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Having returned from a four day trip to Berlin, I feel compelled to shout about how incredible I found the city to be. Hopefully the experiences I share in my guide to Berlin can be enjoyed by you as well.
Arriving into Schonenfeld Airport early in the day and a quick, cheap train ride on the express into Alexanderplatz allows for a full day of exploring. Alexanderplatz is an ideal location to find a hotel. Wrapped in history, Alexanderplatz is a square located in the Mitte district of Berlin. Often referred to as ‘Alex’ by Beliners, this area has no shortage of hotels, shops, restaurants and historical sights. Most hotels are only a short walk away from the main station. As Alexanderplatz station is a central transport hub, staying in Mitte is ideal to access the sights and surrounding areas.
The Brandenburg Gate
Walking as much as possible gives a true sense of what this city has to offer. It really allows you to take in the sights and sounds more so than taking a tour bus. The Brandenburg Gate astounds as iconic in structure as well as the focus of the fall of the Berlin wall. Hard to comprehend the engineering of how Napoleon managed to remove the chariot from the top after his war successes and then how it was replaced back into position later in the 1800’s.
The Reichstag building
The Reichstag building is a short walk from the Brandenburg Gate. This building was constructed to house the Imperial Diet (parliament) of the German Empire. The views from the top are exceptional and a climb must be booked in advance. As the Reichstag building still functions as the home of the Bundestag (current German parliament) it is worth checking in advance if you are able to ascend to the top as it is sometimes closed due to visiting dignitaries. In my case, a stroll past was the best I could do.
Ponder the history of the Cold War at Checkpoint Charlie. The history of the region and personal stories set out alongside added to the understanding of Berlin post the second world war. This location is the best known Berlin Wall crossing point that the East and West Berliners could use to get to either side. The area surrounding Checkpoint Charlie is also fantastic if you are into retail therapy.
East Side Gallery
The easy to access Ubahn took us to Muhlenstrasse and onto the East Side Gallery. This open air art gallery covers a 1.3 km stretch of the remaining pieces of the wall. The sections are covered in artistic graffiti reflecting protest, peace and freedom over persecution. This monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall is well worth the visit as it is an authentic reminder of peaceful reunification .
Dinner can be found in Friedrichshain at one of the many restaurants. My first day in Berlin was truly amazing and eye opening. We ended up walking more than 21 km around the city and it was a great start to the trip. The day was concluded with a great Thai meal at a restaurant called Lemongrass. Located at Simon-Dach-Straße 2, 10245 Berlin, the food here is simply delicious and reasonably priced.
Walking tour around Berlin’s Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter, Berlin’s home to the majority of it’s Jewish population dates back to 1671. These refugees escaping The Hapsbergs settled in an area just outside the city walls called the Scheunenviertel or Barn. Despite being almost completely wiped out during the Holocaust, the area’s Jewish roots and traditions can still be felt here. Start on Rosenstrasse to see the Rosenstrasse Memorial . The sculpture here mark remembrance of the Rosenstrasse Protest of 1943. During Operation Factory (click the link for further details), an attempt to remove the last Jews from the Reich’s capital, around 1,800 Jews exempt from deportation by virtue of being married to non-Jews were held in Rosenstrasse 2-4. Families and friends of this group protested outside the building until the men were eventually released. Look out for Stolpersteine-plaques around the area showing where Jewish people lived.
Rosenthaler Strasse’s museums
Head on to 39 Rosenthaler Strasse, 10178 Berlin. The narrow courtyard unveils not only a wonderful insight into the city’s street art scene, but also contains 3 museums, with the theme of Jews helped by ordinary citizens of the city during the Third Reich: the Anne Frank Exhibition, the Otto Weidt Blindenwerkstatt and the Silent Heroes Memorial Centre.
Anne Frank exhibition Berlin
Anne Frank was born in Germany before moving to Amsterdam with her family. This permanent exhibition aims at educating German students about her history and the relevance to the holocaust. The permanent exhibition “Anne Frank. Here & Now” can be seen Tuesdays to Fridays and cots 5 Euro to enter. The museum is located at Rosenthaler Strasse 39, 10178 Berlin. To keep up to date with their exhibitions and for opening times, see their page.
