"Berlin, Berlin - wir fahren nach Berlin!" Top 5 Page for this destination Berlin by Kakapo2
Berlin Travel Guide: 6,951 reviews and 15,575 photos
This page is more or less finished. I will add some little tips, but you will be able to survive in Berlin without them. I have only published tips which I could illustrate with digital photos - and a handful of other things which I know a lot about.
Back to Berlin. Our trip to the capital of Germany in August 2007 (which was followed by another trip in October 2012) was like a discovery tour of a new place. Berlin, literally the place of the “little bear”. Bär-lein. Centuries later home of world-famous polar bear Knut (sadly deceased in March 2011).
Although I had been in Berlin regularly before I moved to New Zealand, I had not seen its new face. The lifted face of reunification. I had been in the eastern part on business trips but I had spent most of the time in sports stadiums, and had stayed at hotels near Kurfürstendamm (Kudamm) as I had always loved this centre of the West, with the War Memorial-like semi-destroyed Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche and the decadent megastore KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) nearby. So I had not really followed the modernisation of the East in the 1990s although I was happy that the border chicanes had stopped, the nightmarish trips on the Autobahn or by train. (On the other hand it had always been easy to travel to Berlin by air. The fares were subsidised and cheap, so we could keep our foot in the door to the East.)
Meeting relatives from the East in Berlin was always stressful but still the easiest way to meet at all, at least for some hours. When I thought of the controls at Bahnhof Friedrichstraße I already had enough. Of course, we always tried to take forbidden items into the East, and explain with colourful explanations why we had them in our bags, but most times we had to deposit them and pick them up again when leaving GDR in the evening. So my biggest victory was when I succeeded to take a Led Zeppelin LP to the East although the import of such decadent Western music was forbidden. LED ZEPPELIN. The control officer had never ever heard of them and asked a colleague if he knew the band, and pronounced every letter of L-E-D Zeppelin in German. No, he did not know such a Zeppelin. So the LP was no risk for GDR’s moral standards – and allowed in!
We walked through coal-blackened quarters of the East, watching people shovel their coal into the cellars, and every single person looked poorer than anyone I knew in the West. Their eyes lit up when being gifted oranges and bananas. We had relatives in the East who had a lot of money because they were lucky and had their own business – but they could not buy anything with their money because there was just nothing they needed or wanted, or they had to order their next Trabbi (the famous primitive plastic car of the East) a hundred years in advance.
We were forced by GDR law to exchange a certain amount of money per day on our visits and spend it over there. It was not a lot. But food was ridiculously cheap, so in the late afternoon we started queuing in front of the bookshops at Alexanderplatz, so we could get rid of our gaming money, as we called it, because it had no value in the West. The number of people in a bookshop at a time was limited to the number of shopping baskets they had. And only when this procedure was over the trip back to West-Berlin could start, and although being happy to have met our relatives, we were always happy to have left the East and the depressing atmosphere of suppression and control behind.
Now it is nearly the other way round. Many people of the East cherish the products of the East they once hated. A kind of nearly perverse nostalgia lies over Eastern values, products, as if nobody had ever wanted the Wall to fall, all due to being forced to open their eyes to reality and give up the fairy-tale dreams of West Germany being a country of milk and honey, and if the Mercedes Benzes and the golden geese would fall from heaven into everybody’s open hands, as then-chancellor Helmut Kohl had promised. If anything drives East and West Germany apart now, it is the way to cope with reality.
It leaves us Westerners speechless how incredibly beautiful, no, spectacular, the eastern suburbs have become since the reunification. They have been building like crazy (and still are!), subsidised again, of course. Compared to the splendour of Potsdamer Platz and innumerous other attractions, some attractions of the West which had been fabulous 20 years ago, suddenly look so small and nearly shabby, and they seem remote, to say the least, some nearly forgotten, while the tourist masses flock through the new/old East, reducing the former rich West to a poor brother.
But at least you do not suffer a culture shock like in the times of the Cold War when you move from the East to the West and back and forth ;-)
They have kept Checkpoint Charlie as the symbol of the former separation. It has become a still interesting but also ridiculous tourist trap, actors in uniforms posing with tourists for a charge, and the next officer offering to stamp your passport for another charge. You are leaving the American sector… And it is still a dangerous place. Hordes of tourists, hopping over the former border, incorporated as a marking sign in the footpath, on the other side of the street, more tourists being spat out by tour buses, more buses and trucks and cars slaloming around all those people heading to Checkpoint Charlie. Yes, it still is a dangerous place. But you do not get shot anymore if you run from the East to the West ;-)
Every now and then you get confronted with the past of separation. However, in a less rip-off way. There are parts of the Wall left in several locations of the city, and in some places the concrete slabs have to be protected by fences. Otherwise the tourists would carry away the last left-overs of this visible part of history. But you cannot imagine this grey and hostile no-man’s land anymore that lay between the East and the West. And soon the last gaps in the landscape will disappear, as they are building and building ferociously.
