One of my extra curricular activities at work is to be a tutor on the Lead with Impact course across Europe. A great advantage of this is that I can get to see parts of Europe that I have never been to before.
This time it was Berlin.
I had wanted to visit Berlin way back in 1987 on my first Inter-railing trip, but the logistics at that time of getting across East Germany for the restricted 24 hour visit seemed a bit too daunting, so I never made it. In 1987, there was no hint of the events that would unfold in a couple of years time.
But at last, this was my opportunity, and to take full advantage we booked a ticket for Pete as well.
We arrived at Berlin Schönefeld airport, the one used for budget airlines, and took advantage of the excellent public transport by taking a train to the Zoologischer Garten, the nearest stop to our hotel. A €7.60 ticket provides all day travel across Berlin zones A, B and C. It was a 40 minute journey and took us past many of the sites we wanted to visit on foot.
At the Zoologischer Garten station, we got our bearings and started walking towards the hotel, passing the first of many many monuments that recognised some of Germany’s history. Like much of Berlin, this was bombed during World War II, but rather than being destroyed it was preserved.
After quickly checking-in at the the hotel we spoke to the concierge about where to go and what to do. As we had already purchased a day travel pass he suggested that we took advantage of the number 100 bus which would take us past all the historical sites we might want to see on our first day. We could hop off and back on again at any stop, and they run every 10 minutes. Perfect!
But first, lunch at the excellent Bag Yard cafe near the hotel…
Suitably refreshed, we found the bus stop and didn’t have to wait long. Our first stop took us to the Victory Column, which is next to very large Tiergarten. The area is peppered with monuments of events and people I’d learnt about in history classes, such as Otto von Bismarck and the unification of Germany. The Victory Column used be in front of the Reichstag, but was moved and extended in the ’30’s by the Nazis. A lucky escape as amazingly it wasn’t destroyed by the bombing. A very cheap €3.00 ticket gave us some excellent panoramic views from the top.
Again, we didn’t have to wait long for the next bus to arrive, which was good because Berlin’s reputation for being cold was living up to itself. Luckily the buses are well heated.
Our next stop was The Reichstag…
We pre-booked a visit (free!) inside the ultra modern dome, which had a fantastic audio commentary as you walked around the dome, explaining its history and all the sights around Berlin.
… then in quick succession the Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz (very modern) and a wander around some old streets (very traditional).
We got very cold and very tired, so we decided to go back to the hotel for an early dinner and a rest.
The next day refreshed, we planned our day again taking advantage of the cheap day travel card.
We headed first over to the East Side Gallery, a large area of the wall that has been preserved for its art. Much of the gallery is protected by railings now. Which I think is a shame in a way. After all, Berlin does seem to be the home of graffiti and to preserve ‘art’ in such a way seems to go against the community spirit.
Much of the wall was destroyed in the early 90’s, but there are a few areas preserved, including nature reserves that grew up in the ‘death zone’. The line of the wall is now marked by stones, which winds it’s way through Berlin, vanishing under many of the new modern buildings.
After the appropriate coffee and cake stop, we walked along the line, visiting numerous sites: Topographie des Terrors (on the site of the Gestapo headquarters), Checkpoint Charlie (which didn’t really look like this at the time), some fun antique soviet cars, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
By then it was dark, so we headed back to the Brandenburg Gate for night time pictures.
And then we found a most excellent place for a spot of traditional German dinner with beer.
We had a great weekend. On Monday Pete took the train back to the airport and I spent the day preparing for the course. Berlin is well worth a visit and I would love to go back in summer…