Out and About: Berlin (Day One)

My son and I had a whirlwind trip to Berlin back in March. The weekend was primarily so that he could practice his German (GCSEs are just around the corner now) and to learn a little history too, but it is nice to get away as well, and I certainly wasn’t going to say no.

Berlin is an hour and a half flight from Gatwick, there are two airports both within easy reach of the city centre, so is perfect for a weekend. Don’t expect to cover it all in a weekend though, there is so much to do. We did a lot, and I mean a LOT but hurrah there is still enough left to warrant a second visit.

Berlin is easy to get around. My tip is to stay as close as you can to the U-Bahn (underground) or S-Bahn (rapid transit city train) and you’ll get everywhere easily. Our hotel was called the Titanic Comfort, despite a few minor housekeeping hiccups it was comfortable, functional and best of all it was two mins from Spittlemart U-Bahn and a short 15 walk from Checkpoint Charlie which was where our two and a half day adventure and history download began!

Day One

Checkpoint Charlie is probably one of the most famous places in Berlin. It was the crossing point from East to West Germany for the Allied Forces during the Cold War. Sadly now primarily a tourist spot nestled between two exhibitions, it was interesting to imagine what it would have been like in the height of the Cold War.

A short walk away along the border between East and West (depicted by paving in the road) we came to part of the original Berlin Wall beside the Topography of Terror, a free exhibition. Interestingly it is built on the remains of the Gestapo headquarters, another reminder of how chequered the history of Berlin is.

Walking up to Potsdamer Platz, we are now in the heart of what was once communist East Germany. Now modern skyscrapers and shopping centres surround us and U-Bahn stations have re-opened.

*interesting fact – in the days of the cold war, the U-Bahn stations in East Germany were not used. The underground was used by the West Germans. Trains travelled nonstop underneath East Germany secured by chains so that people couldn’t get on or off.

Walking due North along EbertStrasse we go past the Jewish Memorial which was designed by Peter Eisenman to commemorate the lives of the 3 million Jews murdered in the holocaust. What first seems like a sea of grey concrete slabs not unlike coffins, it is only when you enter the structure that you understand the significance of it. The tops of the slabs remain at the same height yet the ground dips taking the visitor into a labyrinth of confusion where the atmosphere gets oppressive and poignant. The memorial is thought-provoking and well worth a visit.

We come to possibly the most famous landmark in Germany, The Brandenburg Tor. The Tor is imposing and majestically impressive, built by King Frederick William II it symbolising the restoration of order after a Prussian revolution. Strange how it now evokes a strong feeling of a united Germany after the Cold War.

We were considering visiting the Reichstag next but to do so we had to book tickets in advance so we queued (for 45mins) to get tickets for Monday morning.

We took a taxi to meet a friend and had lunch in a FABULOUS restaurant Buchkantine on Dortmunder Strasse. It was exactly as the name suggests, a restaurant and a bookshop combined. Delicious food and drink. My Haloumi burger was absolutely divine.

Just the ticket after a large meal was a stroll along the River Spree taking in all the sights, the sun came out to greet us and I felt that we were really seeing Germany at its best. A beautiful afternoon.

The impressive Siegessaule (Victory Tower) stands 67 meters high. For a small price you can climb to the top, the going is tough and not for the faint hearted but you are rewarded at the top with magnificent [S1] views in every direction

Having conquered the Victory Tower, I was absolutely done in and so a spot of English tea at an ‘English Teahouse’ in the centre of the park was just the ticket!

Revitalised (a little) for the evening ahead we took the U-Bahn and entered West Berlin. We got off at Berlin Zoo and although we didn’t see the zoo itself the area itself had a very different vibe to anything we had seen to date. There were plenty of shops many with familiar names ranging from Primark to C&A. One of the most striking sites is a once magnificent Church bombed in the war that has deliberately been kept as a part-ruin but has been added to with ultra modern extensions.  Locally know as the powder puff and lipstick.

Still rather full from our lunch we sauntered along until we found the most amazing restaurant for our supper. Benedict on Uhlanstr is a definite if you are in Berlin. Serving breakfasts 24 hrs a day it has friendly staff, eclectic cliental and a fantastically eggy menu. Just try their pancakes! One last thrill as we headed back to the hotel, the U-Bahn at Hohenzollern is pleasant surprise. I wasn’t quite sure whether I was stepping into a Gangster movie or Hogwarts either way, today I learned that Berlin is full of surprises and I am really looking forward to day two.

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