Berlin has a tremendous history and one of the coolest cultures in Europe. Berlin may just have been the most educational and eye-opening stop on our trip.
Day 1 – Thursday, June 11, 2015
The train from Amsterdam to Berlin took 6 hours. Along the way we prepared ourselves by listening to the “How the Berlin Wall Worked” podcast by How Stuff Works. For once we hoped to be better prepared to understand the history we saw in museums and monuments throughout the city. We took a bus from the train station to the apartment we had rented and were met by the apartment owner. It was a bit late for grocery shopping, but after making ourselves comfortable we walked out for dinner. Jon did quite a bit of research on Trip Advisor and Yelp and had found a number of dining options close by; curry, Indian, Korean, etc. We decided on Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebab. Mustafa’s is a food stand, and it always has a line down the block. At 9pm on Thursday, we waited an hour for our kebabs. When we got to the front we ordered two doner kebabs and one durum kebab. It was too much food and we took the wrap home unopened. Jon, a much larger kebab enthusiast than me, says they are the best kebab’s he’s ever eaten.
Day 2 – Friday, June 12, 2015
We are lucky to have friends in many international cities, and Berlin is no exception. Two months earlier our friends Piotr and Liz, along with their daughter, had moved to Berlin. Excited to see them and to explore some of the city with them, we had already made plans to meet at 6pm for dinner. Jon and I didn’t want to spend the entire day inside working, so we decided to explore our neighborhood before meeting Piotr and Liz. By mid-afternoon we set out on the streets Jon had explored earlier while grocery shopping. It was one of the warmest days we’d had in Europe and locals were outside sipping coffees in cafes and grilling in parks. We explored an indoor market, which was very clean, almost more like a specialty grocery store with butchers, bakers, and cheese makers. Although it didn’t happen, we considered returning on a day when we didn’t have dinner plans to get some fresh produce and cook ourselves. The rest of our walk took us past commercial streets with small stores and restaurants spilling onto the sidewalks. In a few places the wide streets felt very Parisian. When it was time to meet our friends we took a subway and street car to a popular beer garden. On the way, when we were waiting for the street car, we witnessed a spectacular fight between two girls across the street. Luckily a police car arrived just before our tram to sort the whole thing out. One thing we were quickly learning about Berlin is how it is made up of neighborhoods. People who spoke of Berlin often referred to the neighborhoods when describing a location. Prater Biergarten was in Prenzlauer Berg. Prenzlauer Berg is a mixture of students and hipsters. Prater declares itself the oldest and most beautiful beer garden in Berlin. Tucked back away from the street, Prater is an open space between buildings. The space is mostly concreted over, but several large chestnut trees rise above the picnic tables. When we arrived at 6pm there were plenty of tables to pick from, but a few hours later it was packed. The beer garden is self service. Beers and food are ordered from a concession stand and taken back to the tables. Our friends joined us and we had a nice time chatting. We munched on sausages, couscous, and German pretzels. After eating, our friend’s daughter couldn’t sit still any longer so we wandered around the beer garden following her adventures. Instead of more beers, we decided to leave and stroll through The Mauerpark. The park was large, but the most impressive thing was the enormous number of people grilling, picnicking, and just sitting with their friends. A small overgrown hillside to one side of the park was covered with groups of friends relaxing among the wildflowers. We walked back through the park in the other direction before saying goodbye to our friends and making plans to see them on Sunday.
We only took the metro as far as Alexanderplatz. Liz had recommended to stop here and walk around. Alexanderplatz is a square plaza with market-like stands and restaurants throughout. It is in the shadow of the Berliner Fernsehturm (TV tower). Several of the other buildings around the plaza were also architecturally interesting and we took pictures of St. Marienkirche and Rotes Rathaus before walking towards the Spree River and Museum Island. On museum island we passed the huge dome of the Berlin Cathedral as well as the Neues Museum and Pergamonmuseum. Across the spree we caught another metro line home.
