August 13th – Prague to Berlin
Braving another day without train reservations, we got to the Prague station early enough to buy sandwiches and beer for the nearly five hour ride to Berlin. We fought our way onto the train and found the one compartment that didn’t have reservations listed to grab the coveted window seats (with power outlets and a table). The first half of the ride went fine, but at some point after crossing the border, people started coming into our compartment with reservations. One lady had Jenny’s seat, but agreed to sit in another empty one, but eventually a lady with a little dog got on and started a game of musical chairs that ended with Jenny finding a seat in another compartment. Despite the shuffling around, we made it into Berlin HBF early enough that we were able to wait in line and make our next set of train reservations to Amsterdam.
The apartment we rented was a short distance away from Alexanderplatz and within easy walking distance to the major museums and sites. Our host greeted us, showed us around, and left with her Greyhound to go sleep at her art studio. It was already getting late by the time that we got back from a trip to the grocery store, so we made dinner in the apartment and got ready for another day of city roaming. With cool weather and a comfortable bed, we had some of the best sleep of our trip in Berlin.
August 14th – WAR
Berlin had a really rough 20th century. With major wars followed by decades of split control by foreign powers, many of the major sites are important, impressive, and not very uplifting. We started our day by walking over museum island (we’ll come back to that) and through the city until we reached the Brandenburg Gate. Unfortunately, the entire area behind the gate was closed off and filled with construction equipment, so the view wasn’t that impressive.
From the gate we walked down to the Holocaust Memorial (formally – The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe). The memorial itself is, well, odd for a memorial. It’s made up of a large open space filled with over 2700 concrete slabs of varying heights. You can walk between them and sit or stand on some of the shorter ones around the edges. But as a whole, we didn’t really get the concept behind it. It’s a space that you could just mistake as a huge modern art installation until you find one of the signs explaining what it is. There were people eating lunch on some of the blocks and kids were running around playing in the rows – not exactly the scene you’d imagine when you think “memorial to six+ million people.” Supposedly the area is “designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” Whatever you say…
From the Holocaust memorial, we went to check out Checkpoint Charlie. Traffic on the street now flows freely, but the storyboards lining the sidewalk give the history of the spot. There is an area showing pictures, listing the many successful and unsuccessful border crossing attempts, and reminding us that less than 25 years ago, Berlin was a very different place.
And this is what the checkpoint looked like in the late ’80s.
A section of the wall still stood in the area. Other sections were moved and used as canvas by graffiti artists.
We stopped at McDonalds to use the bathrooms, and went to a food stand on the street to get some traditional German snacks.
We headed back to our place, walking by the big TV tower that is the tallest structure in Germany. You can ride up and there is a restaurant in the ball. (Not that we went up there).
August 15th – Pergamon Museum
Berlin has a huge number of museums, so many that they actually have an area called Museum Island. You can buy passes that let you visit multiple museums a day, but Steve was only interested in going to the Pergamon museum. We’d seen plenty of ruins throughout the trip (Ephesus, Olympia, loads of things in Rome) but the Pergamon museum houses some fantastic reconstructions of ancient structures.
The name of the museum comes from its possession of the sculptures and friezes from the massive altar in the city of Pergamon (located in what is now Turkey). German archeologists excavated the site in the late 1800s, eventually bringing the sculptures back to Berlin where they built a museum that included a full scale replica of the front section of the altar. It’s another impressive example of the richness of ancient Greek and Roman cultures.
Right after visiting the altar, the next room houses the reconstructed market gate of Miletus.
To complete the series of ancient reconstructions, walking under the market gate takes you through the Ishtar gate on the other side. The museum used many of the original bricks and huge number of excavated fragments to rebuild the inner gate to the city of Babylon. The reconstruction is impressive enough, but if the model of the original city is at all accurate, this place would’ve been a sight to see.
After the Ishtar gate, the museum continued with other artifacts from the middle east. Most of what we see in museums tends to cover the Greeks or Romans or Egyptians, sort of skimming over the history of these most ancient of cities. It was interesting getting to see things from cultures outside the typical western spots that we’re accustomed to.
After the museum we wandered around for a while and found a restaurant with a huge number of syllables in the name (therefore it must have been authentic German food).
Before heading back to the apartment, we made the long walk to one of the longest remaining stretches of the Berlin wall.
August 16th – Laziness, and people jumping off a building
And on the third full day in Berlin, we rested. Well, didn’t go tourist crazy anyway. Steve got up and went for a much needed jog. He got back and Jenny cooked pasta for lunch. In the afternoon we went out to Alexanderplatz, which has a bunch of fair like activities and shops. We got some currywurst.
Oh yeah, we stopped and watch people jump off a building.
The Park Inn Hotel in Alexanderplatz has a thing where you can do a free fall off the top of the building. For 50 euro, you get maybe five seconds of free fall. Fun, sure, but not really worth it in our opinion as a couple that has jumped out of a plane.
For our last outing in Berlin, we got some Vietnamese food (why not, eh?). Monsieur Vuong was a very popular place and with good reason. We got some amazing food for very good prices. Not a very “German” end to our stay in Berlin, but a very tasty one.