Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Berlin Sightseeing

When you aren't drinking up Berlin there are plenty of things to see and do. Too much really unless you're around for a couple of weeks which we weren't.

We stayed at the Arcotel Velvet in Mitte which we both really liked. It was easy to get just about anywhere with the Bahn around the corner and the tram running right out front. Our room was small but seemed more spacious by the lack of internal walls, using just sheer curtains as partitions.
The only downfall of the hotel was their breakfast which was included. It didn't go very late in the morning and consisted of basically some hard rolls, yogurt and fruit which was not replenished as it was taken. But luckily there is a nice little coffee shop next door which had free wi-fi and well made latte's and breakfast goods.

You can rent a "classic" East Berlin relic, the Trabi and take a Trabi Safari Tour of Berlin but we chose to do a lot of walking instead. The best way to start is with a stroll down the grand Unter den Linden where all the embassy's are located (amongst Bentley dealership and high end boutiques) until you reach Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstat (Parliment Building).
One day we took the train out to the Stasi Museum. On the outskirts of Eastern Berlin in the bleak, 70's building complex of the former Stasi sits this relic to all things GDR. There are communist leader artifacts, stories of the secret police units, surveillance equipment that looks like early James Bond equipment and even the "command unit" from the office of the Chief.
Staying with the GDR theme we made our way back to the Friedrichstadt area of Berlin to Check Point Charlie. You can walk along where the Wall was and see pictures of how it all looked during the Cold War. There's also a museum which showcases all the methods of escape people tried, many dying in the process. It's an amazing area if somewhat overwhelming.

Having reached our limit of Communist history absorption for the day we headed to the stunning area of Potsdamerplatz. Crumbling Cold War buildings are replaced in this "new Berlin" area with glass skyscrapers and modern art sculptures. It's a "Time Square" of sorts but clean and modern and inviting. There is a small section of the Wall that you can explore but for the most part this area is about the future of Berlin.

Back near our hotel in Mitte we stopped in at the Kunsthaus Tacheles, an interesting building dating from the early 1900's. Built as a department store, it became a Nazi prison for a short time, was used for some movie shots and was taken over by an artist collective shortly after the Wall came down. It's an interesting space housing all kinds of modern art but they are continually being threatened with evacuation so if you're interested go before it's too late!
On another morning we went to the new Holocaust memorial. It consists of 2711 concrete slabs spread across a few city blocks. The slabs are all different sizes and the paths under them are uneven. As you walk thru you feel as if you're in a cemetery of sort. As I walked I experienced feeling peaceful and then lost and then stressed. Dayne shot an interesting video which gives you a bit of an idea of the experience.
Under the memorial there is the amazing Information Center which highlights the fates of some individuals and families during the Jewish persecution. Gut wrenching but beautifully done, it is a not to miss site.

Continuing on our somewhat macabre morning we headed to the Topographies of Terror which is located next to a piece of still standing Berlin wall. This use to be the location of the Gestapo, SS and Reich Security main headquarters. Now it's an open air exhibit which gives a timeline overview of the Third Reich.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the beautiful and historic Mitte area including a stop at the Bebelplatz where in 1933 the Nazi's hosted a book burning, destroying over 20,000 books.
East Berlin is filled with gorgeous old buildings, different from the West with it's modern glass structures. Another mark of the East are the crosswalks signals called Ampelmann, which is a beloved character and was actively saved as a reminder of their own style. Besides seeing it on the streets in the East you can find all sorts of souvenirs in the Ampelmann shops.
As I mentioned there is just so much to Berlin, a true onion with layer after layer of history. I spoke to our friend Mike about his family and their history being Berliners. He told me that his mom was in a parade once, part of a group of little girls all lined up to welcome Hitler. She was photographed for the newspaper handing him a flower! Mike told me many family stories and how the separation literally divided his family members, many never reconciling.

It's an amazing city and I hope to go back again!

There's many more photos of Berlin here.

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