Our trip to Germany started off with a visit to Berlin. We had 3 days there, and probably could have used another day or two to get an even better feel for the city.
Being that it was after the peak summer travel season I expected the city to be relatively quiet but there seemed to be tourists everywhere. Since Berlin is such a big city, with its sites spread out, this wasn’t an issue at all.
Getting around was very easy. We took the trains all over the city and also did a ton of walking. The trains are pretty simple to figure out (especially when we had wifi to use googlemaps) but buying a train ticket could be a real pain. Machines, which were cash only would not accept our brand new Euros a couple of times. Luckily we were able to buy train tickets at second hotel we stayed in- Radisson Blu Berlin, right from the concierge desk.
Here are some of the things we did:
- Visited various Berlin Wall segments/ sites
- Brandenburg Gate
- Took in some views from the top of the Reichstag
- Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
- Pergamon Museum
- Jewish Museum Berlin
- DDR Museum
A few years back I had the opportunity to visit the Berlin Wall while in Las Vegas but this was my first visit to see it in its original home.
It seemed like all over the city remnants of the wall still exist, but we found it most interesting to see in its original places where it divided the city for close to 30 years. East Germany built the wall to prevent its citizens from leaving for the West. In places where the wall was knocked down there are markers in the sidewalks and streets to show where it ran.
It was amazing to see how the wall, once a symbol of oppression is now (in most parts) works of art.
We visited various Berlin Wall sites. Here were the two most important:
- The Eastside Gallery is a very long section with many amazing murals. (I plan to do a separate post about it.) Some sections are missing but it was one of the longest sections still standing that we saw. In one area a controversial construction projection is currently being worked on. Many fear that it will destroy sections of the Eastside Gallery.
- The Gedenkstatte- Berlin Wall Memorial was the most interesting part of the wall that we visited. It’s an open-air memorial including a “complete section of the 4th generation wall, both inside and outside”. We got a great view of it from the Documentation Center viewing platform across the street (photo below). Besides the complete section, there are other small structures to see with information explaining how the various elements of the wall worked to keep people from leaving for the West.
The Brandenburg Gate is an iconic site and must see on a visit to Berlin. It’s probably one of the most famous landmarks in Germany. I didn’t know much about the gate before reading into it, but have seen it in photos many times. It was possibly the busiest site that we stopped at in Berlin.
I read that the Brandenburg Gate epitomizes German reunification and is a photographic backdrop for festivals, concerts and celebrations. It was interesting to see the U.S. embassy to the left, right before going through the gate.
The Reichstag, home to Germany’s Parliament is a building with a lot of history. However, its history was not the reason for our visit- the views were. The glass dome on the roof was added in a “reunification makeover” by Lord Norman Foster.
When heading over to the Reichstag I was a bit worried that we would get stuck on lines since we did not make reservations. According to Lonely Planet, reservations are mandatory. When we got to the line, everyone did have reservations and we were sent across the street to another area to wait on line for tickets.
After waiting not more than a minute, one of the friendly representatives approached us and told us to follow her. Thanks to Lucas and his stroller, we got a free pass so to speak. We skipped the huge line and went right through security quicker than those with reservations!
Once you make it to the top dome, a free audio guide is given to you which is automatically activated as you make your way up the spiral ramp, up to the top. As you walk, you get to see various landmarks along the way as long as the inner areas of the Reichstag.
It was hard to follow the audio guide while walking around with Lucas but the building was amazing to see from the outside and at the top.
If you plan to visit Berlin, a visit to the Reichstag is a must (and it’s free).
Reminder: If you’re traveling to Berlin with kids, make sure to bring the stroller and you’ll get into the Reichstag ahead of the lines. If not, be sure to make reservations in advance.
The Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) was an interesting site to see but it confused me quite a bit. I didn’t quite understand what the uneven concrete columns, all 2,711 of them represented. The memorial is like a maze and can be entered from any side. There were lots of people visiting the site, some sitting and relaxing on the lower columns. Underneath the memorial is an information center which is pretty much like a museum. There was a line which we got to bypass once again since we had to take an elevator to get in (due to having a stroller).
I was hoping to gain some insight as to what the columns represented but when I asked about it all I was told was that the meaning of the memorial was meant to be open to your own interpretation…
The Pergamon Museum is located on Museum Island and the only one that we visited there. It was conveniently located a quick walk from our second hotel, Radisson Blu Berlin. According to Lonely Planet it is Berlin’s top tourist attraction.
The collection was amazing with parts of ancient buildings, gates, homes and sculptures moved here from Greece, Rome, Babylon and the Middle East. Some sections had walls with ancient tiles hanging on them.
While the museum is an incredible site, it made me wonder if these artifacts were legally brought to Germany or if they were taken many years back.Kim and I have been to Jewish museums all over the world but we still had to pay a visit to the Jewish Museum Berlin. We had read that it was one of the largest Jewish museums in Europe, I’d guess it might be one of the largest in the world.
The building itself was very interesting. You enter through an old building dating back to 1735 but the museum itself is in a new building designed by architect Daniel Liebskind, which is connected underground. The new museum starts out with zigzagging corridors, each with a different theme. The walls are lined with various information, photos and artifacts. Find out more about the architecture here.
The permanent exhibit showcases Two Millenia of German Jewish History. Much of what we saw and read was similar to the information from other Jewish museums around the world but it was interesting to learn what things were like in Germany. One of my favorite parts of the museum was watching a video about a couple that survived the Holocaust that now have grandchildren growing up in Germany. They are getting to see the Jewish community, while small, continue to exist (and even grow a bit) in the country they grew up in and one that almost killed them.
The DDR Museum was one of the most fun and interesting museums that we’ve been to due to it being a hands-on, interactive experience. The museum paints a great picture of what it was like to live in East Germany during it’s existence during the Cold War from 1949- 1990. The displays featured East German-made products like the Trabant (car), children’s toys, food products, clothes and more. There is also a replica East German home showing what a typical kitchen and living room was like. We learned that life wasn’t easy, goods were scarce and you never knew who was listening to your conversation, due to a variety of bugging and spying equipment on display.
A visit to the DDR Museum is a must when visiting Berlin.
That’s all for my recap from our visit to Berlin. We had a very nice time and really liked the city. Berlin is filled with lots of museums but many sites were also outside, pretty much open-air museums. I’d definitely recommend visiting the city if you get a chance.