Day 2 brought me to back the Berlin Wall but this time to the uber cool East Side Gallery.
Stretching out for over a kilometer, its not only the longest intact section of the wall but the world’s largest open air gallery, featuring murals celebrating the beginning of a new era for Germany and the world. I was sad to see that some of the murals had been graffitied on because the paintings were really beautiful. 102 artists contributed to the gallery and I felt they captured the excitement and the optimism of the times wonderfully. Equal parts critique and celebration, a trip to the East Side Gallery makes for quite the inspirational morning walk.
Despite dark skies that seemed to be taunting me with threats of rain and Berlin’s ever confusing public transport system, I eventually found the Reichstagsgebäude. Anyone who’s ever traveled with me anywhere knows about my inexplicable love for capitol buildings. Its also the sight of one of my favorite historical photographs. There’s something unique about the buildings in Berlin that I’ve never experienced so intensely anywhere else. Each one seems to tell it’s own story through it’s design and architecture. The Reichstag is no different. After a fire in 1933 and severe damage during the Second World War, the building was only restored in the 1990s. Instead of reconstructing the old dome, a glass replica was built in it’s place to symbolize the damage of the past and the reunification of Germany.
I roamed around Tiergarten Park and the Brandenberg Gate for a bit. The park was stunning and I’m convinced there is no better time to visit Berlin than in the fall. The trees in Berlin don’t just change to red and yellow and orange but every breathtaking color in between. Plus everything was generally quiet. The summer tourists were gone and it wasn’t to cold to spend the day wandering around aimlessly (which is something I’m very good at and a great way to pick up the vibe of a new city).
There are a lot of notable memorials scatted around this area, including the Holocaust Memorial. I walked through the cemetery like memorial, dedicated to the 6 million murdered Jews who fell victim to the Nazi regime, and had my own personal moment of silence in their memory. I think travel is meant to be fun and exciting; I also think it should include moments that allow you to open yourself up to the circumstances others have confronted and the ongoing challenges others face today. Only by reflecting on the past can we truly move forward.
Other than enjoying a few more of Berlin’s tasty treats (salty German pretzels and sugary apfelstrudel included) and making it to the station on time for my bus to Amsterdam, my only other goal of the day was to visit Checkpoint Charlie and the accompanying museum. Checkpoint Charlie was probably the best know border crossing between East and West Berlin way back when. There was even a stand-off between Soviet and US tanks in 1961. Ultimately, this ended up being my only disappointment of my time in Berlin. The checkpoint still stands but has been converted into no more than a tourist photo-op complete with fake US soldiers (which, to be honest, I did get a good laugh out of). The museum itself is an overpriced array of walls covered in hard to read text and offers few visual aides. Its pushed as a “must-see” but I would recommend no more than a walk by or just skipping it all together.
A few random tips and tricks for your next trip to Berlin because if you’re not already planning one, you should be.
- A great starting point is Museumsinsel, which literally translates to Museum Island and it is just that. There are five major museums and with the most gorgeous buildings its also an UNESCO world heritage sight. So even if you don’t go inside, you’ll still get to see something awesome.
- Speaking of museums, always ask is there’s a student discount (if you’re a student; lying is bad). I had the time of my life in the German history museum for only 4 Euros! This tip applies to all of Europe.
- There are street markets all over Berlin. I ran into 4 or 5 without ever meaning to and saw the coolest handmade crafts and art. Watching the artists work and getting to talk with a couple was really cool. When you find one, and you probably will, definitely take a few minutes to check it out.
- Public transport is split between buses and trains. Trains are then further divided between the S-bahn (above ground) and the U-bahn (underground) so don’t be surprised if you have to take both to get to your final destination. Most of Berlin is fairly walkable but don’t be afraid to use any of the aforementioned.
- Berlin is pretty friendly to those traveling, and eating, on a budget. Street food, like donner and the Berlin favorite currywurst, can be a great meal for under 5€.
- Keep an eye out for the Ampelmännchen, aka the little traffic light man. One of the only remnants of communist East Germany, this little guy has achieved cult status and even has his own store. He managed to walk his way into my heart.
I loved my time in Berlin and can’t wait for the chance to return and continue exploring this dynamic city. I know I left out a few things but I’m still getting the hang of this “blogging” thing. I’m trying to strike a nice balance between personal travel journal and helpful city guide. While also refraining from including the history of everything. But that’s just how I do. ‘Till next time.