Travel Report: Berlin

  • Dates: May 14th and May 15th, 2009.
  • Accommodation: Singer 109 Hostel, Singerstrasse 109, 10179, Berlin.
  • Transportation: overnight DB train from Munich to Berlin
  • Food: hostel restaurant, biergarten.
  • Activities: Reichstag, Berliner Dom, Nikolaiviertel, Topography of Terrors, Bebelplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, Fernsehturm, East Side Gallery, Jewish Memorial, Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburger Tog, Siegessaule.
  • Total cost: €50 for accommodation, €50 for food, €8,50 for Fernsehturm, €7 for transportation = €115,50 for two people. Train ride included in Eurail Pass.
  • Appreciation: 4/5.

Berlin by Anne Gauthier

I can’t believe a whole year has gone by since I was in Berlin. It seems to me like it was just yesterday. One year ago, I was cramped under my 70L backpack, probably looking for my way around, holding on tightly to my guidebook, most likely tired and hungry - but having the best time of my life. Some of the best memories of this Eurotrip are in Berlin: here’s my story in this wonderful, lively city.

I arrived in Berlin after a long ride in an overnight train from Munich. In all honesty, I was freaked out by the overnight trains in Europe - Internet holds some scary stories I had a panic attack at while reading. Of course the journey was smooth and eventless, like most stories in the real world. The train was very comfortable and clean, although I was unconvinced with the cabin door system, or shall I say, lack of. My only security device was a beige suede curtain - and the bf downstairs. Even though I was very nervous, at one point I just fell alseep as exhausted. I woke up to a clear sky when we arrived in suburban Berlin.

Berlin by Anne Gauthier

Luckily, my hostel was located near Ostbanhauf. I could not go on with this report and not mention how amazing myhostel was - Singer 109. As I was travelling with 4 other people, we requested a dorm of 6 beds, like we did in every other hostel we stayed in. Not only were there no bunk beds to be seen in our room, there were 10 foot high windows, separate shower room and separate toilet room. Downstairs, we could find computers, living rooms and mostly - a bar. Not too partyesque, just casual enough to be a great place to hand around during the evening (there’s a Wii in the living room, enough said). Plus they serve absinth, which I drank for fun - and found disgusting. In the morning it’s a different story. The whole room is filled with sunlight and food - bagels, croissants, eggs, bacon, cereals, muffins, tons of fresh fruits, juices, etc. Well worth the €5 for a great start to a long day.

As I got into the city pretty early, I took some time to settle in my room and finally left at around 10. Direction: East Side Gallery. Very moving, although in pretty bad shape with numerous graffitis. Most people don’t bother about the fact that Monica was there in 1997, actually. The area is weird too, remote and silent. Almost eerie.

Berlin by Anne Gauthier

Finally hopped on the S-Bahn to Tiergarten station. The ride was enjoyable and pretty - it gives a nice perspective on the geography of the city. Walked inside the garden until I reached Siegessaule. Sat down for a while and noticed the bullet holes on the structure - was reminded of the darker side of Berlin, which cannot be forgotten for very long. Walked (a long time) to the Soviet memorial then to the Reichstag. Very beautiful building with free observatory in glass dome. Had cliche wurst in nearby biergarten - felt like a very touristy thing to do. Finally crossed the Brandenburger Tor. Very iconic. Saw exactly where the Berlin Wall once stood. Was somewhat bothered by the  questionnable DDR agents, stamping real passports with fake DDR stamps. Hum.

Made my way to the Jewish Memorial. Original architecture, to say the least. Once again, very moving. Not only by the acts themselves, but by the raw honesty of the Germans, accepting what they did and the effects it had, and not only regarding the Jewish community. Ended up in Potsdamer Platz, now a uber-modern square but once the most damaged part of Berlin - a great display of the new Germany. The Sony Center is very interesting and offers free wi-fi. Hanged around for a while and took the U-Bahn to my hostel, ate 2 pizza, had a 1 absynth shot, a raspberry beer and called it a night.

Brandenburger Tor by Anne Gauthier

Slightly worse weather the next day - was tempted to hang out in hostel all day since it was such a great place - with TV in room and everything! But managed to gather my things in my daypack and walked to the Fernsehturm. Nice views but felt like wasted money. Really liked the clock in Alexanderplatz. Strolled around and ended up in front of Berliner Dom, which left me speechless. Very few religious buildings can boast having such architectural prestige and actually make an impression like this Cathedral does.

Strolled all the way down Unter den Linden. Have to admit that WWII icons and tributes really are moving, no matter how many there are (yes, even the animal memorial statue in London). Bebelplatz is amongst the poignant memorials I’ve visited, because it’s one of the most important triggers of WWII - it’s the exact place where Humboldt University students, aka HitlerYouth, burned thousands of Jewish books that did not correspond to Nazi philosophy.

Still in that same state of mind, I walked towards Topography of Terrors, because I was truly interested in knowing more about the propaganda and repression methods used by the Nazi. Although the site was undergoing major refurbishement, the outside photographical exhibition really captivated me - it’s amazing how many pictures of this era are still not published worldwide, luckily for Berlin tourists.

Fernsehturm Tower by Anne Gauthier

Final destination of the trip: Checkpoint Charlie. An iconic place of the Cold War - too bad it’s gone overly touristic and tacky (again with these fake DDR agents). I wish I had more time to visit the Museum Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie and fully understand the climate that ruled the area for decades, a period that’s not so far away behind us.

One of the things I regret is not having (or making) enough time to visit or at least see Kaiser Wilhem Gedachtniskirche. Another grand icon of WWII but in a more subtle way (most people might say that a giant whole in a church’s spire isn’t so subtle) -  in a less processed kind of way, less polished.

Berlin is one of the few cities I regret not staying longer in. I feel like there is so much more to Berlin than just WWII and Cold War, so much more that I haven’t seen. I think the several difficulties, to say the least, the city had only made it more beautiful, more diverse - there are many different architectural styles and influences, a mix that cannot be found everywhere.

My conclusion: Berlin is a truly charming, cultural and lively place I would recommend anyone and can’t wait to go back to.

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