Intro to Berlin
If you’re old enough you might just remember the wall coming down. I have a relative that still talks about it. Today East and West Berlin are well integrated but remain visually very different. There are world class museums in the west, great reclaimed neighborhoods in the east, remnants of the wall between the two, and reminders of old Germany all around the city.
Berlin is in the middle of Germany and serves as the capital. Like so many cities in Germany, Berlin was totally destroyed in World War II. The Reichstag Building, the capital building, was where the Nazis made a final stand. If you visit you’ll find a great exhibit with photos of the Reichstag and great Berlin on those finals days in WWII and there is only one word to describe it; hell. The now pleasant park around the building looked like something from an apocalyptic movie; with bombed out buildings on fire in the background, miles of barbed wire, blown out tanks, and bodies. Even going now, 70 years later, it seems hard to believe they built anything back.
When the war ended Berlin was split with East Berlin going to the Soviets and West Berlin to the Americans and Brits. Both sides were rebuilt in a mostly modern style, particularly the East. And while the city has a really cool counterculture vibe if you’re looking for a long weekend in Germany and you’ve never been, go to Munich. When given the chance after WWII, they rebuilt the old city.
Berlin’s connections aren’t as good as you might think. It’s possible to get direct flights from some large international airports but it’s a little too far for just a couple nights. At a minimum you’ll need three nights and a mid day flight home. That should give you enough to both see and enjoy the city.
When you get in the city the U Bahn and H Bahn trains will get you wherever you need to go. The airport isn’t connected to either, take the TXL bus.
Berlin also works as a good beginning or ending weekend to any longer German/Austrian/or Poland vacation.
When we went
September 2011. This was part of a longer itinerary: flew into Berlin (2 nights), fly to Salzburg Austria (2 night), train to Lake Hallstatt (2 nights), train to Melk (1 night), train to Vienna (2 nights), flew home via overnight layover in Amsterdam (1 night).
What we did
The Reichstag, is Germany’s House of Parliament. The original building caught fire on February 27, 1933, under circumstances still not entirely clear (the famous “Reichstag fire”). This proved to be a valuable excuse for the Nazis to suspend most rights provided for by the 1919 Weimar Constitution in the Reichstag Fire Decree in an effort to weed out the communists and increase state security throughout Germany.
There are several must stops but the Peregom museum may be the best museum you’ve never heard. There three main exhibits and all three are large facades from the ancient world. There is one from Peregom Greece (obviously the naming inspiration for the museum) from the year 100BC. There is also a Roman market entrance, 300 years younger. It was found in Turkey. Finally there is one of the bright blue tile entrances from the gates of Bablyon, circa 2500BC. This is the most impressive.
Topography of Terror – An outside memorial to the victims of World War II. Over the spot of Hitlers bunker.
Checkpoint Charlie – A very moving museum about life behind the wall. Great exhibits and pictures.
The German History Museum – A neo classical building with collections spanning from the Romans to the Berlin wall.
Berlin Cathedral – Located on Museum Island, this is the largest church in the city. Climb to the dome for great city views.
Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church – A visual reminder of what happen to this city in the final days of World War II.
Gemäldegalerie Galleries – Germany’s collection of old masters.
If you go to Berlin you have to try the currywurst, which was supposedly invented here. Think Bratwurst with curry infused catsup and a curry power on top. It’s delicious. Try it for a snack or for lunch. We went to Konnopke’s Inbib, once a popular currywurst spot for members of East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi.
Gugelhof Restaurant – classic neighborhood eatery with outdoor seating and great people watching in Eastern Berlin.
Weihenstephaner Bavarian Restaurant – in the cute Hackescher Market. Serves classic Bavarian, great schnitzel.
Zum Schusterjugen Speissegaststatte – An eastern German throw back with good food and an atmosphere unchanged since the cold war.
Prater Bier Garden – An urban beer garden experience in Eastern Berlin. Great for an after dinner drink.
Rogacki’s – Berlin’s best deli experience. Great spot for lunch and watching real locals shop for food.