Berlin had always been on Mr ESLT’s bucket list so when we got the opportunity to visit, just after Christmas and for New Year, he (and I) were excited to see what this city had to offer. We booked a four day getaway with our best friends (‘The Friends’) and what a great time we had. We stayed at The Mondrian Suites Checkpoint Charlie, which is located near, as the name suggests, Checkpoint Charlie. Therefore, our first port of call on that cold, yet dry, December afternoon was the aforementioned. We quickly noticed that Berlin is a must for anyone and everyone with an interest in history. The city is basically an open air museum.
As it is the capital of Germany it is, as we expected, quite big but not too big that you can’t reach all the major sights on foot. Usually, when Mr ESLT and I take a city break we jump on a hop on, hop off bus to ensure that we see all the major sites and attractions. Not here, our legs carried us everywhere and in reality I think we saw so many more things than we would have done on the bus. I will be honest it was the festive period so it would have been rude not to have partaken in a few celebratory beverages. Therefore, we had many a late night propping up the pop up bars in the Gandermenmarkt Christmas Market, which may have meant we weren’t on top fighting form in the mornings.
Regardless of our tender heads we still made the most of our limited time in Berlin.
Map of the key sights that we visited
Checkpoint Charlie was a crossing point between east and west Germany during the cold war. It was given its name by the allied troops. Since the reunification of Germany it has been a tourist attraction. As our hotel was just round the corner we passed Checkpoint Charlie at least once every day we were in Berlin, sometimes twice. During the day it was crazy busy and as it is in the middle of a road there was constant horn blowing from impatient car drivers. Also, it was (almost) impossible for us to get photographs of the building without getting other people in the shot. Therefore, I recommend if you get the opportunity to come after dark. We walked past it one evening on the way back to our hotel and we were the only people in the street let alone near the checkpoint. meaning we had plenty of time and opportunity to look around and snap away.
As we arrived on the 30th December the Christmas Market was still in full swing in Gendarmenmarkt which meant plenty of sausage and glühwein for us (yum). However, even if the Christmas market had not been open I still think we would have made the trip to Gendarmenmarkt as there are so many beautiful buildings to see there. In the middle of the square stands a statue of the famous German poet Friedrich Schiller. Around the square you will see the Concert Hall (Konzerthaus), the French Church (Französischer Dom) and the German Church (Deutscher Dom). All of which were badly damaged during World War II yet have since been restored to their former glory. We didn’t have the opportunity to visit inside any of them however if they are as grand inside as they are outside then imagine it would be worth your time taking a look.
From the Gendarmenmarkt we passed Humboldt University of Berlin on the way to Brandenburg Gate. Berlin has a reputation of being one of the best places to spend New Year in the world and as we visited during the day of the 31st December we really didn’t have the opportunity to look around as much as we wanted. Stages were being set up therefore a lot of barriers were being put in place and people were already queuing for the evening’s festivities. Brandenburg gate is, in my opinion, an iconic landmark and the first thing that people think of when you mention Berlin. Again, it suffered considerable damage during World War II and it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that it was fully restored. It is fully pedestrianised and has, over the years been the site of many concerts and public gatherings including the legend that is ‘The Hoff” (David Hasselhoff) who has in some publications been credited with singlehandedly, through the power of his music, ending the Cold War.
A mere hop, step and a jump from the Brandenburg Gate and we found the Reichstag Building. I’ll be honest none of us really had a clue about the history of the building. A quick google search later we found out that it was built in the late 1800’s as a home for the German parliament of the German Empire and then its successor the Weimar Republic. During 1933 under Nazi rule the building burnt down and was damaged further during World War II but was not restored until the 1990’s and is now once again home to German parliament (Bundestag). We noticed a queue forming to go inside the Reichstag building and upon further investigation we found out that you can take a guided tour or visit the impressive glass dome which I imagine gives you great views over Berlin. Unfortunately, we were fighting a losing battle against the clock so did not have chance to go up there ourselves.
Berlin Wall Memorial
On New Years Day we decided that walking to the Berlin Wall Memorial would be the best way to clear our heads following the previous night’s celebrations (there was A LOT of beer, vodka and champagne consumed). The 40 minute walk was not made easy as we had to dodge all the debris left behind from fireworks and street revellers (seriously, it looked like a war zone!) I don’t know what I expected at the Wall Memorial but I promise you this, it is a sobering experience. Part of the Wall is still intact and as we approached from the east we instantly saw the graffiti, yet if you stick your head round the other side you will notice there is none. I was only 7 when the wall was brought down so the cold war was never on my radar and we never really leant about it at school. It’s hard to believe that less than 30 years ago there was a wall dividing this city and what’s harder to believe is that you could have been shot trying to get over it. The memorial itself stands with the wall as it’s backdrop, on the day we visited not one person spoke as they looked at the photographs and read the details of the deceased. It certainly reminded me how lucky I am to live a life with minimal borders or restrictions.
Following our visit to the Wall we were all feeling slightly more human again and as we were in Germany again it would be rude not to partake in a few steins! Therefore, we hotfooted it down to the Hofbrauhäus which granted is probably the least traditional, yet trying to be traditional, pub in Berlin – but hey when in Rome. The fact that it was New Years Day may have been the reason why the staff and service in general was slightly lacklustre, I imagine fatigue from the previous night’s full house had set in? Instead of jolly buxom Fräuleins in full traditional Bavarian outfits we were greeted (maybe too strong a word?) by staff wearing hoodies and trainers. Oh well we were primarily there for beer and food and based on that I cannot fault the Hofbrauhäus, it certainly delivered on both fronts. We devoured their offerings (including meatballs, fish dishes, currywurst, cheese and lashings of sour cream) like we had never seen food before, all washed down with their local beer. It was slightly lacking atmosphere but again I think that was because of the day that we visited. I imagine if there was an oompah band playing, this place would be amazing.
There are few places that I have visited that I would ever return to but Berlin is one of them. I feel that we didn’t see half of what this fascinating city has to offer. On my list I already have Charlottenburg Palace, Potsdamer Platz, Berlin Television Tower (I love tall buildings that offer great views of the city) and Berlin Cathedral (which we did see through the fog on our last evening but would like to explore more). Can you recommend some more ‘must do’s’ in Berlin?