We lightened our load so to speak and just spent 3 nights in Berlin with just Lillian and Audrey, leaving our little ones in Munich in the care of trusted friends. We decided that traveling with a 10- and 13-year old would be much more efficient and allow us to spend more time experiencing sites that would challenge Emilia’s and Josephine’s attention spans . The weather in Berlin was mostly wet and cold, and it didn’t take long to realize that leaving the younger ones behind was a smart decision. We travelled faster and definitely could pack in some longer days to explore the city.
My thoughts on Berlin and the things we did:
Impressive public transportation– Vivian arranged transit passes for our three days, which were very affordable at 21 EUR for each of us, while the kids travelled free. The subways, buses and tram lines are all you’ll need to get around most everywhere.
Maps are easy to read, stations are well marked, the system is extremely efficient, and everything was far cleaner than I expected. Berlin is a really big city, but we used public transportation to go everywhere and never had any problems. It’s also a great way to really see the city since many buses are double decker buses offering a great view. Our last day we wanted to see some of the suburbs, so we simply rode the bus to the end and took the S-Bahn back. (Although our trips were not effected, I should note that the S-Bahn had an unusual power outage one day that shut down the entire S-Bahn system. It made the front page of the newspaper the following day!)
Great shopping – If you’ve read the last post, the KaDeWe is a great place to check out, like visiting Harrod’s in London. But it’s only a small part of an abundance of shops and boutiques that you’ll find in Berlin, including the well-heeled shopping districts along Kurfuerstendammstrasse. If you’re a shopper, Berlin will not disappoint.
The Jewish Museum – This museum was openned in 2001 with a newer wing designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Both inside and out, the spaces in the building are thought provoking and provide a well thought out way to consider the history of Judaism. Of course the Holocaust is an important part of modern history and is major part of the museum, but the museum’s main purpose is to provide education on Jewish history, culture and lifestyle. Maybe if I were Jewish, I would not have been nearly as fascinated as I was, but I was personally very impressed with the museum and my children were too. The exhibits are innovative, and and the audio guide is excellent. We really weren’t expecting to, but we explored the museum for 3 hours and could probably have spent another hour or two if we had had more time.
Berlin Wall Memorial – In Berlin you’ll find numerous markers, memorial sites and points of interest along the path where the infamous Berlin Wall used to be. But I recommend seeing the Mauer Gedankstatte if you really want to understand the history of the Berlin Wall. The exhibit is mostly oustide, so pick a good day if you can. There is no entrance fee and the grounds show a long section of the Wall and the notorious “death strip”. How the Wall came to be, its construction, the many crossing attempts, the fall of the Berlin Wall and a memorial to those who died crossing the Wall are all well presented. The memorial is large and but for the weather, we could have stayed at least half a day to take in entire memorial.
Brandenburg Gate and Holocaust Memorial – These are very close to each other and both are must-see sights when in Berlin. The Gates are of course the symbol of Berlin, and anyone who witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall can recall the scene as people sat on the wall and declared the end to a divided Berlin. The gates are impressive and while we were there, people were holding a small demonstration in front of the gates to protest privacy of personal data on the internet. It was nice to see this example of freedom of speach alive and well in a place where only 21 years ago such a display would have been considered relatively dangerous.
In the area around the Brandenburg Gate begins Unter den Linden (Under the Lindens) , a broad boulevard with a tree-lined central strip which is like the Champs Elysee of Berlin. And to the west is the Reichstag and the Kanzleramt buildings, the congress and chancellor’s residence respectively. As a first timer to Berlin, you should plan on spending a good amount of time walking around this area and taking in the heart of the city.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is south of the Brandenburg Gate, across from the U.S. Embassy along Ebertstrasse. The memorial was dedicated in 2001 and is a whole city block area filled with rows of black stellae of various heights along undulating pathways through which you can walk. Near the center of the field the stellae tower over visitors, creating a dark canyon effect as if you are below the earth. With no names or other markings on the 2,711 stellae, the symbolism is clear. At the southeast end of the field there is an underground memorial that documents the timeline of the Jewish experience leading up to and until the end of World War II. Because of the nature of the subject, they will tell you that it is only recommended for ages 14 and above. Inside the memorial are different rooms that continue the pattern of stellae and tangibly present how this dark period in history affected so many individuals and families throughout Europe. Audrey was definitely too young to see this part of the memorial, but I think it’s a must-see for older children and adults in order to better understand the full scope of the Holocaust and it’s effect throughout Europe.
Curry Wurst – Anthony Bourdain would be proud, as we made our way to try the original and famous Konnopke’s Imbiss where the Curry Wurst was invented. This small food stand can be found under the U-Bahn tracks in Prenzlauerberg in the northeast are of the city. Under the tracks sounds dirty, but the place was busy and clean and there is a nice covered enclosure with seating if you don’t want to stand at the cafe tables. The spicy wurst with fries did not disappoint and to an American who has now been in Europe for three months, the wurst and fries with curry sauce were almost as satisfying as a good old burger and fries would be.
To sum up, Berlin is a truly great city to visit. It’s a great mix of old and new, with a diversity of culture and entertainment to satisfy anyone I think. You need at least 7 days to really dig into the museums, sites, and get a taste of the neighborhoods, but our 3 days were enough for us to get a strong sense that we’ll come back again sometime (hopefully when the weather is better). Here is a slideshow of some of the photos we took in Berlin.