Love Affair with Everywhere--Berlin

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Friday, March 11, 2011

So from Madrid, I was due to give a presentation in Berlin on Thursday and decided once again to stay on for a weekend before heading home. Joined again by friends, old and new, it was a great weekend in a truly great city.

For the weekend I stayed at the Marriott in Potsdamerplatz. As with most Marriott's, the location was perfect and the room and service, well, impeccable. The executive lounge is on the top floor and has lovely views of the city.

One must admire Berlin for its resiliency. The city has been through extremely tough times and has come out to become the city it is today--a melting pot, a true world city, a place of history, diversity, culture, nightlife and inspired creative expression.

Berlin has a tremendous history. Tourists come here to see a sight that no longer exists--the Berlin wall. After WWII, where parts of the city were destroyed, the city was divided in two. East and West Berlin and wall was erected by the East separating the two. Parts of the wall remain throughout the city, and the longest remaining strip, the East Side Gallery, has been left as a memorial of freedom.

I kept/keep using the word 'history'. When I think of history I think of ages ago, things I read about in school, things that happened long before I was a thought in this world. For Berlin, history is still close. The wall was brought down in 1989--in most of our lifetimes. The city has recovered and the country reunified, but the scars will always be there as a reminder of this time and what was and what could have been (if it had all gone the opposite way). Its hard to believe that only 22 years ago, a wall dividing a city and a people stood separating freedom and oppression.

Most places in Europe can easily be described, and more eloquent writers than I can make you feel like you are actually there experiencing the city with them. With Berlin, it's different. I dont think one can really explain the feeling of walking past the sections of the wall that still exist either as a memorial or an art gallery as a sign of freedom and I definitely cannot put into words the feeling of sadness and solitude I felt as I wandered through the jewish memorial.

If you've read any of my posts before, you will know how much I love 'walking cities' and talk about getting lost in cities. Berlin is a perfect example of a city you can map out and then get lost in to discover its beauty, architecture and history.

The sights are pretty concentrated between Alexanderplatz and Potsdamerplatz. Then, to see the rest, there is a great metro system (of course, its Europe after all!) -- you can buy a day pass and ride anywhere as many times as you want all day. 

We started in Potsdamerplatz (you can stay in the area or arrive by metro) and headed towards Brandenburg Gate. We actually came up on the Jewish Memorial first, so we stopped and wandered through the memorial before heading on. Then to Brandenburg and on to Reichstag.

Reichstag is original home of the German parliament. It has a glass dome that you can climb up and see the city. It is recommended that you make your arrangements prior to going, or you won't be able to go up. Due to security concerns, they will do a security check before allowing you entry.

From there, head back through the brandenburg gate and walk towards Alexanderplatz. The eye sore and reminder of East Berlin, the TV Tower, remains and can 'guide' you to ensure you are heading in the right direction. Along the way, you can see the Berliner Dom (beautiful architecture), and next to it is the Radisson Hotel. You may ask why mention a hotel as a sight to see. The Radisson houses an aquarium in the lobby. It is worth stopping in for a coffee or beer to admire the aquarium and peace (and warmth in the winter months) of the lobby before continuing your journey. Thanks to AS for the suggestion to check it out.
For shopping or really, just to see it, you must go to KaDeWe. It is Berlin's version of London's Harrods. They get fresh shipments daily and you can find just about anything in there. Head out there via metro and then walk back. You can see the famed church on the way. Unforunately it is under renovation, so we couldn't see the exterior, but you can still go inside. This church was bombed in WWI and WWII and still remains standing--it is recognized as a true house of god for this reason. From there head back towards the station and you can walk back towards the city. You will pass the Berlin Zoo and then back towards Tiergarten. Halfway there you will see the Victory Column and back to Brandenburg. Apparently, the gold on the Victory Column was made from the enemies weapony. It is a long walk back, so make sure you wear comfy shoes. Thanks to JH and FH for this lovely tour through the city.

Another option, especially if you are short on time, is to rent a trabi (the old cars from the East German era). You can go on the trabi tour and in 1.5 hours you will drive one around the sights of Berlin. It is pretty touristy, but a good experience and a good way to see a lot if you only have a little time. Thanks to ER for arranging this.

Also, if you have time, see some of these sights again by night as you head off to a bar, restaurant or nightclub. The views at night can be equally, if not more, stunning.

Speaking of nightlife, as a huge fan of true hip hop, I was thrilled to find out there is actually a real underground hip hop scene in Berlin--not the commercial ridiculousness the radio overplays, but REAL hip hop! When I was told, I didn't really believe it. It took us a few stops, but eventually we made it to 2BE club. I felt a little like we were heading to the hood, literally, but it was well worth it. I was impressed by the scene and the people who really appreciate that kind of music--the party was still going strong when we left at 5. If you are into to house and electronic music, there are tons of places to check out of course. Get on a guest list if you can because the lines can be long on Friday and Saturday nights.

I loved Berlin and would highly recommend you add it to your itinerary. You don't need a lot of time--a weekend will be enough.

Next stop: HOME....and then off to Asia. Til then....
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Smita Shah on

Very beautiful. Have fun. Miss you. Love.

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