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 hopelessly lost to feeling ecstatic while blending with locals and making successful transport connections!

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. Switching between the U-Bahn (subway) and S-Bahn (suburban train) is confusing. My U-Bahn station is Gneisenaustraße – still trying to pronounce it correctly. 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 in the middle of nowhere at night, terrified!

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 getting around seamlessly and independently in foreign countries 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 interesting 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 – dangerous while still 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 walking tour will be at my pace, and I can replay the commentary as many times as necessary :o).

Jewish Cemetery

Holocaust Survivors

Checkpoint Charlie – Getty Images

The group included tourists from Amsterdam, Zürich, London, and New York City. They 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 young 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 4 years while attending university. He majored in subjects which make him an expert on European history and a powerhouse of information. His commentary was 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 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 stark 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 the 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

Brandenburg Gate

We took a break on top of Hitler’s underground air-raid bunker where he and Eva Braun committed suicide. It’s 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. Trendy Prenzlauer Berg has old Wilhelminian-style buildings and fashionable cafés and shops. The apartment rents for € 65 per night.

River Spree

During 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 will 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 intertwine.

Bebelplatz

Memorial to George Elser – Hitler’s Would Be Assassin

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 the adventures so far. Happy to be staying in the Kreuzberg / Neukölln area, a vibrant community rich in diversity and character.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

Mehr später…

Berlin Neukölln District

Berlin Roof Gardens – Weitere Informationen

After three uneventful flights totaling almost 18 hours, I arrived safely in Berlin. I’m settling into a small but comfortable apartment in Neukölln District, my home for the next three months. So far, its typical autumn weather with mostly crisp, clear days. It’s great to be in a new environment, and I’m staying awhile with plenty of time to explore.

Jet lag is insidious, and west to east flights are more challenging since you’re moving ahead in time. Despite little sleep, I’m full of energy and pleasantly fuddled but not tired… What I’ve explored so far is a total delight – interesting architecture, beautiful parks, many languages spoken, and fascinating faces of a lively, diverse community.

Sony Centre – iStock

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“Neukölln is a trendy hub of contrasts and home to one of the highest percentages of immigrants in Berlin with families from over 160 countries.”

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German Parliament Building Reichstag – Videobooks

Neukölln Ambiance

Neukölln has a mellow, hip vibe and is centrally located near abundant activities – Bergmannstraßeindie alternative cafés and clubs, cabarets and theaters, museums, art galleries, casinos, and performing arts venues. The variety of nearby food options is amazing – everything from vegan, vegetarian, Asian, Indian, Thai, Tibetan, and Turkish takeout to quality restaurants, French bakeries, wine bars, and bier halls. Superfood and organic eating have taken off here in a big way with Whole Food like markets everywhere.

Neukölln Art – Shutterstock

Transportation and Communication

I got a German SIM card and am checking out public transportation. U-Bahn stations are nearby. There are also S-Bahn stations, suburban commuter trains, trams, buses, and ferries. I’ll rent a bicycle and plan to sign up for walking tours to get orientated and gain an overview of the city. Bicycles are popular with dedicated lanes throughout the city. Drivers are fast and furious, so I’ll think about renting a car – maybe later when the area is more familiar…

Most Berliners speak English but newspapers, food labels, signage, etc. are in German only. I’ll try to learn some German :o).

Tiergarten

Berlin Festivals, Markets, Side Trips

Neukölln’s Sunday Flea Market features work by upcoming artists and designers. There’s a large Turkish population and the Market on Maybachufer “offers everything from fresh produce to fabric to Middle Eastern snacks and African street food”. I had a delicious spicy falafel yesterday and baklava cravings are easily satisfied.

Berlin Roofs – S Kohl

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“Neukölln is one of the most diverse places to shop in Berlin with specialty stores selling products from India, the Middle East, and Africa.”

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Map Berlin Neighborhoods

There are infinite experiences waiting in Berlin, but also time for side trips like Potsdam’s palaces and castles – especially stunning with a dramatic autumn backdrop. I’m looking forward to the Berlin Festival of Lights from October 5th to 14th –  excited to be here! Mehr später