The Reichstag Building Dome, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Checkpoint Charlie

Day 19,  Friday, September 13, 2019

Our day starts back at the Brandenburg gate. The gate is a popular gathering point for tourists. This fellow was dressed interestingly, turns out he is Austria’s Mr. Fetish 2019! We walk to the Reichstag Building which houses the German Parliament. We are required to show passports and go through security screening before we are allowed into the building.  After riding an elevator with 30 other people we arrive at the dome. Can you find us in the reflections?Admission to the dome is free, but we needed to register for tickets three days in advance. 6,000 people visit here every day. We walk up a 230 meter ramp and our audioguide provides a lot of interesting information about the dome, the German parliament and what we see outside the dome.
A view of the 368 meter high TV tower we walked by yesterday. It is the tallest tower in the European Union.The greenish domes beside it belong to the Berlin Cathedral, which is Berlin’s largest church. Looking down from the ramp.  The 360 mirrors on this column reflect light down into the parliamentary chambers below the dome. A view of the Sony Building where the giant giraffe was located. The yellow building is the Berlin Philharmonic which is said to have one of the best orchestras in the world. At the top of the dome is a 10 meter diameter opening which provides fresh air.  Rain falls through it into the cone and is recycled. The warmth of the stale air rising in the dome is recovered by this cone and used to heat the building, along with 300 square metres of solar panels. The dome is 40 metres wide and opening at the top is 54 metres off the ground. It is very impressive. The sky is getting very dark outside and the wind has picked up.  I think we might get wet! If you look at the square in front of the lady in black pants in this picture you might be able to make out the members of Parliament sitting below the dome. They look like little whitish spots.

Here is a close up.

This photo of a photo shows what the Parliamentary chamber looks like lit by mirrors in the dome above. You can also see the emblem of the German government on the wall. Interestingly it is an eagle, which is the same as the national emblem of the United States.A view towards the Brandenburg gate and the Jewish Memorial which is the grey area beside the white building. Walking down from the top of the dome, we are on a ramp which is in-between the up ramp.  You can see people walking in different directions, some going up, some going down.
It is cold and wet when we get outside. The inscription reads “The German People” We pass this building under construction. The inside is completely gutted.  A new modern interior will be built but the exterior will be preserved. We see other buildings undergoing this process. We walk to one of the nearby train stations to find a place to eat a late lunch and we are pleasantly surprised to find the sun is shining when we come back outside. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a 19,000 square metre site covered with 2,711 grey concrete slabs, or stelae ranging in height from 8″ to 15′. It is situated on part of  the former Berlin Wall Death Strip. There are 54 x 87 rows of these 7′ x 3′ long stelae, and the ground between rows is uneven and undulating.  There is an information centre with displays and a list of names of 3,000,000 of the Jews who were killed in the Holocaust but we did not go inside.  This is a sombre place, but something seems missing. The walls of names of the Holocaust victims that we saw at Auschwitz had a stronger impact on me than this memorial site. Walking towards Checkpoint Charlie we pass some of the many electric scooters that are scattered around the city. People ride these in on sidewalks and in traffic, sometimes two people on a single scooter!  Seems kind of dangerous to me and the busses honk their horns at them all the time! A photo on a street display showing the Berlin Wall and the Death Strip near the Reichstag Building . We stop for a rest at Checkpoint Charlie Beach!  Where Bob tries a very strange hotdog, filled with mashed potato and lettuce. He said it wasn’t very good.
A photo on the street of Checkpoint Charlie during a military standoff with the Soviets in 1961. This checkpoint grew in stature over the years. This photo is from 1989.We come across pieces of the Berlin Wall in several locations along our route today. Checkpoint Charlie from the Soviet side, looking to the American side… and from the American side looking toward the Soviet side. After all the heavy stuff we saw today we have to laugh as this vehicle full of very loud beer drinking young men goes down the street!  It is powered by the peddling of the drinkers onboard. A interesting building on our way to the metro station. This interesting link shows 14 Cold War images and how these locations have changed today. Near home we come across this demonstration against far right extremists. We have seen several of these protests and they are always accompanied by a heavy police presence, no matter how small the rally.  Actually, we found that there is a heavy police presence everywhere is Berlin. This is one of the tiniest cars I have ever seen. it only holds one passenger.

