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The Spies Who Went Into the Cold

By Marilyn Baron

My husband has always wanted to see Berlin and he never gets his way, so I relented and agreed to go there on our last vacation. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting much, so I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the visit, except for the weather. It was very cold in mid-October and I wasn’t dressed appropriately. My husband told me to leave my gloves, muffler and heavy coat at home. I didn’t even bring a trench coat, a wardrobe requisite for any self-respecting spy. Bottom line: I found Germany to be a warm (in terms of hospitality) and welcoming place. The people were very nice and the food was delicious.

One thing you have to know about my husband. He’ll rarely read a book unless it’s about World War II, involves spies, etc. In fact, I had to write a book set in World War II just to get his attention (Under The Moon Gate, which will be released in 2013 from The Wild Rose Press). It’s the only manuscript of mine he’s ever read (and he only read the first three chapters).

Actually, I share his obsession with books set in World War II. Some of our favorite writers in this genre are Alan Furst (I just read Mission to Paris); the entire series of Daniel Silva books (his latest is The Fallen Angel, which took place partially in Berlin); Ken Follett (Books One and Two of his Century Trilogy); and In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson (which I will have to reread, now that I’ve been to Berlin).

One of the places in Berlin that’s mentioned in many of these books is the Hotel Adlon Kempinski. That’s where all the spies stay. We didn’t stay there but that was our first stop on the day of our arrival. We decided to go into the hotel and have some coffee, hot chocolate and pastries in the hotel’s elegant lobby.

We didn’t run into any spies, but we did sit with a nice California couple. The first thing that happened was a woman came up and asked to see their papers. I kid you not. I thought it was a throwback to World War II. Considering, that in Germany, they haven’t changed the sound of their ambulance and police sirens, every time I heard the wail of a siren, I was afraid I was going to be rounded up.

Papers to sit down and have coffee? We weren’t carrying any papers, just our passports. When the lady seemed satisfied with their papers, she left us alone, assuming we were with them. Actually, it turns out she was just checking their reservation at the hotel. They were staying there.

We also had to show our “papers,” to get into the Reichstag, one of the top ten attractions in Berlin. You may have heard about the famous Reichstag fire on the night of February 28, 1933. The Communists were blamed, which propelled the Nazis to power. The German Bundestag (Parliament) meets there. The latest phase of rebuilding is an elliptical glass dome. Visits to the cupola’s viewing gallery are free and they say the views are breathtaking, but it’s by appointment only. So make your reservations before you leave. We made ours two days before we wanted to visit, but our “papers” didn’t arrive on time and when we went at the appointed hour, our name was not on the list. The Germans are ever efficient and still follow the rules, so “No Reichstag For You.”

But it’s a magnificent building, even from the outside. And instead, we enjoyed a panoramic view from the Berlin TV Tower, although that was a two-hour wait. You can also have a meal in the tower’s revolving restaurant, if you can get in.  

We stayed at a wonderful hotel, the Westin Grand Berlin on Friedrichstrasse, which I was surprised to find out was in the former East Berlin. There was a piece of the Berlin Wall displayed at the hotel’s entrance.

But back to the Hotel Adlon. This luxurious hotel is located near the Neo-Classical Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor, one of the few remaining historic city gates, the city’s most famous landmark) at the end of the fashionable street Unter den Linden (Under the Linden or lime tree).

 

The hotel reopened in 1997, in the same spot as its illustrious predecessor, the Adlon, which was bombed during World War II. The hotel lobby features a replica of the Adlon’s original symbolic elephant fountain. The Hotel Adlon Kempinski is located close to all the foreign embassies. Perfect location for a spy.    

I just finished reading Ken Follett’s Winter of the World, and almost every page mentioned a street or place we had been. That alone was worth the trip.

