John spent last weekend in the historic and oh-so-hip city of Berlin. And he loved it! Here’s some cracking sightseeing tips and reflections from his trip…
Berlin is home to 3.5 million people – the largest city in Germany. Since the fall of the Berlin wall, it’s also the capital. During the days of (Germany Democratic Republic) GDR the capital of West Germany moved to Bonn.
A great way to view the City is to tour by bus, bike or boat – all super ways to get around and soak up as many sites as possible. It’s also a great way to get your bearings so you can go back and explore places in more detail later.
Berlin is a 24/7 city – there is no official opening and closing times. Each part of the city does something different for residents and tourists alike. The most spoken language by a million miles is English. There are so many tourists, so all the locals speak English and all were VERY friendly.
Did you know the famous German snack – Currywurst is from Berlin? You can grab this tasty snack from one of the many Imbiss’ around the city?
My Berlin Highlights
I really recommend that you enjoy the birds eye view from the Fernsehturm (TV Tower). At 368 meters high this is Germany’s highest building. Have a coffee or some food and watch the whole city as the restaurant slowly revolves.
No trip to Berlin is complete without a shopping trip to the legendary KaDeWe department store. It’s Europes largest store and on the 6th floor you will find that it#s all food and drink!! There are bars, restaurants, a deli and more. There are over 1,300 cheeses and 2,400 wines to choose from. But don’t just limit yourself to this department store, as amazing as it is, Berlin offers some of the best shopping in Europe.
The Brandenburg Tor (Gate) is Berlin’s signature sight. The icon of Berlin. The good, the bad, the ugly, and now its future. This is the most ‘important’ area of the new and the old Berlin. France, Britain and of course the USA all have their embassy’s based around here as they were the allied powers that helped to rebuild the city and then the whole of the country after WWII.
The Berlin Wall
My personal favourite part of the trip was The Berlin Wall. The historic significance of this site cannot be overstated. Construction began in 1961. Imagine waking up one morning… you live two streets away from your best friend your lover, your parents or even your children. You have your morning coffee and you walk outside to go see them then there is a barbed wire fence between you. No one is getting past. No telephone or email to communicate just sight and sound. Then as the days and weeks go on. A wall is being built up. Then as the weeks carry on the wall gets higher. You wave over the wall to your friends and family, you shout hellos then one day its only goodbyes. Some never to be seen again…. Created to stop people leaving East Germany for the West, the Wall became the symbol of the Cold War, which divided the city of Berlin, the country of Germany and in fact the entire world between East and West.
Although it was torn down in 1989, about 2kms of wall still stands as a symbol of freedom over oppression. The section called East Side Gallery is where you will find many, now famous, murals painted by international artists. You can also follow about 5.7kms of cobblestones along the ground of where the wall once stood and there is a 160km-long signposted walking and bike path along the border’s former fortifications.
Check Point Charlie Museum
Berlin is full of museums and loads of art galleries. It’s an incredibly cultural place. One of my favorites was the Check Point Charlie Museum. It’s situated at the famous crossing point on the Berlin Wall where the American guards stood between East and West. Many people have tried to make their escape from Russian controlled East Germany through this checkpoint and it was the site of the famous face-off between American and Russian tanks in 1961 as each tried to assert the fundamental rights of Berlin’s occupying powers. It’s a fascinating museum, definitely not to be missed.
Another favourite of mine was the Spy Museum – Berlin was the capital of spies. People trading secrets. Company espionage was rife. The museum shows you how spying started back thousands of years ago and progressed to the Cold War. It has some real life gadgets on display and loads to read up on. It finishes with a small James Bond section showing the hollywood fiction and the glamour that most of us associate with spying. The reality is somewhat different, it is a treasonable offence after all.
When walking the streets of Berlin you realise it is amazing how a city this large has been transformed in almost 30 years. It was a flattened building site in 1989 but a city ready to show the world that after the oppression of Adolf Hitler and then communism, that it would rise again. It has. Most buildings are new so there is a still a lot of construction going on but the older buildings have been restored or rebuilt to look old. There are beautiful pedestrian areas, shopping malls.
Getting There & Staying
You can of course drive one of our excellent Used Car vehicles or live like a local and book early to get the German ICE train. I booked eight weeks in advance and got the tickets for 70 euro round trip then added the 8 euro to upgrade to 1st class. It’s a five hour train ride so the upgrade was worthwhile plus I wasn’t stuck in any traffic and could have a nap and a drink. 🙂
I stayed at an amazing hotel called Titanic. It was very central with a great steak restaurant, but a little pricey. You can usually find good hotels and prices on booking.com and hrs.com. There is a lot to choose from in Berlin!