Called the greenest city in Europe, Berlin, Germany is the capital of the Federal Republic of Germany. One could never imagine by looking at its cafe lined streets and chic, metropolitan neighborhoods, that it was the target of 70,000 dropped bombs during WWII. At one time, Berlin was the largest city in the world. Now it is home to 175 museums, roughly 5,000 restaurants, 900 bars, 2 zoos and the biggest department store in Europe, Kaufhaus des Westen, known simply as KaDeWe. Europeans make Berlin, Germany one of their weekend hot spots because the numerous bars, clubs, and discotheques, do not have a closing time.
Adventures in Berlin, Germany via Cruising
My friend, Jo, and I chose the Berlin tour with the Alla tour company. Alla picked us up at our cruise ship in Rostock and drove us 3 hours by bus into Berlin. Our drive was through beautiful countryside and solar plants surrounded us. 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 portrays the kiss between Eric Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev.
More Historic Sights in Berlin
On the River Spree, at the Bradenburg 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 of 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 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 one needed to get their picture made promptly. They welcome you to choose a hat for your pictures and quickly force you into 4 posed pictures of their choice. These were the cheesiest possibly but great fun. It was a 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 say I have seen Berlin, Germany, and its beautiful landmarks and significant history. Our Alla tour was $199, which was $100 cheaper than the same tour offered by the cruise line. The bus was comfortable and the guide in Berlin, fun and knowledgeable. The train would have been a quicker way to travel there, only half the time, but we did not know it at the time. I would also make time in the future to stop and take many pictures of the East Side Gallery Wall segments as the bus could not stop here due to heavy traffic.
FYI– 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.
FYI– Checkpoint Charlie was featured in the James Bond film, “Octopussy”.
Cool Fact– 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.
Tip: The cobblestone streets are not handicap friendly so keep that in mind if you are traveling with someone that needs help walking or is in a wheelchair.
Trivia: For you history buffs, 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.