Berlin… for a city with such a complicated history Berlin and Berliner seem to have struck a balance between remembering the past and moving forward. For example, while in Berlin I visited the Berlin Wall memorial twice, the first time was somber in remembrance for a hard bit of history but the second time I saw families playing in the park adjacent to the park. Moving forward but not forgetting.
This mood seems to surround Berlin – at least from my limited experience with the city. A mix of new and old from the buildings, culture, history, and people.
I was only able to spend about 48 hours in the city but it was a packed 48 hours! My travel companions for this short trip was my friend Donna and my roommate Anastasia. We hopped on a train Berlin-bound Saturday morning and arrived mid-afternoon. After checking in to our flat we headed out to see the city.
Turns out, this past weekend was the Berlin Marathon so we tried to navigate the city and the network of the marathon path with mixed success. That first day we found the Volkswagen show room and ooh’ed and aah’ed at the latest and greatest in cars, motorcycles, and bikes. We tried not to let our knowledge of the companies’ emissions test scandal taint our appreciation of the sleek new cars and modern bikes.
After Volkswagen we headed to the Brandenburg Gates… turns out the gates are near the end of the raceway so we paused to cheer on in-line skating competitors rushing through the gates towards the finish line.
We visited the Berlin Wall Memorial located just north of the city center. Personally, the Berlin Wall is a bit of history that I’m not very familiar with and something that was skimmed over in high school history classes. To see the remains of the wall and learn a little about the history was interesting but it raised many more questions than it answered.
For dinner we stopped at a relatively touristy restaurant and ended up sitting outside wrapped in blankets, freezing as we waited for our meal. It was not a pleasant experience.
Sunday was our first full day in Berlin and we saw and did so much! First we reserved a spot to visit the Reichstag Building dome – since there was a marathon fewer people were visiting the dome and we were able to find a spot for later that afternoon.
Then we went on a walking tour of the city and I finally got many (sadly not all) of my questions about the Berlin Wall answered. I always love walking tours of a city because you get both a bit of history and a bit of culture that you wouldn’t normally get if you were just to walk around on your own. We visited the Murdered Jews of Europe Memorial (a site that many words and pictures fail to describe and should be experienced in person), Check Point Charlie (a very popular destination for people visiting surrounded by very modern buildings topped with glass and steel), the German and French Churches, and many more. Our guide was amazing at providing us with a brief history and trying to explain both sides of historical events.
In addition to the buildings and culturally relevant sites we ran in the Berlin Marathon! Yes, you did read the correctly – I ran in the Berlin Marathon!
Sort of… I kinda ran in the Berlin Marathon… I ran across the Berlin Marathon to get to the interesting and culturally relevant building on the other side. Regardless, I ran in the Berlin Marathon and that is the story I will tell my children!
After our tour ended we navigated around the race to re-visit the memorials. There is a trail of memorials throughout the city dedicated to the victims of World War II – the Jewish memorial is the largest but there are also ones to the homosexuals, political prisoners, mentally and physically disabled, and the Soviet soldiers that died in the Battle for Berlin. This city seems to have a space to remember for every group of people affected by World War II.
We were able to wander through the marathon finish line as we tried to track down each memorial and it seemed like a great party, too bad we had to run off and visit the Reichstag Building.
The Reichstag Building is the seat of power for Germany and the fact that they allow people to wander the roof still baffles me. It’s a beautiful building with a historic facade and a very modern interior. The dome sits on top of the building and offers beautiful views of the city with a commentary providing information about specific important buildings or facts about the German government as you climb the dome.
Our guide from the tour mentioned a great flea market near the Berlin Wall Memorial so we headed back to the place we’d seen last night and walked until we found it. It was a hoarder’s paradise – so much stuff! We got some beer and walked: chatted with vendors, admired artist’s sketches, ogled beautiful craftsmanship, and dug through true flea market finds. I limited myself to a sweater (much needed, Berlin is COLD!) and Anastasia found a very unique silver ring.
Truly exhausted from a long day of wandering we headed back to our flat and crashed for half and hour. In true millennial form when we got to the flat and our devices connected to the wifi everyone whipped out their phones.
After a little bit of time we ventured out (bundled in as many layers as we could find) and headed to a burger place that apparently had amazing onion rings. Rebel Room was everything we dreamed of minus in-door seating. We grabbed our burger to-go and dined in the warmth of our flat… the burgers were good but the onion rings were the clear highlight of the meal for me!
Monday was the last day in Berlin and we spent a good chunk of the morning in the warmth of our beds. It was +4 outside and I wasn’t prepared to face the grueling weather. When we finally were packed and ready to go we headed to find a bite to eat and a little bit of coffee. We were successful in both counts and much happier we headed to the train shiny train station.
Our train feels way too full and for the first 15 minutes I couldn’t find an open, non-reserved seat! The isles were packed with barely moving two-way traffic as we moved large suitcases over our heads for other passengers trying to get around. If I was ever on the fence about the importance of traveling with a backpack the first 15 minutes of this train ride would have convinced me – traveling with a backpack is the way to go!
I finally found a seat and was able to switch with someone else to get a different seat in the same cabin as my friends. That worked well until we hit Dresden when a group of high schoolers took our cabin since they reserved it and we were left seat-less for half an hour standing in the front of the car.
The strong and resilient people that we are, we somehow survived and found seats in the isle and eventually worked our way into a 1st class wagon! It was a long train ride and felt quite a bit like musical chairs but we made it and arrived safely in Prague.
Berlin is a city I really like and could love with time – it’s an interesting mix of old and new and half the buildings seem to be decked in glass, steel, and concrete. It feels new and edgy but still livable with little bits of charm here and there. In this city so much has happened and a vast majority of it within the past 100 years. The sheer fact that after everything Berlin has been through it’s still a strong, thriving city is amazing!