A long weekend in Berlin
In this week’s travel feature blogger ‘Alison in Andalucia’ visits Berlin on a quick weekend trip.
By Alison Nicholson
Berlin is a city steeped in history and, when you consider the part it played in the Nazi atrocities of the Third Reich and the building of a wall that divided the city during the Cold War, you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s a depressing place to head for a break.
However, my partner and I were there for three days and could have filled every waking moment with museums, galleries and general sightseeing.
We bought a Berlin Welcome Card from one of the Tourist Information Centres which gave us free train, bus and tram travel around the city, as well as discounted admission to most of Berlin’s attractions (plus a handy guidebook with various suggested itineraries). The price starts at €20 and varies depending on the number of travel zones and the length of time you want it for.
Given that one of Berlin’s (and the world’s) most famous historical events happened in my lifetime (I was at university when the wall came down in 1989), a visit to the Berlin Wall memorial was a must. On Bernauer Strasse it’s an almost mile-long stretch of the wall with an open-air exhibition showing how the wall was built and expanded on over the years. The Window of Memorial is a tribute to the 130 people who were shot or who died on the Berlin Wall trying to escape to the West, including some who were killed just months before the wall finally came down.
The visitor centre was closed on the day we were there but the viewing platform which overlooks a stretch of the border crossing, and what was known as the death strip, was open and gives a fascinating insight into just how difficult it must have been for those living in Berlin at that time.
For an alternative view of the Berlin Wall we headed to the East Side Gallery. This is a mile-long stretch of wall which has been painted by artists from over 20 countries and is now an open-air gallery with protected status.
For an insight into what life was like in East Germany we visited the DDR Museum on the river Spree opposite Berlin Cathedral. This is very much a hands-on museum with interactive displays on everyday life during the Cold War.
There’s also a fantastic reconstruction of a typical apartment where lounging on the sofa in front of the TV, rummaging through the kitchen cupboards and rifling through wardrobes is actively encouraged. Admission was €8.50 (€7.35 with the Welcome Card discount).
Another reminder of the divided city is Checkpoint Charlie. Located on the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse it was one of nine crossing points between the East and West but was restricted to Allied armed forces and foreigners. It’s now primarily a tourist attraction with actors dressed as soldiers who’ll happily pose for photos.
At 368 metres high the TV Tower dominates the Berlin skyline and was a good focal point for getting our bearings pretty much wherever we were in the city. For a bird’s eye view of Berlin we headed to the viewing platform which is 203 metres above the city. Tickets cost €16.50 (€12.30 with the Welcome Card discount).
For an alternative aerial view we climbed the 270 steps to the viewing platform of the Victory Column. Admission was €3.00 (no discount) and we had great views of Tiergarten (a huge park and home to Berlin Zoo) and down to the Brandenburg Gate.
From the Victory Column to the Brandenburg Gate it’s a pleasant stroll along the river, past the Reichstag building. It’s another short walk to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust has only been open since 2005 and consists of 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights. The concrete floor is uneven and the blocks get higher the further into the memorial you walk which means you can lose all sense of time and direction. As with many of the places we visited, it was a sobering experience.
Despite Berlin’s dark past it’s a truly fascinating city to spend a long weekend.
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