Best of Berlin with MJH, pt 1

East Side Gallery

Having Matt here right at the end of my Berlin stay means that I get to revisit all my favorite places in Berlin and hit the last remaining high points before I jet out of town. Here are a few highlights from the past couple days:

1. Reichstag Building

The Reichstag dome is in my top 10 sites in Berlin. I love the green construction, the environmentally friendly solar panels and light reflecting mirrors, the curving walkways and the views over Berlin rooftops. I first visited this dome right after I came to Berlin so it was really interesting to see it again 5 weeks later, now that I know all the surrounding terrain and I have so many memories of visiting these sites.

Reichstag Dome Berlin

The dome requires advance reservations but after my last visit, I’d discovered a cafe on the roof of the Reichstag that serves breakfast and includes dome admission. Breakfast and tourism? Done and done.

The “feel good breakfast” was enormous and inadequately shown here



It included meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, fruit salad, yogurt, several different kinds of bread, chocolate brioche, champagne, orange juice and coffee. Incredible! We ate on the glassed-in patio, which was a tiny bit like eating in a greenhouse once the sun came out; but we put on sunglasses, they opened some doors for airflow and the food was delectable.

Thus fortified, we moved on to

2. War memorials

This memorial in front of the Reichstag is a very small unassuming monument to the 96 politicians of the Weimar Republic who opposed Hitler. They were the first men he sent off to concentration camps, where all of them died.


Each stone is engraved with the man’s name, his political party, the concentration camp where he died and the date of his death. It’s not much in the way of recognition but at least there’s acknowledgement that some good men tried to stand up to the tide of evil that swept Germany. They died for it but I hope they knew their sacrifice wasn’t completely in vain. Had Hitler had their help, he might have succeeded.

We revisited the Memorial to the Murdered Jews, which was just as powerful the second time around. I’ve written about it here.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews

This is the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma of Europe, a few of the gypsy tribes that Hitler tried to exterminate.

Memorial to Sinti and Roma in Europe

It’s a small reflecting pool in a secluded spot with part of the poem Auschwitz around the sides. Subtle, quiet and lovely.

Memorial to Sinti and Roma of Europe

On the other hand, the Memorial to the Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism in Tiergarten looks like a peep show.

Memorial to the Homosexuals Berlin

Inside that concrete box is a beautiful film of people kissing, which we viewed through the one window. I like the sentiment of the film but wish the whole memorial were designed differently. I feel that the memorial promotes what it’s trying to fight against, the idea that gay love should be hidden. I’m glad there’s a memorial but… I could wish for something a little less closeted.

3. Tempelhof

This massive space used to be an airport.

Tempelhof Berlin

Several important airlifts were made from this airport during the war. The hanger had been on the list of largest buildings on earth with the world’s smallest duty free shop – an intriguing contrast – as well as one of Europe’s few airports that predate WW2. It closed in 2008 and now it’s a park

Templehof Berlin

Where people kite board down the former runways


And skateboard, and bike and have picnics and sports rallies and occasionally festivals. As you can see from the skies, we brought the rain, which hit while we were in the middle of that massive space nowhere near any shelter. We had to run for it but then we were treated to a glorious double rainbow


I bet Tempelhof is fantastic in the summer. I had visions of a picnic here but the weather hasn’t cooperated. Next time…

4. Chocolate

Ritter Sport is the German chocolate of choice.

Ritter Sport Berlin

It’s not boutique but it definitely has variety with 30+ regular options and then new flavors and combinations released every season. I’m not a huge chocolate fan but when I heard about the Ritter-Sport Bunte SchokoWelt where I could mix my own chocolate bar, I had to try it.

Ritter Sport Bunte ShokoWelt

This little shop has a long counter with dozens of mix-in varieties of fruit, cookies and candy


Each custom bar costs 3.90E. I chose my chocolate (dark) and added three mix ins –  sour cherry pieces, cocoa nibs and crunchy candy gold stars. 30 minutes later, Ritter Sport!

Ritter Sport custom bar

This store has a lot of Ritter Sport at good prices as well as a small chocolate museum with a few interactive bits, a video and photo ops

Ritter Sport Kaitlyn

Ritter Sport MJH

As well as an ice cream bar where they make German style blizzards, You pick your Ritter Sport flavor and they’ll crush it into soft serve ice cream and serve it to you in a cone.

Ritter Sport Bunte SchokoWelt

For people who think too much chocolate is not enough chocolate, I highly recommend Ritter Sport Bunte SchokoWelt.

5. When in Berlin, you should go up a tower for an aerial view

Victory Column

I dragged Matt up the 284 steps of the Victory Column in Tiergarten because European trips always include tower climbs.

Tiergarten Berlin

As with the Reichstag, it’s so different to look over this city now after living here almost 6 weeks. The landscape looks so familiar.

We then went about our day and at the end of it found ourselves in Alexanderplatz under the TV tower

TV Tower Berlin

I’d written – somewhat scornfully… – about this tower before about how it’s a big deal but I didn’t get it and how it costs 12E to go up the tower. Well, it’s a big deal because it’s the tallest thing in town and the tallest thing in the country of Germany. It actually costs 11E to go up the tower – pardon! – and it was approaching sunset when we got there so we decided to check out the view.

View from Berlin's TV Tower

Beautiful, although Berlin doesn’t have much in the way of a skyline. Given the swampy ground it’s built on, big tall buildings don’t stand much of a chance. While waiting for the sun to set we got a glass of wine at the bar

TV Tower Berlin

and met delightful Eloise from Dublin

TV Tower with Eloise

And stayed much longer than we’d intended. Which is how all good nights go.

The TV Tower does have great views over Berlin and going up inside is much like visiting the Empire State Building, the London Eye or Chicago’s Willis Tower. There’s nothing quite like an aerial view over a city so it’s almost always worth a visit. I like the old school Victory Column but the TV Tower has kitschy charm as well.

Ok, more tomorrow. I’m off to enjoy my last day in Berlin!

Best of Berlin with MJH, Part 2 is here

The Light and the Dark in Berlin

GendarmenmarktThe sun came out today! I had museum plans but I think it’s supposed to rain for the rest of the weekend so I opted to be outside on the River Spree.

River Spree

I have a fondness for boat cruises and with the sun out, it seemed like a good choice. Of course it wasn’t exactly warm – 50F maybe? – and the boat moved a bit quickly for good photos but I saw some pretty things.

Like the Berlin Cathedral, the center of all things Protestant in Berlin

Berlin Cathedral

And the Weidendammer Bridge with an imperial eagle, one of the oldest bridges in Berlin

Weidendammer Bridge

I loved this architectural detail with the holes in the wall of the Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus.

Marie Elisabeth Lüders Haus

It’s another of their parliamentary buildings with a wall open to the sky.

There were a dozen other lovely things of which I took approximately 200 terrible pictures. I won’t subject you to them. But the river cruise was delightful, albeit chilly, and a perfect way to spend a sunny morning.

I then walked down to the Gendarmenmarkt, the German market square bounded by two cathedrals and the Berlin Symphony Hall where a street performer was blowing bubbles

Berliner Philharmoniker

I could have watched those bubbles for hours

Berliner Philharmoniker

The kids were chasing them, people were trying to take pictures, there was a guy playing saxophone… the sun was shining. Captivating.

Until I got hungry… I stopped for a salad, something fresh for a change

Shan Rahimkhan Berlin

So I could justify some chocolate afterwards. Fassbender & Rausch say they’re the world’s largest chocolatier. Is that actually true? There are a LOT of chocolatiers in the world… But this one did a giant chocolate version of the Reichstag Building, where I was yesterday

Reichstag Building in Chocolate

And they have a chocolate cafe on the second floor with exquisite views over the Gendarmenmarkt

Fassbender & Rausch

I couldn’t resist a little something

Fassbender & Rausch

That’s an Orange Krokant Tortchen with orange cream, sponge cake, ganache, dark chocolate… all of it. And yes, as good as it looks. This little burst of sweetness helped fortify my soul because my next stop was going to take it all out of me.

I’ve been putting off the memorials here in Berlin because I want to give them each some proper time and attention. But it’s difficult. I don’t wake up and think “I’m in the mood to revisit the holocaust today.” However, I’m here. It happened. It’s part of the history of the world and specifically this city. The Germans have the grace and bravery to face their past head on, it seems the least I can do as a visitor is do the same.

So I went to Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

This memorial design is controversial, not least because it’s without any obvious Jewish symbolism and it’s abstract. It resembles a cemetery but there’s no writing of any kind on the concrete stelae. If I didn’t know it was a Holocaust memorial I probably would never guess, although it seems formal, severe and somber.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

The name of this memorial states “murder,” which was another another controversial but incredibly important decision. No one just died in the Holocaust and I’m glad the memorial openly states that.

It’s incredibly difficult to photograph and the experience of it is strange because all those blocks are varying heights and the ground warps, rises and falls underneath them leading to long tunnels.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews Berlin

,But because of this ground variation I could see people walking and then they’d just vanish as the ground dipped and took them below the level of the blocks. I hope that symbolism was part of the intent of the memorial because it’s powerful.

I think this memorial has be experienced to be appreciated. The straight up visuals are only part of the story.

And the rest of the story resides in the information center under the memorial, a brutal emotional slog through pictures of concentration camps, stories of victims, recovered goodbye letters and a timeline of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It’s a lot. And it’s not even everything by a long stretch.

I found myself more moved by the letters than the pictures and I spent quite a bit of time in this dark room where the name of each murder victim is projected on the wall and a brief bio is read about them in German and English. They say that projector of victim names never turns off and they think it will take 6.5 years to read through all the names of the Jews that died at the hands of the Nazis.

6.5 YEARS.

And they were just one group of persecuted victims! That doesn’t even count the gypsies, the homosexuals, the disabled and the opposing members of the Bundestag who were sent to concentration camps when Hitler rose to power.

I can’t get my mind around it. It’s too much. But I have to try because to quote Primo Levi “If it can happen once, it can happen again.”

And it is happening. Now. In different places and under different governments, in countries that don’t get as much attention because they don’t have the power of Hitler’s Third Reich.


The world is a harsh and beautiful place. I saw both sides today.

Street Art Berlin