Berlin: crossing the wall

15/05/2012 at 5:26 pm Leave a comment

The last time I was in Berlin I had too much to drink. The resulting hangover meant that there was still a lot of the city which I didn’t get to see. With this is mind I arrived in Berlin determined to see as much as possible.

It was late afternoon by the time I checked into the Odyssey Globetrotter Hostel which is about a 15 minute walk from Ostbahnhof Station. Having been on a train for most of the day I was pretty tired and hungry so I headed out in search of something to eat and drink. Where ever you go in Berlin you are spoilt for choice when it comes to food. All along Warschauer Strasse and the connecting streets there are a huge number of restaurants offering anything you could possible want. It’s all very cheap as well and the portions are large. You can pick up a good quality pizza or kebab for 4 or 5 euros.

The following morning I headed out into the city. One of the great things about Berlin is the public transport system. It’s incredibly easy to get anywhere in the city using the trams, subway or buses. A day pass can be purchased for around 6 euros and give you unlimited travel.

My first point of call was the East Side Gallery which is situated alongside the river and stretches from Ostbahnhof to Warschauer Strasse. It is a section of the Berlin wall which has now be claimed by graffiti artists. Artist is certainly the correct word to use. These are not just simple tags, but huge murals. You really have to see it to fully appreciate the time and effort that has been put into some of these pieces. In England the local council would have cleaned it up by now at great expense to the tax payer, but fortunately the Germans have more sense than that. They recognise the political significance of the Berlin Wall and the art that accompanies it. And it’s a pretty big tourist attraction for those interested in seeing the “alternative” side of Berlin.

From there I hopped on a train and headed over to Alexanderplatz. When I was last in Berlin 10 or 11 months ago they were doing a lot of construction at Alexanderplatz, so I was disappointed to find that very little progress had been made. Perhaps it’s part of some elaborate job creation scheme which just involves digging up and relaying the roads for no particular reason. Upon arrival the first thing you will notice is the huge ugly concrete television tower. It dominates the skyline and can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city. You can pay to go up the tower which has it’s own restaurant and bar, but it’s expensive and I’m sure you can find better places to eat within the city.

There is also a small park at Alexanderplatz but this too had been ruined by diggers. At the far end of the park and on the banks of the river is a statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. On the opposite side of the road is the impressive looking Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral).

Just next to the Cathedral is the DDR museum which is well worth checking out. It’s a self confessed “interactive museum” meaning you can touch a lot of the exhibits. The subject matter is East Germany under Communist rule. Great for anyone with an interest in history or politics. In terms of size the museum isn’t very big, but there is a lot of see so it’s worth setting aside two hours.

Other obvious points of interest are the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag. You can either get there by subway or if you don’t mind a 20 minute walk it’s easy to get to from the Cathedral.

I’d seen the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag on my previous visit to the city but has somehow managed to miss the Holocaust Memorial even though it is only a 5 minute walk away. At a first glance the memorial looks like a collection of grey concrete blocks, which to be fair is a totally accurate statement. It is the kind of memorial that people will either love or hate. The blocks however vary greatly in hight and you can walk down in between them. The best way to describe it is like a concrete maze.

Another sight which I missed last year was Checkpoint Charlie. As the name suggests it is a checkpoint which divided the America and Russian controlled parts of Berlin after World War II. I was expecting something pretty grand with watch towers and machine gun posts, but it’s pretty much just a hut. A dull white hut. Stood outside were two very German looking guys dressed up in American army uniforms. If you really want to you can have a photo taken with them for 2 euros. Needless to say I did not take them up on the offer.

After I’d been sufficiently underwhelmed by Checkpoint Charlie I walked to Topographie des Terrors. It’s a free outdoor museum which focuses on the rise of the Nazi party and what happened to Berlin during World War II.

Berlin is one of Europe’s most vibrant cities and is fast becoming a favourite of mine. There is so much to see and do (and drink), and I’ve probably missed out a tonne of stuff in this blog post. From an architectural stand point Berlin is far from being Europe’s most beautiful city. But what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in its character.

Pro Tips:

Use public transport. It’s cheap and efficient. Berlin is huge so it take a really long time to walk anywhere.

If you like fast food check out “Burgermeister”. It is located under the railway next to Schlesisches Tor station. It’s only a small place and the only seating is outdoors. The building itself is what used to be a public toilet, but don’t let this put you off they do some of the best (and largest) burgers anywhere in Berlin.

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Cologne: back on the road

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