Arriving in Berlin on Friday, August bank holiday weekend on a spare of the moment trip to appease a friend who has been bugging me to visit Germany. Landing at Berlin-Schönefeld Airport, an airport that served as an aircraft plant, manufacturing transportation equipment used in world war II. Now the only airport serving East Berlin. A short walk from the airport is the train station linking to city. I was clearly either tired or the dull weather on my arrival made everything seem dark dingy and just rather uninteresting. I guess this must be the result of long hours at work and recent depressing weather in Peterborough.
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An hour later I was at what was going to be my humble abode; the Marriott Courtyard in Spittle Markt. After debating on whether to visit Dusseldorf, Bavaria or Berlin my friend and I settled on Berlin. He had arrived much earlier than me as he took the internal flight. Checked in and directed to my room, a nap was in order before I unleashed my caffeine-lacking mood on Berlin.
Saturday Morning it was almost as if the Berlin I had seen on Friday had suddenly changed. It was sunny with a cheery air about it. On the hunt for one of Berlin’s best delis, we got off at Alexander Platz – a popular connecting spot that also boasts a beautiful water fountain allowing people to gaze at the ball atop Berlin’s TV Tower. For more on how to explore Berlin in one day check out Trimm Travels.
|One of Berlin’s many hidden courtyards, inter-connected with other courtyards habouring cafes and theatres
|Sophienstraße 21 courtyard hides Berlin’s best kept secret; Barcombi Deli
Walking up to Sophienstabe 21, you would never guess what lurks behind an ordinary gate but this beautiful (picture above) quiet and quaint courtyard. Some of these courtyards date back to mid 1800s and still house these cute little shops that took me by surprise as the outer building gives you no clue as to what you will find.
They are inter-connected and almost pull you in with the sweet scent of smell from the many cafes, art galleries and some with scented candles sold in shops and might I add, anyone needing a little retail therapy would not be displeased. I spotted a clothing shop called ‘Thatcher’s Fashion’, which amused me for a few seconds as I couldn’t quite make sense of Margret Thatcher and Fashion without chuckling. Nevertheless, the clothes were beautiful.
After checking out a few of the cool and free things to do in Berlin, we worked up an appetite we sat down in Barcomi cafe and had endless chats over coffee on the vast history Germany has to offer and just how things have changed since the Cold War. So much coffee and demolished towers of one of the best lemon cheese cakes to ever pass my lips. Fantastic atmposphere and great surroundings saw us come back for breakfast once more on Sunday. If you love salmon, then be sure to try the salmon bagel with a spicy tomatoe cheese spread; Heaven!!
|Barcomi’s Demolished cheese cake platers.
Walking around Berlin it was difficult to imagine how people coped with the separation and divide in their city. Looking out my hotel window I could see the tracks left behind where the Berlin Wall stood dividing East and West Berlin. After walking around the city and seeing these tracks carry on for miles it was unbelievable to also see the pictures of wiring and gunship weaponry also known as the ”the death trap”, that kept the people in fear of crossing over. Guard towers, anti-vehicle trenches and other defenses kept people East and West apart.
Visiting Check Point Charlie Museum, which lies on the what used to be the East-West borders before the re-unification of Germany. Its amazing what we humans are capable of. The museum houses documents and memorabilia of what was left behind and the lengths and risk-taking people went through to cross the border. Almost heart breaking, to think the re-unification only happened in 1990 and this checkpoint was still the official crossing around then. It does get you to think all sorts, 1990 is not so long ago.
|Pieces of the Berlin Wall hanging outside the Check Point Charlie Museum.
|Check Point Charlie
|Berlin Wall remains
On a rather brighter note and walking as usual, *insert complaints of “how much longer we have to walk?” here*. What can I say, I am used to walking around for hours! That will be tested next week when I start the WILD UK challenge. My friend was ill-prepared with funky new trainers that were sinful in their inability to keep a fellow man in comfortable state. Let this be warning to one and all that wish to travel with me; bring your most comfortable shoes and long-life camera battery. We are on holiday after all! Be it a weekend one, but lets not fret over the length of it. Below are some of the pictures from the long walks around Berlin. There is an album here with all the pictures.
|Alexander Platz – TV Tower
|Berlin TV Tower
|The Neue Syngogue – 30 Oranienburger Strasse
Built in 1859-1866 as the main synagogue of Berlin’s Jewish Community
Above, the Neue Syngogoue that was restored after the fire in 1938 that nearly flattened the whole building. During Hitler’s rein as German Chancellor, there were over half a million Jews in Germany with 160,000 of those in Berlin alone. After the war less than 10,000 of those had returned to Berlin. The Nazi had then occupied the building in 1940 and desecrated it by using it as storage and also got heavily bombed during the war. Restoration took 7 years and reopened May 7, 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the German surrender.
Like many synagogues around the world, its guarded heavily around the clock by armed men or soldiers. I had to ask to take that photo just in case I was shot for waving a camera of mass destruction. I am kidding, but, I asked just in case anyway.
Does this picture remind you of anything? You might have to see it from a distance. Remember the scene in Will Smith’s Independence Day where the Spaceship opens up on New York city and beams a laser like light that sends the whole city into obliteration. Well the Sony Center reminds me of the spacehip in the movie. The Sony Center contains shops, restaurants, conference centres, hotel rooms, rented suites, offices, museums and cinemas. You can spend the whole evening here just gazing at the lights and lit fountains.
|Street Entertainment outside French Embassy nr Berlin Gates
|Berlin Dome – View from River Cruise
For Some reason I imagined Berlin to be this state of the art, great big metropolis with plentiful scrappers. I didn’t get that when I arrived, instead an almost understated quiet beauty and feel to the place. Not as busy as I thought but chilled, laid back as people set about their day-to-day activities. A cruise on the river, passing many national treasure added to my relaxation.
Berlin was originally the capital of the kingdom of Prussia when Prussia was victorious over France. With bitterness still lurking after a Treaty which ended the WWI, France declared war on Germany in September 1939 when the Nazi violated the treaty by invading Poland. Berlin then became the capital of united Germany in 1999. This also prompted a move of the government to the newly renovated Reichtag building.
There are plenty of touristy things to do in Berlin, from the river cruises at €7, history museums, art galleries, beautiful parks by the river, train stations filled with beautiful street and modern art, TV Tower, tracing through where Berlin Wall stood. The Reichtag is another building I was meaning to visit but sadly too many long chats over coffee in cozy little cafes took the better of me. The Reichtag building is free to visit but you need to book the time slot. Before, you simply had to turn up. With all the terrorist alerts cities face today, they have changed the entrance and ticket office, which is only a few meters from the building. You can book your tickets here
Traveling around is fairly easy. The city is also only a total of 340 square miles; 28miles wide east to west and 24 miles north to south. I got the Berlin Card from the airport for €25 (valid for 72 hours but also available in 24, 48 hour variants) which comes with the under/over ground train maps with Berlin guide. This also works as your discount card for museums and national attractions. Simply show your book together with your train ticket to stretch your cash further! You can get anything from 20% to 50% off main city attraction prices. For more on the Berlin Card and whats happening around the city in terms of events, shopping and all that jazz; visit Berlin Welcome Card
Have you been to Berlin? What did you think of the post-Berlin-wall Berlin(if you have been)?