Saturday, 24 August 2013

Ich bin ein Berliner

So, apologies for the unexpected hiatus. I got back from Berlin on Monday night and spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday in a kind of exhausted daze, and then I was ill on Thursday so I've pretty much spent the last few days recovering. But here are my photos from Berlin! I apologise for a massively photo-heavy post- there are a lot of photos, predominantly of buildings and food. Anyway, I thought I'd start off with my most Berlin-appropriate photo- me, eating a pretzel, at the Brandenburg gate.
Our trip to Berlin started bright and early at 3am on Friday morning. Yep, 3am. Our flight was at 7am, which seemed insane at the time, but meant we landed at 10am German time, with pretty much a full day to explore the city. Now our first stop was our accommodation  which I definitely have to mention. If you read about my trip to Amsterdam for my birthday you'll know we found our hostel through Air BNB, which was absolutely great and I really loved our little pod. We got really stung for flights with our trip to Berlin because by the time we'd checked with our employers that we could have the days off we wanted, the flights had gone up, massively, so we decided to scrimp a bit on accommodation, and went through Air BNB again. This time we actually rented a room. Now, we joked a bit about the prospect of getting murdered, but as we ascended those stairs to Christian's apartment on Friday morning, we did consider it as a more of a realistic turn of events. While he was absolutely lovely and attentive (he put Haribo on our pillows!), I don't think I would recommend staying in a strangers room again, especially not as two females. We only found out afterwards that apparently you can rent a full house with Air BNB and not just a room, and I'd definitely give that a try, but staying in a strangers apartment is just a little bit, well, weird. The good part was that we had a great location (not far from Alexanderplatz and literally round the corner from a U Bahn station) and because we didn't want to spend much time in our apartment, we got out and about a did a lot much than we might have done. Of course, being me, our first stop was food.
I checked online before we left and found out there was a walking tour with New Berlin at 2pm, so we decided to aim for that. I did the New Amsterdam tour in, well, Amsterdam, and it was a brilliant way of getting your bearings and the best way to start a trip, so for me it was really important to do this early on. We stopped for pitta breads of falafal (me) and halloumi (Shaunagh) and of course, ice cream, before heading down to the tour.
First of all, I cannot rave enough about Sandeman tours, the Berlin one in particular. They last a good few hours, the tour guides are always excellent, and they are free except for a tip, and you decided how much you think the tour was worth. Plus with it all being on foot, you get a real opportunity to explore the city, get your bearings and get a real taste of the history and culture. Obviously, Berlin is a fascinating city for culture and history and I was absolutely enthralled by the walking tour. Our guide, Amy, was amazing and knew absolutely everything there was to know. Here are some of the sights from our tour.

The Hollocaust Memorial
Amy asked us to walk through the memorial and then discuss how it made us feel, what it made us think about, and what we thought it meant. I think it's a haunting, beautiful memorial, but very necessary memorial (we visited the museum underneath on the Sunday, which I'll talk more about later).
Lufftwaffe HQ
What remains of the Berlin Wall
Bebelplatz, site of the book burnings in 1933
TV Tower

Neue Wache
Berlin Cathedral
Statue of a man punching a horse

After the tour, we followed the rest of the group to a nearby pub that had over 100 kinds of beer. Honest truth? I don't like beer, but I decided hey, when in Rome, right? (I didn't really enjoy it).
On the same theme, we decided to go for a German meal, and on the advice of Trip Advisor reviews found a restaurant not far from where we lived. Another honest truth? Neither of us really enjoyed the food, both finding it a little bland. As a pescatarian, I kinda expected to find the food disappointing so it wasn't too much of a shock! But we wanted to experience at least one proper German meal so I'm glad we did.
Onto Saturday! During Friday's tour we bought tickets to a tour of Sashenhausen Concentration Camp so after filling up on bagels and getting lost and ending up getting a taxi, this was where we went.
Sashenhausen wasn't a death camp, but a labour camp, where people were quite literally worked to death. Around 35,000 people are believed to have died here. The sign on the gate when you walk in says "work will set you free." 

The day we spent at Sachenhausen was incredibly sad, incredibly moving and gave us a lot to think about. It wasn't a particularly "enjoyable" day, but I am so glad we went and it was one of my favourite things we did, purely because of all the history, despite how awful it was. Our guide, Stephanie, is writing a book on German history over the last 100 years so she was a fantastic guide who could answer all the additional questions our groups of 40+ had. I can't begin to tell you all the stories she told us and the horrors that went on here, but I will say if you are ever in Berlin, don't leave before going here. I would also really recommend the New Berlin tour again. It's 15 Euros plus a 7 Euro all-day train ticket, but it takes the worry out of sorting out transport, plus Stephanie said the audio guide there had 7 hours of material, so if you don't know exactly what you want to see, you could waste a lot of time. Anyway, here are some photos I took. I'm not going to go into the details of what everything meant and represented, mainly because I'm scared to get it wrong and partly because it's something you really have to experience yourself, but here are some of the things we saw.
Neutral zone
If you crossed over the line to the neutral zone, for example if you were trying to escape, you would be shot dead by one of the guards watching from the towers.
The site of public executions
Which were done in front of all the prisoners during roll call. They had to walk past and look the body in the eyes.
For a long time, Sachenhausen became a piece of communist propoganda and only remembered the communists killed there. This pillar shows 18 triangles to represent 18 nationalities of people killed here. It was really more like 40.
Station Z
This actually became a gas chamber at Sachenhausen. Many prisoners were also shot here. It was designed to kill people are quickly and clinically as possible.

