Berlin is a Surprise Package
Ravaged appallingly by the second world war and the bombings, Berlin never recovered its beauty and to my mind is not a pretty city to visit.
Don’t expect quaint and scenic. It is apartments, bunker-style architecture and high rises with a ghastly Telecom Tower rising like some UFO out of Alexanderplatz and built in the 60’s thanks to East German poor taste.
One goes there to visit things and to remember – and to party if you are under 25 apparently – which sadly I’m not .
- An area to stay close in is around Checkpoint Charlie on say Freidrichstrasse or Charlottenstrasse or maybe the Hilton on the Gendarmenmarkt which is such a lovely big square with its Opera and buskers and open air cafes in Summer.
- Hire a bike in Berlin, the roads are flat and safe and Berliners are extremely bike friendly and the bike paths are great
- Checkpoint Charlie is not much but it’s there acting as a reminder of the terrible division between the West and the East from August 13, 1961 – November 9, 1989.
There are a couple of museums around it and the original sign telling you you are leaving the American Sector. In Summer there is a small outdoor beach setup and bar behind the Wall Museum.
In 1963 before his assassination President JFK came to West Berlin and gave his famous speech in which he said:
All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!” JFK
- Another part of the wall which is about an hour’s walk on foot from Checkpoint Charlie but very quick on the metro with one change is the East Side Gallery Wall on Muhlenstrasse. Do not miss this. You get a real feeling for the immensity and horror of the Wall’s Block.
It is a 2 kms length of remaining wall covered in paintings including the iconic painting of the photo of the Kiss between Presidents Brezhnev and Honecker (Russia and East Germany) – which is truly repugnant.
- Just beyond it is the very lovely Oberbaum double decker bridge over the river Spree. Built in 1724 for the railway line it which featured in the Bourne Supremacy filmed in Berlin.
- The Reichstag building is pretty spectacular from the inside. It was destroyed by fire in 1933 by Hitler (who framed a young man under the guise of being a Commie so that Hitler could conspire against Communists and perform mass arrests.)
It has been totally re-constructed with an inspiring massive glass dome configuration that heats and cools the Parliamentarians sitting beneath it today. The best way to avoid the crowds and queues is to get your hotel to book a time you can go straight up to the Cafe for breakfast lunch or dinner (or just a coffee) It is a lovely cafe with great views and afterwards you walk straight on out up the Dome with your headphones on. Remember to bring a copy of your passport as there is strict security being an active Parliament building and you will not get in otherwise
- The Brandenburg Gate is right by the Reichstag at the end of the famous street called Unter Den Linden (under the linden trees) both of which were in East Berlin during the Cold War. Snap a photo of it then head off to the other side and ride your bike through the wonderful Tiergarten (meaning animals garden in German) It was once a massive hunting reserve and interestingly was denuded of trees in 1944 to provide firewood for the deprived Berliners. Riding one’s bike through it on a sunny day is one of the highlights of any trip as it is so truly beautiful.
- Hitler’s Bunker is not too far away from here either on Gertrud Kolmar Strasse. Nothing to see by the way – just a park n a plaque but you’re in Berlin so go make the pilgrimage
- The DOM is a huge cathedral built on the Museum Island in the middle of the Spree river which runs through Berlin. Spectacular.
- Also on the island is the famous Pergamon museum. A three winged complex featuring ruins from before and after Christ, it is very popular so book online for your entries. The Ishtar Gate, the Altar to Zeus & Athena (this room will close in September for 5 years!) The Market Gate at Miletus and the Hammurabi stele, to name few, should be on the bucket list of all
- Not far from the Brandenburg Gate is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. A large space of immense granite coffins symbolise their deaths.
Sombre, sobering and sad.
- On a lighter note – there is even a GAY MUSEUM not far from the Tiergarten on the other side of the river. Berlin is a very gay-friendly city with a pulsating night-life for those so inclined
Me personally, I really enjoyed a lovely French Pinot Noir and a runny Saint Marcellin French cheese in the wonderful gourmet food and wine store in the underground part of Galeries-Lafayette on the corner of Friedrichstraße and Französische Straße. Look for the Ladies Toilets downstairs (that’s how I found it!)
Anyway, when you leave Berlin remember if you are driving: although Germany does not require road toll sticker permits on your windscreens, Austria does. So buy a sticker called a VIGNETTE when you get over the border into Austria at the nearest road-side service station and GUTE FAHRT! (HAPPY DRIVING)