Berlin has an incredible history just within the 20th century. This makes it an appealing and fascinating destination for people from all over the world. It’s a history that feels accessible to us since only 90 years ago, Adolph Hitler was making his move in Berlin with the rise of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich. The subsequent war ended with a crushing invasion of Berlin by 1.5 million Soviet troops and Hitler’s suicide in his bunker here. Then the city, and all of Germany was divided up by the victorious allies, kicking off the Cold War with the Soviets eventually building a wall that would divide Berlin. When the wall came down in 1989, Germany was reunified and there was a huge rush of development in the former East Berlin.
Belgium is known for its comics or cartoons, which are an integral part of Belgian culture. Comics are strongly rooted in reality and in people’s imagination. Some of the most well known characters are Tintin and the cowboy Lucky Luke.
On buildings around Brussels, artists have painted large murals depicting many of the favorite comic characters. There are over 50 of these murals that have been cataloged. It’s a little bit of a scavenger hunt to find them. Sadly, in some cases, “street artists” have felt the need to add their own stupid graffiti, but most of them are unaltered.
Munich traces its founding to the year 1158. In 1240 the city would pass to the House of Wittelsbach which would govern Munich (and Bavaria) for the next 700 years. Munich prospered as a salt trading center but would be hit hard by the plague in 1349 and it would persist for the next 150 years. The coopers (barrel makers) initiated a ritualistic dance in an effort to bring an end to the plague since their trade was suffering because people were afraid to leave their houses and therefore were not drinking as much beer. This dance continues to be performed every seven years but it is reenacted 3 times daily by the little figures in the Glockenspiel high up on the main tower of the city hall.
Geneva is surrounded on three sides by France and its Lake Geneva is shared with France. The primary language is French but Geneva is a very international city with approximately 46% of the population being foreign born. This is mostly due to the raft of international organizations that either make their home here or have a substantial presence, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the headquarters for the International Red Cross which was founded here in 1863.
Once again, we began our visit to Barcelona with a walking tour. We were told that Romans founded the city in 38 B.C. In the first 200 years they built a walled city that defined the boundaries of Barcelona for the next 1600 years! During this time they had to build higher since they could not build out, given that they could not extend the city beyond the walls. Not until the mid-1850’s did they break out of their medieval walls. People were dying very young from disease caused by the overcrowding. Previously unknown engineer Ildefons Cerda created a plan for the expanded city that turned out to be extraordinarily visionary ultimately leading to him being credited as having defined “urbanization”.
Barcelona is part of Catalonia, an “autonomous community” in the northeast corner of Spain. It is also referred to as a nationality for the people in this region who for centuries have been agitating for the creation of an independent state for Catalonia. Before the 18th century it was a principality of the Crown of Aragon with its own language. Today, Catalan, along with Spanish is the official language of this region.