Our Own Hop-On Hop-Off Tour of Berlin

Day 18, Thursday, September 12, 2019

First stop today is Potsdamer Platz which is an area that used to be the Dead Zone when the Berlin Wall was in place. After the wall came down these three skyscrapers were built and became the focal point for this new area.
There are some pieces of the Berlin Wall here and for some strange reason they are plastered with wads of chewing gum left by visitors. Notice behind the wall is the Canadian Embassy.
The display was very informative. Bob knows a lot more about the history of Berlin than I do so I found these panels quite interesting. This one shows the Dead Zone, which was the unoccupied area around the Berlin Wall, and the developed area now.
The cobbled line Bob is standing on is where the Berlin Wall used to be located. We walk to the Sony centre and find this interesting building that has part of an old hotel interior enclosed in glass as part of its exterior wall. Wow! This LEGO giraffe is the biggest giraffe I have ever seen… and Bob found a pretty huge Angry Bird! We make our own Hop-On Hop-Off tour by catching the #100 bus. First stop is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was destroyed by the bombing in WWII and is now an anti-war memorial to peace and reconciliation. This is what the church used to look like.The little bit of the interior that remains is covered in beautiful mosaics… even the floor is completely decorated with mosaic tiles.  It must have been an incredibly beautiful church.Outside we see this memorial for the victims of a terrorist attack on December 19, 2016 on the steps of the Memorial Church,  A stolen truck was driven into the crowd at the Christmas Market and twelve people were killed and seventy were seriously injured. The names of the deceased are engraved on the steps and the bronze crack represents the fracture the attack inflicted on society.  It is like a scar and shows that healing and everyday life are possible, but we should not ignore or forget the scars we bear and what caused them.  We walk inside the Memorial Church and I am quite overcome.  Something about this space moved me to tears. It is unlike anything I have seen before. This Christ figure was beautiful. There is a concert here tonight and we sit for a while listening to the two organists practicing for tonight’s performance. You can see them in this photo.  To listen to the organ music click this link. The walls are made of 22,200 panes of stained glass and each pane is made of many individual glass pieces. The floor is covered in circles of many colours and sizes. It made me think that all those little pieces of glass and all the circles on the floor could represent people who have died and are memorialized in this church.The outside walls show how each piece of glass is embedded in mortar within each individual pane. The outside of this church gives no hint of the vibrant colours inside. We walk down the broad boulevard between the lanes of traffic. Here is a view looking back towards the bombed church.

We were looking for the KaDeWa department store. With over 60,000 square metres of selling space, it is the second largest department store in Europe after Harrods in London. We make our way up to the sixth floor and find a whole floor of yummy things to eat. Too bad there are no gluten, dairy and egg free options for me.

We have noticed that European men like colourful socks. Here is what fashionable girls are wearing in Berlin.  We continue our tour on a double decker bus.  This is the first time we have sat up front on the top of one of these busses. !t does give a different viewpoint. Bob notices something strange about this stop sign. We drive through the centre of a huge park and around this monument. The Victory Column with Victoria, the Goddess of Victory in the centre of the Tiergarten park is one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks.We drive past the spot where the old book market was yesterday. Bob did a bit of research and discovered that this is the University where Eisnstein and the Brothers Grimm taught and where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engles studied . It was also the site of the burning of thousands of books by the Nazis in 1933. Next stop is Alexanderplatz, a large public square and popular gathering place in Berlin. We find a bench for a tea break and witness a little drama unfolding behind us. It took eleven police officers over half an hour to move this fellow in handcuffs from beside the fence to the police wagon. There was lots of interviewing of bystanders and note taking but we don’t have a clue what it is all about. This is the view in front of us.I wanted to go to the top of the Berlin TV Tower but it cost €16 which is almost $24 each. That seemed a bit too much. The Neptune Fountain is is very ornate.

We manage to get on a bus going in the wrong direction on our way home, so we hop off and decide to take the subway instead. It is faster and easier to figure out than the bus system.

Berlin, Germany

Day 15, Monday, September 9

I am still not feeling well and spend the day in bed resting and watching a Netflix series. Bob binge watches a series on Netflix, reads and rests too. Guess we both needed a quiet day.

 

Day 16, Tuesday, September 10

Another quiet day, but I do manage a couple blog posts and we go out for much needed groceries.

Our Berlin bnb is on the fifth floor, without an elevator!  Every window we look out of we only see trees. It feels a bit like we are living in a treehouse. This is the view from our living room window. Day 17, Wednesday, September 11, 2019

We want to go to central Berlin, but first we need to figure out the public transportation system.  Finally figure out that there is a 7 day pass that gives unlimited travel on all the busses, metros and trains. There are beautiful big trees in our neighbourhood but I have no idea what kind they are. We also notice that the leaves have begun to fall so I guess summer is really over.

