Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Exchange Adventures: Berlin!

Thanks to ESADE's winter career forum, we had Monday & Tuesday off of school... which to me meant six full days of travel! In narrowing down my options, I decided to visit two cities that Joe had already been to (and highly recommended) so that we could try new places together once he returns to Barcelona.  After consulting e-dreams, I realized that flying to Berlin and out from Prague was easy and cheap.  A five hour train ride from Berlin to Prague Sunday morning for only 60 euros sealed the deal.  Some of my ESADE friends liked the idea and joined me for parts of the trip.  So with that... first stop - Berlin!

I arrived to Berlin Thursday mid-day and was determined to figure out public transit without asking any questions. I'm pleased to report that I managed to find my way around pretty well. Maybe finally living in a metro-based city is helping?  Anyway, I got off the train from the airport in Alexanderplatz.  The first thing I noticed was a giant tower and a partially rebuilt church.

After grabbing a giant pretzel and coffee from a bakery nearby, I decided to visit both. First stop was the TV tower.  Luckily there were no lines and the process to get up was super easy. Once at the top, I had 360 degree views of the city and was able to orient myself.
There were great signposts throughout that referenced what I was looking at as well as describing the historical significance. I spent about 30 minutes up there, and since it was approaching sunset I got to see the city light up!  My next stop was the church, which was nice and quick to see. I do find it ironic that churches are my most frequented type of buildings these days.

From there I stopped into a tourist office to see if there were any shows/ballets/operas/concerts happening.  I ultimately decided I did not want to sit through a German-speaking show, so I headed to my hotel and consulted Yelp for a dinner spot.  The Boetzow Private had great reviews and was a 5 minute walk, so I headed there armed with my Kindle and an appetite. Dinner was delicious (a 3-course meal of red pepper soup, spelt gnocchi with walnuts and pesto, and creme brule - so delicious!) but the best part was striking up conversation with a couple seated nearby. They are ex-pats living in Berlin, and the husband, Bill, offered me a personalized view of Berlin! I was going to take a walking tour anyway, but I quickly agreed to meet him instead.  We exchanged details and I headed back to the hotel to rest up for Friday.

After another successful metro ride (can you tell how proud this makes me?!), I grabbed breakfast in Potsdammer Platz (a nutella bagel- heaven!) and then met Bill for our tour.  Together we accomplished the following:
Remains of the train station (Anhalter Bahnhof) that was used to deport Jews in WWII

The Berlin Wall Memorial

The Topography of Terror Museum - on the site of Hitler's Third Reich buildings

Checkpoint Charlie - the most famed checkpoint at the Wall, and scene of the US/Soviet tank face-off

Pit-stop at Bill's house where I got to play with his dog. (good mental break + dog fix!!!)
Postdammer Platz/Sony Center
Hitler's Bunker

Holocaust Memorial and Museum

Brandenburg Gate

Lunch at Alt Berliner Wirsthaus
The Alden Hotel (where Michael Jackson held his baby out of the window)
The Reichstadt & Parliament buildings

The Tiergarten - a park much like Central Park
Victory Column (and the full 270 steps to the top)

Back to Bill's to say hello to his wife Janet.

Phew!!! A fantastic tour of Berlin with great company. I was so thankful that I met this couple - the Friday with Bill made this trip!  I met Melissa back at the hotel and we went for a mediocre german dinner, and then I went back to the hotel to rest. I admit - my legs were so tired!!


It was very cold and raining when we left the hotel Saturday, but after grabbing an amazing german pastry & coffee, things cleared up.  Melissa took off for a city tour, and I had the day to myself to explore more of Berlin. The nice thing was that I had already decided I would be coming back to this city, so I didn't feel I had to see everything. Instead I took my time and wandered wherever I felt.   My first stop was the Berliner Dom, a reconstructed church that afforded me a free organ concert and some crazy views from the top of the dome.  (It also confirmed that Berlin is full of stairs!)

Then I walked through   Museum Island, a little market, another church with yet another free organ concert...
through this square...
and onto the Ritter Sport Museum/store.
 I *may* have completely loaded up on a ridiculous amount of chocolate.  But it's totally for Jen & me & Joe to share. Yeah. (I bought white chocolate for Joe - that is how, um, serious I am about this!) You could even make your own chocolate bars, but that seemed a bit excessive to even me.

Next I wandered around the famous street Unter den Linden and hopped on a free tour via the 100 bus.  I recommend the bus as a easy way to see more of the city in a short period of time.  It was neat to see so much of what Bill and I had already explored and again familiarize myself with the city's layout.  The bus dropped me off in Alexanderplatz and I spotted my next destination - a chicken doner kebab restaurant.  Finally - a real Berlin doner kebab - and it was delicious!!  While eating, I consulted my TripAdvisor CityGuide and realized there was a cool area about 200 feet away that held an Ann Frank Museum and the Otto Weidt Museum, as well as some actual beautiful graffiti meant to represent holding on to the older parts of Berlin.  I am so glad I found this area....the Otto Weidt Museum was a trip highlight for me.  Mr. Weidt spent many years protecting Jews during WWII, and the museum showcased his actions and the stories of people he helped. It was inspiring, heart-breaking, and very personal.   In a way, it was the perfect last place to go after days of looking at WWII information.

I had made plans to have dinner with Janet & Bill (yay!) so I had a few hours to wander around the Mitte neighborhood. I found some cool shops, galleries, street art, and ultimately a darling little coffeehouse where I was able to finish my book and stay out of the cold.  I met Melissa early at our restaurant (Die Berliner Republik - totally recommend it) for beer, and then Bill & Janet joined for dinner. Again, it was so much fun to hang out with them - and hopefully I have convinced them to visit me in Barcelona.   We headed back to the hotel after that so we could get up bright and early for our train to Prague.  (This trip definitely reinforced how little going to clubs interests me - I much prefer low-key evenings with good food and drink and lots of sleep!)

Some thoughts on Berlin:
-I loved this city.  It's that simple.  Really, I'm not sure how to put it into words, and I feel like I am repeating what Joe has said of Berlin as well.  There was not one thing that defined it, but it had this great energy to it. I think it might be tied with Seattle and Vienna for the short-list of cities I want to live in.
-Obviously Berlin is most know for being home to Hitler and being central to WWII, and for the Berlin Wall and being a focal point of the Cold War.  It was incredible to me how the city has turned itself into a place for remembrance, recognition, and memorial.  There is no hiding of its history - rather there is a very clear effort to make sure that everyone can access information about what Berlin has been through.
-For being largely flattened during WWII, Berlin is very much alive. The buildings have been rebuilt, and cranes and construction was everywhere.  Yet even with all of the new construction, the city has personality and beauty.
-Not necessarily a Berlin thought, but obviously making new friends in the city greatly added to my experience and appreciation.
-I will be back!

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