Day 3 – Saturday June 13, 2015
We left the apartment in the early afternoon to take a metro towards the big tourist attractions. The metro let us off near the Brandenburgh Gate. The Bradenburgh Gate is a large ceremonial gate. At one time it was a functioning gate to the city but now it stands as an icon of the city. It was crowded with tourists as well as a group of locals hawking some political message in German. From the Brandenburgh gate we headed to the Reichstag Dome which is a hugely popular Berlin attraction and the first on most of the tourist itineraries we’ve seen. To get there we walked through Tiergarten Park and passed the Sinti and Roma Memorial. Sinti and Roma are two ethic groups of gypsies which were persecuted along with the Jews under the Nazi rule. It was very interesting to read about the plight of these people who are often overlooked in history classes. The memorial itself was a simple reflecting pool, which allowed the information panels to speak for themselves. The memorial truly was more about education than show. The Reichstag, which currently houses the German parliament, was at the end of the park. The building is popular for its glass dome which offers visitors a 360 degree view of the city. Unfortunately advanced reservations are required. We read that making reservations 3 days in advance was sufficient, however when we looked there were no open spots for the next two weeks. This unfortunately made a ride to the glass dome impossible for us. Backtracking through the Tiergarten, we headed towards the Holocaust Memorial. The Holocaust Memorial of Berlin is a very underrated memorial. 2711 stone monoliths comprise the memorial. When we approached, the stones looked like blocks of black and white. It was surprising to realize that the ground dips down and the stones create towering canyons. The maze-like memorial was interesting to walk through, but most people were serene and respectful. On the other side of the field of monoliths are stairs that lead down to a museum (free). We had to wait a few minutes to enter, but made it inside the museum just as dark rain clouds overhead started to burst. The museum started with a chronological recalling of the discrimination of the Jews prior to and during WWII. Other rooms recalled stories of families being destroyed by separation and death and notes scribbled in concentration camps to loved ones. There was a lot to read in the museum and by the time we had exhausted ourselves the rain had stopped. We were getting hungry and headed towards Checkpoint Charlie keeping an eye open for food. Next door to a restaurant called Malatesta’s, we found Nanoosh. Nanoosh served Mediterranean food. Jon’s entire meal, a chicken wrap and tabbouleh were very good. My salad was delivered wrong, but I ate half of it underwhelmed before noticing it was wrong. The fresh pita accompanying the salad was delicious. A few blocks further was Checkpoint Charlie. Signs on a fence by the sidewalk explained the history of the Berlin Wall conflict and how Checkpoint Charlie was a significant gateway between east and west Berlin. At the location is a sign about entering the American sector of Berlin and a small American guardhouse, however when I checked online later I learned that these are recreations of the originals. Where the Berlin Wall used to stand, there is a line of cobble stones built into the street as a reminder. We followed the old wall’s path to the Topography of Terror where over 100 meters of wall still stand. The Topography of Terror also has a display about the Nazi party in Germany, but we decided to return another day when our minds and legs would be fresh.
Day 4 – Sunday, June 14, 2015
We met Liz and Piotr for brunch at 11am. They had picked Kundenbeleg Restauration 1900 in Prenzlauer Berg, close to where they lived during their first month in Berlin. Brunch was an all you can eat buffet which was surprisingly healthy and fresh. Beyond the eggs and sausages was a large arrange of grilled vegetables and fruit. We sat and ate slowly over the course of two hours. None of us frequented the buffet less than three times while there. Their daughter, who was sleeping wonderfully during brunch needed some run-around time, so we walked her to the park across the street for a while and decided where to go next. After a brief stop at Piotr and Liz’s apartment we caught a tram to the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is the longest segment of the Berlin Wall still standing. In 1990, artists from around the world were hired to paint murals along the wall which has since become a monument to freedom. It is free to stroll along this 1.3km outdoor art gallery. Similar to other street art, graffiti and tags now obscure some of the murals (as well as the entire back side of the wall). In the 2000’s, several of the murals were restored which tempered the distraction from graffiti. We strolled very leisurely along the wall and the boys traded photograph tips. The wall ends near the charming brick Oberbaumbrucke Bridge. We crossed the Spree River on the bridge and ate outdoors at Restaurant Rio Grande while enjoying the riverside view. Rio Grande was very good and we all enjoyed our meals. It was already after 7pm by the time we finished eating and said farewell to Piotr and Liz.
Day 5 – Monday, June 15, 2015 – Our Wedding Anniversary!!
To celebrate two wonderful years of marriage, we slept in. Jon went out for his morning coffee and returned with a few pastries to split for breakfast. Jon had a late afternoon meeting (4:30pm Berlin time) so we couldn’t do much during the day. After his meeting, and without a better idea, we took the metro to Tempelhofer Park. Tempelhofer Park is the old airfield used for the American airlifts to West Berlin. The airport building is still there, but now the runways and flat fields are a public park. The runways provide a nice biking/jogging track as well as an area for other sports, such as kite landboarding. We walked around in the sun for a while.
