Today we visited Stockholm, Sweden. It is the home of the Nobel Prize but we really didn’t see much about it except for a museum that we didn’t have a chance to visit. Weather wise we had overcast skies with a steady drizzle until early afternoon.
It was less than a half hour walk into the old city center called Gamla Stan. There were many really nice shops and restaurants as you walked the cobblestone streets. Also in the center of this old city was the very pretty Kalendarium cathedral. The palace is also in this area but it is not a real pretty building from the outside. We were unable to go into it since it is an actual palace with living royalty inside and not a museum like those in St Petersburg. We saw some of the changing of the guard ceremony that occurs every day at noon. As we walked out of the old city center we walked through the Parliament building which was very nice.
We then went over to city hall which is an impressive building built with eight million bricks. It had some nice sculptures and statues around it also. From there we walked over to a small island that had a beautiful (Riddarholm) church on it with a steeple that could be seen throughout the city.
We then took a very long walk along the harbor over to Djurgardev which is Stockholm’s version of Central Park. In this park are a great number of museums including the Vasa Museum which houses the recovered remains of the battleship Vasa which was built in 1628. On its maiden voyage outside the harbor it sank in a bad storm. It was salvaged 333 years later almost totally intact and extremely well preserved in the cold waters it had rested in. It now is the centerpiece of the maritime museum about the Swedish Navy. There was also another very nice looking museum (Nordiska Museet) at the entrance to this park. We stopped at a small café in the park and enjoyed a beer and cider with a few pastries before heading back to the ship. Sweden is known for good beer!
Stockholm was a nice city to visit and had a lot of very interesting buildings to view. Many of these buildings were very colorful but unfortunately the overcast and somewhat foggy weather dampened the view of the city. We still had a great time and walked 12.5 miles viewing the sights.
Our ship actually docked at Warnemunde, Germany, but since we have never been to Berlin and it is the primary attraction from this port that is where we decided to go. Our excursion left at 6 AM and it was a 3 hour bus ride into Berlin and then another 3 hours back. Once again we took a tour with the SPB Tours and it allowed us to see most of the Berlin sights in a short period of time.
We arrived at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium which was built for the 1936 Olympics. This was a very famous Olympics because it was a showcase for the Nazis and attended by Adolf Hitler. The most dramatic moment of the Olympics was when Jesse Owens (a black athlete) won four gold medals much to Hitler’s dismay. It was funny to see all the driving schools using the parking lot of the stadium for driving practice (both motorcycles and cars). Every person in Germany must go to a driving school to get a license and these driving schools cost over $1000 but they are probably better drivers because of this. The bus drove us by Charlotteburg Palace for a quick picture of one of the few remaining palaces in Berlin. It also took us to Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which was built by Wilhelm’s son as a Memorial for his father. The interesting thing about this church is they built a brand new Lutheran Church right next to it and although it is not large, it is certainly very unique inside with thousands of blue translucent tiles on the walls. It is quite a unique comparison of old versus new Lutheran churches. We took a ride to Reichstag which is a uniquely designed building and is the home of German’s Parliament although most of the actual work is done at a building just next door. It has become a much more symbolic building and is where Hitler gave his acceptance speech when accepting the position of German Chancellor. Like many of the buildings in Berlin it was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt. Most of Berlin has been rebuilt after World War II. Although it is a very old city with history that goes back more than a thousand years, most of its buildings are not older than 50-60 years because of the devastation from World War II on this city. We also visited some other popular sites such as the Brandenburg Gate and Holocaust Memorial. The Holocaust Memorial is very strange and consists of hundreds of concrete blocks of varying sizes on a city block. There is no real symbolism to the blocks and nothing is written on the blocks. The people of Berlin where disappointed in the memorial and eventually an underground museum about the Holocaust was added so the people really understood what had happened during the war. After having a quick lunch at a local restaurant, we took a ride over to Museum Island which contains Berlins only Cathedral which is actually a Lutheran Church (called a cathedral because of its size) and some of their largest museums.
Our trip ended with a quick stop at Check Point Charlie and a viewing of some of the remaining portions of the Berlin Wall. Check Point Charlie was one of the points in the American portion of Berlin after World War II that people had to come through if they were going from East Berlin to West Berlin. This was back in the Cold War when relations with the US and Russia were very poor and people in East Germany were doing anything to escape into West Germany. It was amazing to see how the wall was built and to learn how it was used to keep the people from leaving East Germany. Before it was erected almost three million East Germans defected to West Germany when nothing prevented them from leaving. The people that left were the well-educated and younger people that Russia could not afford to lose. The first wall (barbed wire) was erected overnight in the city. When people woke up the next morning you could not go between the East and the West any more without showing paperwork to prove that you were allowed to do this. Eventually the barbed wire was replaced with two separate walls with various other defenses (barbed wire, land minds, machine gun look out towers, etc.) between these two walls. Even after the walls were built people were very creative in finding ways to get over the walls and into West Berlin. People pole vaulted, created homemade “airplanes” or hand gliders, and found other unique ways to get over the walls without being shot or blown up. Some made it and some didn’t. Anyone that made it was given a West German passport and was helped to get started in a new life. We then took our long ride back to our ship.
Our last stop for this cruise segment was Copenhagen, Denmark. We had been here over 10 years ago and had spent a couple of days visiting this beautiful city. We elected on this trip to take an excursion outside the city to Northern Zealand. Zealand is Denmark’s largest island and is only a few miles from Sweden in the northern fort of Kronborg where we first visited. The fort/castle was interesting to view and at one point it had the largest ballroom in Europe and was used to entertaining Kings and Queens from all European countries. Because this fort was positioned at a point that it could sink any ship that passed between Denmark and Sweden, Denmark began charging a fee for any ship that wanted to go between the Baltic and Northern Seas. The country became rich with these charges to all the merchant ships that passed through the channel. This charge remained in effect until the 1800’s and Abraham Lincoln negotiated an end to this charge. Why America played a huge role in this fee is unknown to us. From this fort we went a little south to see the summer palace of Denmark’s royal family. It was big but actually pretty ugly. The stop was not all wasted though because we found a small pastry shop not too far away and bought a snack for our bus ride to the next stop. Before heading back to Copenhagen we had one final stop at Frederiksborg Castle. This castle was very impressive and had some beautiful gardens and fountains. We walked all around the outside of the castle and this was certainly the highlight of the excursion.
We then made our way to Copenhagen and viewed some of the key sights in the city. We saw the new Opera House which was nice but we had seen more impressive buildings. We saw both Christianborg Palace and Amalienborg Palace and both of these are impressive buildings. Our highlight of this part of the tour was a stop at Nyhaven which is a large cobblestone walking area along a big canal with restaurants lining the road. When we visited here 10 years ago we had several meals and beers along this very active area. It brought back good memories of the area and city. During the tour of the city we passed by an area called Christiania which was a part of the city with abandoned naval buildings that became inhabited by hippies who claimed the area as their own sovereign city-country. Copenhagen seemed to allow them to govern themselves and leave them alone. In this area it is legal to buy, sell and smoke marijuana and basically live as you want as long as you don’t bother other people in the area. Occasionally the city has a few incidents that the police get involved but in general this arrangement seems to work out. We also visited the Little Mermaid which is a statue in the harbor created based on Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid book. It is certainly one of the icons of this beautiful city. Now we are off to Amsterdam to complete this segment of the cruise and to do a short land tour of Holland before boarding our Princess cruise to Norway, Iceland and back to New York
Greg and Sharon