My husband loves wurst (to me, nothing could be worse) so he was in heaven. For dinner the first night we went to a wonderful German-Austrian restaurant, Lutter & Wegner. I had roast duck and he had wienerschnitzel. Then we ate at a German/French restaurant, Dressler, and I had duck again. We went to two Italian restaurants—Il Punto and Bocca Di Bacco—and they were better than any Italian restaurants I’ve ever been to (including restaurants in Italy). For breakfast, we ate at Café Einstein Unter den Linden, a meeting place for politicians and media, and we did see a German author there signing his new book.   

We took a hop-on, hop-off bus around the city and when it came time to visit Kaufhaus Des Westens, better known as KaDeWe, on Kurfürstendamm Boulevard, we spent hours there, gawking and eating in the food hall on the sixth floor. It is the biggest and best department store in Germany, on the order of Harrods. It offers cheeses, chocolate, about 400 kinds of bread and every kind of food you could ever imagine.  

Another elegant French department store near our hotel is Galeries Lafayette, which we didn’t have time to visit.   

There were many surprises in Berlin, the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany, with a population of approximately 3.4 million.

  • As I said, our hotel was in the former East Berlin. Evidence of the Berlin Wall (Berlin Maurer) was everywhere, either pieces of the wall or double rows of bricks on the street or pavement, which indicated where the wall had been. In 1961, authorities surrounded West Berlin with a 95-mile long wall and shot any refugees attempting to cross it. The fall of the Berlin Wall occurred some three decades later, when Berlin was reunified.  
  • In 1945, Berlin was divided into four sectors. More than 70 percent of Berlin was destroyed during the war.  
  • Checkpoint Charlie, the former allied border crossing which was near our hotel and the museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie were also interesting.
  • We toured the beautiful Neue (New) Synagogue, the  Jewish museum and an outdoor Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate and the new American Embassy called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which consists of 2,711 slabs of gray concrete, some rising as high as 13 feet. The New Synagogue—which was constructed in 1866, and left in ruins after Kristallnacht and the Allied bombing of Berlin—has been completely renovated.
  • We also visited the Topographie des Terrors at the site of the former Gestapo and SS Headquarters, which was both fascinating and horrifying. It details crimes at the excavated torture cells. An original section of the Berlin Wall that used to run just behind the building is still on view.
  • All that’s left to mark the spot of Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, was a wall plaque, a Peking Duck restaurant and a former communist hi-rise.
  • We didn’t make it to Museum Island, a world-class museum complex, but people recommend exploring the Altes Museum; the Pergamonmuseum with its famous Pergamon Altar; and the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti at the Neues Museum. People also rave about the Lustgarten on the island, but it wasn’t in bloom when we were visiting.
  • The vast Tiergarten (referred to as the Green Lung of Berlin) is another must-see. Once a royal hunting estate, it is now a park in one of Europe’s greenest capital cities. It was too cold to walk there in October, but it looked lovely. The Tiergarten was totally reforested after people cut down every tree to burn for firewood at the end of the war.
  • There’s a lot of construction going on all around Berlin.  
  • We didn’t see many Americans, maybe because it was late in the season or maybe Berlin isn’t traditionally a top tourist destination.
  • A beautiful river the Spree, runs through the city.

 From Berlin, we took the train on a five-hour trip to Prague. But that’s another story for another blog. Stay tuned.

beci - November 5, 2012 - 12:54 am

Marilyn- Enjoyed reading about your vacation….very witty and informative, as usual! Glad you finally let Steve has his way in terms of travel destinations :-) Sounds like a wonderful trip!

Catherine Goetzke - November 5, 2012 - 1:41 am

Dear Marilyn,

Great description of a wonderful city with a unique history.

Cathy

Mary Preston - November 5, 2012 - 2:47 am

I’d love to stay in as hotel where all the spies stay. It all looks & sounds wonderful.

