Hmm… What can I say? City. Buildings. Rivers. History. Bored.
Yep – I spent a week in Berlin, and by day three I was bored. By the time we arrived in the city that birthed Oktoberfest, the Brandenburg Gate, and Adolf Hitler, we’d been away from home for 46 days. So looking at old rocks, old churches, and old history, was wearing a little thin. As are funny-tasting tap water, pay-to-use toilets, European heatwave, and whatever-that-yellow-stuff-is-they-call-cheese.
Berlin is a lovely city, so I feel a little guilty to begin this post by bagging it out. Let me tell you all the awesome things first.
The Berlin Bears: No. Not a football club (although it could be – I have no idea). The Berlin Bears are cheerful statues. Our hotel had a delightful upside down bear – decorated with indigenous Australian aboriginal artwork – to greet us on arrival. Every hotel – and occasional major building – also had their own decorative bear. They really are lovely and cheerful.
World War II: The oft-repeated phrase, Don’t mention the war, did not pertain to our week in Berlin. Our first day was spent with a local guide walking through old and new war sites. We saw the magnificence of the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate – iconic 18th century German landmarks, used by the Nazis as staging platforms to demonstrate strength and power. Now the Reichstag is once again home to the German Parliament, and the Brandenburg Gate has become a symbol of peace and unity. Both sites are swarming with tourists, but still awe-inspiring and worthy of many happy snaps.
A mother embraces her dead son, helpless and turned to stone in silent pain
That sums up the futility of war to me. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was thought provoking and touching, as was the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism. From the ashes of war, comes respect and tolerance for all. Sometimes. For a short period of time.
The Berlin Wall: The history of the Berlin Wall is fascinating, and the city is capitalising on its’ fame in recent history. There once stood 155 kilometers of the 3.6 meter wall. Now scattered remnants of the fortification are popular tourist attractions, and Checkpoint Charlie is one of the most famous – and touristy – of all. There are also metal plaques in the pavement at various locations, indicating the line where East and West were divided, and the Cold War was on the brink of boiling over. Wandering around photographing a wall I watched tumble down on television in my teens was really quite special. We also visited the East Side Gallery – a long stretch of concrete wall covered in street art – which I foolishly assumed was a segment of the Berlin Wall. Apparently not. It’s just a wall with paintings. It’s still kinda cool though.
The Greenery: Apparently Berlin was built on a swamp. Who knew?! There are waterways everywhere, and with so much ground water, the city has a network of overhead blue pipes pumping the ground water into the river. All the most famous museums are housed together on museum island, where the rivers and canals merge – which we didn’t visit as half of them were closed due to renovations. All this water, makes for a lot of greenery, and the Tiergarten in the city is really quite beautiful, offering a reprieve from the weight of a European heatwave. Strolling through the greenery was a really lovely aspect of our time in Berlin.
Berlin: The city itself is clean and new (let’s face it – an awful lot of it was destroyed in the last century), and the streets are wide and easy to navigate. The town buzzes with tourists and locals and really there’s nothing to complain about. Arts and culture are (apparently) amazing, but unfortunately we didn’t visit a show or a concert, so missed out on the opportunities available. As a musician, I would have loved to delve more into the home of Bach and Beethoven, Mendlessohn and Hindemith. Alas, I did not. Next time.
We did a Hop-On Hop-Off tour over two days – we hated it. Why are these so popular? There’s no air-con so the air was only tolerable when moving. The open top is in the sun – which would be lovely on a mild day, but when the weather is relentlessly hot for weeks on end, the last place I want to be is in the sun. The audio guide was not in sync with the bus. Some of the stops, the bus pulled over for 20 minutes, with no indication in advance there would be a large stop. The bus stops were hard to find if you didn’t know where they were. And – worst of all – I banged my head really hard on the frame for the roof cover upstairs. I mean really hard. I dropped everything and felt dazed. Thankfully I wasn’t bleeding everywhere or concussed, but I had a big cry for half an hour (inner monologue of how hot it was and how much I hated that stupid fucking bus), and I really struggled the rest of the day. That hit on the head knocked the wind out of me. And that bus was useless. I would never do one again. When we travel, we walk everywhere, and that way we get to discover all sorts of little gems along the way. We stop and start as we please, google facts and figures as necessary, and get the feel of the city. We also get blisters, tight calf muscles, and sweat-drenched clothing. But I’ll take that any day over a tourist bus.
Our accommodation in Berlin was an apartment hotel, so we spent a bit of time in the hotel spa and swimming pool. And even more time in our apartment, lazing around reading and watching television. And getting bored. The relaxation was great, but by the end of the week I couldn’t wait to pack our bags and move on – Bienvenue France!