On our way home we stopped for dinner at Tibet Haus. The food was inexpensive and really hit the spot for us. We started with a meal of momo (stuffed pastries) as an appetizer and then split meals of duck and mutton, served with salad, soup, and rice.
Day 6 – Tuesday, June 16, 2015
On Tuesday we decided to go back to the Topography of Terror Museum which we hadn’t had time for during our first day exploring the city. The Topography of Terror Museum (free) has an outdoor exhibit and an indoor exhibit. Both compliment each other in telling the story of the Nazi party’s rise to power in Berlin. We started at the outdoor area, which was arranged chronologically and which took us an hour or longer to read. The indoor exhibit was very similar but with more specific examples taken from personal stories relating to the same topics generally discussed outside. From the topography of terror we didn’t have a plan, and so we walked. We let our eyes guide our feet to churches and other buildings with interesting looking spires. In particular we found ourselves at Gendarmenmarkt. Gendarmenmarkt is a large square flanked by two identical looking churches, one French and one German. In the center is the Konzerthaus Building, a theater where the National Symphony preforms. We returned to Kreuzberg for dinner and ate at a tapas restaurant called Colibri. We found their food to be very good and it inspired us to want to recreate some dishes at home. Particularly the cheese stuffed mushrooms and bacon wrapped dates.
Day 7 – Wednesday, June 17, 2015
It was time to explore another neighborhood, so we took the metro to Charlottenburg. In Charlottenburg we walked directly to the Schloss, or Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace was regal and looked like a smaller version of Versailles. We didn’t enter the palace, but instead took our time walking through their gardens. In the middle of the garden are lovely manicured flower beds leading up to a pond. To the sides the palace grounds are more woods where, in our wandering, we found a mausoleum. Outside of the palace is a green promenade which we walked up and back looking for a restaurant. We finally decided to eat at Schlossgarten, a cute restaurant with a small beer garden. The outdoor beer garden and excellent waitress made it a pleasant meal. The next stop of the day was to Bikini Berlin, a strange concept mall. If you read our blog, you’ll know that we aren’t shoppers while on vacation, however after 5 months traveling our clothes were starting to get worn. Bikini Berlin was not the right place to pick up the clothes we wanted. The stores were costly and the mall felt deserted. One area of the mall that we did enjoy was its large windows which overlook the monkey enclosures of the Berlin zoo. Besides for the windows, there is an outdoor walkway on the upper level of the mall which looks down into several monkey pens. Before going back to our apartment, we took the metro to Alexanderplatz, another shopping area, where we were more successful.
Day 8 – Thursday, June 18, 2015
Our friend Liz had heard about a tour of a former stasi (Ministry of the State) prison named Gedenkstatte, so we joined her for it. The Gedenkstatte is an interesting place to visit and is still finding its place in history as former inmates and guards continue to tell their stories. A tour of the prison is €5 and several of the tour guides are former prisoners who can talk about their experiences there. Our tour guide was not a former prisoner, but you could tell the prison stirred emotions in him. The entire area was shown on maps as an ‘industrial’ area instead of the government buildings that were really on the site, and the existence of the prison was kept secret for many years. The prison was actually an internment camp which meant suspects were taken there to confess and kept in inhuman conditions until they did. The prison was shut in 1989. Liz’s husband Piotr met us that evening for dinner at Clarchens Ballhaus. Clarchens Callhaus is an dancehall and pretty popular according to the guidebooks. We were there very early, in fact we were the first people there. The food took a very long time, and I’m not sure if it was because we were so early. While we were eating more tables slowly began to fill and a ballroom dance class commenced on the dance floor. No doubt the crowds come to eat just before the 9pm band, but we left before that happened.