We caught the wrong train so we end up at the main train station, which is huge and modern looking. There is a big food court here where we have something to eat before we start exploring.The Parliament building has a huge dome on the top that requires a reservation to climb. We book a Friday tour and then find a nice park to sit and have tea and cookies.  I am moving a bit slow today so lots of rests are in order.

This is the Brandenburg Gate. It was built in 1791, and was modelled after the Acropolis in Athens. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated before the Brandenburg Gate as the Berlin Wall fell on November 9th, 1989.  Since the end of the Cold War, the Gate has come to represent German unity and freedom.       We think these protestors were in support of the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong.
This huge wall garden was a colourful surprise. We walk to the Gendarmenmarkt which is an 18th century square used for gatherings and events. On either side there are two identical churches. The one in the photo is the German Cathedral, the Deutscher Dom. It was heavily bombed in the second World War and has been restored as a museum with displays on the parliamentary democracy of Germany.  Bob noticed this reflection in the door to the German Church of the identical French Church across the square. We went in for a look and somehow got separated. The place is a bit of a maze and I felt like I was never going to find Bob or my way out!  That did it for me… I went and waited outside and Bob had a look around. This photo he took shows some of the old building and the reconstructed concrete parts, and one of the crazy stairways that I got lost on!

A quick peek into the Konzerthaus where the Berlin Philharmonic plays. For some reason the lighting turned green when I took the photo. We both thought the seating looked rather uncomfortable. This is the French Cathedral directly opposite the German one. It was closed for renovation so no idea what was in there.There was outdoor market of old books, postcards and papers in front of the building below. There were some rather interesting erotic postcards from the early 1900’s!  We did better this time and found the right metro line to get home. 

 

 

Slawenburg Raddusch, A Nordic Fort In Germany

Day 14, Sunday, September 8, 2019

We were both tired last night so we left our packing and cleaning until this morning. By noon we are on our way to Berlin. We stop at truck stop just before the Polish border to get lunch at a KFC and spend what Polish money we have left.  I have never seen so many trucks in one place! There are nine rows of trucks like this parked here. There are lots and lots of trucks on Polish highways! We pass by lots of trees that appear to be grown for timber. Their lower branches have been trimmed so that the trunks grow straight.Not far into Germany we stop at Slawenburg Raddusch, which is a reconstruction of a fort built by Slavic people in the 9th and 10th Centuries. It is surrounded by a moat for added protection.

There were about 40 of these forts in this area. They were used to store food supplies and act as places of refuge during attacks.

We find this huge fellow on our walk to the fort.  A 10 m wide wall was built in a circle.  Long oak beams were alternately stacked in a criss-crossed direction and the spaces between the logs were filled with earth and stones. The almost circular inner surface with a diameter of 36 m. originally contained a few small houses and four wells. This well is 40 feet deep. In the wells were found: ceramic fragments, knives, lance tips, whetstones, sledgehammers, bone skates, wooden mallets, spades and a rare, valuable brass bowl. The walls of this reconstructed fort use concrete, so the interior of the walls is  a museum where the artifacts found in this area are on display. We climb to the top of the wall which offers a great view of the surrounding landscape.  In the 1980s, this area was strip mined for coal.  Before the giant excavators ate their way through the landscape, archeologists found that the Slavs were not the first settlers in this place. Under the wall, Germanic remains from the 5th / 6th century were found. The earliest findings, however, date back to 2200 -800 B.C. Unfortunately the strip mining destroyed most of the archaeological remains in the area along with 50 villages that were here before the mining started. Imagine displacing all those people to mine coal! This model shows what the original fort would have looked like… and how it was constructed. The dirt used to fill the walls came from around the base of the fort and created the moat. The “Götze von Raddusch”, an idol from 926 A.D.,made from an oak split-beam with a head-like finish and a perforation in the chest area was found  in the excavation of the youngest well. This was a rare find. I thought these straight pins for sewing were pretty amazing, considering they are so ancient. Here is a view of part of the museum with its large display of pottery,,, and burial pits, where cremated remains were placed along burial gifts for the deceased. I was intrigued by the shapes of some of the pottery. All the pottery was made by hand without the aid of a potter’s wheel. I wonder what these pots were used for? The tour was great. We rented an audio guide for €1.5 and it was very well done. We got so much more out of the display because it. We managed to finish our visit through the museum just as it was closing at 6:00 pm. We see lots of wind-farms on our way to Berlin. We arrive in Berlin as it is getting dark and check into our home for the next two weeks.

