We flew to Berlin last Wednesay and stayed until Friday afternoon. We added Berlin to our trip because my friends, Courtney and Jamie (long lost high school friends reunited on facebook), raved about how wonderful the city was. They were definitely correct! We loved it!
The city oozes with history and I love the rawness of it. There are tons of beautiful old buildings right next to modern buildings that have been rebuilt since the war. There's a lot more open spaces and trees and grass than in Amsterdam, Paris or Brussels. And the people seemed more down to earth and relaxed (from what we could tell from our lack of German skills). The city is a lot more spread out, so it was nice to be able to walk down tree lined streets and peer into windows on our way to the next destination. Berlin really felt like a city that I could move to and be comfortable in.
After being completely tired out by Paris, we took time to slow down and enjoy ourselves in the city. We didn't put ourselves on a crazy tourist schedule, but we did get to see quite a few recommended spots.
Checkpoint Charlie (and museum):
This was definitely my favorite museum of the trip. The museum is kind of old and run down and very raw. I'm sure that archivists must be squirming at the site of some of the precious relics in the museum being open and exposed to elements, but I suppose it added to the charm of the museum. I knew about the Berlin wall, but I was a little too young to understand exactly what was going on and why the wall was constructed. This museum explained everything in detail and made the situation come to life. We saw car trunks and radiators that were used to smuggle people across the wall, homemade respiratory machines to help survive an underground tunnel under the wall and lots of pictures and accounts of people who made it across the border. At one point in the museum, we were standing at a window that people used in the actual museum as a lookout point to smuggle people across the border. The history and experiences of the people was just so real to me at that moment!
This is the newly constructed German parliament building. The original base of the Reichstag still remains, but the inside was completely remodeled and a transparent dome was added to the top. The designers of the building reflected the new dedication to openness the government took after WWII with the building's architecture. The building is open to the public and visitors can peer down into the main meeting room and watch law making in progress. The dome on top of the building has spiraling walkways and an open air top that collects rain water and precipitation to help heat and cool the building. The mirrors in the dome also reflect sunlight to help direct natural light into the meeting space and reduce electricity need.
There was an art installation right behind the gate with a stack of nine boats that were used to rescue prisoners from Turkey and bring them to safety. I loved seeing art installations like this all over the city that were so symbolic of freedom from persecution.
This was the only art museum we visited in Berlin. The Pergamon is filled with antiquities from ancient Greek, Babylonian and Arabic cultures. The museum has a great 30 minute audio introduction to the museum that we listened to and then we wandered around looking at other things that piqued our interest. I really enjoyed looking at some of the arabic rugs and textiles in the museum.
Potsdamer Platz is supposed to be the central area of the city and is
filled with lots of ads, tall buildings and shops. The most striking
building in the center is the Sony building, which looks like Mt Fuji
from outside and a space ship from inside. And, in the interest of full
disclosure and being real (thanks Amy), it is also the place where we
succumbed to American food and had ourselves a snack of 6 donuts
and 2 large hot chocolates from Dunkin Donuts (who knew it was so
popular in Germany?). Yes, we were on a total sugar rush after that!
But, how could we just buy four when a half dozen was cheaper?
We visited the Jewish museum on Thursday afternoon after a lovely lunch in the museum café. The museum is designed by Daniel Libeskind and is full of such striking symbolism history through its windows, gardens, art installations and enclosed spaces. The museum had a lot of interactive exhibits that would be great for young kids, but we mostly enjoyed the design of the building and the photos and descriptions in the collection.
We stayed at Pension Peters, which was recommended in the Rick Steves book. We could not recommend this hotel enough. It was the most inexpensive hotel of the trip, included breakfast, had soaring ceilings and a beautiful courtyard view and was incredibly clean. We were so happy to have found this place.
On a side note, Jon and I are totally sold on the separate bed coverings thing. This solved the cover stealing debate that has been going on since we were married. We each had our own blanket and were warm throughout the night. I think I will be turning the Crate and Barrel quilt that I wanted to make into two twin sized quilts with a duvet pocket so that we can use separate quilts in the summer and separate comforters in the winter.
Mr Hai & Friends Vietnamese food:
We were so happy to have found this restaurant. It's located just around the corner from Pension Peters and has two pages of the menu devoted to vegetarian dishes. Because we couldn't understand German, we just pointed to a dish and were surprised with what we got. We ate there twice because we enjoyed the food (and ease of ordering) so much.
Our last stop in Berlin was at this old church that was bombed out in WWII. Instead of tearing the church down, it was left up as a monument and the church was rebuilt around it. The old and new remain to remind visitors of the past and encourage them in the future.
• • •
On Friday morning, we journeyed on the U-Bahn to the home of my ancestors, or at least what I pretended to be was the home of my ancestors. My maiden name was plastered everywhere and I had fun getting pictures to bring back to my family. If the museum had museum t-shirts, I totally would have brought them all home to my family for their annual Christmas photo. Unfortunately, they did not, so they'll have to enjoy the photos of the local farm, apothecary, café, bookstore, map and train station!
And, you can see the rest of the Berlin pictures on flickr: here