Berlin, Germany is the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is often called the greenest city in Europe, This gorgeous metropolitan city, with its cafe lined streets and trendy neighborhoods, was the target of 70,000 dropped bombs during WWII. Hard to imagine. At one time, Berlin was also the largest city in the world. Still, it is home to nearly 200 museums, 5,000 restaurants, and 1,000 bars. It also touts the biggest department store in Europe title with Kaufhaus des Westen, known simply as KaDeWe. Berlin is a European weekend hotspot due to its numerous clubs, and discotheques, which do not have a closing time. I had the pleasure of visiting Berlin during our Baltic Capitals cruise excursion with Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Cruising Adventures in Berlin, Germany
My friend, Jo, and I chose the Berlin tour with Alla tour company. Alla picked us up in Rostock at our cruise ship and drove us 3 hours by bus into Berlin. We drove through beautiful countryside with solar plants surrounded us on both sides of the roads. Germany is one of the leading countries for both developing and using green energy technology. It was quite impressive. We also passed many statues and buildings. My favorite was the shiny metal topped Mercedes Benz building, in Europa Center. Germany is the size of the state of Montana and is home to 18 million people, of which 3.7 million reside in Berlin.
First stop, Charlottenburg Palace, which was built on behalf of the King of Prussia for his wife, Sophie Charlotte. Its lovely green dome, made of copper, was bombed and rebuilt in the 1970’s. Reichstag was once the military zone between the two sides of the Berlin Wall. This sleek and ultra modern building is stately and photogenic. Germany’s Parliament is nestled in this area and you can find it by just looking for the huge glass dome. This entire area offers spectacular views of the city.
Bellevue Place, in the Tiergarten district, is the official home to Germany’s President since 1994. Kurpfergraben 6, 10117, Berlin, is the apartment home of Angela Markel, the Chancellor of Germany. She has power similar to a Prime Minister. You will not find armed guards or blocked streets here, simply 2 policemen who manned the front of the building.
Exploring the Berlin Wall
Everyone has heard of the Berlin Wall. Built as a symbol of the Cold War, in 1961, it was created to separate East Berlin (Communist) and West Berlin (Democratic). The gate encircled West Berlin for 100 miles and was heavily guarded with armed protectors who were allowed to shoot anyone trying to escape, and contained barbed wires, active mines, and other devastating obstacles. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”, was Ronald Reagan’s challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. And so they did.
Talks began and boisterous crowds began tearing down the wall, piece by piece, in 1989. Berlin’s East and West became united officially. The East Side Gallery is the longest part of the wall still standing. Its original artwork, painted by 188 artists from 21 countries, is a tourist must see. The most famous portray the kiss between Eric Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev.
On the River Spree, at the Brandenburg Gate, you will see sitting atop the gate, a striking statue of a girl with 4-horse chariot. The Berlin Quadriga was designed in 1793 and features the Goddess of peace. Napoleon once took the statue to France after the war as a sign of his victory, but it was returned to Berlin in 1814 after the European allies thwarted Napoleon. The Goddess has always faced east, the way into the city of Old Berlin. This area was at one time the capital of Prussia, then the German Empire, and is now the political center of Germany.
Another of our stops was to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or simply the Holocaust Memorial. Designed by NY architect Peter Eisenman, it consists of 2711 black and shiny concrete blocks, different sizes and heights, and strategically placed around a plot of property. I did not care for this monument, nor understand it, and that appears to be the common feeling as it has been the center of much controversy and dislike in the community. Mere steps away, in what appears to be a parking lot lies the bunker where Hitler allegedly committed suicide. Our tour guide just spoke briefly about it and showed us the location, but did not take us there.
Delicious Eats in Berlin
The Alla tour included a lunch stop at the busy and trendy Potsdam Platz. We had an al fresco lunch at Mommseneck and the chicken schnitzel was delectable. Mommseneck also had a great variety of beers to choose from. The Sony Center is found here at Potsdam Platz along with a mecca of shopping and lovely skyscrapers. It hosts many concerts and film festivals and appeared to be the most “hopping” part of the city. Berlin does not want a neighborhood to be all businesses, so in an effort to keep that from happening, they require each one to have at least 20% apartment dwellings.
Cheesy Checkpoint Charlie
The last stop on our tour was the most well-known border crossing during the Cold War, known as Checkpoint Charlie. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, this was where the famous standoff between US and Soviet tanks took place. Our tour was running behind on time, so we only had 10 minutes to sightsee in this very congested area. It was so crowded that our bus had to park 3 blocks away. The sight of my friend and I bolting off the bus and running to the checkpoint for pictures and a stamp in our passports (yes, we are Americans) was hilarious.
When we arrived, the person stamping passports was not around, and the photo op was packed. Never fear, someone in our group took it upon themselves to stamp our passports so we were able to check that off our list. I dug out $5 from my purse and a worker grabbed us quickly through the crowd and took us up to the “stage” for our photographs. Apparently, the sight of good ole hard cash was all we needed to get our picture made promptly. The photographer welcomed us to choose a hat for our pictures and quickly forced us into 4 posed pictures of their choice. These were the cheesiest ever, but a real hoot! Literally, the most fun we had all day. I am featuring all 4 pictures so you can see our 5 minutes of fun and I encourage all of you to do the same.
Berlin, Germany= Checked Off My Bucket List
All in all, I am glad to have seen Berlin, Germany, with its beautiful landmarks and significant history. Our Alla tour was $199, which was $100 cheaper than the same tour offered by NCL. Their bus was comfortable and our Berlin guide was fun and knowledgeable. The train would have been a quicker way to travel to Berlin from Rostock, only half the time, but we did not know it at the time. I wish we could have spent more time at the East Side Gallery Wall segments, but the traffic was heavy and delayed us.
Be sure to try a currywurst, Berlin’s most popular fast food item. It is a hot sausage cut in slices with curry powder and ketchup. You can be in two places at one time. Straddle the line that divided East and West Berlin, as the outline of the brick wall is still on the streets. Berlin was a fun destination as well as historic and metropolitan.
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Trivia: Following Hitlers suicide and the Battle of Berlin, Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. Later called the Holocaust, the Nazi regime was to blame for millions of deaths.