 

The Largest Wooden Church in Europe and Książ Castle, Poland

Day 13, Saturday September 7, 2019

I realized that I forgot to put a link to our apartment in Wroclaw so here it is for those of you who are curious about the apartments we are staying in. Yesterday I started not feeling very well with a bit of a sore throat and a very tight chest. We had planned on going to the zoo today but it is cool and raining so we decide to take little road trip instead. I didn’thave the energy to walk around a zoo in the rain today. The smaller highways are often lined with trees which I think are very picturesque.

First stop is…

A Unesco World Heritage site, the Lutheran Church of Peace in Swidnica was built in the mid-17th century and can hold up to 7,500 people. It was built without any nails.

“The Church of Peace was founded by virtue of the Peace of Westphalia which ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Before the war, the townsfolk of Świdnica were free to follow Luther’s ideas and Lutheran services were held in the town. When the war broke out, the Protestants were deprived of the right to have their own faith and their own churches.

However under the Peace of Westphalia, the Catholic emperor Ferdinand III of Habsburg was obliged by the Swedish to allow the Protestants… to build one so-called Church of Peace in each duchy.

The consent of the Habsburgs had many severe restrictions – the Protestants could only build their place of worship outside the town walls, it could not have any towers nor a belfry, and it could only be built from non-durable materials like wood, sand, straw, or clay. The building could not look like a church and the construction works could not last longer than a year.

Against all odds, the Protestants at the time displayed extraordinary resourcefulness. Even the poorest of the community brought something to the table, if only one wooden board. All social classes were involved in the construction process – the nobility, the burghers and the peasants.

The hard work paid off, as construction was completed on time and in 1657 the first service was held in the Church of Peace in Świdnica.” ~tourspoland.comWe walked into this church and we were amazed at the size and ornateness of the interior. This photo is looking towards the altar. The walls and ceilings are decorated with painted panels added after the construction of the church was completed in 1657. The back wall with the organ. A view of one of the sides of the church with it’s two tiers of balconies. The spaces between the wall timbers were filled with clay and wattle. The pulpit is extremely ornate. A view of part of the painted ceiling. I loved the old pews with their carved backs and worn seats.There is a cemetery surrounding the church. As we walked back to our car we passed this interesting door. Makes me curious about who lives here. Next stop on our day trip is the Książ Castle, the third largest castle in Poland which dates from the 13th century.  One of the the views from inside the castle.  The entrance buildings and front grounds of the castle. An old photo showing the castle atop an impressive rock cliff. It has been destroyed and rebuilt and expanded various times and in different styles (from Gothic to Baroque and neo-Classical). The latest family to reside there, was the Hochberg family, one of the richest and most influential families in Prussia. In the 14th century they transformed the original defensive castle into one of the most beautiful residences in this part of  Europe. The Hochbergs lived there for many generations, until 1941, when it was confiscated by the Nazis. Bob caught my reflection in this old mirror.
The Black Courtyard is decorated with the coats of arms of the castles many owners. We walked through many halls, some simple… and some very ornate. I suppose a castle with over 400 rooms needs lots of hallways and stairs, and we did climb lots of stairs. Another view out one of the castle windows of the Chestnut Terrace with four large chestnut trees. As always, we must remember to look up. So many of the ceilings are ornately decorated. There was an exhibit of blown glass in some of the rooms and another view down one of the many hallways.
We weren’t able to see the Last Supper when we were in Italy two years ago (we didn’t know you had to buy tickets far in advance) but there is a Da Vinci exhibit here in the castle with a replica. Not as good as the real thing but interesting none the less. There were replicas of many of Da Vinci’s paintings, including the Mona Lisa, and models of some of his inventions. Looking out one of the windows we get an idea of some of the renovations and reconstruction that has taken place over the centuries. It is quite a convoluted building. One of the restored and decorated rooms. The Nazis stripped the castle of its furnishings and paintings and it is just now being restored. A photo showing a much more elaborately decorated room than we see today. The Maximilian Room has been restored to its former glory. There is a balcony on either side, one for the prince’s apartments and one for the princess’s apartments, that overlook this elegant room. And what castle would be complete without a Japanese influenced room. They were very popular. “The castle became an important part of the Riese Project, for the Nazis. It was an elaborate plan to create an underground military industrial complex complete with tunnels, roads, rail links and subterranean arms factories. The castle itself is said to have been prepared as the new headquarters for Hitler. For this purpose, thousands of prisoners, many from concentration camps like Auschwitz, were used as slave labour. Towards the end of the war, with the Red Army approaching fast, the Nazis destroyed much of the complex. The destruction continued when the Red Army ousted the Nazis. The Nazis’ exact plans with the castle remain a mystery. Were they building a secret weapon? Did Hitler plan to use the castle as a personal bunker? Little is also known of the fate of the prisoners who built the underground complex, though one can only guess.” ~ Velvet Escape.com. It is thought that valuable works of art and other treasures may still be hidden underground in these tunnels. This a model of the underground tunnels. It is possible to tour the tunnels but we did not have time, or the energy to do that today,  As we finish the tour of the castle, we are led out to the gardens and terraces surrounding the castle. The grounds are beautifully maintained.An interesting view of the castle.
We have no idea what all these small arched nooks with their iron grates are. As we walk back to our car we pass a pond with blooming water lilies. 

