Monday, 25 August 2014

Postcard from Berlin and Prague...Part One

16th-22nd Aug.  I stress that there is a few decent bird sighting reports in amongst the cultural and touristy bits.  Although not a birding trip you can’t fail to have a few good sightings if you keep your eyes open.  In fact I would suggest that Berlin in particular would make a good focus for urban birding.

An unusual view of the Reichstag

The Reichstag poignantly reflected in the pool at the memorial for Romany persecuted by the Nazis.  The triangle represents the badge that the Romany were forced to wear in the concentration camps.  The flower is changed daily.  This memorial only opened in recent years.
First sighting of note was as we left Edinburgh Airport and saw what we are sure was a Gyr Falcon.  Are they used here to keep bird species clear of the runway or was it an escaped bird we wondered?  After a very relaxed flight with Easy Jet, Sam and I were soon encamped in our hotel, two minutes walk from Checkpoint Charlie.  We had decided on which sites to focus attention on so had a definite plan of action and were especially interested in the areas most associated with the Second World War and the Cold War.  We had numerous sightings of Hooded Crow throughout our visit with one particular bird being of interest, photographed by Sam on the site of Adolf Hitler’s Bunker.  I couldn’t help wonder if Adolf was still in some way present!  One early morning we had Goshawk calling near the hotel and clearly after the Feral Pigeons.  Not so surprising as Berlin has the forested area of the Grunewald on the edge of the city and I knew that Goshawks also frequent the parks.  We didn’t have time to focus primarily on birds, as this was not the purpose of the trip.  If we had visited more of the parks and woodland then I’m sure a decent list would have accumulated.

The Holocaust Memorial.   I was very taken by the lighting effect.  The memorial as a whole is puzzling.  Perhaps that's the idea.  It's built in a maze style.  It's less puzzling when you learn that the architect based his ideas on the cramped and over filled Jewish cemetery in Prague (which we later visited).  I have mixed feelings about such a memorial being used for child's play and people sitting o the blocks to eat their lunch, but again, maybe that is the point.  The underground museum is certainly top class and very moving indeed.  We were moved at lunchtime too, but this time by wasps!
Berlin is a city still under reconstruction (it focused the mind to remember that some of the really stunning architecture that we saw was partly still in ruins up until the 1980s and that much has changed since the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War) following the Second World War and collapse of the Berlin Wall and the large number of cranes on the skyline will testify to this.    We visited a number of well known sites and a few lesser known ones making good use of the U and S Bahn system.  I’ll let the images and captions speak for themselves.

A highlight of our visit to Berlin was the evening spent at the Soviet Memorial at Treptower Park.  No one does memorials like the Soviets!  During the battle of Berlin 305,000 Soviet troops became casualties and 5,000 of them are buried in mass graves at this memorial.  The gigantic Soviet soldier carries a child and sword and stands on a crushed Nazi swastika.  This was made from marble from Hitlers Chancellery building which had survived the bombing, but which was torn down by victorious Soviet troops.  What ever one thinks of war and war memorials this one is stunning!

One of several Black Redstarts seen at the memorial.

We beat the crowds and got to the 1936 Olympic Stadium and had it almost to ourselves for a time.  I couldn't help ponder upon what it would have felt like in 1936!  We spent a great morning at what is now home to Hertha Berlin.  Nazi architecture of course and there are many marks from gun shot still to be seen.  As we left we had a short sighting of a male Pied Flycatcher.  Both Black Redstarts and White Wagtails had been seen earlier.

Sam beside a piece of the Berlin Wall at an exhibition near Check Point Charlie

The Dome of the Berliner Dom, both inside and out. The Fernsehturm tower can be seen behind.  A great afternoon was spent exploring the city.

The Brandenburg Gate is undoubtedly best seen at night and it was a great place to spend our last evening.  A Tawny Owl flyover topped things off very well.

So our Berlin visit was almost over and we had a train for Prague to catch in the morning.  More to come.