Travel Notes: Berlin, Copenhagen, Aalborg –

This leg of our travels covers four cities: Berlin, Copenhagen and Aalborg.

As most travelers know, things don’t always go as planned. Our entry into Gdansk was canceled due to weather and other delays. I did manage this image of the storms as we cruised by.

storm clouds Gdansk travel
Storm on the way to Gdansk

Berlin

So, we traveled on to Berlin Germany via the port of Warnemunde. The trip into Berlin is not quite a three-hour train ride from the port to the Ostbanhoff station in what was formerly East Berlin before reunification in 1990. 

After winding our way through the crowded streets, we make our way to Checkpoint Charlie in what was the Allied Sector during the Cold War. The site is kitschy but worth a few minutes. Directly across the street is the Checkpoint Charlie Blackbox exhibit. This is more informational with displays of black and white photos of some of the escapes over and through the Berlin Wall.

We continue along Zimmerstrasse to the Topography of Terror exhibit. The exhibit contains a one-block-long section of the Berlin Wall. It contains various stories along the wall and a museum in the courtyard above the Wall section. It’s an engrossing exhibit worth spending time here.

Memorials

I continue on Ebertstrasse to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. A starkly different memorial with rows of gray granite square columns of different sizes. This is a memorial that’s difficult to describe. It really must be experienced firsthand. It’s hard to appreciate from ground level and one really needs to get slightly above it to get its full impact.

About a thirty-minute walk from Checkpoint Charlie is the Brandenburg Gate. Commissioned by Frederick William II and completed in 1791 to represent peace it is an imposing structure.  

With all of the tourists in the square, it’s hard to take in the full breadth of the structure. If possible, get there early in the morning or late in the day when the crowds are smaller. You can easily spend thirty minutes walking around and admiring the structure. If you look up Strasse des 17 June (the street seen through the Gate) you can see the gold Victory Column gleaming in the distance.

Buildings and cathedrals

Further down Ebertstrasse is the Reichstag with its brilliant glass cupola. Visiting inside is allowed but you need to make a reservation ahead of time. The unreserved line is usually very long with extra security. The Reichstag went through several reconstructions after World War II. The final one was completed in 1999 when they added back the cupola in glass. Other than the glass cupola, all other facets of the last reconstruction were mandated to be historically accurate.

Next, I head down Unter den Linden to the Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom) on Museum Island. The Berlin Cathedral is actually a nickname for the building. The full name is a mouthful. The grounds around the cathedral are quite nice and attract large crowds during the nice weather. Directly to the right and behind the cathedral is the Berliner Fernsehturm (TV Tower). This is close to Alexanderplatz in what used to be East Berlin and the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War.

There is so much to see in Berlin that a single day cannot do it justice. If you really want to do the city right plan on spending at least four days. This will allow you to also take in the many museums.

Copenhagen

Copenhagen is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Baltic region. Beginning as a fishing village more than 850 years ago, it continues to be one of most important Scandinavian ports. It is also where Hans Christian Andersen spun his enchanting tales, including “The Little Mermaid.” Completed in 1913, the statue of The Little Mermaid resides just off the embankment at Langelinie.

Amalienborg is where the Danish royalty resides and consists of four palaces on Palace Square. Not the original site of the Danish monarchy which was Chritansborg. It was purchased from the noble that built it after the devastating fire at Christiansborg. The changing of the guard seems to draw a lot of visitors as the guards rotate between the four palaces at Noon. The sight of the guards in their old traditional uniforms but carrying M16-type rifles seems anachronistic in some respects but the crowds love it nonetheless.

Old architecture

With all of its old architecture, Copenhagen is a very modern town complete with a bustling shopping district where the streets converge at Kongens Nytorv (the Kings New Square). We entered the square from Stroget Street to throngs of shoppers and visitors so dense that it was initially hard to move around. If you walk up one of the intersecting streets toward Christiansborg Palace, there are many examples of monuments and Danish Renaissance, architecture, and one of the canals.