Old Town in Wroclaw, Poland

Day 11, Thursday September 5, 2019.

Today is a much needed quiet day. For some reason I only slept a few hours last night so I stay home and rest and do a bit of blogging. Bob goes for a walk and scouts out the route to the Old Town for tomorrow. Here is our view from the apartment, with our white car in the parking lot. Bob is in there too, but you can barely see his head as he walks along the street behind the hedge. 

 

Day 12, Friday, September 6, 2019

On our walk to Wroclaw’s Old Town we cross one of its canals. It looks so peaceful here.

Soon we are approaching the old part of town. There are many places where we see the old and the new side by side. These two buildings were across from each other.
Here’s how big items get delivered!

Wroclaw Town Square, another huge square with beautiful buildings. These date back to the 1600’s!

The flower market.Wroclaw has an ever growing populations of gnomes.  In fact, our guidebook states “the little buggers are currently rumoured to be running rampant to the score of over 300 making it literally impossible for us to try to keep track of them!”  I think they are delightful and I am happy to make their acquaintance .

A view of the glass panel fountain … and more tenement houses in the town square. The interior of St. Mary Magdalene’s Church which dates from 1330. We climb 147 steps up to the walkway between the two towers. In times past women suspected of being witches were forced to cross this walkway (there were no railings then) and if they made it across safely they were branded as a witch. If they fell to their death, then they were innocent of the crime of being a witch! You certainly didn’t want to be accused of witchcraft!  I am very glad there are railings now and I meet another couple of gnomes. We have great views of the city from up here. Here is a view of the walkway, way up there between the two towers.There were steeples on these at one time, not sure if they were destroyed during the war? More ornate colourful buildings.
I wish I knew the recipe for the bubble mixture this guy was using! He made hundreds of bubbles at a time with his string between two sticks.  Kids had such fun chasing all the bubbles.We found quite a few more of these little fellows, on doorsteps, or tucked into corners.

There was some sort of celebration happening with lots of women wearing fancy outfits and some very interesting hats.

The two little houses in the corner called Hansel and Gretel are the only two houses left of streets that used to surround a cemetery. The cemetery closed in 1773.  I wonder where the graves went?The interior of St. Elizabeth church dates to the 14th century. It was severely damaged during the second world war and then by a fire in 1976.

So it’s stained glass windows are modern. This one is quite unique.

More colourful houses on a side street…
and more busy gnomes.

We stop at a sidewalk restaurant for lunch and now we are ‘those people’ who take pictures of their meals! My salmon with a balsamic reduction was delicious.  It was one of the best restaurant meals I have had and Bob enjoyed his sausage and potato pancakes with spinach .

At the university we visit an ornate lecture room… and an interesting collection of artifacts.  This is a chart for determining eye colour.

I love all the old wooden cabinets with all their drawers. The Music Hall is under restoration but we are allowed a peak inside. We. climb another 203 steps up the Math tower, which has displays along the way.  

These are beautiful old compasses, some dating back to the 1600’s.The top of the Math Tower…
and the views. Notice the very modern looking tower among the old.

Bob standing on the Meridian line which runs through this University,  This meridian line demarcates the 51st parallel which runs right through the Math Tower as well. I just love all the reflections of the old buildings in the glass walls of the modern new buildings! Churches here are either very ornate…or look like this. The late afternoon sun was shining through the windows casting everything in a lovely olden glow.

We stop for tea and cookies in this little garden with its Baroque well. Then we visit the market and buy some fruit. Food prices are very reasonable here. More reflections. We catch a trolley bus home. We haven’t seem many paved streets or sidewalks here. Most of the streets and sidewalks here are cobbled in one fashion or another. All the uneven footing is hard on the feet and ankles. We walked 16,700 steps today and climbed the equivalent of 31 floors!

Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, Poland

Day 10, Wednesday September 4, 2019

We were too tired to even think about cleaning our bnb apartment and packing last night after the full day at Auschwitz so we did all that this morning. This meant a later start than usual but we are on our way to Wroclaw by 11:30. There was a lot of traffic, but there are lots of treed areas and parks along the way. I am happy Bob is driving and not me. My job is being the navigator, with the help of Google maps.