So, after we headed back to the centre of Berlin, we decided that we needed a bit of a break and grabbed some frozen yoghurt. We spent the rest of the evening exploring the Alexa mall (really not great) to kill some time before dinner. Our original plan was to go on a night out on Saturday night, then we decided to give the New Berlin Pub Crawl a go, and then we decided to just go for cocktails. We asked Stephanie for recommendations and she told us about a great little Mexican place called Santa Maria that did great food and cocktails.
Now Santa Maria did do cocktails, but it was definitely not a place to go out for cocktails! It was an awesome, tiny little Mexican place, where we were crammed in so tight we were asked to share a tiny table! But the service was great, the portions were huge and the food was good!
So instead of going out on a wild night out, we had a big, yummy, meal and headed back to Christian's absolutely exhausted, ready for another long day on Sunday!
We had been advised to book a visit to the Reichstag in advance, so I booked us in for 9.30am Sunday morning. We had a walk around and did the audio tour, getting a great view of Berlin too. After that we headed back to the Holocaust memorial (grabbing pretzels on the way!) and did the audio tour there, which was absolutely brilliant, but again, really sad. Then we gave the Topography of Terror a bit of a walk around, until we were well and truly history-ed out!
Now with some time to kill (we'd pretty much done everything we wanted to do for the entire weekend by this point!) we decided to grab some food. Now I'd heard amazing things about Burgermeister, a burger joint built in what was once a toilet, and even though I don't eat meat, I wanted Shaunagh to have the experience, so we headed down there. We ordered our food and waited a good 40 minutes for it to arrive. The veggie option was tofu which I'm not a huge fan of, but I enjoyed the chips and the curry mango dip! Plus Shaunagh enjoyed her burger so it was totally worth it!
Then again, some more time to kill. Our plan was to go to the full-size Barbie house we had heard about (ahem) and seen out of the window of our train lots of times on our way past Alexanderplatz, so we headed down there to see if we could find it. Long story short, we walked around the area for a good hour, during which it started raining, and could not find the Barbie house for the life of us! We didn't want to go back to our apartment and we were definitely not ready for dinner after those big burgers, so we decided to go to the cinema. The cinema at Alexanderplatz only showed German films, but the ticket guy advised us that at Potsdamer Platz there was an entirely English cinema. We decided we didn't mind what we went to see so long as it got us out of the rain for a few hours! We ended up seeing The Bling Ring, which was actually pretty good!
Monday was our last day, but our flight wasn't until 7pm, so in true Charlotte Crowley last day of holiday fashion (clue, I did this in Amsterdam), we went to the zoo. After bagels and brownies, of course.
The zoo was an excellent way to kill some time before our flight (although we still got to the airport 4 hours in advance and ended up buying books to keep us busy!) but the only disappointment was a) it was raining (thankfully we grabbed our rain jackets before putting our suitcases in a locker!) and b) we spent a good half of the time there trying to find the panda (hi, I'm Charlotte and I like pandas), following all the signs on the boards around the park. Only to find an empty enclosure and a sign that insinuated the bear was dead. Yep, the panda died in August last year. Absolutely gutted. But here are some animals we did see!
All in all, definitely not a relaxing holiday (I definitely came back more tired than when I left!) but an absolutely awesome trip and a city I would without a doubt recommend! I have come back well and truly fascinated with German history (I bought The Book Thief at the airport and read it in 3 days) and I've learned so much.
Thank you for all your brilliant recommendations by the way- I think I need another trip there to get through all of them!

Charlotte x

PS. Sorry this was so long!

5 comments:

  1. Can you believe I've never been to Berlin?! It looks great! Although there doesn't seem too much to see or do there? And did you really not like the whole 'staying in someone else's apartment thing? When I went to Rome in July we also stayed in someone's apartment and it wasn't weird at all, they were super friendly and welcoming, we actually really enjoyed it as it's far more personal than a hotel room and you get to know new people ;)


    I don't get the '100 kinds of beer' hype either. To me it all tastes the same haha :D

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  2. Your photos are making me want to visit Germany! I miss Europe!

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  3. Looks like such a fabulous trip Charlotte. Such sad but meaningful history. My fave part is the statue of a man punching a horse! I hope to be able to book up some European capital trips soon - Berlin is on my list, next to Barcelona! :)

    I've heard such mixed things about AirBnB - you're definitely braver than I am!

    Rosie x | Every Word Handwritten

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  4. Very interesting set of photos! My sister went to Berlin earlier this year on a school trip and so some seem very familiar. I'm glad your AirBnB rooms turned out okay because I read a story earlier this evening which involved a very creepy host and a drugged guest, eeh. I'd definitely be worried to share someone's apartment with them! Also, The Book Thief = one of my favourite books of all time. So different to any others I've read.


    K.

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  5. great photos and great journey. the food seem so delicious. have fun.

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