My sister and I went to Berlin for four nights about a week ago. I was there in 1998 when my high school choir was touring central Europe, and I remember very little. We stayed in the east, I believe. I ate at a Pizza Hut (I was vegetarian at the time) and was so surprised but happy to see that the staff there spoke English. I also remember going to a museum near Checkpoint Charlie.
Stephanie and I stayed in Kreuzberg just a block south of Checkpoint Charlie. We got in on our flight around 7pm, and took the train in from the airport. Within minutes I had accidentally activated the assistance alarm in our accessible room. Whoops. Our first German meal was actually Vietnamese (so good), after which we walked up Freidrichstrasse to Unter der Linden and over to the Brandenburg Gate, where the Christopher Street Festival was going on. We returned to see teeny tiny gummy bears on our pillows.
Sunday I woke up with a cold, which frankly was inevitable. I’d been going full force, studying and stressing, for a couple of months. Once the stress of that was gone, I almost immediately got on a plane to take a vacation. But it turned out to be a pretty mild cold, so we forged ahead. We went to the Topographie des Terrors, which was eerie. After stopping for a currywurst, we walked over to the DDR Museum, which focuses on what daily life was like in East Berlin in the 60s-80s. Really fascinating place. We passed through the forum where Marx and Engels are displayed in statue form, then strolled up Karl-Marx-Allee until we reached the East Side Gallery.
At this point we were pretty exhausted so we took a break and regrouped for a visit to the Holocaust Memorial. It was powerful and eerily quiet. After that we needed something a bit lighter, so we found some Italian food and then made our way over to the Reichstag, which is where the government meets. You can go up in the dome, and we got there for the last entry at 9:30pm, giving us some gorgeous twilight views of Berlin. We walked from there to the main train station with the hopes of getting tickets to Dresden for the next day, but decided instead to take a trip just outside Berlin to Potsdam.
Potsdam is a gorgeous little town. There are interesting winding streets with somewhat more colorful buildings that we found in Berlin during our first two days. We found a great place with yummy German food and lovely waitstaff who politely translated every menu item for us. We visited the huge park there and got caught in a rain storm before taking refuge in the Neues Palais. Talk about massive. We headed back in the evening, got Chinese food for dinner and visited the Checkpoint Charlie museum I had gone to twelve years ago. A ton of information to take in about attempts to escape from East Berlin and to change the government.
Tuesday we hoped to see the Bauhaus Archive but it was closed, so we wandered over to the Zoo area. That part was very commercial and kind of creeped me out, although we found a gem in the Museum for Photograph / Helmut Newton museum. His work is amazing. We walked through Tiergarten, stopped for a sundae (mmmmmm) and then walked over to see the Tacheles, this amazing art installation.
Wednesday was our last day (late flight back to London) and we went up a bit north to take a Berlin Underground tour. I really recommend this – the tour we took had us going into two underground bunkers – both built to protect people from bombings during WWII, with one renovated to handle cold war tensions. It was really amazing, and we were lucky to have a great guide who was an archaeologist by trade. He was full of really interesting knowledge. For example, did you know Frankfurt is the center of European flight control because it dates back to it serving as the hub of the Berlin airlifts in the 60s? We finished the day watching the England match at one of the many ‘beaches’ set up throughout the city for World Cup viewing.
Berlin was really cheap, and not crowded at all. In fact, the places we were seemed very empty. But the neighborhoods near the Tacheles and the Underground tour seemed really interesting and places I’d want to explore more. I could definitely see myself going back.