The Otto Weidt museum
The Otto Weidt museum is small in size but large in interesting and little known facts. Many blind and deaf Jews escaped death with Otto’s help, being employed to make brooms and brushes (many being sold to the Wehrmacht.) The museum includes various accounts by survivors of Otto Weidts efforts to protect his Jewish workers from persecution and deportation. You can find the Otto Weidt museum at Rosenthaler Strasse 39, 10178 Berlin. For more details, please see their website.
Silent Heroes Memorial Site
The Silent Heroes Memorial offers information about the persecution and hopeless situation faced by the Jews in view of the impending deportations. It also gives an insight into the decisions by some to oppose the deadly threat by going into hiding and about the actions of the women and men who helped them. These ‘silent heroes’ helped Jews survive underground during an era of terror. The museum is based at Rosenthaler Strasse 39, 10178 Berlin. You can find information on the museum on their site.
Hackescher Markt is a great place to stop and refuel before continuing on to see Moses Mendelssohn’s grave. The grave of this Jewish leader of enlightenment is the only remaining grave in the Jewish cemetery. This cemetery would have looked very much like the Jewish cemetery of Prague, but the area was bulldozed by the Gestapo in 1943.
Walk on to the Neue Synagogue located at Oranienburger Str 28/30, 10117 Berlin. The building today is a replica of the 19th century Synagogue, which was opened by Otto von Bismarck in 1866. The building escaped being burned down in 1938 on the Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass, but was destroyed in 1943 by Allied bombing. Today, alongside being a synagogue for the city’s Jewish population, it also contains a museum and its dome, only accessible during the summer months, has a fantastic view over the city.
A short walk from the Jewish Quarter will bring you to Friederichstad Passagen, the home of Galerie Lafayette. This large department store is definitely worth a visit to see the internal architectural glass funnel. Here you can enjoy some retail therapy as well as a delicious meal.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Last stop of the day is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe also known as the Holocaust Memorial. This memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust consists of 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae”, arranged in a grid pattern on a sloping field. The underground museum holds the names of approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. A truly moving experience that should be experienced by everyone. For their opening hours and location, see the website.
Rounding off the day, make a trip to Kreuzberg for dinner. Kreuzberg is an area filled with restaurant and bars to suit all tastes. Over the course of the second day, we completed another 18 km on foot.
Shakespeare and sons is wonderful little coffe and book shop located in Friedrichshein. They serve delicious boiled bagels and a variety of toppings which is a great way to start the day. You can find more information on their website or on Soapbox’s review.
Berlin Wall Memorial
A trip to Berlin must include a visit to the Berlin Wall Memorial. This indoor and outdoor museum shows how people came to grips with what life was like in Berlin when the Wall still stood both for the East and West. It also gives a detailed and fascinating insight into the lives of escape attempters and the fall of The Wall.
Take a break from all the sightseeing with a tram ride into the western side of Berlin and enjoy the numerous stores including the world famous Kaufhaus des Westens, usually abbreviated to KaDeWe. KaDeWe’s food hall and eating venues on the top 2 floors are a must see. Bikini Berlin is another shopping attraction in the area. Bikini Berlin is a pop up mall with a view point into the monkey enclosure of Berlin zoo. Finally, if you have time to, make a trip to Charlottenberg. This trendy area is only a short train ride away and is a short walk to Charlottenberg Palace.
We decided to go back to Friedrichshain for dinner. The third day’s restaurant was Sri Lankan cuisine followed by music and drinks at a local bar.
In total, we clocked up another 15km of walking.
The Jewish Museum
Needing time to take in all the information, the Jewish Museum in Kreuzeberg requires a few hours to really evaluate the contents. The architecture by Daniel Libeskind contributes to German-Jewish history. The building zigzags in and out and features underground axes, angled walls, and bare concrete “voids” without heating or air-conditioning. There are 3 axes that comprise the museums sub-ground levels: exile, holocaust and continuity. The power of each allows for many interpretations. The museum brings to mind a broken Star of David or a bolt of lightning. The current temporary exhibition on the concept of the Golem is immense in its artwork and interpretations of the subject. You can find more details on their website.
The fourth day’s walking totalled at 18km.
I am planing another trip to Berlin in the Spring!