The Dragon Spire steeple on the old stock exchange is pretty unique. At first glance, you might think it one of the many church steeples jutting up from the landscape but, the twisted dragons around the steeple give it away as something not religious. Dragons, Stock Exchange — yeah, it fits! One local person swore to us that Walt Disney got his inspiration for Pluto the dog from the dragon’s heads. Hmmm, maybe but I’m not quite convinced.

Nyhan Harbor

As we walked through the Nyhan (New Harbor) area, a curious display is prominent. It would be difficult to guess what it’s about without guidance. The artist apparently got permission to commemorate the suffering of the people fleeing Syria and Libya with this installation. It consists of all of the discarded life jackets from the Island of Lesbos, where those fleeing the wars dropped the jackets after they got out of their boats. Definitely a thought-provoking display.

Nyhavn also boasts an almost unbroken string of restaurants along one side of the harbor where hundreds of people come to enjoy the food and relax.

My visit to Copenhagen is at an end and I’ve barely scratched the surface but it’s back to the ship for departure to our next stop.

Aalborg

The next morning we sailed up Limfjord toward our dock in Aalborg (pronounced Ulborg) Denmark.

Isidor Henius (a schnapps distiller) sent his son, Max, son to the United States turn to learn about our distilling methods. Max came home telling his father that they could learn a lot more from America, including celebrating the Fourth of July. A century later, Aalborg’s Fourth of July festival (Rebildfest) was still going strong, and Aalborg essentially became the 51st state during the festival. It’s the only town outside the United States that celebrates the 4th of July just like in America, including fireworks!

Built in the mid-sixteenth century, Aalborghus (Aalborg Castle) is not quite what we think of when you say castle, but served its purpose as a base of operations for those collecting taxes for Christian III.

Jens Bang’s house on Nytorv Square is considered to be one of the finest examples of Danish Renaissance architecture in the city and Denmark as a whole. Bang was so successful as a merchant it’s been reported that he built the most ostentatious house he could to show up the other merchants.

Monastery of the Holy Ghost

The Monastery of the Holy Ghost was built by a nun who trekked her way to Rome (it took a year) to get permission to build the monastery. An unlikely feat for a woman of the time but she got the approval and raised the required funds. In those days nuns and priests inhabited the same building but that eventually lead to complications. When the “complication” was visible, the nun was bricked up in a wall for a week with just a space open where her head was so she could repent. Then they finished the job! The priest — they beheaded him and got it over with quickly.

The addition built in 1506 hosted the “Churchill Gang” during World War II which, starts out playing pranks on the German army that eventually escalates into full-blown sabotage. The gang is arrested by local authorities, but their cells are left unlocked so that they can continue their campaign against the Nazis even from jail until they are once again they are caught by the German army and shipped off to a prison camp.

The historical museum holds the immigration records for Aalborg’s citizens. Many people from the United States and elsewhere come to trace their family roots in the records retained by the museum.

My final stop was the Budolfi Lutheran Church. There was one structure on this site before the current building but the current one was completed sometime in the late fourteenth century. Once again, however, the tower seen today is not the original which was destroyed by fire. A replacement completed around 1779.

Travel tips

  1. Always bring a camera, if you can. Bring your camera with you wherever you go. This will let you document your whole trip, not just parts. If you can’t carry your primary camera for some reason, a cellphone camera is better than nothing. Download an app that lets you shoot in RAW format (I like Halide).
  2. Be courteous. If you’re taking pictures of local inhabitants in a foreign country, always ask permission first. You may not be able to speak the language, but can always get across the idea that you want to photograph them. If they say no just smile, nod, and move on. The key is to be respectful.
  3. Secure your equipment. Use a generously padded camera bag. When you travel never baggage check your equipment on a plane trip; carry it on the plane. When you’re at your destination use hotel safes and other available security measures for storing your equipment. Bring a bag that you can lock with manual locks and tether to something immovable in a closet, etc.

Editor’s Note: This is a four-part article from our reader, Bob McCormac. It encompasses a 20-day trip to the Nordic countries that spawned the Vikings and where they left their mark on civilization. In most areas, those direct influences have long since been erased but the impact on the cultures is still apparent in each country.

Read Part 1: Stockholm, Sweden
Read Part 2: Helsinki, St. Petersburg and Tallinn

You can find Bob’s work here: