If you have not been to Berlin, put it on your list. GG and I had a wonderful three days there in March with Travel Department. We left a wet and damp Ireland behind for a cold, but sunny German capital.
Berlin is a city that has been through a tumultuous history and Graham and I have always wanted to visit. And it did not disappoint. What impressed us was how there was no attempt to sugar-coat that history; in fact, the opposite is true. They own their past. So if you are a history buff or, if you have a particular interest in World War 2, then Berlin has a lot to offer.
We all absolutely loved the Leonardo Hotel and its location in the Mitte district in the east of the city.
The hotel was modern and quirky. Rooms were compact, but had plenty of storage, safe, fridge and tea/coffee making facilities, with fresh towels and linen daily. Breakfasts were superb.
And I have to mention the reception staff who were extremely helpful, recommending local restaurants and giving very useful advice.
Sitting right beside the River Spree and the famous Berlin Ensemble Theatre (below), the hotel was just a few minutes away from the Friedrichstrasse railway station and was within easy walking distance of many of the well-known attractions such as the Reichstag and the Brandenburg Gate. It really could not have been in a more perfect location.
We were only ten minutes walk from this famous landmark. Inspired by the Acropolis in Athens, it was built in the late 1700s by the Prussian king Frederick William II. Later, the Brandenburg Gate symbolized the division of the city into West and East during the Cold War and then a reunified Germany.
It is a popular tourist attraction, but in March (as you can see) it was not busy.
The Reichstag (above) is the seat of the German Parliament and visiting the dome (below) at the top is an absolute must. Entry is free, but you should register online ahead for a time slot. We hadn’t, but were able to get by booking at an on-site booth; another advantage of travelling in March.
As you walk around the spiral path, the audio guide tells you interesting information about the German Parliament, the building itself, some of the nearby areas, and more.
Checkpoint Charlie is the best-known border crossing between East and West Berlin and became a symbol of the divided city. All you can see today is a replica of the guard house and border crossing signs. To be honest, it is a bit underwhelming.
But, right beside it is the incredible Wall Museum. It is easy to spend hours there and I was particularly enthralled with the many inventive ways (home-made hot air balloon, canoes etc.) that East Germans tried and succeeded in escaping into the West. The VW Beetle (below) had an area below the bonnet to hide an escapee.
Just a few minutes away is The Topography of Terror Museum (entry free). The indoor and outdoor exhibitions focus on the rise and actions of the Nazi Party in Germany. On the former site of some of that regime’s most horrific institutions such as the Gestapo, it is educational, but rather chilling.
THE BERLIN WALL
Well, you can’t go to Berlin and not visit the Berlin Wall. The original wall was about 140km long and its purpose was to stop the emigration of East German citizens to the more liberal West. The most famous section is The East Side Gallery which is considered the longest open air gallery in the world.
More than a hundred paintings by artists from all over the world cover the Wall.
The most popular work in the Gallery is Dmitri Vrubel’s ‘Fraternal Kiss’ (above) from the photograph of the famous embrace between Russian leader Leonid Brezhnev and his East German counterpart Erich Honecker in 1979.
MUSEUMS, GALLERIES & CHURCHES
In all honesty, you could spend a week in the museums in Berlin. One of our party spent a day in The Transport Museum alone and hugely recommended it. About a ten minute walk from our hotel was the Museumsinsel (Museum Island), the world’s most diverse museum complex that features such buildings as the Bode-Museum (below), full of sculptures and Byzantine art….
…the Alte Nationalgalerie (below) housing 19th century German paintings…
…the Altes Museum (below) , which resembles a Greek temple, displaying classical antiquities…
…and the Berliner Dom, the island’s biggest structure, a Baroque-style cathedral that is unusually ornate for a Protestant church.
GG and I always love seeking out the street art in every city we visit. Berlin certainly has a dynamic street art scene and many buildings, particularly those that are older and run-down, are creatively decorated.
MEMORIAL TO EUROPE’S MURDERED JEWS
Above you can see the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Its full name is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Across a massive gently sloping square, 2,711 concrete slabs symbolize the lives lost. The memorial is said to have been designed to create a sense of unease…it certainly does.
Out of season is a perfect time to visit. There were not that many tourists, so we never had to queue for anything and we had no problems with last-minute booking for restaurants. Though we missed out seeing the trees in bloom/leaf, we did have a better view of the buildings.
We took a boat trip which was excellent and allows you to see the city from a totally different view. You can pick one up from many locations along the river.
We walked 25,000 steps one day. Graham normally has a superb sense of direction, but it deserted him that day. But we didn’t mind as we saw so much more. We are not mad fans of German food, but there was no shortage of fabulous restaurants all around the hotel.
We ate really well. Prices are similar to Dublin. We had a drink in the extremely busy Berliner Republik bar and restaurant which features a unique ‘beer stock market’ game after 5pm. Prices fluctuate like stocks making drinking there an entertaining experience!
Berlin is very much a party city and we hung out with young people in an Ice Bar one evening before dinner. Recommended if you are in a group and want a bit of fun, perhaps.
Regular readers know that I have been travelling with Travel Department for 17 years and I am a huge fan of their guided holidays.
One of the many reasons we choose Travel Department is that we are creatures of habit and have never been disappointed when travelling with them. We like knowing that we do not have to worry. Someone else looks after the problems. A representative on the ground collects us from the airport and delivers us to the hotel and back to the airport. Always included is an excursion or excursions. In Berlin, we had a half-day tour of many of the important landmarks, some of which are included below. It is a great way to get your bearings.
Plus there is the knowledge and expertise of a local, in this case the lovely Isabella who had perfect English and gave us all the relevant information and answered our questions
But this time, I am going to mention the word VALUE. Three well-travelled Corkonians in our group had looked at going independently, but decided to go with TD because of the incredible value. They were delighted with the trip.
For example, the cost of a taxi to and from the hotel would have been €140. I checked the price of a night in the hotel in March and it was €170. Then add flights, tour, guide…you can see where I am going.
So, GG and I highly recommend Berlin for a city break. It is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city and lots for all ages and interests to enjoy.
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Thanks for reading.
I was a guest of Travel Department for the trip to Berlin.