Laura Russell - November 5, 2012 - 4:16 am

“Papers” needed everywhere! That’s so helpful about getting permission to see Reichstag ahead of time. I enjoyed your descriptions of what you did.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 5:16 am

Beci, thanks for commenting. Yes, I thought it was about time I let Steve get his way. But we both enjoyed the trip, especially the historical aspects.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 5:19 am

Mary,
I loved our hotel but I think it would have been really neat to stay at the Adlon. Just walking in there and having coffee and hot chocolate was great.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 5:29 am

Laura,
That is my one regret, not going into the Reichstag. My friend Cathy, who used to live next door to me in Atlanta and who now lives in Germany, met us in Berlin and she told me we’d need advance reservations but I thought it would be too difficult to make. But my husband made advance train reservations to Prague on a German Web site so it probably would have been easy. If we had
gone about two hours later, our names would have been on the list but then we would have missed our reservation time so who knows. It is a very popular tourist attraction and there is a booth where you can sign up with a Passport but that line was a two-hour wait. So doing it before you go is advisable. We were able to make the reservation at a computer at the hotel two days earlier but then just ran out of time when it didn’t work out precisely

AJ Kirby - November 5, 2012 - 5:41 am

Another excellent travel piece from Marilyn, and another place I’ll now have to add to my TO VISIT list!

Fascinating!

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 6:50 am

AJ,
Thanks for the comment. At least you won’t have to travel as far as I did to get there. I’m glad you liked the post.

Art Dees - November 5, 2012 - 8:05 am

Marilyn, It sounds like you and Steve had a wonderful trip. I have only made one trio to Germany and that was when I worked for Hansgrohe, USA, when I went to their world headquarters, South of Berlin in the Black Forest. Amazing country and amazing people who believe in detail to the MAX. OMG, I thought I was a perfectionist!

I can not get Arlene to Germany, but hopefully when she reads about your trip, she will reconsider. We leave for Rome in 10 days and will be there for 3 before getting on the cruise ship for our 14 day “Holy Lands ” cruise. So far, Egypt has not been canceled, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can see the Pyramids.

Get this – I have talked Arlene into taking, ONLY, one carry on luggage and one small backpack each for the entire trip. She has been packing and repacking for a month trying to make everything fit. So far, only a couple of items have to be removed. I believe in Rick Steves way of traveling light. Did Steve have to carry any of your luggage, like I use to when we traveled together on business? I am glad you had fun and returned home safe.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 9:25 am

Art,
I remember when you went to Germany for Hansgrohe. I’ve always wanted to see the Black Forest. And,yes, I remember you used to carry my luggage on our business trips. Sorry. And yes, Steve had to carry my luggage. Well, Steve usually makes me pack only a carry-on, but this time we each brought a big suitcase and checked it, as well as a carry-on, and of course I didn’t wear half the things I brought. I hope you get to see the Pyramids, that would be neat and I’m sure you’ll get some great pictures. And no, I don’t believe you got Arlene to take only carry-on luggage for such a long trip.Have fun on your trip.

We did fly out through Amsterdam (Schipol airport, I believe) and I remember we flew in there for one of our trips and the photographer had all that equiopment. There was so much walking involved in that airport. And nothing has changed.

Thanks for commenting.

Tamara LeBlanc - November 5, 2012 - 10:26 am

Oh, I love reading your travel posts. Love, love, love reading them.
I’m going to be positive and say that one day I WILL visit all of the wonderful destinations you’ve been to, but if I miss one or two, I’ll have your words to give me the best picture ever. When I read your posts its almost like I went myself :)

Hmmm, I wonder, though…how do you know you weren’t sitting with spies at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski? Do you think a proper spy would introduce themselves as spies? Hmmm? That nice California couple might have been agents posing as Americans.
You never know, Marilyn ?:-)
Also, I want to congratulate you on your sale to The Wild Rose Press!!! That’s awesome!
Can’t wait to read the book!
Thank you for sharing your travels with us.
Have a happy, productive week,
Tamara

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 11:00 am

Tamara,

Thanks so much for visiting and for your kind words. Who knows, there very well may have been some spies in The Adlon lobby that day. If every spy novelist who sets his story in Berlin mentions that hotel, there must be something to it.It is really neat to see the words on the page of a novel come alive and to walk in the footsteps of the characters and visit the places the author is describing. I hope people get that feeling from my new novel when it’s published.

