Berlin is a lot like London, but less shit.
They also know how to do a christmas market properly. To be fair to London though most of Berlin’s only about 25 years old the dirts barely had time to work its way in yet. Which is a point I had never really thought about when it came to Germany. Modern Germany has really only existed since 1989, which is just shy of my entire life, so I’ve only ever known it to be as it is now. Seems odd to think that within my lifetime the country was divided so utterly.
So, as a birthday surprise to Zoe, I booked us a little trip to Berlin for the week before christmas, which was a very risky move given my track record in organising flights (and everything else, ever). We touched down midday on the monday (thank you very much Norwegian Air, pleasure flying with you), and immediately experienced the efficiency of Berlin’s public transport. Get ready, I’m about to start gushing. This, is the Berlin welcome card. Quite possibly the most ingenious concept I have ever experienced when visiting any major city. For 30 euros we got unlimited travel on all public transport, a guidebook, map, and discounts to a butt tonne of attractions for 72 hours. 30 euros people! AMAZING!
There was a train station directly outside Schönefeld airport, with trains every 20 minutes or so, uncrowded, and nice and clean. We were at our station stop in half an hour, and (after we had stopped to eat some currywurst in the train station,) another 10 minutes walk later we were at our hostel. We couldn’t check in until 4, so we dumped our stuff in the luggage room and went exploring.
We hopped back on the train into the city, and rushed over to Brandenburg gate for a free walking tour. We were half an hour late, but one of the other guides very kindly offered to take us to where the tour would be. Apparently the tours don’t get very far in the first half hour because theres so much talking, which meant that we only had to go around the corner to find them. On the way we had a brief mini-tour, and learnt that the hotel Adlon on Brandenburg square was the very same hotel that Michael Jackson elected to dangle his baby from, and that the Quadriga that sits atop the Brandenburg gate originally represented peace, but after its kidnap by Napoleon, and subsequent return following his defeat some years later, it is now the incarnation of victory, and was modified to show this.
We caught up to the tour at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2711 concrete stelae of varying heights arranged in a grid. Its a very odd feeling to walk through all the slabs, the fact that they change height and the floor slopes up and down makes it somewhat disconcerting. Next stop was Hitlers bunker, or at least the car park that sits on top of where it once was. They decided it was best to just destroy it, fill it in, and leave it to be forgotten. The only thing noting the location is an information board nearby. I’d say thats probably a fitting end for it.
After this we went to see part of the wall, stopping on the way at the Berlin tax office building, the topography of terror museum, and for some soup. One of the final stops on the tour was Checkpoint Charlie, arguably the most famous crossing point through the Berlin wall during the cold war. You can go and get your passport stamped there if you like. Once the tour was over me and Zoe decided to find as many of the photoautomat booths as we could and take our pictures in them. There were 3 just on the way back towards Brandenburg gate, but only one was working. They are lots of fun, and make a great cheap souvenir.
We slowly made our way back to our hostel, hitting up a few christmas markets on the way, eating plenty of bratwurst. In fact pretty much all we ate for the entire time there was bratwurst. Can’t go wrong with a sausage in a bun! We finally got back to our hostel at about 11, made our bed, and crashed out. Berlin is exhausting, and thats just day one!