We were all totally flaked after our first day early start and such a packed start to our holiday that we all slept well – at least until 7am when the builders started just opposite the hotel. On our last trip we had had a courtyard view but this time we were facing the main road. We didnt mind because with three of us to get ready each day it took us ages to all get organised and out. Last time we had had the hotel breakfasts which were excellent but at an extra €18 per head there was no way we were paying that. Instead we decided to go for one of the local cafes nearby and there were quite a few to choose from. One thing is for sure, the best coffee I have had anywhere in the world has been in Germany and Austria and on this trip to Berlin we had some fantastic brews.
This morning we decided to go to Cafe Einstein (Berlin's answer to Starbucks and miles better) right beside Checkpoint Charlie. It is a given when on holiday that everyone should go for the healthy option, so in keeping with that, Kathryn went for the chocolate muffin and iced tea
David had a croissant (no photo) and of course I forgot to take a picture of my pretzel until it was half eaten. Still it was very good.
Look at the crema on that coffee. Gee it was good.
Breakfast finished before 9am we gathered ourselves together and walked to the U-Bahn station, ready to cross town to an area that used to be right in the heart of the West of the city by Berlin Zoo. It was a dull day and by the time we reached our meeting point the rain was threatening to come down. We met up with our tour guide Alex who told us that we were going to travel over to a station in the East of the city to collect some more members of the tour. For the life of me, I cant remember the station where we all met but it was a very interesting area and the one where 'it was at' in the hedonistic days of the 1920s.
By this stage it was absolutely chucking it down so we took shelter under the railway bridge while Alex filled us in on the early history of the city going back to its foundations.
The rain just wouldnt ease off so we moved on towards the River Spree where our guide brought us up to date on the city's history until 1871 when it became the capital of the German Empire. He must have talked ofr about 30 mins and it was obvious that this guy was totally passionate about his German history and the city as a whole.
We walked over the bridge of the River Spree past the Berlin Dom and the 5 amazing museums that make up Museum Island. There are so many great museums to see in the city housing many of the most famous paintings in the world as well as artefacts of the ancient world and the popularity of the museums could be seen by the queues building up outside. In fact the whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The TV Tower in the mist between the turrets of the Dom
The Pergamon is probably the most famous museum of all on the Island but we didnt manage to get up close. I would have loved to have fitted it into our visit but I swear I will next time as it houses fantastic antiquities including the Gates of Babylon and early Islamic art.
This huge fountain outside the Altes Museum did make me smile though. It was built to go inside the museum and was to be a centrepice. However, once built, it couldnt be brought through the doors and had to be left outside! Doh!
This whole area was once incredibly beautiful and a great job has been done in restoring the museums and Dom post war. The reconstruction in the city never stops though and in front of the museum there were lots of cranes and machinery involved in the building of a very controversial building. The Palace of Berlin was largely destroyed in WW11 but the shell of the building was sound enough for it to be restored after the war. However the communist government of theDDR in its infinite wisdom decided to dynamite the building. The city seems to be split on whether it should be rebuilt, the cost being the main factor. In any case ti was once a very beautiful palace.
Building site for the Palace
From here we walked down the famous Under den Linden, one of the most famous streets in Berlin and the one leading to the Brandenburg Gate. Our tour guide was amazing, filling us in at every stage of the walk on the past and present history of the area. His passion for the city was obvious.
One of the first buildings we came across was the New Guard House.
The New Guard House
It was built as a memorial to all those who had fought in wars but was rededicated to all the victims of war after reunification. Alex gave us the spiel about the history of the building and then without telling us any more asked us to walk inside. Wow!
This is Koliwitz's sculpture of a mother with her dead son, dedicated to all those who have suffered in war. It is open to the wind and rain, indicating the suffering due to war. It was so very moving.
Unter Den Linden is steeped in history and the next stop was no less historic. It was the beautiful buildings of the Humboldt University. Now I remember the name Humboldt form my uni days as our geography prof was obsessed with the man always referring to him as the Father of Geography
It was on this very plaza beside the university that the Nazi book burning took place and some of the most important books of the modern era as well as historical books were destroyed as they were thought to be Un German or were written by Jewish writers (over 30,000). I did take a few photos of a memorial built into the ground but it was such a drizzly day that they didnt come out. It is a glass pane on the plaza and when you look down there is a row of empty book shelves – very moving indeed. In the background on the plaza is a very beautiful church. It is the first Catholic church to be built in Berlin after the reformation – St Hedwigs but unfortunately there were lots of cranes in front of it.
