A couple of weeks ago I went to Berlin for a work conference where I was “fortunate” enough to get to present to almost 2,000 people about innovations in Instant Notifications. Let’s just say it was nerve-wracking. It did give me the opportunity though to stay on in Berlin for a couple of days though and explore the city.
I decided to stay in the Meininger Hotel right next to Hauptbahnhof, which is the largest station in Europe. I have stayed in a Meininger Hotel before and I like the fact that they’re a bit of a hybrid between a hotel and a hostel and ultimately very good value for money. It was also a perfect location for getting around because it was so central and there is a direct train from both airports.
Berlin is a fascinating city, which was right at the centre of Col War history after being divided in two after the Second World War with half of it belonging to capitalist West Germany and the other half belonging to communist East Germany. The city was divided overnight by a giant and almost impenetrable wall which left its inhabitants divided and often families on opposite sides of the wall. The country and ultimately the city were reunified in 1990 when the majority of the wall came down, leaving an interesting and rich history.
I was a bit tired after all the conferencing so on the day I arrived at my hotel I had a bit of a relax before hopping onto the sightseeing bus, which stopped directly outside the hotel. The first tour was of the East side of the city and features stops like the Wall Memorial Museum and the East Side Gallery. Unfortunately because it was winter and quite late in the afternoon it was the last tour of the day so I wasn’t able to get hop on and off as I might have liked to but it was a good introduction to the city.
The next morning I got up early and got onto the tour that explores the west side of the city. Unlike the east side, which has a sort of edgy charm, the west side features some amazing old, traditional sites.
Overnight it has snowed quite heavily so the whole city had been blanketed in white, which made it even more charming, which I discovered at my first stop, The Berlin Victory Column. The column sits in the middle of the Großer Stern, which is the largest intersection in the city and celebrates the end of three wars.
It is surrounded by the Tiergarten or Animal Garden, which is a beautiful sprawling park which looked a bit like a Winter Wonderland under all that snow.
The Tiergarten is home to a wide range of statues. I have to admit that I don’t know who most of them were of but I quite liked this one of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (who according to Mr O commanded the German army at the outbreak of WWI). He appears to be chilling out and just enjoying the park.
There is a viewing platform at the top of the column so I decided to pay the €3 to climb to the top. On the way up I was quite smug as my pregnant self lapped some young British tourists on the way up the 285 step spiral staircase (there is no lift). I felt less smug when my calves still hurt 3 days later. The view was amazing though.
My next stop was Checkpoint Charlie, which was the most well known Berlin Wall crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. There is now a museum at the site and you can get your photo taken with faux American border guards as well as getting a “visa” stamped for your passport… for a fee of course. I chose not to but I did get this photo of the crossing though.
At this point I had tour bus fatigue so I decided to get out and walk to Alexerplatz, which is one of Berlin’s largest central squares and home of the famous TV Tower. Completely unintentionally I came across the magnificent Gendarmenmarkt, which is flanked by two very similar Cathedrals and then Berlin Catherdral, which has a beautiful copper dome on Museum Island, which makes a stunning contrast with the aforementioned TV Tower.
It’s also a great place to take a selfie and buy a currywurst from a roadside vendor.
And it features this awesome statue of a dude who seems to be ready to defend his lady using both his sword… and his… er… mansword?
By this stage it was getting to late afternoon so I wanted to make sure that I made my way back to the east part of the city that I was desperate to see.
At the East Side Gallery a 1.3km section of the Wall still exists as a memorial to those who died trying to get from one side to the other.
The wall is covered by a mural painted by 105 artists from all over the world and there are some absolutely stunning ones, which I photographed.
The most famous painting in the mural is the Fraternal Kiss, which represents Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing painted by Dmitri Vrubel. The Russian words at the top read “God! help me stay alive”; and continue at the bottom “Among this deadly love.” Personally I don’t think it’s a particularly sexy kiss…
I had still hoped to find my way to the Wall Memorial and to the Jewish Museum but it was Sunday and things were closing so there just wasn’t time… mostly because I spent so much time investigating the Victory Column.
I did manage to take a picture of this Buddy Bear, who has brothers all over the city.
And I ate a pretzel because you can’t go to Germany and not eat a pretzel.
I feel like I only saw a tiny bit of Berlin, particularly the east side of Berlin so it’s definitely a place I want to return to and see more of. A day and a half just wasn’t enough!