Berlin 8/10

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A vibrant new city born of dramatic change...

Brandenburg Gate night view from Reichstag Dome

Berlin continues to evolve. Since my last trip to Berlin in 1998 the city has all but obliterated any differences between what used to be very distinct east and west sections. It's a new city almost everywhere. Even the old monuments have gotten a facelift of one sort or another, like the new glass dome on top of the Reichstag. Back in 1998, construction cranes filled the skyline while the city streets and subways seemed to be in a constant state of flux. Since Berlin is a big, expansive city, it's not generally "walkable". Yet now in 2010, it moves very efficiently with an urban transportation system and infrastructure that would be the envy of most large cities. It feels very safe on the streets and in the metro, even late at night.

Saturday, August 14th - Berlin at night

Our train from Frankfurt pulled into Berlin's massive new central station at 4:30pm. We connected on the new U55 line to the Brandenburg Gate and walked the few blocks to our hotel, the excellent Berlin Marriott. After a leisurely turnaround there we metroed across town to the southwest corner of Tiergarten park where we bought some supplies, ate dinner and joined the Saturday night crowd at the bar for drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe. Before heading back to our hotel for the night, we snapped some night shots of the Kaiser Wilhelm church (first picture below).

Berlin Wall - East Side Gallery - many small people...

Kaiser Wilhelm church old/new

Sachsenhausen gate

Sachsenhausen walls

Sachsenhausen memorial

Sunday, August 15th - Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial & the East Side Gallery

After breakfast at the hotel we bought ABC wide region metro passes and rode the S1 line ~50 minutes to Orienburg. Having visited Sachsenhausen back in 1998 and getting lost in Orienburg, I was armed with maps and a GPS this time. Despite tour book assurances that the route to Sachsenhausen is well marked - it's actually not marked at all until you are several blocks from the station. The important turn is the first one - turn right on the road in front of the train station. The walk is about a mile and there is a bus as an alternative, but it doesn't run very often, so Craig and I walked both directions. The Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial has changed a lot since I visited it 12 years ago - cleaned up and better organized, but in my opinion that really doesn't fit it well. The experience this time was less eerie, but less moving as well. What happened here during both the Nazi's reign and the Soviet years that followed is important to see and remember, yet difficult to comprehend in terms of its sheer magnitude. We entered the camp through the infamous "Arbeit macht frei" (work will make you free) gate (second picture above) that is also at other concentration camps. The grounds are very large and many of the original buildings are still there in their original state or have been restored. Several fences encircle the camp (third picture above) and there is a large memorial in the center to the camp's liberators (fourth picture above).


Returning to Berlin in the afternoon on the S1, we connected across town to the Ostbahnhof station and walked toward the river to visit the East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining piece of the Berlin Wall, decorated after the fall of the Wall in 1989 by various artists in themes of freedom and unity. It's been restored several times since then. For some reason this is not a major tourist spot - even hard to find on the web, but for me it was a highlight of the city just as it was 12 years ago. We walked its whole mile length (large picture top of page right and first two pictures below). My sense is that Berliners want to forget it ever existed and the relatively few younger people who have heard of it don't really understand what it was and what it stood for. In some spots in Berlin, but not all, there's a brick marking line in the pavement where the Wall once stood. There were actually two walls, one inside the other (third picture below), that defined a no-man's land that had to be crossed under fire to escape. Returning to our hotel around sunset, we took the short walk to the newly marked spot of Hitler's bunker (fourth picture below). The location, which is now just a parking lot in front of an apartment building, had never been marked until 2006 because of fears that it would become a lightning rod for neo-fascists.

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery

Mary Mackey's panel

Front & back walls

Hitler's Bunker site

Monday, August 16th - Central Berlin

After a late breakfast at the hotel we walked east through the "Topography of Terrors", which is both a short remaining section of the Berlin Wall and the site of the infamous SS headquarters during World War 2 (first picture below). Continuing a few blocks farther east we visited the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (second picture below), which while crowded, was worthwhile. Most of the exhibits have to do with the ingenious ways people escaped to West Berlin. We walked back to the Reichstag, but seing the long line to enter the Dome (third picture below), we decided to come back in the evening when the line might be shorter (it wasn't). After a short stop at the new and unique outdoor Holocaust Memorial (fourth picture below), we metroed and then hiked over to Museum Island.

Topography of Terrors

Checkpoint Charlie

Reichstag facade mid-day

Holocaust Memorial

Museum Island is a concentrated area with five of Berlin's most notable museums situated between the River Spree and Kupfergraben. We bought an all-museum pass and started with the Bode Museum, which was supposed to house the massive Egyptian collection - but it didn't. Leaving the Bode after a short visit, we walked across the bridge for what turned out to be a terrible lunch at a nearby outdoor cafe, then headed back across the river to the Neues Museum, which did hold the extensive and well organized Egyptian collection. Regrettably, they didn't allow pictures in the room with the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti, which dates from 1345BC. We spent quite a while in the Neues museum and by the time we left we both felt all "museumed out", so we didn't visit the rest of the museums on the island. Instead, we hiked to the Berliner Dom (first picture below) for a quick visit and then over to the Radio Tower. The line to get to the top was hours long, so we decided to punt on that and metroed back to our hotel for a snack and some drinks. Switching our camera gear to tripods and night shot lenses, we walked to the Reichstag around sunset where the line for the Dome was at least as long as it was earlier (second picture below). It took an hour and a quarter in line, but we both agreed that our visit to this architecturally unique dome was very worthwhile (third and fourth pictures below and large picture top of page left). We ended the evening with a late dinner near our hotel and then packed for our train to Prague the next day.

Berliner Dom interior

Reichstag Dome line at sunset

Reichstag Dome top level

Reichstag Dome spiral

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