seen the Rhine but was impressed with the beauty of this valley, its villages and castles.