The Berlin Blockade lasted 318 days during which time, 275,000 planes transported 1.5 million tons of supplies with a plane landing every three minutes at Berlin’s Templehof airport. The old airport runway and surrounding fields have now been transformed into a large open park.
Berlin…………city of myth, city of history, city of division, city of rebirth. Whenever a mention of Berlin I can immediately hear in my head the soundtrack to the movie Cabaret, und cabaret, und cabaret, und cabaret, made famous by Liza Minnelli in the movie of the same name. That and Christopher Isherwood who wrote the wonderful novels, Goodbye to Berlin and Mr Norris Changes Trains, all topped off in the background to the smoky husky tones of Marlene Dietrich’s very special brand of drawl English.
I had first planned to visit Berlin as a teenager at the invitation of some Viennese visitors I met one summer in Dublin. They had invited me to join them on a trip to the city to spend Christmas in a Berlin squat. That was in the early 1980’s if memory serves me correctly. In the end they decided to stay in Vienna for the Christmas, so I went there instead. My only other connection with the city, unfortunately, had a more sinister outcome. On a subsequent visit to what was still known as Czechoslovakia, and still at the time part of the USSR, I happened to meet and form a friendship with a guy from East Berlin who was on his annual holiday in the Czech capital, Prague. For people living in the USSR and including East Germany it was basically one of a very limited number of places that citizens of what was then known as GDR were allowed to visit, as well as being virtually all they could afford anyway. On my return to Ireland we exchanged a number of letters and I, in my naivety at the time, was quite open about how repressive I thought the communist system and the USSR. He, for his part, was quite open about how difficult, depressing and limiting life was in East Berlin, until one day about a year later one of my letters was returned, stamped person and address unknown. That was the last time I heard from him and to this day I still do not know what fate befell him, but I held him in my thoughts as I visited the remains of the Berlin Wall and the East Side Gallery.
Only now, August 2017, have I finally managed to make it to Berlin and these are my impressions of the city and its people.
First things first, Berlin is huge! Probably similar in scale to London, an that is an important factor to bear in mind when choosing the location of accommodation for your visit. It has three main modes of transport for getting around, S-Bahn, U-Bahn, & buses, whilst the old east side still has tram lines, as they were a mainstay of the old GDR. We stayed in the fabulous boutique, but ultra-contemporary, Hotel Ku’ Damm 101 which is well located if you like top end luxury shopping, think Hermes, Gucci, Bentley et al. It also has very good bus links to the central shopping areas, think Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Road, London, all the mainstream big brands like H&M, Zara et al. But then, I don’t visit places to see what I can look at and find at home. To really get a proper look around Berlin and make the most of any visit without feeling rushed I would say you need at least 4 full days to fully appreciate all it has to offer. Even then that’s just about enough to scratch the surface.
Top of my list is the following
The Reichstag Dome, a Norman Foster jewel, set atop the roof affording endless and 360 degree views across all of Berlin. It needs to be booked in advance, due to it popularity and the limited numbers of places per day. Best to book as far in advance as you possible can. Also, if you trip includes a weekday then aim to visit on one of these, rather than a weekend when it will be at its busiest. We booked for a Monday and had virtually no waiting time before entry. Link to booking site is at the bottom of this post.
Following a visit to the Reichstag you are within walking distance to the Brandenburg gate the walk to which takes you past the somber and haunting holocaust memorial to the Sinti and Roma people murdered by the Nazis.
Following a wander around the Brandenburg gate it is then a short walk to the Jewish Holocaust memorial. Picture further down in this post.
Signs, Symbols & Things spotted on the streets
I really don’t get what a banana and a woman in a bath has to do with designer glasses, do you?
Next on my list has got to be the area of Bergmannkiez a great neighborhood to wander with some wonderful local restaurants and cafes and also home to the first vegetarian butchers shop “Der Vegetarische Metzger” I have come across. This is a great place to stop for lunch. I had a crispy chicken burger and honestly it was hard to believe that it was meat free. A short walk from here is the eerily abandoned Templehof Airport.
A visit to Berlin should definitely include a Sunday in order to take in a visit to the wonderful Mauerpark. Particularly if the weather is good as this place really needs a sunny day to be enjoyed at its very best. Possibly one of the best, if not the best, markets I have seen anywhere in the world, particularly if the weather is good. It has everything from handmade jewelry, to food, to bric-a-brac. The Sunday we visited it was packed and the atmosphere great!!
