Sunday, December 2

Berlin day 6-8

Alright, let's bring this thing home! Wishlist posts this week, and some holiday crafts.


We woke up early on day 6 for a walking tour of Berlin. Let me say that this tour was phenomenal- we did the "Famous Walk" with Insider Tours, which I truly can't recommend highly enough. Our guide, Tarek, was highly opinionated but also very intelligent, informed, and irreverent. Yes, you walk a lot, but we stopped in for coffees along the way and got a few standing history lessons as well. Much like our evening with Marcel, this ended up being so valuable because of the conversation. Let's just say we got much more than just the facts- peppered throughout were Tarek's interpretations, his family's stories, and the contributions of the other international tourists. He spoke quite a bit about the unique modern identity of the Germans, specifically those in Berlin: while they have fully taken responsibility for WWII (and how could they not?), they need to be allowed to move forward at SOME point. Tarek feels like that time is here, especially as they've done so much to commemorate their sins. Apparently Berlin has more memorials than any other city in the world, and you better believe 99% of them were to groups targeted by the Nazis. Sure, our nation has some black marks, but unlike Germany, most of the worst atrocities weren't in the last century. And wasn't it a version of the punishment exceeding the crime after WWI that led Germany to another world war? Food for thought.

We metroed out to Museum Island, where the tour began with what our guide called "the burnt wedding cake" (makes sense) and the Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden, but not what you think). We walked along Unter den Linden, the royal boulevard, to see some of the memorials and to get a view of the famous TV tower. We thought about grabbing lunch there, but it was a foggy-ish day- without the view, it isn't worth the price. Next was Bebelplatz, where the Nazi book-burning took place, before the halls where Marx studied and Einstein taught. The memorial to this even was ingenious- there is a glass floor above a white room filled with empty bookshelves, enough to hold every book burned. It's hard to imagine how much valuable, irreplaceable knowledge and literature was lost.

Big grins for dead Nazi leaders

I stood in the site of Hitler's bunker, above, where he ultimately committed suicide. Yes, that is a parking lot- they completely demolished the bunker and now behave as if it was never there. Other than a small informational sign, it's literally nothing. With great foresight, they didn't want it to become a place of worship for Nazi sympathizers or, heaven forbid, a resurgence. We all know they're out there.

What else? We visited the Gendarmenmarkt, where two identical cathedrals, one for the Germans and one for the French, face each other, thus eliminating any need for argument or comparisons. We walked through Checkpoint Charlie, which is apparently a big joke of inauthenticity, heard stories of daring escape and brutal demise at the "Death Strip", next to SS and gestapo headquarters.

In my opinion, the most haunting site we visited was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. Even seeing the photo below again gives me the creeps. You can read more about it here, but this memorial spans almost 5 acres with over 2,000 granite stones in a grid pattern. The ground slopes down and the height of the stones gets greater as you get to the heart of the memorial- to make matters worse, they begin to tilt inwards, so you truly feel suffocated and enclosed the further you go. Darker, colder, eerie. "The aim is to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason". Wow. 

Tarek shared some more history: apparently, many have protested that the site only commemorates the murdered Jews, so a memorial to those persecuted for sexual orientation was constructed across the street, around the corner from one for gypsies, down the block from one for women. And so on. He made some insightful comments on the ironies: in their insistence to be remembered individually, they sacrifice the universal victimization that linked them all together in the first place. How sad.

Don't let the smiles fool you, we're freezing.

The tour wrapped up by passing the Reichstag and Government Quarter to end at the Brandenburg Gate and Pariser Platz. The tour was supposed to be 4 hours long, but at this point it had been 6. Like I said, very, very well done tour with dedicated tour guides. Like with the canal tour in Copenhagen, it really gave you a good idea of the city layout and the sites you don't want to miss.

Day 6 brought a new hotel in the Mitte region, which is the heart of Berlin, actually just down the street from the Brandenburg Gate pictured above. We were staying at the Marriott with my points, and while it was nice to stay for almost-free, it was not a good experience overall. It's amusing to me that a bunch of $60-a-night-semi-hostels were more accommodating and comfortable than the very expensive Marriott. Anyway. I'll save my scathing thoughts for the letter we're sending them, but let me once more recommend the well-reviewed hotels we found through

DELICIOUS cheese, as if there's any other kind

We had to return to Charlottenburg to get our luggage anyway, so we decided to visit KaDeWe, pronounced Ka-day-vay, one of Europe's largest malls, to visit their famed gourmet food markets on the 6th floor. We were impressed, especially with the liquor- I brought home an amazing eggnog liquor, and D bought a 23 year old rum, our only real souvenirs. For dinner, we got a loaf of fresh bread, some veggies, sausage, and cheese, and ate picnic-style back at the hotel. We wanted to go light on dinner before clubbing in Berlin.

While on the tour, we chatted with Tarek about where/when/how to go out in Berlin, the party capital of the world. We told him the clubs we wanted to visit, where bouncers are "notoriously picky". He told D and M that they couldn't wear the shoes they had on, he told us to go early, he advised us to avoid speaking English, and said to be ready for an experience. "Berlin is all about the party- don't wear heels, don't be wasted, be there to dance". My kinda place. In the end, D donned a faux-hawk, M tried to look older, and I tried to stay sober as we explored the club scene in Prenzlauer Berg for a very memorable evening :) From dancing on stage to longggg lines to Robyn to new friends and Where's Waldo to burgers and naps during the 5am cab ride home, so I'll call it a great success.

party animal.


But, all great successes lead to rough mornings. Extreme hunger and need for fresh air drove us from the hotel at 11am, but we weren't good for much activity. We ate a nice breakfast (M tried Borscht!) and visited the Topography of Terror, an incredibly intensive, detailed account of Nazi power, from Hitler's burning of the Reichstag straight through to the end of WWII. After two hours, we'd done less than a quarter of the materials. Time to go.

We walked on to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, which was actually quite good, despite the warnings we heard regarding the actual checkpoint and gimmicks outside. The best part was the stories of those that escaped East Berlin and the inventive methods used, like refashioning cars, canoeing, hiding in suitcases, building one-person airplanes, and more. If the real artifacts of escape couldn't be found, the museum recreated them. It really was cool.

We went to dinner at Kartoffelkeller, a potato-heavy restaurant in Mitte. It was very inexpensive, and we had an additional 25% off with the transportation card we all used. It was a nice meal and a chance to warm up before our final tour of the day. We had a 10pm appointment at the Reichstag, the building that houses the German parliament of the same name. The building was beautiful when lit up at night, despite the soft rain.

The tour only includes the dome at the top of the building, and is one of the best political tours I've experienced. As you can see below, the dome is huge. You can walk around the mirrored console in the middle and read the history of the building and the German parliament first; after, put on your headset and start the lengthy climb around the dome. The recording is quite good, and provides more information on German politics while also describing the buildings you can see from the windows. It was such a unique way of doing a boring old governmental building tour, and the views were impressive.

Unfortunately, by the time we were done it was past midnight, and we all had early flights on Sunday. We walked back to the hotel, packed, and snuggled up for our last night in Berlin.

Phew! I'm done. I truly hope you enjoyed hearing about our trip- it was too wonderful not to share. Feel free to shoot me an email (contacts page above) for more details- I have business cards for every place we visited, even the coffee shops, and plenty more ideas for things to see/do. I can't wait to return to Berlin, preferably in the spring...wouldn't mind leaving my Michelin-man coat home for once.

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