Dan & I really enjoyed our visit to Berlin with his parents. While the first couple of days were dominated by some of the most classic tourist attractions in Berlin, our second two days focused more on guided tours and the arts. Read on for the rest of our journey.
We started out day three with a stop by Dunkin Donuts for coffee while waiting for our Fat Tire bike tour guide to arrive. Our guide turned out to be originally from Belgium and was living in Berlin for a while so he could use his history degree (giving bike tours, go figure). I have a review prepared about Fat Tire, but suffice to say the tour was long (5-6 hours) but very good and their bicycles are almost easier than walking.
Since we’d been in Berlin for a couple of days, we opted to take the Third Reich Tour which covered more of the historical places and monuments we had not seen yet. This tour focused memorials, buildings, and locations with special signifigance to World War II and the Nazis. A few highlights were:
A memorial commemorating the successful protect of German wives against the deportation of their Jewish husbands. Apparently the Nazis didn’t consider Jewish men married to non-Jewish women to be a threat at first, but when they changed their minds the wives staged a several day protest. Unwilling to shoot “their own” (the women), the men were released. Its an interesting memorial to a courageous gesture that came far to late for many.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which for all the controversy over it is a powerful monument. We also saw a tiny memorial to the murdered homosexuals nearby, but it was sort of tucked away and lacking in subtlety.
A synagogue that survived Kristallnacht because there was a police office next to it.
The location of the Führerbunker where Hitler’s body was found by the Soviets. The bunker has since been destroyed and a children’s playground now stands were the entrance use to be.
One of the other perks of the tour was a look into the twisted psychology of Hitler and the Nazi party and the way they warped Germany’s culture to make it fit their own agenda.
After the tour, we weren’t up for much but the guide had suggested we try Russian food and a park where people gather to barbecue outside. The Russian food was ok, but kind of one note. Everything was all about this thick creme and dill sauce/dip. The park was down right energizing. Lots of people, mostly around our age with a few families, hanging out, playing, and making music. There was even outdoor karaoke. Very casual and very noisy.
After we walked through Dan’s parents were ready to hit the sack, so Dan & I stayed out a bit longer to try a few bars. We discovered several built into the bridge beneath the S-Bahn with tasty, but expensive mojitos that you could drink outside in lawn chairs. The crowd here was much different than the ones at the part; posher maybe? Not quite our thing, but nice none the less.
Fortunately no worse for wear after our bar hopping the night before, we all took the train back into the city for a bunker tour with the Berliner Unterwelten (Berlin Underground association). Tour 3 took use through two bunkers in Berlin. The first was originally built as a bomb shelter (despite being only a few meters below the surface) for civilians and then was later turned into a 48-hour nuclear bunker during the Cold War. Conditions would have been terrible. The second bunker was a more modern nuclear bunker intended to keep people for 14 days, but life would still have been appalling. Fortunately these were never used for nuclear purposes, but the assumptions the people in power made about how they would be used are absurd. 1) They would have 3-6 months to prep the ‘emergency’ bunker before they needed to use it, and 2) After the bunker reopened a bus would be “waiting to pickup survivors”. You can draw your own conclusions, but the guide basically said that he wouldn’t be caught dead in one of these bunkers if an emergency happened.
Then it was back to the Berlin Wall again with a visit to the East Side Gallery. This is the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall and it is used as a huge open-air gallery and is periodically repainted to accept new or updated works. My camera died around this time, but I’ve made a slideshow of some of the parts:
Our last day ended with a quick look at the Sandsation International Sand Sculpture Festival and dinner under the S-Bahn tracks again near the TV tower. The restaurant was also a brewery and made very tasty beer.
Dan & I enjoyed our visit to Berlin so much that he actually spoke the words “It might be nice to live here”. The idea receded a bit when I reminded him that he’d have to learn German in addition to the Dutch he’s learning here, but just to give you an idea. I think it is a great city to visit, but I don’t think I want to live in a large city again and the unemployment rate is pretty daunting even if I do my work via the Internet.
If you do visit Berlin for several days, I recommend picking up a Berlin Welcome Card. The five day card is about 30 euros per person and is good for unlimited public transportation and discounts at most of the major (and many minor) sites around the city. It was money well spent and made getting around much easier. I also recommend looking into short-term apartment rentals. Staying in an apartment made the difference for me between having a pleasant visit and being too cramped by the end.
Have you visited Berlin? Share you stories and thoughts below.