The last city stop for Germany, one that I’ve saved for last is Berlin.
I’ve spent one week in West Germany but the Germany experience wouldn’t be complete without going to its most interesting city.
From Witten I went by car sharing as suggested by Sandra. People wanting to go to the capital can post on a certain website the time and date they leave for Berlin so others could ride with them and thus split the gas expense.
The travel time was five hours. I got to Berlin at a little past two that Friday afternoon of 3rd August and was dropped off at the Zoologischer Garten station. While at the station, I ate first one of the sandwiches Sandra packed for me. I then took the U-bahn going to Mohrenstraße where Cityhostel Berlin is.
Upon arriving in my room, which by the way is for six people, I did some freshening up. The rate is already 19€ per person in that room. It’s on the costlier side because of its proximity to the Berlin landmarks. I reviewed the map of Berlin I got from the reception and located the Brandenburg Gate. I will go there first.
What Arc de Triomphe is to Paris is the Brandenburger Tor to Berlin.
The horse-drawn carriage (quadriga) at the top of the gate is facing a square called Pariser Platz (translates as Parisian Square). Napoleon marched through the Brandenburg and to humiliate the city, had the statue of Irene at the top of the gate, sent to Paris chopping it in pieces for ease of transportation. After Paris was overthrown, by Prussia (what was Germany then) along with Allied troops, this square was renamed Pariser Platz to mark that triumph. It’s a symbolism that the statue (which has now been renamed as Victoria) will always be looking down at Paris.
From the gate, the US embassy is immediately on its right while the French embassy is on the left side by the Starbucks.
A block from the south side of the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag or the House of Parliament.
The dome at the top is an observation platform and provides a 360 view of the city. I approached the lady at the information to ask for details how to get to the top. She pointed me to a modest queue that has formed on the other side of the street. One has to register first to access the dome. My plan was to register to go up the dome the following day but since the person in charge of registration was asking us if we want to go up right then and there, then of course I grabbed it. It was almost sundown and a perfect spot to watch it.
That’s about it for my first afternoon in Berlin. That Saturday, 4 August, I have signed up for this free tour Maria Luisa told me about. The tour is free (website is newberlintours.com) and you have the liberty to give the guide some tip at the tour’s end if you think it’s worth your time. My tour starts at 9am by the Starbucks in Pariser Platz.
The tour started in the Platz itself with our guide Paul providing background information on the Brandenburg Gate and the Plaza. The information I shared above on the naming of the square came from him. He said that after Berlin got back the statue of Irene from Paris, they renamed it Victoria cos Irene, as the goddess of peace, fucked up big time. That all sent us laughing. He also said that the original head of Irene looks straight but when it got reconstructed as Victoria the head is now tilted a bit to the left where it can look directly at the French embassy hahaha.
At certain points in the tour he would tell us we are in the middle of the Berlin Wall between the divided Berlin of East and West Germany.
He told us the history of the Reichstag, the controversy on the construction of the Holocaust Memorial, showed us where Hitler’s bunker lies, the protest of 17 June, Checkpoint Charlie, Gendarmenmarkt with its German and French Cathedrals and our last stop was the Berliner Dom. Interesting information and a joke here and there. I loved the tour and highly recommend it.
I stayed a while to enjoy the view of the Dom. I removed my shoes to feel the grass. That really feels good after walking under the heat of the sun. I planned to grab lunch by the bratwurst stalls and go on my way to the East Side Gallery – the longest intact part of the Berlin Wall.
I have my map to guide me. From H4 in the map I need to go to K6. All people I’ve stopped on the streets to ask if I’m in the right direction don’t know the way. I was having doubts in the direction I was following but decided to trust my map. My forty-minute walk paid off once I saw the Oberbaum Bridge which is at the northwest of the gallery.
EAST SIDE GALLERY
Going back to the city center I stopped again by the Dom to rest my weary feet stopping from time to time to check out souvenirs.
Initially planned to buy a shirt bearing the Ampelmann which is this person with a hat in the traffic lights of Berlin. But I had only 35€ left and the shirt sells for 15€. My priority was a ref magnet, my dinner and my transportation going to the airport early the next day plus my breakfast so I forego it. No regrets.
After resting a while by the Dom, I trudge back to the Brandenburg to catch the sunset. Yeah I know I’ve become a sucker for sunsets.
First I need to quickly refuel so after some not-so-great photos of the gate I headed to this currywurst stand.
Back in Dortmund my currywurst was gourmet style. In a currywurst stand in Berlin it’s as street food as you can get. Could have been “curryworse.” *sorry for the lame joke couldn’t help it. But no it’s not that bad. Just regular. Heck I was so tired I think I wouldn’t mind if they served me rubber in the disguise of cut-up sausage bathed in currywurst sauce.
Back to where it all started by the Brandenburg Gate. I felt really pleased with my Berlin visit. It has been under tumultuous periods reaching a climax in the 20th century. But look where it is now, modernity and civilization has dawned. I’ve so much respect for this city.