Debbie Kaufman - November 5, 2012 - 11:17 am

How fun! I really appreciate getting to live vicariously through your travels! Love the spy hotel I’ve read most of the authors you mentioned since I’m a bit of a WWII buff also. I’ve always wanted to go because of my fascination with Holocaust stories. Can’t wait tohear about Prague.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 12:02 pm

Debbie,
I didn’t know you were a WW II buff. If you haven’t read it already, you have to read Ken Follett’s “Winter of the World,” the second in his Century trilogy. When it features the German family, on almost every page, he mentions someplace we visited in Berlin. I was reading the book while we were there and it was really exciting.

Carol Burnside - November 5, 2012 - 12:20 pm

Nice travelogue, Marilyn. Hubby and I have a friend who has visited Berlin and Prague many times. He loves the cities and encourages us to go. Perhaps we will one day.

Pam Asberry - November 5, 2012 - 12:28 pm

I never really thought about visiting Berlin before – to tell you the truth, the sound of it kind of scares me – but after reading your travel post, I think I need to reconsider. Thanks, Marilyn!

Maxine Davis - November 5, 2012 - 12:34 pm

Marilyn, As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your travel post. You make it sound so exciting. I would very much like to stay at the Hotel Adlon. Or just the coffee and sweet roll would be fun. Sounds like a fabulous trip. Can’t wait for the next installment.

Roxy Boroughs - November 5, 2012 - 12:42 pm

What a wonderful trip! My husband would have been digging the wurst, too.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 1:30 pm

Carol,

I hope you do go one day. I can’t believe it took me so long to get there but the city has a lot to offer. Thanks for commenting.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 1:32 pm

Pam,

I felt the same way as you did, which is why I resisted so long. But it turns out it’s really a nice place to visit and there’s so much history there around every corner. There are a lot of places I didn’t even get to go that I would love to visit if I returned.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 1:33 pm

Maxine,
Thanks. Yes, if I go back, I will be staying at the Hotel Adlon. Truthfully, it was within walking distance of our hotel. Both hotels were centrally located, but The Adlon has so much history to recommend it. Hope you’ll come back when I blog about Prague.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 1:35 pm

Roxy,
Thanks for visiting the blog. My husband really likes those wurst, which was good because there were a lot of them. I never tried one, but I found a lot of alternatives (especially the Italian food!).

Sia Huff - November 5, 2012 - 11:10 pm

Hi Marilyn,
Sorry I’m so late today. I’ve never had the urge to travel to Berlin either, but you make it sound fun. My son, who’s taking German in school, wants to go. His top thing to see – the Black Forest.

Marilyn Baron - November 5, 2012 - 11:15 pm

Sia,
The Black Forest sounds like a wonderful place. The only other place in Germany I’d been before this trip was Munich, which I also enjoyed. My husband also took German in high school and college, which might have been one of the reasons he wanted to go to Berlin.

Art Dees - November 6, 2012 - 1:05 am

Marilyn – one more thing. If you or anyone get a chance to go to the Black Forest in Germany, do so. It is spectacular! I was fortunate enough to be with the President of Hansgrohe, USA, while in Germany. He is a BMW motorcyclist like I am, so he got me a bike to ride, during my stay.

There is no feeling in the world like riding on the Autoban through the Black Forest on a BMW motorcycle, while going over 120 mph and having a Mercedes pass you, like you are sitting still. He must have been going 160+. Those Germans have nerves of steel.

Marilyn Baron - November 6, 2012 - 7:24 am

Thanks, Art. I remember you telling me about that trip. I probably wouldn’t be riding a motorcycle, maybe I’d be a passenger, but you are a dare devil. It does sound wonderful.

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