Vase of flowers Supersonico Restaurant Berlin
Wall display Supersonico
Following this we head to the East Side Gallery, which basically comprises a preserved section of the Berlin wall. Now transformed into a gallery of works by painters from around the world depicting both the history and horrors that the wall stood for. This was one of the highlights for me and a moving testament to the suffering endured by the peoples of the GDR. This should also stand as testament to the failure of communism and act a wake-up call for any today who might imagine a future under any form of socialist communist regimes.
This mural portrait of Andrej Sacharow is a tribute to his work and life. Originally a Soviet nuclear physicist, he became a dissident and human rights activist. He became concerned about the moral and political implications of the nuclear technology he had invented and turned to activism for nuclear disarmament and human rights. Andrej Sacharow died in 1989 a few weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall
The Trabant was an automobile, of sorts, produced from 1957 to 1990 by former East German auto maker VEB Sachsenring Automobilwerke Zwickau in Zwickau, Saxony It is often regarded as a symbol of the defunct East Germany and of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in general. Nevertheless, it was very sought after in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact such was its status, and being the only available car in the GDR there was reputedly a two year waiting list for one, that is for the minority who could afford one in the first place. Communism, aah the good old days!
Potsdamer Platz whilst interesting and certainly worth a look around would not be top of my list for a return as it’s a little to mono global for my liking.
The central districts of the city are worth a wander, with Museum Island a visual highlight. Which brings me to the TV Tower, a Berlin icon and visible for miles around from virtually all parts of the city, it is however somewhat ugly up close. Although I’m sure the views are spectacular from its restaurant, I gave this a miss.
For me the real power of this memorial instillation is fully appreciated when walking in between the oppressive undulation and changing cubes, always grey, but catching sight of the greenery in the distance, a stark frame, yet always beyond the reach of this soulless maze. redolent of gasping for air, a claustrophobic melancholy.
All of the oldest surviving buildings seem to be churches and cathedrals, save for the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, bombed during the second world war its remaining bell tower and hall now stands as a peace monument.
Berliners are generally very laid back, friendly and approachable, whereas Berlin police are not at all friendly and seem to think you a criminal, or insane, should you dare to ask them a question.
Public transport, and in particular the U and S Banh, are very erratic being a bit unreliable and hit and miss. We had to get off countless trains and catch link buses between stations that were closed. On one occasion the train we caught from the center and was that was supposed to go direct to Potsdam instead terminated in the middle of nowhere without explanation. On quizzing the driver stating the train had said Potsdam both on the front display and on the departures board, he smiled and said, really, oh well, before closing his door and taking his empty train back towards the city.
Berlin also seems to have more south east Asian restaurants than I have seen in any city outside of South east Asia. So if you hanker after Japanese Sushi, or Vietnamese Spring rolls, you will be well served, indeed one of the best meals we had was in a Vietnamese restaurant in the historic inner city Potsdam, more of which in the second blog post focusing on Potsdam, next on my list and a place I wish I had had more time to see and one I would revisit. In fact, I would come back and stay here, hire a car and spend a few days exploring the areas around the palaces, as it’s a beautiful landscape and location steeped in history and wonder.
We flew with Easy-jet from Manchester using air miles collected from Emirates and convertible to EasyJet thus the flights were free. The only negative being the arrival time of just after 11:30pm meaning public transport to the city was very limited
We opted for Ku’ Damm 101 as it was mostly pad for using accumulated Avios points. Stills it’s a great contemporary hotel with big comfortable rooms a snazzy bathroom and a wonderful breakfast.
We bought Berlin Welcome card which is basically a travel card permitting travel on all public transport. We got the one that included Potsdam for a couple of extra euros.
There is also the more expensive option of the Berlin Pass which also includes entry to over 60 attractions but it’s very expensive and therefore only worth it if you intend to visit a lot of museums.
I wouldn’t call Berlin as a particularly foodie place unless you are a committed carnivore. I found it quite limiting in terms of choice, but I can recommend the vegetarian butchers shop “Der Vegetarische Metzger”
Another great place with a very reasonably priced set lunch menu and close to the Mauerpark is this great new Italian Supersonico. I love the sleek classic Italian décor very smart in that typical Italian way.
Another was a Tex Mex we stumbled across and just around the corner from
Friedrich Strasse U-Bahn. In fact it’s built into the railway arches below. We visited here a couple of times as the food was consistently good including vegetarian options as well as being reasonably priced.
2 part post, next post Potsdam
In conclusion what I realise is that I have merely scratched the surface of this great city and its surrounds which beckons a recall at some future date.