Exploring Berlin


New Synagogue

Learning to navigate a large city requires patience and perseverance – ha… Berlin’s heated pace is both daunting and exhilarating. I’ve gone from being befuddled and hopelessly lost to feeling ecstatic while making successful transport connections and blending with locals.

French Cathedral
Navigating Berlin

As a point of comparison, Istanbul’s 14+ million population makes Berlin’s 4 million seem small, but to me, Istanbul’s public transit system is easier to learn. It’s confusing switching between the U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban train). My U-Bahn station in Kreuzberg is Gneisenaustraße – still trying to pronounce it. During my first subway outing a Berliner helped by providing directions involving a U-Bahn to S-Bahn transfer. There are various transfer options and this one turned out to be complicated (for a tourist), somehow leaving me terrified and in the middle of nowhere at night!

Wilhelminian Style Architecture

When will I learn the lesson about not asking locals for directions – a basic rule that continues to elude my travels? Essential elements of exploring a new place seamlessly and independently include MapsMe or Google Maps and a power charger for your smartphone. In Berlin, speaking German is also helpful…

Gendarmenmarkt – Deutscher Dom, Französischer Dom, Berlin Konzerthaus
Berlin Opera House St. Hedwig’s Episcopal Cathedral
Berlin Tours

I’ve booked some tours and decided to make “dry runs”, to eliminate 11th hour drama reaching the starting point on time. Berlin is a city of striking images, but I haven’t taken many photos yet – dangerous while getting your bearings.

German Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral

Yesterday, I joined a six-hour walking tour led by Berlin Like A Local. As with most of these outings, there was too much detailed information provided. The tour lasted most of the day – with a 30-minute lunch break and a few moving caffeine stops. We walked at a fast pace with little time for photos or chit-chat. Since then, I’ve downloaded self-guided tours to my smartphone. The next tour will be at my pace, and I can replay the commentary when necessary :o).

Jewish Cemetery
Holocaust Survivors
Checkpoint Charlie – Getty Images

The group of tourists from Amsterdam, Zürich, London, and New York City were in their 20s – 30s and good fun. Most of them were visiting Berlin to experience its vibrant techno nightlife scene. The Londoner shared pointers about Albania – possibly my next stop. One couple was on their way to Prague.

German Museum
Berliner Dome During the Festival of Lights – Shutterstock

Our Australian guide from Melbourne had lived in Berlin for over four years while attending university. He majored in subjects which made him a European history expert and a powerhouse of information. His commentary was also funny at times, e.g., he told us “you can take a dog or a beer anywhere in Berlin”…

German Bakery
Attractions and Landmarks

Some of the sites we saw are listed below – more for my benefit than readers of this blog post. Each site has its own unique history and compelling story. We began in the east near River Spree at the Tränenpalast Museum (Tears Palace) and ended at Brandenburg Gate in the west.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by Peter Eisenman is graphic and impressive. It consists of 2,711 cuboid concrete stelae (slabs) and encompasses an entire block near Brandenburg Gate. We walked respectfully through the controversial memorial. It’s difficult to describe the feelings of isolation and helplessness as the concrete blocks grow taller and a slanted pavement adds to the disorientation. Eisenman’s brilliant work gets your attention and makes its brutal point.

Retro look Unter den Linden, Berlin
Unter den Linden Boulevard – 123RF
Unter den Linden Boulevard – BZ Berlin
Brandenburg Gate

We took a break on top of Hitler’s underground air-raid bunker where he and Eva Braun committed suicide. The bunker has now blended with the landscaping of a modern apartment complex. Another interesting spot was the exterior of Angela Merkel’s flat in Prenzlauer Berg where she no longer stays. Prenzlauer Berg has old Wilhelminian-style buildings and fashionable, trendy cafés and shops. The apartment rents for €65 per night.

River Spree

In the 1990s, the fall of the Berlin Wall brought extreme euphoria, wild partying, and a “chaotic, anarchistic mood”. Since then, Berlin has experienced major change! This was a cursory tour. Over the next few months I’ll look deeper and gain a better understanding of Berlin’s fascinating past and bright future. Although not always immediately obvious, Berlin’s dark past and present are intertwined forever.

Bebelplatz
Statue of Hitler Would-Be Assassin Georg Elser
Mitte Side Street

Memorial to Nazi Burning of Books Bebelplatz

Clear autumn weather in the 70s is to continue this week. I’m besotted with Berlin and my adventures so far. Happy to be staying in less-touristy Kreuzberg / Neukölln area, a vibrant community rich in diversity and character.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Mehr später…