It is a half hour drive to the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, through the countryside and several small villages.This abbey was founded 975 years ago. It fell into ruin and was abandoned for 123 years. In 1939 it was transferred to 11 monks who began its restoration. This was hampered by WWII but today much of the abbey has been restored. There is still work to do and plans to have everything finished for the millennium celebration in 2044, when the abbey will be 1000 years old.The interior of the church shines with gilded statues and ornamentation. Notice the pulpit is in the shape of a boat.  We stop for dessert at a little outdoor cafe on the abbey grounds, some homemade pie, sherbet and Benedictine Brandy for Bob. This was our view. We enjoyed relaxing in this peaceful spot for a while, and the dessert was yummy. I think the structure on the right is a well but Bob thinks it is a wine press. We never did find out who was right. Back on the highway on our way to Wroclaw. We passed these domes before on our way to Krakow. They are connected by glass tunnels. No idea what it is, but it certainly looks interesting. Fields here are often bordered by a row of trees. I love their silhouettes against the sky. I snapped this as we drove by. We finally arrive at our apartment just as it gets dark and we are happy that it has a designated parking spot as there is absolutely no parking anywhere on the street.

 

 

Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camps, Poland

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

I knew today was going to be a long difficult day but neither of us had any idea how overwhelming it actually was. There is a lot of information on the history of these camps if you are interested. This plaque greets us at Auschwitz. We walk towards the entry gate down this aisle of photos and quotes from people who survived these camps. I was soon in tears, and we haven’t even entered the gates. A double row of electrified barbed wire surrounded the camp. The sign above the gate which translates to ‘Work Sets You Free’ was made by the prisoners and had a hidden message in it. They made the B upside down.

This is a long post with lots of photos but not much commentary. The images speak for themselves.

Before the ‘selection’.

All the prisoners in the top right corner of this photo were sent to their immediate deaths. 75% of the people who arrived at Auschwitz were sent to the gas chambers and murdered upon their arrival…men, women and children. The gas canisters used to administer the poisonous gas in the showers. Sorting the belongings of those who were sent to their deaths. The Germans kept the belongings and valuables of all who arrived in the camps. They were stored in warehouses and shipped out for the use of the German population. When the camps were going to be liberated, the Germans destroyed as much of the stored belongings as they could. This were just a bit of what they collected as most of it was destroyed.

Eyeglasses Prosthetic devices. All people with disabilities were sent to their death immediately. Pots and dishes, piled 8 feet deep. A whole wall of suitcases. Both sides of this long room were filled with shoes. Shoes of all sizes… men’s women’s, and children’s shoes.
We were not allowed to take photos in hall #5. This was the most difficult collection to view. A long room with two tonnes of women’s hair piled high all along one wall. It was so completely overwhelming and horrific. I was not the only one in tears with the horror of what this represented. It is so impossible to believe that people could do this to each other. The Germans sold bales of women’s hair to manufacturers of cloth and felt. This is only a small part of what was collected.The enormity of this is staggeringThe halls of one of the barracks were lined with photos of the prisoners, none of whom survived. After a while the Germans stopped taking photos of the prisoners. I think they just couldn’t keep up with it, there were so many. Some photos of prisoners when the camp was liberated by the Russians. There were three people to a bed in these barracks.
The Death Wall between barrack 10 and 11. Thousands of prisoners were executed against this wall. The windows on either side were covered so the other prisoners could not see what was happening.These panels are covered with names of the people from the Netherlands who died in this camp.  Here is a close up. The barracks. The doctors and their medical experiments, which were often done on twins. The crematorium. The gas chamber. And the furnaces where they burned 340 bodies every day. They couldn’t keep up so built bigger crematoriums at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. We leave Auschwitz I and after a lunch break catch a shuttle to Auschwitz II-Birkenau.

The entrance to this camp with the railroad that carried so many thousands to their deaths.

“Birkenau was the largest of the more than 40 camps and sub-camps that made up the Auschwitz complex. During its three years of operation, it had a range of functions. When construction began in October 1941, it was supposed to be a camp for 125 thousand prisoners of war. It opened as a branch of Auschwitz in March 1942, and served at the same time as a center for the extermination of the Jews. In its final phase, from 1944, it also became a place where prisoners were concentrated before being transferred to labor in German industry in the depths of the Third Reich

The majority—probably about 90%—of the victims of Auschwitz Concentration Camp died in Birkenau. This means approximately a million people. The majority, more than nine out of every ten, were Jews. A large proportion of the more than 70 thousand Poles who died or were killed in the Auschwitz complex perished in Birkenau. So did approximately 20 thousand Gypsies, in addition to Soviet POWs and prisoners of other nationalities.”

