Call me crazy, but I wasn’t overly eager to visit Berlin. I knew I wanted to see some of the historical aspects related to the war, but as my regular readers will know I am not a big fan of large cities. When trying to figure out a place to visit in November (I travel somewhere at least once a month) I felt like doing something “easy” and decided to do a German road trip.
I chose Berlin as the end destination because it was a city I felt I “should” see, and because it’s in northern Germany. I’ve only explored south Germany, and I wanted to see more of the north. Berlin ended up being a lovely city, with endless character and years of history.
We arrived at our Air B & B the evening after exploring Bamberg, and I was so happy with the neighborhood we chose. It was clearly a wealthy neighborhood, and our host was so kind. We stayed there for three nights. The apartment was a 20 min walk to the train station, which we used the two days we spent in the city. There was no way I was driving into the city, I learned my lesson in Rome.
We decided to buy a 48 hr pass for a hop on hop off bus to maximize our time and hit all the main sights. Berlin is HUGE, and this was a simple way to get around. The first place we hopped off was at the Topography of Terror museum. This museum was the original location of the Nazi SS headquarters, and some of the bricks of the original building are still in tact. I could literally feel the history here, and it was wild.
The inside of this museum depicts the history of the war from beginning to end, and the outside has the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall in the center of Berlin.
From the museum, we walked down the street a bit to find Checkpoint Charlie. From 1961 to the German re-unification in 1990, Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous border crossing during the Cold War period. It was located at the very center of the geopolitical conflict between East and West.
It was a slightly ironic sight to see the U.S. checkpoint now leading to a street with KFC and McDonalds.
From here we hopped back on the bus and headed towards the Brandenburg Gate. The Brandenburg Gate has become the defining symbol of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The gate came to be a gateway into a unified Germany and Europe.
Next to the gate was the parliament building, which is self explanatory. We spent all of five minutes here to see it, snap a pic, snap a pic of a random stranger, and then we moved onto the next.
From here we walked to the Holocaust Mahnmal, or “The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.” I saw photos of this memorial years ago, and had wanted to visit ever since. The monument covers 19,000 square meters, and consists of 2711 concrete blocks, all dedicated to Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.
When I first heard about this monument, it was after reading an article about tourists who were taking inappropriate photos surrounding the blocks. The article had original photos of selfies, yoga poses, jugglers (seriously??!), etc… which were then photoshopped with backdrops of what happened during the holocaust. The photoshopped project was titled “Yolocaust.”
Sounds aggressive, but I love what he did.
These blocks are not a playground for tourists, they are a symbol of something horrific. If you want to read more about the man who created the “Yolocaust” read this BBC article. Point being – selfies and yoga poses and fun photos with your friends at a place like this, or like this, or like this are never appropriate. Period.
After the memorial visit we briefly wandered Tiergarten, a large park in the center of Berlin where I took the above photo. Statues of three composures wrapped around the center structure – I remember Mozart, but forgot the other two. We ended our first day with a visit to KaDeWe, one of the worlds largest department stores.
I wanted to see the inside, despite the fact that I am not a big shopper. We went to the very top of the building and sat in the food area by a window watching the city fall asleep below.
Day two in Berlin was dedicated to East Berlin, specifically to see the East Side Gallery. Immediately after the wall came down, 118 artists from 21 countries began painting the East Side Gallery, and it officially opened as an open air gallery on 28 September 1990. Just over a year later, it was given protected memorial status.
The above photos were a few of my favorites, as well as two of the most famous paintings. First the ‘fraternal kiss’ by Dmitri Vrubel depicting a kiss between communist leaders Leonid Brezhev (soviet) and Erich Honecker (East German president.) This painting is titled My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, and is based off of a real photo.
The other famous painting is by Birgit Kinder, showing a Trabant car breaking through the Berlin Wall. This is symbolic of the former East Germany and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The painting is a nod both to this popular car and to the many East Germans who tried to escape over the Berlin Wall.
It took about two hours to slowly wander the East Side Gallery, and after we finished we went to see a few more places in the central part of Berlin. First up was the Berliner Dom, likely one of the most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. I didn’t go inside, which I regret, but the exterior is amazing. Even with the current renovation.
The church is in an area of Berlin called “museum island” which is a fitting name. There are a myriad of museums here likely to tickle the fancy of just about anyone. I don’t usually enjoy museums, so I just wandered the exterior. However, one spot in this area that I did want to see was Bebelplatz.
On 10 May 1933, members of the Nazi German Student Union and their professors burnt books as part of a nationwide action “against the un-German spirit”. This book burning took place at Bebelplatz, and the below plaque is now placed as a memorial of the books that were burned.
The final thing we wanted to do in Berlin was find somewhere to get a view of the city. We chose the most touristy option and we decided to take a ride up the TV Tower. We had purchased a city pass, giving us a discount for the ride and it ended up only being around $13 to go up the tower.
We spent about 30 minutes at the top to watch the sunset over the city, and it gave me bigggg Space Needle Vibes.
Berlin surprised me in many ways, and my only regret was arriving one week too early. Around the city we saw many locations setting up for their Christmas markets, but sadly we left before they opened. We did get to go to one tiny market, where I enjoyed a bowl of goulash and gasped at the elevated price of a schneeball.
One final part of Berlin I adored…Berlin bears.
Q: What would have been your top place to visit of all the places I listed?