Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten

Our first full day in Berlin was a busy one. Me being the task master I was when planning our German trip, I had intended to start earlier than we actually did. And like other times during our trip, things didn't quite work out. We made our way from our home base at Frankfurter Tor to the station at Alexanderplatz, where I was promptly and thoroughly confused when we couldn't find the platform to the train for our final station, Hauptbahnnof. But what a beautiful station:

So my plans to tour the Reichstag were foiled by my poor planning, even poorer execution, and overall confusion about the Berlin public transportation system. The Reichstag has a reservation system, so you can't just wander on in, and there were no times that were going to work out for us the rest of the day. But we got really close to the building.

Distraught at this missed opportunity, we wandered through the Tiergarten (literally "Animal Park"), and using my handy dandy "Rick Steves Germany" book, came across the Soviet War Memorial.

I was quite familiar with the Soviet occupation on Berlin (not personal experience, though), and the Soviet domination of East Germany for decades afterwards, but it was still a little jarring to see this huge monument with Cyrillic. Having a huge enemy solider looming over the West German citizens during the Cold War couldn't have been very pleasant, either. Yep, the monument was built in British-controller Berlin during the four power period.

The monument reads: "Eternal glory to heroes who fell in the struggle against the German fascist invaders for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Union." 80,000 Soviet soldiers died in the assault on Berlin in 1945, with about 2,000 of them buried at the memorial site.

Also on the site are a howitzer and two T-34 tanks, some of the many weapons used during the battle. The fences aren't from 1945, but they were a theme of our day touring Berlin.

We only touched on the Tiergarten, but this is one of the interesting monuments in and near the park. It's only minutes away from the Brandenburg Gate, and worth a look if you're in the area.

Seney Wildlife Refuge

Having a couple of days in Manistique, one of those days should be spent the Seney Wildlife Refuge, a vast area of protected wetlands in the middle of the U.P. Like many places in Michigan, the place was devastated by the lumber industry I the late 19th century. With the fauna destroyed, the wildlife left, and the land was unable to support farming, which was a surprise to the many farmers who were convinced to move into the wilds of very northern Michigan.

What to do? Well, we have the Great Depression to thank for that. With millions of unemployed men in the country, there was a glut of workers, but no work. But part of that problem was solved by sending them to the land southwest of Seney, MI. With the work of several years and several hundred workers, the wasted timberland was converted into a wildlife refuge in the hopes of bringing back the wildlife that had left when the lumberman came in. It worked.

Seney is now home to around 200 species of birds as well as wolves, moose, and many other types of animals. It also home to hiking trails and a wildlife drive, a road that winds through the refuge so visitors can take in the eastern section of the park.

But we'll start where everyone does, the visitor's center. Accessed from M77, the visitors center provides interesting exhibits on the history of the park and the wildlife inside. This is a great spot for kinds, with all kinds of touchable exhibits. The animal sound exhibit was also a big hit. Hopefully you'll escape without spending too much on stuffed animals and kids' books. But if you don't, it's for a good cause.