Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Five Days Berlin

Not much sailing, tropical adventures or cruising stories on this blog, the last couple of months! Mark and I are still on our little break from the boat, but our weeks in the Western world are rapidly coming to an end. The highlight of our vacation in Europe was a 10-day visit to Germany by train. We planned five days in Berlin and five in Munich and had a great time with beautiful weather.

When you sail all over the place, you meet a lot of wonderful people. Jens is one of those people. He is from Germany and lives in… Berlin. He and his girlfriend Steffi made us feel at home in their apartment in the hip and exciting Prenzlauer Berg district. With our hosts at work, Mark and I leisurely explored the different areas of this fascinating city during the day (with a guaranteed late start – it was our holiday after all!) and hung out with our friends at night.

A walk through Prenzlauer Berg revealed a bombed and overgrown Jewish cemetery, some historic structures, cool playgrounds, a lot of renovated GDR buildings, artsy bars and restaurants, the water tower with its peaceful park on the highest hill and the best currywurst in town. We continued towards Mitte, with a quick stroll and lunch in Scheunenviertel, where outdoor establishments, courtyards and shops abound. A short metro ride to Friedrichshain is the way to reach one of Berlin’s main attractions, the East Side Gallery. This “art exhibition” consists of the longest remaining section of the Berlin wall, painted by artists from all over the world, when the reunification took place in 1989. We strolled along the 1 km stretch of wall, while gazing at the interesting works of the artists. On the other side, in the “no man’s land of the past” the Spree River offers a peaceful walking alternative and multiple beach bars draw the crowds in sunny weather. The old Oberbraumbrücke makes for a pretty picture.

On our second day, Mark and I walked quite a bit as well. Berlin is very spread out. Fifteen minutes from “our” apartment lays busy Alexanderplatz with the tall TV tower. A beautiful church and square form the center of this area, bordered on one side by the red city hall. Continuing on, we reached the wide boulevard of Unter den Linden. Here, most of Berlin’s historic sights are to be seen. On Museuminsel, several charming buildings house as many museums, attracting thousands of tourists every day. Further on, we passed Humboldt University, where Albert Einstein used to teach, and Bebel Platz, where the infamous Nazi book burning took place in 1933. The Brandenburger Tor, built in 1788, majestically stands at the “end” of the road. From here, one can walk towards the massive Reichstag building for a great view of the city from the glass dome or expansive terrace (reservations required), or play hide and seek in the simple, but impressing Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (Holocaust Memorial). The Visitor Center underneath gives a gripping overview of the Jewish life during Hitler’s reign.

Checkpoint Charlie was a famous border crossing between East and West Berlin. Only an old sign remains from those days, but Germans in costume, sand bags and other paraphernalia try to bring back the restrictive atmosphere, while cars buzz by. A panel with information explains the people’s fate during the years of the wall. From the balcony of a fashionable McDonalds, one can observe the hectic life of tourists and locals at the checkpoint during these modern times. In another part of town, the Jewish Museum is housed in an interestingly designed building, with narrow strips as windows. Since it was our last night with Jens and Steffi, we went out for a delicious Vietnamese dinner.

Mark and I took bus 100 (a normal bus driving a scenic route) towards Kurfürstendamm, where we stayed in a hotel for the last two days. The massive shopping street doesn’t do much for us, but the nearby Tiergarden is an oasis of greenery and peace. Before we relaxed there for the afternoon, we took the metro to the massive KaDeWe department store, where the 6th floor is worth visiting. Any kind of exotic, fancy, exclusive or international food (and drink) can be found, tasted, looked at or bought here! Potsdamer Platz, with its modern buildings and skyscrapers was not worth the detour.

Since Mark’s back was bothering him from all the walking throughout the city, he stayed “home” on our last day in Berlin. I went to Schloss Charlottenburg, where I explored the beautiful and big gardens and park instead of indulging myself in the palace life of the 1700s. On the way back, I quickly paid a visit to the Gedächtniskirche, where the light through the deep blue stained glass gives an overwhelming impression. As I walked towards the hotel, a local rock band, playing in the midst of traffic and (window)shoppers to promote their CD indicated Berlin’s inventive and creative spirit once more. But, a last dinner with friends in the old-fashioned and established Henne restaurant proved that old traditions and the simple pleasures of fried halve chickens and big beers are still popular as well!

The rotes rathaus (red city hall) on Alexander Platz

Mark and I in front of the Brandenburger Tor

Holocaust Memorial

View of Checkpoint Charlie from McDonalds

Going out for a Vietnamese dinner with Jens and Steffi

Peaceful and relaxing Tiergarten

Schloss Charlottenburg

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