“Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner). These words were spoken by JFK during his visit to Berlin in 1963. He proclaimed that every free person is a Berliner. There is an Urban legend, which states that he did not know the nuances of the German language nor was he aware that ‘Berliner‘ is a popular jam filled bun popular amongst the masses, his words really meant he was a jam filled bun. The right phrase should have been, “Ich bin Berliner”. But setting aside the linguistic nuances, the spirit of Berliners was celebrated on that day.
Last weekend, we paid a trip to the city of Berlin. It turned out to be a pretty good experience for a history buff like me, to a massive city, the biggest in Germany.
The first impressions of Berlin came up the moment we got out of the train, Berlin HauptBahnof is a huge railway station opened in 2006 with five different levels serving various local trains like S Bahn and International/National routes. It is modern architectural marvel for its large expanse and design.
Our hotel was near Alexanderplatz, on a cold and wet winter morning, we were standing at the exit of the Alexanderplatz station staring at the Fernsehturm , at 368 meters it is the tallest building in Germany. It was a TV tower constructed by GDR, as the place was a part of East Berlin. They wanted it to be the sign of the city, and it truly is. One could go up the tower and enjoy dinner at its restaurant.
After a while we attempted to venture out in the cold weather, the first stop was Fernsehturm, we wanted to go up but it had a long waiting period, so we decided otherwise. We then took a train to Hackesher markt and wanted towards the Museum Island (Museum Sinsel). Buildings of Altes Museum, Pergamom Museum and Berliner Dom populate the place. Large hallways outside the National Gallery still bear marks of damage from the WWII.
We spent a few hours at the Berliner Dom, which overlooks the Lustgarten (no, don’t giggle!) park. It is indeed difficult to imagine that Lustgarten was one of the places where Nazis would hold mass rallies and during the WWII it was destroyed by bombs. The Berliner Dom is indeed worth a visit, a very different cathedral when compared to churches elsewhere in Europe, it celebrates Reformation and is worthy of spending time.
Next stop for us was Brandenburg Gate, it is the iconic monument of Berlin. In fact it is also stamped on Euro coins, this monument is probably the heart of any visit to the city. This is where the wall stood, right in front of the gate, a division of the people, this is where Ronald Reagen once spoke, ‘Mr Gorbachev, Tear down this wall‘. Till date three US Presidents have spoken at the gate talking about freedom and peace.
Near to the gate is the Reichstag, we really wanted to visit the place inside, but we did not know that free bookings have to be made in advance. I would have loved to visit the Reichstag dome, hopefully I’d go back again someday. With this we returned to Alexanderplatz and visited the TV tower at night, the view of the city and its light was enchanting.
Next morning, the first place to visit was Checkpoint Charlie. A very touristy spot, it was one of the gates where diplomats from US sector would enter/exit the Soviet sector. That single board of Checkpoint Charlie attracts many visitors, an open exhibition of the Berlin wall and markers on the road illustrating where the wall once stood make it an incredible experience.
On the same street as the checkpoint, one could also visit the Mauer Museum (Wall Museum). It is a private museum dedicated to the wall, to peace and the struggle of German people during the days of the Cold War. Anecdotes, actual escape vehicles/contraptions and pictures of people who escaped through the wall make the place a living memorial of the days which went by. Some of the stories are trying heart wrenching, a couple of pictures shook me up…
The last place to visit on the day was Charlottenberg palace, unfortunately by the time we reached there it was already closing time. With this we returned to the HB and waited for our train.
Local Travel: Buying a day pass at 5.5 EUR (or if in a group upto 5 people at 15 EUR) will allow you to travel by metro, trams and buses. It is worthwhile to also check out the Bus #100 route, it moves around all major spots of interest (except Checkpoint Charlie) and this single bus could be one of the best ways to move around the city.
Stay: We stayed at Etap hotel near Alexanderplatz, the price for two people was 53 EUR. Rooms are clean and simple, perfect for budget travelers.