We had not planned to visit Berlin during our tour of eastern Europe, however, it was only a 5 hour bus ride from Prague sooooo we had no choice!
A Rocky Start:
As traveling goes, we had a bit of a rough start in Berlin when we showed up to our hostel and realized we booked for the wrong dates. Compounding the problem was the fact that we were visiting during a holiday weekend. As such, we had to book our lodging on the fly, and we could not get a solid block of nights at a single hotel. We ended up being able to find some sub-par rooms and having to change hotels in the middle. With that said, we loved Berlin!
Things We Did:
Berlin Wall – It was surreal to be able to walk around the city and see remnants of the wall all over Berlin and be able to walk-up and touch the wall in many places. A thin brick marker inlaid into roads, sidewalks, and other terrain now stretches across Berlin and traces the exact location where the wall once stood. Today the Berlin wall has almost entirely been deconstructed, however, there are a few sections left intact for historical purposes. We visited a few sections and were given the opportunity to reflect on the grim role they played in the city’s not-so-ancient history.
For those who are interested, a brief history lesson on “The Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” (AKA the Berlin Wall) can be found below: After World War II some of the allied victors (namely Britain, France, America, and Russia) divided Berlin into 4 parts; Russia’s controlled roughly half of Berlin (the East), while the other 3 each controlled roughly an equal share of the Western side. During the cold war Russia erected the Berlin wall to stem the flow of migrants that were fleeing the communist East in search of a better life in the West. Berlin remained divided like this until shortly before fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Checkpoint Charlie – Checkpoint Charlie was the border crossing between the USA and the Soviet Union. It was one of three crossings between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. Only diplomats and those on official business were allowed across; it was not for use by the general public except during designated dates when the westerners could visit their family in the east. During the war East Berliners made various escape efforts over these crossings.
Today all that is left is a gate house, symbolic portraits representing the Russian and American border guards, and some of the original signage. Checkpoint Charlie was right around the corner from our hotel, so we strolled through the area multiple times and snapped some photos and visited the surrounding souvenir shops.
Topography of Terror – The Topography of Terror is a museum situated directly where the Secret Police (SS)/Gestapo building used to sit, and it is also right beside one of the intact sections of the Berlin Wall. The museum gave an overview of the rise and fall of the Nazi empire, with particular focus given to the horrors committed by the Secret Police (SS). This museum was actually an exhibit that was put into place years ago, and it was such a big hit that it was made a permanent exhibit. With that said, it is a hard site to visit because of the horrors that took place here.
Brandenburg Gate – The Brandenburg gate is widely considered to be one of the most iconic structures in Berlin. It was constructed in the 18th century by the Prussian king Frederick William II after the (temporarily successful) end of the Batavian Revolution….at least that is what Wikipedia told us!
Reichstag – The Reichstag is where Germany’s parliament/congress convene. The glass dome on top allows light down into the main chamber of the building, and it symbolizes the “transparent nature” of the country’s democracy after it was re-built in the 1990’s. It also has historical significance as the location of one of the pivotal moments leading to the rise of the Nazi power where they set fire to the building, but blamed in on the Communist Party. This front gave Hitler the justification to impose what amounted to martial law and the the outlawing of other political parties. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Reichstag! We were actually able to walk up into the glass dome on top of the building, and from there we had some excellent 360 degree views of the city.
Hitler’s Bunker – The bunker where Hitler spent the last days of his life, got married, and committed suicide is now just a parking lot in the middle of Berlin. It is steps away from the vastly visited Memorial to the Murdered Jews. We heard from a tour guide that a sign was placed next to the parking lot in the last few years because people were asking where this bunker once stood.
Charlottenburg Palace – This was home to Friedrich III, and was named after his wife, Sophie Charlotte. Many of the Prussian rulers lived in this residence through out the centuries, and at one point Napoleon was said to have stayed the night.
Museums – Germany has a “Museum Island” that consists of 5 large museums all on an island within the city. Typically you have to pay for each museum, but we happened to be here on a day that a joint ticket to all 5 was being sold. Given the size of each museum, we were only able to fit 3 out of the 5 museums into our day. The Pergomon Museumn was definitely the highlight of the three museums. It included the massive, reconstructed Ishtar Gate and the Market Gate of Meletus (a Roman market). Each gate is absolutely huge, and definitely a must see when in Berlin! We also visited an Art Museum to view works by Rodin and Monet, but Andy maintains he “suffered” through this one.
Other Odds and Ends…
- We were able to visit many other amazing places, but discussing each in detail would make an already long post much longer. The other places we visited include the Berlin Cathedral, Soviet Television Tower, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Tiergarten, Berlin Wall Museum, and a park along the Spree River.
- One afternoon we also witnessed a protest and counter protest for the refugees within Germany while visiting the Berlin Wall.
- Also worth mentioning, as we continue North the days have been much longer. We never realized how many hours of daylight Germany received in the middle of the Summer. In Berlin it was still light out after 10:00 PM, and the sun rose around 4:00 AM. We were able to witness the sunrise one lovely morning during our stay when the fire alarm went off in the middle of the night and we had to evacuate our hotel. (It is strange to be in the same timezone that we were in South Africa, but have almost double the amount of daylight in a day!!) We can not wait to witness the 24 hour daylight once we get to Finland!