Berlin is a crazy mix of old and modern, east and west, and grungy and sophisticated. The city holds so many recognizable landmarks and has such a fascinating history. It also has a gazillion concert halls, is the home of the Berlin Philharmonic, and has a vibrant creative atmosphere. It is very multicultural and busy, but also has a more relaxed side to it (probably due to the extensive green areas in the city). There are parts that are almost ugly, but then there are places that are breathtakingly beautiful and elegant. Altogether, an awesome place to visit! Perfect for Jordan and Chris’ first few days in Germany (this post is very late – life caught up with us).
Our airbnb was unusual, but perfect for our needs. As it turns out, this family clears out of their apartment to rent the place out whenever they have guests. Their apartment is spacious and fully stocked with everything one needs. Although the décor wasn’t necessarily the most glamorous or stylish, it was comfortable and had a lot of kids toys. This included a homemade bunk bed, where the upper level was like a secret room and had baskets of toys. As G has not had a lot of bigger toys to play with over the last few months, she really enjoyed being able to play with all these other toys. In fact, as we had arrived a day earlier than Chris and Jordan, she asked if we could just stay at home and play, instead of going out and exploring (I had planned to go to Weissensee and the Princess Playground).
Berlin is built on a number of rivers, the largest being the Havel and the Spree. Apparently, Berlin and the surrounding area have even more canals and waterways than Venice. Seeing Berlin from the water has the advantage of getting a view unobstructed by millions of other tourists with selfie sticks (have I mentioned how annoying I find these things – I know they take better pics, but dodging them and all the people taking a million shots of themselves in various poses gets a little much – especially if they are standing in front of what you would like to photograph). Where there are waterways, there are bridges so it is no surprise that Berlin has more bridges than any other European city (about 1700), the most famous being the Oberbaumbrucke between Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg which we actually stumbled upon quite by accident. It is very close to the last remaining section of the famous wall that separated East and West Berlin. After a long sweaty walk viewing the Eastside Gallery (which has some of the most thought provoking and artistic graffiti I have ever seen), we sat down in a very touristy “American-style” Bar and found the beer garden overlooked the bridge. Spectacular.
Being in Berlin one can’t help but think about all the spy movies that center around this city, Atomic Blonde being the most recent, and imagine what life was like behind the iron curtain. How many spies walked these roads? For the generations who still remember the cold war and the coming down of the wall (totally didn’t occur to me that the whole Cold War/ East – West thing was not something Jordan had lived through or thought about), seeing the Brandenburg Gate and the actual wall that separated east and west Berlin is a moving experience. We drove past Check Point Charley (got intimidated by all the other tourists and decided not to stop), but did have lunch at Potsdamer Platz. This area is particularly interesting from a historical perspective. Once it was one of the busiest intersections in Europe. It was bombed quite badly in WWII and then became a part of no-mans land when Berlin was split. Once the wall came down, it was prime real estate – right in the middle of Berlin. Not many cities get to redesign their center, but Potsdamer Platz became one of the biggest building sites in Europe as modern skyscrapers and businesses staked their claim on the land. The Sony building has a large dome shaped feature (supposed to represent Mount Fuji), and it a great place to stop for a bite to eat. Also pretty cool to be next to the Deutsche Bahn headquarters (am a big DB fan).
I have found myself thinking a great deal about what life was like when the wall came down, especially in Berlin. Having to fuse two groups of people who for the last fifty years lived in societies that were polar opposite must have been a challenge on a practical and emotional level. Many people lost a lot through reunification and although it is always portrayed as a positive change, I can’t imagine that it wasn’t difficult and confusing for many who had to make a sudden transition from socialism to capitalism. I have to confess that I got rather sucked in to this German series called Weissensee which traces the story of a family from GDR times through to after reunification. It is set in Berlin and added an extra dimension for me on our trip there. I kept imagining I’d see the characters walking around (nothing like escapism through binge watching a TV series – I told myself it was cultural research).
Our plan in Berlin was mostly just to walk around, see the big sights and just imbibe a little German culture. We didn’t go into any museums together (although Chris and I enjoyed a trip together to the GDR museum which was good, but very busy), but spent some time wandering around Alexander Platz with the famous TV tower and the Urania World Clock. We also explored Hackischer Markt and the Museum Island (Berlin has around 200 museums). We took a boat trip and a hop on/hop off bus tour with commentary – both very informative. Berlin has a great deal of really modern buildings and architecture juxtaposed next to the really old buildings. I love this contrast, but Jordan found it too stark. Genevieve had a blast with all the various transport methods (underground trains, fast trains, trams, double-decker buses, boats and loads of escalators) and Chris enjoyed the historical aspect and just being there (and we loved having him with us).
The highlight for me was being reunited with our family for a bit (would have been perfect if William was also there), but I also loved being in such a big and complex city. I like that it is dirty in places, but pristine in others. Well worth a visit and great to do with family.
A quick side note here, throughout this heatwave I found I was often the only one wearing a hat which I found very odd. I can’t survive without a hat in the heat, but seemed to be pretty much alone in this in Europe. Genevieve did repeatedly tell me that my hat looked bad, but practicality triumphed over vanity in this case!