Visiting the Neighbors – Berlin, Germany

Berlin in a Blink 

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The famous television tower as seen from Alexanderplatz.

In May of 2016, we took a couple of days in the German capital. Outside of the transportation days, we had about 48 hours to poke around and explore. It was my first time to Berlin and I was pleasantly surprised by how much ground one can cover there in two days.

Before I get into the meat of this entry, some more seasoned visitors of Berlin might well ask what I think I can accomplish writing a piece on the city based on only 48 hours there. It’s a fair question to be sure.

Quite simply, I’m writing this piece to reflect an example of what can be done in one of the world’s great cities within a limited time frame. No more and no less.

I’ll be dispensing with the usual historical notes I make about places I write about and get right to the business of seeing the place.

So, let’s go!

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Looking at the lush greenery of Tiergarten park from the Spree river.

Out and About, Bright and Early

Our explorations began at 09:00 on a Monday morning with a trip to the Berliner Fernsehturm, the city’s landmark television tower. From here, one can get a good view around Berlin’s landscape from above. We bought our tickets to this attraction online before our trip and I would recommend that anyone planning to visit it do the same. The queue built quickly and security was tight. Preference is given to advance ticket holders.

After the tower, we took an hour long guided sightseeing cruise on the Spree river, which runs through the centre of the city. The cruise gave us some unique perspectives on historical sights that line the river and saved our legs for the self guided walking tour of the centre to follow in the afternoon.

We started out walking tour in the Lustgarten park on Museum Island, where many of the city’s most famous museums are located. From there, we eventually found ourselves on the Gendarmenmarkt, a square dating to the 18th century with some lovely architecture to take in.

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Gendarmenmarkt

From Gendarmenmarkt, we made our way to Pariser Platz and the iconic Brandenburg Gate which stands there.

Right in the same area as the gate, you’ll find the Reichstag; the German parliament building with its distinctive glass dome on the roof.

While in the area of the Reichstag, we took the opportunity to walk to the bank of the Spree river and take a look at some of the sights we saw from the boat cruise in the morning.

From there, we worked our way back past the gate and in the direction of the Holocaust memorial, occaisionally looking down to see sections of a line of bricks embedded in the road to mark the former course of the Berlin Wall. This line of bricks exists where sections of the wall were pulled down to preserve continuity with those sections that were preserved.

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Where a wall once stood

Our afternoon walking tour ended at Checkpoint Charlie, the famous spot along the Berlin Wall where all things moving east to west and vice versa passed through for approval.

I have to admit that I was not all that impressed with Checkpoint Charlie. There’s no historical context given for it at the site and it’s attended by actors doing a less than convincing job of playing soldiers. For two Euros, one can have their picture taken with the “soldiers”.

It sits on a small island in the middle of a busy street and you have to keep an eye out for cars moving in both directions when you stand on that island.

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The Military Historic Museum at Berlin-Gatow

Going Off Centre

On the second day of our visit, I had Berlin to myself as my girlfriend rested at the hotel saving up energy for a concert she was attending in the evening.

My own personal itinerary included a visit to German military’s aviation museum at the former Berlin-Gatow airfield in the city’s Kladow district.

For the aviation enthusiast, or those with a general interest in military history, this museum is a very worthwhile trip out of the centre. It gives a very full picture of German military aviation history from the First World War up to the present. Beyond the many aircraft on display, there are exhibits on uniform developments, organisational comparisions between the Former East and West Germany as well as partnership between Germany and America for training German fighter pilots in America through the Cold War and beyond.

The Berlin public transportation system really impressed me on my trip out to the museum. The trip took about an hour, but there was very little waiting between connections. Everything was very smooth and efficient.

After spending a few hours at the aviation museum, I returned to the centre for lunch and a short rest. Our hotel was walking distance from the Mauermuseum, a museum dedicated to the Berlin Wall and located close to Checkpoint Charlie.

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A view inside the Mauermuseum

The Mauermuseum is a quite interesting place despite the fact that it is in rather cramped quarters.

Mixed with many photos, text and audio-visual presentations detailing the people and political moves that led to both the rise and fall of the wall, there are exhibits showing the many imaginitive and resourceful devices created by people trying to escape from east to west.

Homebuilt flying machines and modified automobiles share space with artwork inspired by various eras of the wall’s existence.

I’ll Be Returning

Just as I decided to forgo my usual historical notations in this entry, I will also forgo my usual links for further reading. There’s no shortage of information out there on Berlin and with as cosmopolitan is the city is, it’s best that you seek out information about it specialised to your own tastes.

For myself, I will definitely make return trips to Berlin to see other areas of the city.

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