Day 9 – Friday, June 19, 2015
Currywurst is a German invention and is a popular food for the Germans to eat when they are in a hurry. We had our currywurst from Bergmann’s Curry in Kreuzberg, who offers the dish prepared with two types of sausages, skin on or off. Our meal was served with a portion of fries. Both of the sausage types and the fries were covered in curry ketchup and curry powder. We had eaten currywurst before at times, and even trying it again in Germany, where it originated, left us confused about its popularity. Staying in Kreuberg for the afternoon, we walked to Park am Gleisdreieck. Along the way there was a brief downpour which we waited out under scaffolding. Ten minutes later the rain had almost completely stopped and we continued on. The park is actually a series of connected parks including Flaschenhalspark and Schoneberger Wieser. Like the other parks we’d seen, Gleisdrejeck was a large grassy area where locals can come to picnic and barbeque. Cutting through the park are old railroad tracks which add an element of charm. The park also has a skateboard park covered in graffiti. A bridge crosses over active railroad tracks and into Schoneberger Wieser. Schoneberger Wieser is a bit more developed with playgrounds, basketball courts, and fitness areas. At the end of the park, we turned and continued to follow the river back towards our apartment. Along the way we passed the Deutsches Technikmuseum or German technology museum. Hanging from the building was large airplane. Dinner that night was at Max and Moritz. It was a bit further from our apartment in Kruezberg. The venue is former dancehall and the menu was similar to Clarchen Ballhaus (and most other German restaurants). Still, I think we enjoyed this meal more than some of our previous.
Day 10 – Saturday, June 20, 2015
Early afternoon we met Liz, and 40 other tourists, for the Alternative Berlin free walking tour. The alternative Berlin walking tours are less about the tourist sights, and more aimed at discussing the current culture and arts that make Berlin unique. The group was divided into two smaller groups and then we were off, on the metro. This was the first tour we had taken that required a metro pass. The first stop was a small alley off of Rosenthaler Street. A collective of artists took up residence in the buildings around the time of the fall of the Berlin wall and the street was still one area where street art is legal. The art in the alley was very thought provoking and our guide knew something about most of the works and their artists. The alley also houses several lesser known museums including one about Anne Frank, the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt (about a man who rescued Jews in Nazi Germany) and Monsterkabinett (a museum of animatronic creatures). We boarded the trolly again and this time returned to the East Side Gallery. Luckily, our tour guide took us away from the direction we had traveled during our previous visit to the wall and to new places. Le Yaam is a Jamaican beach bar along the banks of the Spree but its also the Young African Art Market and a community center. You can buy cultural foods such as jerk chicken or head down to the beach bar for a Club Mate. The tour continued as our guide pointed out other examples of street art by better known artists. The tour ended just in time for us to meet Piotr for a 4:30 reservation in the Berliner Fernsehturm (TV tower). The 1,206 foot TV tower is the tallest structure in Germany. Two levels at the top of the tower are open to public visits: an observation level with a bar and a restaurant level. Our VIP tickets (€23) meant we had a reservation at the restaurant and we could skip the lines for the elevators. The restaurant was elegant and the floor spun slowly so that over the course of the meal we enjoyed a 360 degree view of the city. The food was pricey, but not more so than you’d expect of a restaurant like this. The boys ordered a price fixed menu which came with dishes featuring asparagus and dessert. Liz and I also decided to treat ourselves to dessert with the boys.
Day 11 – Sunday, June 21, 2015
Sometimes when taking a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ trip, such as we were, your plans change. In this case, we had not found a suitable and affordable flight out of Berlin on Sunday like we had planned. Instead, we booked a flight for Monday and therefore were one day short on the apartment we had rented. Luckily, Liz and Piotr welcomed us into their home and had some lovely plans for us. First, we went to brunch near their apartment. Mueller’s is a small bistro in the bottom of a water tower. We sat at an outdoor table and ran in for the breakfast buffet several times.
We decided to spend the day exploring Volkspark Friedrichshain, which was close by but would also be new to Piotr and Liz. We packed a picnic of snacks and walked to the park. There was much to explore in the park; a pond, some monuments, and an old bunker. Mostly, we sat on the grass chatting while watching other picnickers play with their dogs. Somewhere a band was playing. By the time we got up and finished walking through the park, everyone was getting hungry. The park houses several restaurants and we ate at Schoenburnn Garden.
Day 12 – Monday, June 22, 2015
It was finally our last day, but due to a late flight, we got to make the most of it. Liz went with us to the DDR museum. The DDR museum is in a small space, but crams in tons of interactive exhibits about life in Socialist Germany and East Berlin.
For dinner we ate at Piotr’s favorite Berlin hamburger restaurant, which wasn’t really a restaurant but was more of a food stand in a parking lot. Still the burger and fries were very good. Finally we said goodbye, and took the metro to the airport for our flight to Madrid.