Berlin

Trip Start Nov 06, 2012
1
14
18
Trip End Dec 21, 2012


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Flag of Germany  , Berlin,
Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Day 23 - Friday 30th November

This morning we headed to Munich's main hauptbahnhof for our train journey to Berlin, via Gottengen where we changed trains. The majority of the trip took us through snowy fields and woodland areas, and through working class industrial towns. We were seated in a rail car which was fitted out with private cabins, which were accessed by a main corridor down the side. Lifting our luggage out of the cabin each time we changed trains was a logistical problem, as we'd need to get our 20kg bags down from racks above our heads, juggle coats and camera bags, avoid fellow passengers in our small cabin, and navigate the narrow main corridor in time to get off the train before it left the platform or become trapped by new passengers boarding!

On the Gottingen - Berlin leg, we wanted to escape the confines of the private cabin and find some food in the luxurious space of the restaurant car. Here we sampled our first currywurst, a renowned German dish which consists of sliced sausage drowned in a sauce of tomato and curry. It was very nice! While sitting in the restaurant car enjoying the at the tables, we were accompanied by a Berliner gentleman called Hans who we got to know. Working at Nestlé in Frankfurt, Hans commutes between Frankfurt and Berlin on a weekly basis. We got chatting and as our train made its way into Berlin, he pointed out some of the sights like the Reichstag and some background to Berlin. Once arrived in Berlin, he showed us how to use the subway system and guided us to the platform for the train which would take us to our hotel. He even carried Lauren's bags down the many levels and steps of the Berlin Hauptbahnhof and Alexanderplatz station. What a great introduction to Berlin and its people.

We found our Best Western hotel just outside Samariterstrasse station, and were able to offload our baggage finally after the 6 hour journey from Munich. With our daily train pass which Has helped us get earlier, we headed back on the subway to Alexanderplatz, a large area in East Berlin which is surrounded by shops, Christmas markets, the world clock and a great view of the retro looking television tower called "the toothpick" by the locals. Built in the 60s during the soviet communist reign, the structure was built not only to mount television and radio antennas for telecommunications, but also as a symbol of dominance and power to intimidate West Germany, just over the Berlin Wall which divided the city.

For dinner we sampled another currywurst, before having a look around the Christmas markets. Seeking a little bit of warmth from the cold, we sought refuge in Bergmann's Party Haus, which from the outside looked like a quiet restaurant, but stepping inside the place was full of people listening to the traditional German band playing tunes over a mug of gluvine, the warm wine drink with a dash of rum, which really does warm you up when it's cold outside! Inside we met a nice Dutch couple who had driven over from Amsterdam for a weekend away, and also a London-based American-British couple who had jetted across for some time away in Berlin too. After a few social hours we caught the subway back to the hotel for a good nights rest.

Day 24 - Saturday 1st December

After a solid nights sleep, we checked out of the hotel and made our way to Alexanderplatz to find some breakfast, which we found in another currywurst. Our first destination was the East Side Gallery, a kilometre or so length of the Berlin Wall which remains and serves as a canvas for many large paintings and artwork of freedom post the destruction of the wall. We walked the length of the East Side Gallery back towards the city centre, where we found a huge electronics store and purchased another SD card and tripod for the camera.

As today is the start of the Berlin to Budapest tour, we picked up our luggage and made our way to the new tour hotel, which was fortunately on the same train line. At the new hotel we met up with our other tour mates and got an introductory meeting with the tour manager, Lucian, and our bus driver, Laurens. We then boarded our tour coach for the first time and headed off together for a meal at a traditional German restaurant, where we enjoyed some traditional meal of German sausages and beer. Post meal, we headed to the Berlin Hofrahaus, which was similar to the original Munich Hofrahaus, and provided an opportunity to get to know our fellow tour mates. We successfully made our way back to the hotel via taxi, thus completing a great first day on tour.

Day 25 - Sunday 2nd December

This morning we all boarded the coach after breakfast for a visit to the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Sachsenhausen. During the 60 minute drive out to the northeast of Berlin, Lucian gave all an excellent overview of German history from the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, World War 1, the German depression, the rise of the Nazi Party, Adolf Hitler and World War 2. Visiting the concentration camp was a sobering experience, and the weather conditions (snow, wind and near zero degree Celsius) had us thinking what a dreadful place this must have been for the prisoners, who ranged from German political prisoners, Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, and anyone else who didn't fit the Nazi requirements. It was chilling to walk through the iron gates which were inscribed with the words 'Arbeit macht frei', meaning 'labour makes you free', and knowing that thousands of people did not escape this place alive. For over two hours, we walked through the concrete dormitories and exercise yards, and the even more chilling death pit, where prisoners would be lined up and executed by gunshot, and crematoria buildings. The Sachsenhausen experience was very moving.

We returned to Berlin and had free time for the rest of the day, so we headed out sightseeing the city after a lunch of golden arches. On our way around Berlin we saw the victory column, and walked through the Tiergarten, a huge parkland in the western side of the city. Snow had been falling all afternoon so the parkland was a pretty sight. For dinner we dined on steak at the restaurant Escartos, before returning to the hotel for a quiet night in.

Day 26 - Monday 3rd December

This morning we were refreshed after a great nights sleep, before we headed out for a 3 hour walking tour of Berlin, taking in the sights of Museum island, Berlin Cathedral, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Holocaust Memorial, Hitler's Bunker and Checkpoint Charlie. Carlos, our half German - half Costa Rican tour guide, was fantastic as he gave us detailed overviews of all these iconic places in central Berlin.

By the time the walking tour was complete, we'd developed some serious hunger so we grabbed a currywurst at the huge KaWeDa shopping centre for lunch. Afterwards Ash got to check out a cool Lego store, with heaps of nice models. We continued on to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Cathedral which was damaged by bombing in world war two and has been left mostly in its damaged state, we think to symbolise the destruction that war causes. Unfortunately the exterior was completely covered by scaffolding and we couldn't see the building, but we were able to go inside and look at the marvelous mosaics on the ceiling.

Afterwards we continued on through the Tiergarten again and as the weather conditions were much clearer than yesterday, we went past the victory column to get a photo. To get back into town we then then strolled down Strabe des 17 Juni, past the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate and onto Unter den Linden. For dinner we had currywurst (again!) at Alexanderplatz, followed by photos of the area at night. It was bitterly cold with the clear night sky's, so we travelled back to Magdalenenstabe station, and onto our hotel.

After dinner we were treated to a visit to the Reichstag at night, where we scaled the clear glass dome for 360 degree views of the city as the walkway wound its way to the top. The dome, a later feature of the Reichstag, was constructed in 1997, looks down into the German parliament (you can actually see the seats of parliament). This ability to see inside the Reichstag through the cone is symbolic of the end of the dictatorships which have ruled Berlin and the transparency that should every government should be striving to achieve. It was quite an amazing sight to look down on from the top of the dome, and also out onto Berlin on the clear night we had. On the ground floor we saw photos of the Reichstag through history, including its near destruction during world war 2. Afterwards the bus dropped us of to a Turkish bar where we both had a cocktail before catching a cab back to the hotel. What a great final day of seeing the sights of Berlin!
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