European Travelogue #12: Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Let me start off by stating that I love Berlin. This city, which has had so much recent history as well as a more turbulent past, is undergoing gigantic changes since re-unification. I was amazed at the number of construction sites and of the massive building popping up all over the place. There is a lot of building going on and consequently, some of the sidewalks are closed, but don’t let that put you off seeing the city by foot and all that Berlin has to offer.

Getting There

We arrived by train from Poland into Berlin Zoo Station. The station itself is has all the usual amenities consistent with a large railway station and a large map of the city for travellers to orient themselves. Bastards-R-Us quickly found our hotel and explored the city.

Berlin has a fantastic system of S-bahn, underground, bus and tram lines for public transport. Buy a daily ticket for DM7.80 and see the city. Just remember to get the ticket punched in one of the yellow boxes at the entrance to every platform and on trams, buses. Once validated, you can travel around the city and do as you please. It certainly is the easy way to get around.

Where to Stay

We stayed at the Imperial Hotel, which is close to Zoo station and right opposite the girly nightclubs. A good choice of digs that fitted in perfectly with the objectives of Bastards-R-Us on their rampage through Europe.

There are a range of other recommended places to stay; Berlin Youth Hostel, Die Fabrik Hostel, Frederik’s Hostel, Hostel Lette’m sleep, The Clubhouse Hostel, Hotel Transit, International Camp, Odyssee Hostel, Jugendgastehaus Nordufer, Pension Kreuzberg. All these have reasonable prices (around DM30) per night.

Eating Out

Berlin has a wide range of restaurants, serving an international range of food. Of course, in this neon struck city, the golden arches are everywhere. I can recommend the pizzeria on the north side of the old DDR guardhouse at Checkpoint Charlie for a great feed (pizza DM7) and a great view of recent history along Friedrichstrasse.

Tours

Hannah

Hannah with the Reichstag behind

Bastards-R-Us chose to go on one of ‘The Original Berlin Walks’ tours. We took the Discover Berlin Walk tour number 1. Just turn up at the meeting point out the front of Zoo Station and pay DM18 and buy a daily ticket for the public transport.

You will find out about the Spree river, the Kaisers, Marlene Dietrich, where Albert Einstein taught, where Hitler’s bunker was. You will also see Bebelplatz where the Nazis burnt books of Hemingway, H.G.Wells, Einstein. You will also see where the wall stood, who built it and why it fell in 1989.

This particular tour ends at Checkpoint Charlie, which is where a great museum is located. Our guide, Hannah, was a wealth of information about Berlin and it’s history. She related her knowledge in a most enthusiastic and emotional way. Of course, this tour was one of the best walking tours I have ever done and I highly recommend them. Their brochures are located in nearly every hotel, or you can check out their website.

Pubs

DDR Tower

DDR TV Tower

We visited a few pubs that were okay, but the best beer was served to us atop the

href="http://www.berlinerfernsehturm.de/gen.htm" target="_blank">television tower in the former east. Stretching 365m into the sky, this structure was built by the DDR to prove that the east was just as technologically advanced as the west. To get there, take the S-bahn to AlexanderPlatz and cross the tram tracks to the tower entrance. Admission will cost you DM9 and this place is one of Berlin’s biggest tourist attractions, so be prepared to line up to get in. At 207m above the ground, there is a revolving restaurant that serves great beer. The tower itself has a gift shop and a beer up top is around DM5.50 for a � litre. A great place to sink a few cold ones and watch Berlin spin by.

Some of the Bastards-R-Us tried Planet Hollywood for a meal and a beer. A great place to kick back and relax and much better than the golden arches.

Museums

The only museum we had time to visit was the Checkpoint Charlie museum on Friedrichstrasse 43-45. Entry is DM8 and it is open every day of the year from 9.00 until 22.00.

This place chronicles the wall, why it was built, who the people were that escaped from the east to the west and how they did it. Many ingenious devices of escape are displayed in this two storey museum. I learned a great deal about human endeavour and desperation just from wandering around and viewing all these displays. You can even buy pieces of the wall if you want to take home some history (the smallest piece being DM2 and the largest in excess of DM12000). I settled for a postcard, a shirt and a patch.

CheckPoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie

The old guard house on the former east side of Checkpoint Charlie still stands and the guard house on the west side has been replaced by a tall picture billboard depicting a US Marine in full dress uniform on one side and his Soviet counterpart on the other. Standing on this intersection of Zimmerstrasse and Friedrichstrasse, I could only imagine what sort of desperate acts were carried out here. A very thought provoking place indeed!

Part of the ‘The Original Berlin Walks’ tour takes you to a commemorative area of the Berlin wall that was left standing as a memorial to all those who perished trying to cross from one side to the other. This part of the wall runs along Zimmerstrasse, right up to Checkpoint Charlie and is right next to ‘Hitler’s Bunker’. A lot of history happened here – go see for yourself.

Internet

Berlin Wall

Being in Berlin for only one day, I only tried one internet cafe called ‘

href="http://www.vrcafe.de/index2.html">Website‘ on Joachimstaler near Zoo Station. This place is fantastic. You walk in and go to the back up the stairs and approach the counter. The staff member will give you a card that you take to the terminal of your choice and swipe through the reader attached to the PC. This logs on the PC and away you go.

When you are finished, simply swipe the card again and you are logged off. Connection speed is impressive (56K) and the price is pretty reasonable (for the west) at around DM10 per half hour.

Summary

Berlin is one of those cities that you could spend a year in and still not see and know everything about it’s history. From the glitzy neon lights in the former west, to the bullet pocked columns of nearly every structure in the east, the contrast between east and west is still very much apparent and probably will be for a long time yet, but this city has become something of a phoenix rising from the flame of the cold war conflict.

A reborn Berlin is certainly a dynamic, cultural and fascinating city undergoing big changes. I will definately be going back for more.

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