Friday, April 09, 2010

An Outlander goes to Berlin

So, most people go someplace warm for Spring Break. Cancun, Florida, the Caribbean. My buddy Susan and I like to buck the trend and head east - way east. We've hit many of the great cities of Europe, and decided that this year we would visit Berlin. Former capital of the Prussian and Austria-Hungarian Empires, and now capital of the reunited Germany.

We spent 6 days there, and what a great time! Everything went so smoothly - easy plane connections, a terrific (if bare bones) hotel, great food, great beer!, and great sites. Some of the highlights:

Everyone agrees that one of the "must-sees" is the newly renovated Reichstag. It was famously burned in 1933 and occupied by Soviet troops in 1945. It was right next to the Berlin Wall for all those years. But when Berlin was made the new capital in 1999, Germans knew they had to return to the Reichstag. My big tip on visiting: the Dome is one of the most popular sites in Berlin: there were over 200 people waiting in line at 11 am on Sunday morning. I wrote ahead, and got spaces on a guided tour in English at 10:30. We went thru the whole building - I learned a lot about German government - and at the end, we were put on a special elevator to the Dome, bypassing the crowds. The view was spectacular - we wished we'd done in the first day we were in the city.

Museum Island is awesome! All of the major museums are on this small island in the middle of the city, and one museum pass gets you into all of them. The Pergamon Museum is incredible - some really large scale pieces scavenged from ancient Greece and Rome (which makes me slightly uneasy). One of the highlights in the Egyptian Museum is the famous bust of Nefertiti

No photo I've ever seen does her justice. The bust is truly beautiful - a fully mature woman captured in the prime of life. Wow.

The Germans do not downplay the Holocaust and their part in it. In fact, they seem to have gone out of their way to celebrate those cultures that Hitler tried to eradicate. The Jewish Museum is phenomenal! You enter below ground, where the halls are tilted and curved - as disorienting as life was in Germany in the 30s. The same feeling is found at the Holocaust Memorial near the Brandenburg Gates. We also stumbled upon a memorial to the homosexuals murdered by Hitler. The irony is that Hitler tried so hard to eliminate all of these cultures - and now his city celebrates them.

We marveled at the seemingly old churches and palaces - all heavily damaged during the bombing of WWII and now reconstructed. Especially moving is the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, which the citizens elected to leave in its bombed state as a monument to WWII and to the hope for peace

Very moving.

Everywhere we went, everyone spoke English - or at least could understand us! Luckily, beer is the same in both languages. And I had some awesome beer. I love a wheat beer, not hoppy - and that seems to be a Berlin speciality. We also sampled the famous "currywurst" - which is basically chopped up wieners doused in a ketchup and curry sauce. Not as spicy as I would have guessed. There was a curry stand close to our hotel - they were at least 10 deep from the time it opened at 11ish until late into the night.

We loved out hotel, the Hotel Transit. Okay, I admit, I was a little scared when we arrived. It's in a dingy neighborhood in Kreuzberg (we later discovered that pretty much ALL of the neighborhoods are dingy in Berlin!) - and on the top two floors of a former factory. The rooms were tiny - picture a very small college dorm room - with no tv and no telephone. But the staff was incredible! So nice, helpful, fun. We ended most nights sitting in the lobby and enjoying a beer or tea, and chatting with them while we checked email. I celebrated my birthday while we were there - on my birthday, we returned to the room to find a bottle of champagne and a card wishing me a happy birthday from the hotel staff! Nice! And a terrific breakfast every morning. It was perfect for the traveler who isn't interested in spending much time in their hotel!

The only negative: I hate the Charles de Gaulle airport!! We had to change planes there on both legs of our trip. On the return, the wheels of our flight from Berlin touched down on the tarmac at 8:45am. We had a 10:40 flight to Atlanta. By the time we taxied in the plane, took a bus to the terminal, took another bus to the other terminal, went thru passport control 3 times as well as a full security check - we got to the gate area at 10:30! Then we had to stand in a chaotic mess (I can't call it a line) to have our boarding passes checked and to be given our immigration forms (which they could easily distribute on the plane)....We weren't on the plane until 10:45! (Luckily, they didn't dare close the door early or I would have hurt somebody). Needless to say, I took advantage of that drink cart when it passed by. I will make every effort to NOT fly thru de Gaulle again!

Two things I purchased for the trip more than paid for themselves. This Travel Rest pillow is fantastic - it was really comfortable to sleep on. And the Sennheiser Noise Canceling Headphones are AWESOME! I will never travel on an airplane without them. The emit a white noise that totally erases any sound - including the engine. When I took them off to hit the loo, I was assaulted by the noise. I slept so soundly on the trip over!! (And I did NOT pay this much for them - surf around the net for a better price)

So, loved Berlin! Where to next??

And here's an album of photos:

If you click on the logo in the lower right, it'll lead you to the full-sized album

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Blogger HorshamScouse said...

Loved Berlin and loved your account of the trip. It brought back some good memories.

I Googled the Travel Rest thing and got some negative reviews, mostly about how dorky one looked rather than whether it was comfortable. Is it really worth investing in one? I probably won't get my customary upgrade on at least one leg of the SF trip so I need something:)

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