Best free breakfast so far. Pretty big selection of bread, cheese, and deli meat along with cereals and such. I woke up fairly early so I could have quite some time to explore Berlin.
I started by taking the metro to the train station. It is pretty close to the core city (and actually has quite a nice view of the city from the top floor) and I needed to reserve seats for my last two eurail train adventures. Booking a seat to Amsterdam was easy, but as soon as France is involved, everything sucks. If France makes up a sizable chunk of your trip, do not get a eurail pass. Anyways, I could not get a train from Amsterdam to Paris on the 6th so now I am going on the 7th. Which means that I have one night and a morning to see Paris. At least the Eiffel Tower is supposedly nice to look at lit up at night…
I started at the Reichstag. A beautiful mixture of the old and the new. After World War II the building was mostly destroyed by allied bombings. As was nearly everything Berlin. It’s difficult to imagine the horror of living with the constant threat of a bomb exploding next to you. My Grandparents lived through it, although across the channel in London. It’s sort of sickening to think of the people of those two cities being used as tools to beat the other power into submission. Indiscriminate bombing was used to break the will of the general population, not to target military installations.
The Reichstag was largely rebuilt based on the original design but the dome on the top provides a modernist twist. I didn’t go in (you had to prebook) but there is a spiral ramp that takes you up to the top. In my humble opinion it is quite the design.
After realizing I was walking the wrong way for a bit, I finally oriented myself with GPS and started walking towards the Brandenburg Gate. The direct route was blocked off, I believe because they were taking down stuff setup for a Euro 2012 event, so I had to walk around through a park. In the rain. It sort of felt like Vancouver, I liked it.
The gate was interesting. Built 300+ years ago, this gate has been somewhat of a symbolic centre for Berlin. I believe it was on the East Berlin side. After looking at it for a few minutes and reading a few of the signs I left. You’ll want to see it if you go to Berlin, but it is a quick site.
I walked down Unter den Linden towards the German History Museum. Other than the crazy amount of construction it is a pretty nice walk. Lots of coffee shops and upscale shopping if that is your thing. For car people there is a Mercedes Benz dealership so you can gawk at the cars.
The German History Museum was great. The first part, from germanic tribes to 1918 was okay. I feel like could be a lot better if it was made more interactive. Maybe it was better with the audio guide. The post WWI to modern times section was great however. I would have paid the 8 euro entry just for the WWII part. If you are a 20th century history buff you need to go to this museum. Combined with the War Museum in Vienna for WWI and you have a great look at both wars. One interesting thing I learnt was that apparently it wasn’t until the 80’s that the general public in Germany was educated on the extent of the crimes of the NAZI’s.
Checkpoint Charlie was really disappointing. Apparently it isn’t even the original, as that is now in the Smithsonian in Washington. Basically it is a little non-original checkpoint surrounded by tacky gift shops, a McDonald’s, fake passport stamps, and lots of probably terrible food joints. It might have been interesting for someone like my mother, who actually went through Checkpoint Charlie (how cool is that?) but otherwise, just walk past it to the nearby outdoor wall of info about the Berlin Wall.
One of the foods I wanted to try while in Berlin was currywurst. There was a place next to Checkpoint Charlie but I figured it would be overpriced and bad (non-discerning consumers – tourists). On my slow walk back to my hotel I noticed a little shack attached to a motorbike-shop in a lifeless area. No tourists could be seen. The owner didn’t speak english. The other people eating there all looked like bikers. Everything about it seemed like it would the perfect place for currywurst. And the best part, 2.50 euros. That’s right, a big german wurst, covered in ketchup and curry paste and lots of chips covered in a generous amount of mayonnaise. Delicious, in the best way cheap fast food can be, but I was pretty sure I was going to die of heart failure right then and there. Still, if you go to Berlin, find a non-touristy currywurst place. You won’t regret it, although your heart might.
After that I got lost and ended up walking around a massive park to get back to my hotel. I believe this park is new as it wasn’t on google maps, but it is really cool. It would be great for running and it has multiple playground areas. One of them sort of had an army boot camp feel and I couldn’t resist hopping from beam to beam and running across a series of unbalanced stepping-stones.
I believe this might be the longest post yet.