The weekend after we returned from London, it was time to hop back on the train and go to Berlin for the first time. We stayed at the Mercure Hotel by Checkpoint Charlie – big thumbs up. Checkpoint Charlie is the site where the American and Soviet tanks famously stared each other down during the Cold War. Rest assured that the intense history of the site is still fully present. If we had been thinking ahead to Christmas, we could have snagged our fix of gas masks, Russian nesting dolls and big fuzzy hats from any number of stands, or gotten an ‘official’ East Germany stamp in our passports for a mere 5 euros. You know, in case we wanted not to be able to travel with our passports anymore.
I’m not normally a ‘tour group’ kind of person, but we had about four different people independently recommend the Sandeman free tour of Berlin, so we decided to check it out. If you’re a history buff and you only have one or two days in Berlin, do this. Don’t even debate it. It’s about 3.5 hours long, with a break for lunch in the middle. We saw all of the major sites, and our tour guide was Irish and hilarious – it was very much like learning about European history from Eddie Izzard. Our tour started at the Brandenberg Gate and ended at the Lustgarten. We also went to the parking lot that now exists where Hitler’s bunker used to be.
The Jewish Museum – This wasn’t really what we expected. There is a ton to look at, but the museum seems to aim for quantity over quality. The one piece that we still laugh about is a scarf from H and M that was placed in a glass case, because it looked sort of similar to a tallis (prayer shawl).
There are over 60 Christmas markets in Berlin, and I dragged my traveling companions to three of them. Prices were really different at different markets – at the Gendarmarkt, we paid a 1 euro fee to enter and it was the most expensive in terms of food and drink. St. Lucia Markt was the least expensive.
We caught what seemed to be a Santa biker parade on Unter den Linden:
Topography of Terror Museum – one of the most moving exhibits I’ve ever been to. Provides a detailed, unflinching pictorial history of the ‘National Socialist Regime’ in all of its years. Reproduced documents include correspondence between Nazi officials and things like the “Aryan purity checklist” (hair color? hair texture? size of nose?). Some photos are very graphic. The building is located on the grounds of the former S.S. headquarters. Foundations of the headquarters exist outside, running alongside a section of the Wall.
The Russian War Memorial:
Mozart Statue, in the Tiergarten:
And finally, some shots of the Berlin Wall, taken outside of the Topography of Terror museum: