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

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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.

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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

Tempelhof

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

Tempelhof

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

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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

Touring around Berlin

East Side Gallery

I have been without a decent map! For a normal person in a big, foreign city that’s ridiculous unless aimless wandering is the point. With my abysmal sense of direction, it’s absurd. My natural state is aimless wandering. I need physical help to stay on course.

My lack of direction dates back to my childhood. My parents have a well-loved story from my 8th grade year when we lived in Guatemala and every day for weeks we walked to and from the language school. One day I got sick and had to go home alone and I couldn’t. Literally had no idea where I was. Cried… wandered… asked for help… and truthfully I don’t remember who helped me but I finally made it home.

As an adult I’ve learned to pay more attention but directions are still a mystery to me. In the US I depend on my GPS but here in Berlin my phone doesn’t work. I’ve done an awful lot of backtracking and looking at street signs and checking my terrible maps that lack important street markings. Sometimes I’m only a block off but it takes me about 10 minutes to figure that out.

I have other skill sets. I promise. But getting around in the world without backtracking and time wasting isn’t one of them.

Anyway, I finally got a little moleskine city notebook for Berlin, which I LOVE because it’s tiny and compact. But around this same point yesterday I realized that I also had no real scope of the city of Berlin. I’ve gone a few places and walked around but Berlin is gigantic and sprawling. I wanted a quick way to orient myself so today I got on the hop-on hop-off bus.

I know. I know. SO touristy. But you know what, it did the job. I hit all the major landmarks in an afternoon. And while I only got off a couple of times, I took copious notes about the stuff I want to see later.The nice thing about being here for so long is that I don’t have to see everything today. That’s such a luxury that I rarely get while traveling.

Also, the Hop on/off buses in Berlin get scads of hate online but I had a great experience with City Sightseeing. I would just caution future bus riders to choose the live commentary option. The recorded commentary was wretched.

Here are some high points from today :

German Sausage Grillwalkers

Of course you know I’m going to start with food that is completely unrelated to the bus. But come on! This is a German sausage on a tiny bun cooked by the guy in the background who is also wearing his sausage grill! That’s an unbeatable combination. The New York Times thought so too. The sausage was great but needed more condiments, a complaint I have about most food.

Moving on to the TV tower:

TV Tower Berlin

Tall. Pointy. And for some reason a photo op. You can go up inside it to an observation deck if you want to pay 12 Euros (!) and there’s  a revolving restaurant in that glittery disco ball that serves allegedly mediocre food. I don’t know. It’s kitschy, it dates from the Soviet reign, it’s one of the tallest things in town and the East Berliners call it the Tele-asparagus. Now you know everything I know.

Wet Meatball Fountain Berlin

And speaking of food, Berliners call this fountain the wet meatball… They’re good with the food funnies.

Here’s an actual destination, The Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Also known as the Arch of Peace and formerly part of the Berlin Wall. The square on the other side is called Pariser Platz, which is notable for ritzy Hotel Adlon where Michael Jackson dangled his baby Blanket over a balcony …

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See? Never say I never gave you nothin’.

And finally, a moment of peace known as the Tiergarten

Tiergarten

Also called the green lungs of the city. In the middle of the park is the Victory Column

Victory Column Berlin

You can climb up the column to that little cupola and behold the wonders of Berlin for only 3 Euro. It’s 285 steps but whatever, right? It’s not a trip to Europe unless there’s an unreasonably tall tower to climb for views of the city.

The views are stunning

View of Berlin from Victory Column

In the far off background you can see the TV Tower. See how I brought you full circle?

Except for one last thing to reward everyone who’s gotten this far.

Yesterday while waiting for the subway I definitely saw a guy wearing a green silk burqa.

Yes, a guy. Yes, a burqa.

He had his whole face covered but he was 6′ tall and he walked like a cowboy so I was relatively certain of his gender. Plus, under his burka he rocked a pair of black satin leggings and knee-high stiletto-heeled snakeskin boots. It was a pretty sweet get up. I should have asked for a picture because maybe it was Banksy?? But even though I was 97% sure he was male, there was still that 3% chance she was a Muslim call girl in between gigs. And who knows the proper etiquette for that situation? Certainly not me.

So, there you have it: Meatballs, grill walkers, baby dangling and Muslim call girls. That’s a day right there.

More tomorrow. XOXO