Last week Dan and I visited Berlin with his parents for the first time. Together, over the course of 4 days, we explored many of the major historical sites and a few museums, and generally had a great time. Berlin is a place with a very sad history and high unemployment, but it also has a growing and vibrant young culture and many important memorials.“]
The trip to Berlin was my crazy idea first and stems from a dim memory of playing “Berlin Wall” on a beach somewhere back in 1990 when the wall came down. I probably had heard about the actual thing from the news or my parents at the time. But as my earliest memory of a place in Europe, I knew I had to make the trip some day. So finally we did. It was a great experience to finally bring this memory full circle and finally see the ruined pieces of the wall that remain.
After settling into our temporary apartment rental (a great way to stay in Berlin by the way), we set out for a serious day of exploring the Berlin Zoo. This city zoo is one of the largest in Europe and is home to a wide variety of animals from all over the world. Their resident panda has long been considered the star, but he was napping up high and away while we were there.
Instead we were happy to see many of the animals with young and even a bird fight or two. The sea lions were very noisy and we caught two sun bears wrestling. It’s always interesting to see the animals interact with each other.
Plus Dunkin Donuts!
Since that took most of the day, we wrapped up the evening with a walk through the large Tiergarten and past the Victory Tower (currently under repair). We also tracked down a German chocolate shop with the longest truffle bar in Berlin and a chocolate volcano. Sadly, the volcano was pathetically dormant.
Day two we opted for a museum day and started at the Berlin Jewish Museum. It is so huge that they have a cafe stop halfway through your tour of the exhibits! I found the museum to be very interesting, but confusing to navigate and I found the audio tour to be annoyingly proud of the interior design of the museum. Once I started skipping the architecture sections I found the content to be very interesting and learned a lot that I didn’t know about Jewish history and culture. Plus comics. It was also interesting to be in a museum that didn’t “default” to a Christian theology.
After a whole 6 hours in the Jewish Museum, we went to the Checkpoint Charlie Museum which lays just on the American side of the old border and catalogs the history of Western Berlin and resistance and escape activities that occurred when the wall was still up. I was shocked to learn that the museum is almost as old as the wall (founded in 1962) and was actually used to spy on Eastern Berlin patrols.
The entire thing really needs a makeover, but is chock full of interesting information and strange smuggling apparatus people really used to escape East Germany (as well as some of the terrible things used to keep people in).
A mock-up of Checkpoint Charlie is still set up in the street, but it wasn’t until we stopped by the Topography of Terror (the remains of the SS office) that I got to get up close to a fairly complete strip of wall and imagine what it might have been like to live in Berlin before 1990.
Check back tomorrow for Days 3 and 4 of our Berlin Adventure.