So it is even more important to keep places like the documentation centre Topography of Terror, near Martin-Gropius-Bau, and parts of the Wall, and if it is only those slabs of the Eastside Gallery, between Oberbaumbrücke and Ostbahnhof, on which artists and amateur painters have expressed their thoughts about this part of our history. I also very much enjoyed the Russian memorials, especially in Treptower Park, which tell us how they liberated GDR from the Western monsters. I think they are great pieces of art, not only the giant-sized sculpture of the soldier saving a child, in the posture of a midwife, but also the reliefs in the park. But sure, when you know the end of the story, such monuments can also be a bit amusing ;-) I recited my creative interpretations of the reliefs and had a lot of fun :-)
Apart from the above mentioned exception of Checkpoint Charlie, and Reichstag where everybody queues to get up to the viewing platform in the crystal dome, even when it is closed LOL… Apart from this a Berlin visit is easy and relaxed. The city has such incredibly generous spaces, a lot of water – rivers and lakes - and a lot of green spaces. Although we travelled during the German summer holidays we did not get the impression the city was overcrowded, and you only got aware of how many visitors were wandering through the city at some neuralgic spots.
What I enjoyed most, was my personal discovery of Nikolaiviertel, Berlin’s oldest quarter, first mentioned in 1280. I had not been there before, at least I did not remember. The fact that I would not have kept a lasting memory would be explicable: It has been restored to its former glory as late as from 1981 to 1989. That was the exactly the period when I did not visit East Berlin, for whatever reasons. Probably coincidence. I think I had lost track and hope.
Nikolaiviertel and its church (Nikolaikirche) are other strange things with which you are confronted wherever you go: Although they do not tire to note all the years of first construction in all the travel guides, no building in Berlin is really old. As the city was flattened in World War II all the historic splendour you see today are reconstructions and replicas true to the original. Fine architecture at its best – trying to put the things right again. You might walk around and admire the amalgamation of old and new – but in fact it is piecing together new and brandnew buildings. However, the replicas are not any less beautiful or impressive, on the contrary. They are so perfect that sometimes you are inclined to wait for horse-drawn carriages coming around the corner.
As you can imagine, a city of such history and size, home of five million people, is not only crammed with fabulous buildings, but – apart from great entertainment, music, culture and nightlife - also fantastic museums. My personal highlight is Pergamon-Museum with the original 130 metre long altar from the historic site of Pergamon, now part of Turkey. That already made me speechless on my first visit to East Berlin as a schoolgirl. This museum is one of the several fantastic museums of Museumsinsel, an island in the river Spree, close to Nikolaiviertel, and East Berlin’s former centre around Alexanderplatz and the Red Town Hall which has become the home of Berlin’s (united) Government. You do not need the train to visit all those places, you find everything at walking distance – and can walk until your feet are so sore that you cannot walk anymore ;-)
A thing that delighted me was that you can find a lot of places where you get cheap food, and great hotel deals. No rip-off atmosphere at all. Plus, you can buy well priced day passes for public transport. So a stay in Berlin must not be expensive at all – if you can resist the shopping bug LOL (And I would do this to a certain extent if you plan to visit other centres of East Germany, like Dresden and Leipzig. There I found some great stuff, and everything was cheaper than in Berlin and the rest of the West…)
And so we have reached the point of recommendations…
Most important, probably: How many days do you need to cover the most important attractions? Really – take as many days as you can spare. The more, the better. We had two full days (three nights) on our last visit, and saw an incredible lot, and went into all the churches you will find in my tips, because we cruised and walked like maniacs until our feet were on fire. But we have not been in a lot of museums, and we did not get up into the Reichstag Dome because it was closed for maintenance.
I had been in many museums on former visits, and had seen twenty football games at Olympiastadion, been to Charlottenburg’s castle, seen Nofretete, so I did not mind not to visit this time. On the other hand, we did several off the beaten path things like a loooooong walk to and in Treptower Park, and down the river past houseboats and the Molecule Man to Oberbaumbrücke, and then another long walk along the Eastside Gallery. And my husband absolutely had to go to Viktoriapark after he had seen the nice water features in a book ;-) You would not be able to do those things if you have not been in Pergamon-Museum before. Had we had a third day, we could have relaxed on Wannsee, visited Polar Bear Knut at the zoo, cruised some parks by bicycle.
The most important thing for me on this last visit was to get a feeling for the new Berlin, freed from its strangling outer border and its dividing inner wall, the former death stripe filled with life, and the East’s former charcoal face glimmering and glittering like a superstar. My biased feeling was converted into pure delight and enthusiasm for one of the most exciting cities of the world.
- Pros:Great buildings, sights, museums, atmosphere at every corner
- Cons:Too much to see and do LOL
- In a nutshell:One of the most exciting cities in the world
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