Birkenau is enormous. These two camps covered forty square miles! The railcars used to transport people to the concentration camps had no windows and no ventilation. Many died before they even reached the camp. Each of the chimneys you can see in the distance was part of a barrack. I counted close to two hundred barracks on one of the Birkenau signs. The Germans tried to destroy the camp once they knew they had lost the war. The view from the end of the rail line, looking back back towards the entrance gives an idea of how huge this camp was. The memorial to the victims of the Holocaust at the end of the rail line. These were the warehouses where the belongings of the prisoners were sorted and kept before being shipped out for use by the Germans. All that is left are the footings. A display of photos taken from the prisoners fills a large room. I didn’t understand this quote until I walked into the next room and read that the ashes of the people who were murdered in this camp were dumped in ponds and spread on the fields as fertilizer. Human ashes can still be found in these fields and ponds today.One of the four bigger crematoriums that was built to handle 4,400 corpses a day. The Germans blew up the crematoriums when they retreated to try to hide what they had been doing. There are only a few barracks remaining in Auschwitz II- Birkenau. Here is a plan of Birkenau. the area within the yellow square of the plan houses the remaining barracks.
These three tiered bunks held 6 to 8 prisoners each. There were 500 prisoners in each barrack, with no insulation or sanitary facilities. The interior of the Death Barrack.

At the end of the day we walk back to our car in silence. It has been an long emotional day, and we are both quite exhausted and overwhelmed by the experience.

Schindler’s Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland

Day 8, Monday, September 2, 2019

We should have pre-booked tickets for Schindler’s Factory Museum today and for Auschwitz tomorrow. There is a chance of getting last minute tickets at both of these sites so we are up early for our 45 minute walk to Schindler’s Factory today.  We arrive shortly after it opens at 8:30 and we are relieved to get tickets. It’s an interesting walk. Here is some street art we see on the way.

I never watched the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ because movies about terrible factual events  haunt me. We visited Dachau years ago when we travelled to Europe one summer with our young daughter. I still remember that day and I know that today and tomorrow will be difficult, but it is something that is important to do. This is one of the signs we read after entering the museum. Jewish people were hung along the train tracks for all to see.
Walking through this dark exhibit about the wall around the ghetto. It was thought that starving the Jewish people was an effective way to weaken and destroy the morale of the Jewish population, especially the young people.

Some of the exhibits as we walk through the museum. This shows the crowded conditions inside a home in the ghetto. The corridors are covered in articles and photographs. There is so much to see and read. More exhibits, this one of everyday life in Nazi occupied Krakow. …notice the armband that Jewish people had to wear so they could be identified as Jews. One of the camps.
A hiding place in the cellar of a house in Krakow. Even though it meant death for anyone found helping a Jew, by hiding them or even offering food or assistance of any kind. many of the Polish people did exactly that.  Oskar Schindler was one of these people. He really wasn’t a man of great character, he lied, cheated and stole what he could, but he was instrumental in saving the lives of 1200 Jews. He also treated the Jews working at his factory better than in any other factory or work camp. There are videos of survivors talking about their experiences during this time.  Some of the people that were saved by Oskar Schindler. Two of the survivors became doctors and one became a Supreme Court judge. Everything in this museum is difficult to watch and listen to, but we need to know and remember what happened. I have heard it said that we need to do this so history will never be repeated, but I wonder. There is so much hatred and racism in the world today that I can no longer believe that something like this will never happen again. It is frightening wondering what the future will bring. We stop for tea at the Modern Art Museum cafe. It gives us a chance to recover form the heavy content of the Schindler Museum.  On the way out I notice this vending machine. Notice the name of the drink it dispenses. I try out the cement bicycles… and Bob checks out an installation in a town square.  Interesting artwork in one of the shops we pass. We cross this pedestrian bridge over the river and we cannot decide how these sculpture stay right upright. They appear to be balancing on cables with no support wires yet somehow manage to stay right side up. We just can’t figure it out. Here is an interesting way to keep an old building while erecting a new modern one!  We stop in at a basilica near the old town which has a very impressive altar. I wonder if it is real gold on all these altars? OK, just did a bit of research and it appears that real gold foil is used. I always peak into open doorways. They are often not very attractive doors but they sometimes open on beautiful interior courtyards and gardens. A typical street side restaurant on our walk back to our apartment. More street art on the way home.