This tiny plaque built into the ground is the memorial to the book burning
By now the weather was picking up nicely and we walked further up Unter Den Linden, finally reaching the back of the Brandenburg Gate. All the same characters and entertainers were there that we had seen yesterday. At the back of the Gate there is also another very famous building, or should I say hotel. It is the Hotel Adlon, the most expensive. in Berlin and the one with the balcony which Michael Jackson hung his baby over
Alex then led us through the Arts Centre beside the hotel to the back of the Jewish Memorial where we had been the day before. We sat for a while as he filled us in on some of the detail of the history of the memorial and gave us a very interesting fatc about why it was graffiti free while lots of other parts of Berlin are covered in graffiti. The stones have been covered in a chemical which stops graffiti being sprayed or painted on. It also happens ironically to have been developed by the firm Degussa who were also responsible for the production of Zyklon B used to kill Jews in the concentration camps.
By now, we had walked for about three hours so it was time for a pit stop. There is a Dunkin Donuts behind the memorial and we always stop there for a coffee and a delicious donut. Twenty minutes later we were on our way. This whole area with the Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate and memorial are within minutes of each other as well as many of the major embassies. Beside the memorial and close to the centre of government is one place, not very well marked (purposely). It is the spot where Hitler died. His bunker was in this spot where nowadays there is a car park and play area surrounded by flats.
This very litter bin marks fittingly enough where Hitler was buried.
This is all that marks the bunker/burial spot now
As we walked on towards one of the remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall, we stopped at a building which managed to survive the war. It used to be the Air Force HQ during the war and somehow it didnt manage to get bombed. After the war it found itself on the east side right beside the wall. Our guide told us some interesting stories about escapes in this area and some even by DDR government employees as it was right beside the wall.
There is also a great preserved fresco from the Cold War Era showing how happy everyone was under Communism
We headed off next towards Checkpoint Charlie and an area where there are some more preserved sections of wall painted in a fairly jaunty fashion
We were almost at the end of our tour but before we finished we headed to another historical area, the Gendarmenmarkt, a plaza with yet more museums and churches as well as some of Berlin's most expensive restaurants. It was beautiful.
It was now 3pm. The tour had been fantastic and we left a hefty tip.
We knew that there was an Augustiner Beer house nearby but didnt quite know where. Some German girls on the tour heard us ask and guided us to where we wanted to be. Hearty Bavarian food was just what we needed!
Our server was very pleasant and we were in dire need of some beer.
David dug into a knuckle of pork. Boy was it huge
I had some Nuremberg Sausages
Kathryn went for Ghoulash cooked in beer
All the food was delicious and we rested our weary feet for ages in the restaurant. We left and walked the five minutes it took to get back to the hotel. The problem was that we went past the chocolate shop again, so needs must and in I went to buy even more.
We took a quick half hour break back at the hotel and freshen up again. I was in need of more beer, so we decided to head over to Alexanderplatz which is in the heart of what was East Berlin. It is a soulless sort of area but nonetheless it has its place in history
It is a sea of concrete but amongst the concrete and up the side streets are some wonderful individual shops. We headed into La Galleria, a large department store with the sole task of tracking down some Disney Berkinstock sandals. We hadnt found them anywhere in Berlin and were no luckier this time. We did manage to see lots of Lego, some lederhosen and lots of cake though!
I had enough of shopping. Ten minutes does me. It was time for beer. I had long planned to go to the new Hofbrauhaus in Berlin and along the way, I saw this – Primark is coming to town!!
The beer hall was huge but we chose to have a stein of the cold stuff outside as it was a hot evening now.
We were all pretty weary as we had packed lots into the day. After about another hour we were on our way to find Mr Vuongs, a Vietnamese restaurant that has very high TA ratings and one that we had been to before. David worked out that we could walk from the Hofbrauhaus and in about 10-15mins we were there. Along the way we saw this beautiful building which we later found out was a theatre. I am such a sucker for Art Deco buildings
When we arrived at Mr Vuongs it was absolutely packed. It is very popular with locals and tourists alike. The food is light, healthy and delicious and was what we needed after our afternoon meal. David had a mojito, Kathryn a raspberry alcoholic drink with chillies and I had a fresh raspberry and Thai smoothie. All were delicious.
Ooops – a poor one here
We shared these Vietnamese Spring Rolls
and some dumplings beneath the veg here
I had a beautifully light chicken dish with lots of Asian veg and crunchy fried shallots (as did David). Kathryn had a chicken pho which was lovely as well.
We walked back to Alexanderplatz having had yet another great meal and made our way back for an early night. We were well and truly shattered.
Tomorrow – Berlin Zoo, a Disney purchase and some Cold War reminiscing.