For our short weekend in Berlin I decided to split the posts between Christmas Markets and sights of the city. So here is post number 2 with the more cultural elements of our trip (i.e. ones that didn’t involve Gluhwein!)
I’m not one for early mornings at all and especially not early morning flights so my preference is to fly the night before, arrive late and have a lie in as when you do get up you’re already at your destination! Our first day in Berlin started with a hotel breakfast and a bracing walk. Berlin is pretty chilly in December so we wrapped up warm and walked over to one of the most famous sights in Germany – Checkpoint Charlie.
A left over from the Cold War days it’s positioned in the middle of the main road but has become more of a tourist attraction to take selfies in front of. A symbol of a divided city and a divided europe I found it a bit tacky. With pretend American soldiers and lots of Asian tourists with selfie sticks it had an odd feeling. Anyway, we spent a few minutes looking at the building before heading 5 minutes round the corner to the Currywurst Museum.
I do have a habit of taking us to slightly peculiar museums and attractions and this was the one for this trip. We got there not long after opening and had the whole museum to ourselves – they even gave us a discount!
We made our way round the different sections learning about how the Currywurst came to be and how its made before being able to have a taster in their on site cafe. It was a really good way to spend a hour or so. I imagine kids would love running around and playing with the Currywurst truck!
Our next stop of the day (after a Christmas Market) was the Nikolaiviertel Quarter – the oldest quarter in Berlin. Well, traditionally it is but the whole area was reconstructed in the 1980s for the 750th anniversary of Berlin. It’s a small area with a pretty church in the centre. Nothing much to write home about but nice to walk through.
We grabbed some lunch at a cute cafe near Alexanderplatz where I had my first Pretzel – super yummy! The Berliner Dom was next on the list, I was hoping to go inside but at 7 euro a ticket it was a bit pricey for us so we just enjoyed the outside of this magnificent building.
Our last attraction of the day before the Alexanderplatz Market was the DDR Museum. Described as “…show[ing]s the life in GDR, not just ostalgia. A hands-on experience of history, the only GDR museum and Berlin’s interactive museum.” It is perhaps one of the best if not the best interactive museum I’ve been to. Packed full of exhibits and things to touch and pick up with displays showing videos and playing music from life in the GDR. There was even a replica apartment showing what the decor and furniture was like.
It was very informative and enjoyable, there is a lot of reading so possibly not great for small children but as an adult I thoroughly enjoyed it! Definitely check this out if you’re in Berlin.
The remainder of the day was spent within the confines of a Christmas Market ice skating and eating Bratwursts!
Today we focused the day on some of the more sobering aspects of Berlin’s history, swapping between Nazi occupation and Soviet occupation.
To start with we walked in the direction of the Neiderkirchnerstaße stopping off at Trabi World to take some pictures and a Photoautomat. The Photoautomat project was thought up in 2004 as a way to bring back black and white analog photo booths. They are now dotted all over Berlin and beyond, costing 2 euros for 4 pictures it’s a really fun experience. It takes 5 minutes for the photos to be developed and printed so we waited for those whilst taking some digital pictures and heading for the Neiderkirchnerstaße.
During the Cold War in 1961 a wall was built across Berlin, splitting it in two, east and west. In 1989 it was announced that the wall was to be brought down ending the division of a city and Europe in general. It wasn’t actually officially removed until 1990 and it took 2 years, most of the wall has gone but there are remnants left. Part of this is outside the Topography of Terror museum along the Neiderkirchnerstaße.
It was sobering to see just how high the wall was. How intimidating it was and how much of a dark atmosphere it created. I’m glad it was demolished, I believe it shows hope and the good side of human nature.
Once we had walked along the length we entered the Topography of Terror, a free museum dedicated to the victims of the Nazi rule and the Holocaust. It was a good museum, if not a little word heavy and takes you on a journey from Hitler’s rise to power to what caused so many people to be involved in such hideous crimes. Some of it is hard to read, important, but upsetting. I wouldn’t really recommend this for children as there are a lot of pictures.
In the UK we do study WWII quite a lot but I would say this exhibition explained the events in much better way, perhaps because it’s a part of German history more than it is ours.
We then wanted to stop by the Holocaust Memorial on the way to Branderburg Gate but we first stopped at the last remaining watchtower in Berlin which I had read about online. It’s down a side street just off Potsdamer Platz and 5 minutes away from the Topography of Terror. Oddly, a Christmas Santa hat had been placed on top of the tower. I’m not sure why or if it was quite in the right flavour but it did show what the towers were like. You can pay to climb the ladder and sit in the top but we decided to skip this as I wasn’t sure how much you would see.
The Memorial to the murdered Jew of Europe (Holocaust Memorial) was built in 2004 and inaugurated on May 10th 2005, 60 years after the end of WWII. The site covers 4.7 acres and is covered in 2711 slabs. It is quite beautiful, simple yet striking. You can walk between the slabs which vary in height due to the uneven ground. It fits into it’s surrounding without being imposing but certainly leaves its mark on you. Again there were people taking selfies and posing for pictures which I did personally find distasteful. Each to their own just not my sort of thing.
After 10-15 minutes we walked round the corner (with the crowds) to Brandenburg Gate. A symbol of reunification in Berlin and a wonderful site. It’s a beautiful arch which I prefered to the Arc de Triomphe and was situated in a huge square. I can see why this is the centre of events in Berlin. We had a rest, ate a pretzel and soaked up the views for a while.
The Reichstag Building is just around the corner from Brandenburg Gate, on the other side of where the wall was, and was the home of the German Parliament. In order to go inside you have to book tickets (which I stupidly didn’t do) so we just got to look at it from the outside. There is a big open space behind the building which I imagine is packed with people in the summer.
At this point it was early afternoon and we had some time to kill. Originally I had wanted to go to the East Side Gallery but thought it was too far away, once in Berlin we decided it was fine so hopped on the underground for 20 minutes and headed south.
The East Side Gallery is a 1km (approx) length of the Berlin Wall which has been painted with 105 pictures. They were painted in 1990 and weren’t really maintained for a long time, in 2009 many of the paintings were restored. Much of the wall was behind metal fencing which was a really shame but I could understand why as the exposed sections were graffitied.
We took some time wandering along the wall and taking pictures of the murals, luckily there is an underground stop at each end so you only have to make a one way journey if you wish.
Once we had our fill of paintings we went back to Alexanderplatz to enjoy our evening with Gluhwein and Christmasseyness!
Berlin is a fascinating city, accepting, friendly and packed full of things to do and see. Yes, it’s had a dark past but most places have at some points. Yes, terrible things have happened since we went but it doesn’t change my opinion of the city. It’s not the top of the list for destinations for Christmas Markets in Germany but if you want a mixture of markets, shopping and sights then you can’t really beat Berlin!