The sky is getting darker just as we enter the main old town square. This church has one of the most impressive altars in all of Poland but there is a service happening so we are not allowed in. There are lots of horse drawn carriages for hire. I was tempted but it really felt like the rain was coming. These are enormous, about a foot high and cost between $14 and $20 each! This guy tried to challenge Bob to a fight, but no luck, so… He tried to win me over!  An interesting sculpture of Jan Matejko who was a 19th-century painter native to Kraków.  He is renowned for his large oil-on-canvas paintings of historical events in Poland.  This street leads towards the train station with its huge attached shopping mall. One more church on the street just before the train station. It was dark inside except for the light shining on the altar. A typical building in Krakow old town… Juxtaposed with the interior of the train station shopping areas. It is huge, three floors with hundreds of very modern shops.

We pick up a few groceries for supper and head home, in the rain. It has been a long day, We walked 21,262 steps!  No wonder we are both tired.

The Wieliczka Salt Mines In Krakow, Poland

Day 6, Saturday, August 31, 2019

We had a quiet day today.  I rested and did some blogging and Bob checked out the train station and where to buy groceries.  He had a great idea, to use our empty carry on suitcase to haul our groceries. So mush easier than carrying heavy bags.

Day 7, Sunday, September 1, 2019

The Wieliczka Salt Mining Tour is on the agenda for today.  It is a twenty minute drive and we arrive early so we sit in a nearby park where it is cooler until it is time for our tour.  It is going to be 31° today, so going into a mine where the temperature is a constant 17° seems like a good idea. Immediately upon entering the mine we descend 54 flights of stairs, 380 steps down to the first level of the mine which is 64 meters deep. This photo is looking down the crack between the flights of stairs…and we were already almost halfway down when I took this! There are dioramas showing some of  the old mining techniques and machinery. These men are lifting ‘salt logs’ which weighed between 200 kg and 2 tonnes. The first shaft was sunk in 1280 and salt is still mined here today. The salt was formed 13 million years ago by an inland sea. The salt preserves the logs that are used for reinforcement. These are newer ones but we see others that are hundreds of years old. These sculptures are carved out of salt by the miners in the 20th century. These figures illustrate the legend of how the salt mines were discovered in Poland. Horses were used in the mines from the 16th century until 2002. Up to 350 horses worked and spent their whole lives underground. Interestingly, they did not go blind being in the darkness most of their lives. These horses operated a machine that moved the salt logs from one level to another. There are nine levels and 2 km of shafts and tunnels but we only visit about 1% of the mine. There are white seams of almost pure salt in some places.  Most of the salt mined was between 80-90% pure.  There are some strange creatures living in this mine. Stairs go down and down and down…there are 800 steps that we descend in all! Apparently gnomes make good miners! Looking down one of the long tunnels that we are not allowed to enter. Wow! This is St. Kinga’s Chapel. It is entirely constructed from the salt in the mine. Most of the stairs on our route are made of wood, but these two staircases we walk down are made of salt.The miners built over 40 chapels In the mine. It was very dangerous work so they would pray before their shift that they would be safe and then they would offer thanks before they went home. This representation of da Vinci’s last Supper is carved in salt, as are…  all the sculptures… the main altar. Even the chandeliers are made of salt crystals!

The floor looks like stone but is salt worn smooth by the millions of visitors to the mine.

An underground lake with scaffolding and stairs high above.

Another of the mine’s inhabitants!  This guy is a bit scarier than the little fellow we saw earlier:) This chamber connects the two levels of the mine and is 35 m. high. Because the roof is so high it needed to be strongly reinforced with all these high timbers. Another underground brine lake. The water in these lakes is 33% salt. Ocean water is only 3% salt. Luckily we do not climb this set of stairs! They disappear in to the darkness at the top of this chamber. One of the many long tunnels we walk through. At one time visitors rode boats through this part of the mine and were treated to a fireworks display 90 meters underground!  Today the mine has over 1.5 million visitors a year so it is impossible to still offer this experience. There is an underground banquet hall and restaurant. Another of the chapels we visited. A close up of the mine walls. We were invited to lick the walls, and taste the salt. We only licked our fingers and then touched the wall so we could taste the salt. I didn’t relish the thought of actually licking the walls!This enormous chamber is 135 meters below ground on the third of nine levels. The entire mine occupies about a 5 km x 5 km area. The ceiling here is 36 meters high and a Guinness World record was set here for an underground hot air balloon flight!

I was hoping to sketch underground but there just wasn’t the time, so I made notes instead, but I did sketch one of the tourists before we went underground.

On our way back to our car, these comical characters caught my eye, but there just isn’t room in my suitcase.