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Three Days in Berlin

(November 24 - 27, 2021)

After numerous recommendations, we decided to spend Thanksgiving this year in Berlin! The city has so many contrasting characteristics and yet they come together in a spectacular and intriguing way. Most of Berlin was flattened by bombs during WWII, so today's city and buildings are new and modern; however Berlin's infamous history still haunts the streets and monuments. The people living there today are from all over the world and there is a lot of young, vibrant energy; in contrast to the inhumane horrors that took place there as recently as 35 years ago (not to mention during the 1940s). In short, our trip was educational and emotional while also fun and exciting!

We arrived late afternoon on Wednesday and headed straight to our hotel to drop off bags. The public transportation (The U-Bahn) in Berlin is impressive to say the least. We were able to ride directly from the airport to Savigny Square, and walk a short block to the Sir Savigny Hotel, a Marriott boutique hotel with a very hip vibe. After dropping off our stuff and changing for dinner we headed to the Welhnachtszauber Gendarmenmarkt, aka Berlin's main Christmas market! As an ardent fan of European Christmas markets, this one did not disappoint! It takes place in the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt square which is framed by the Deutscher Dom (German Church), the Franzosischer Dom (French Church), and the Konzerthaus Berlin (Concert Hall). For the Christmas market, the square is filled with traditional alpine-style wooden stalls and white tents topped with large twinkling stars. There are trees with hundreds of baubles, exuding a magical and sophisticated jovial scene! We indulged in gluwein and a taste of spaetzle as different entertainers performed on a central stage. From the market we headed to a late dinner at what I can only describe as a speakeasy (it is called Cookies Cream).

Just getting to Cookies Cream is a “hip” adventure to say the least. This Michelin star restaurant is located down a seemingly abandoned alleyway, past dumpsters and backdoors, behind an unassuming locked door with a simple doorbell! The interior is trendy and modern and the food delicious. They serve a multi-course all vegetarian tasting menu that we paired with a funky fun natural wine the waitress recommended. Satiated but exhausted we headed home after dinner and crashed.

(FYI The photo on the right shows the "entrance" to Michelin star restaurant Cookies Cream 😂)

Thursday morning we got up and boarded the U-Bahn to the Hauptbahnhoft (central station). In the station Nick obviously had to try the Berlin “local specialty” called currywurst at Curry 36. Currywurst is their typical fast food and basically a boiled sausage sliced into pieces and smothered in ketchup with curry powder sprinkled on top.

When we left the station we walked over to the Reichstag Building (which houses the Bundestag, a house in the German parliament). Here we started the Rick Steves audio walking tour of Berlin. This was really nice as we got to hear a lot of history with little planning on our part.

The tour guided us past the Ebestrasse: Wall Memorial and under The Brandenburg Gate through Pariser Plaza to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial is in the heart of Berlin and has 2711 concrete slabs of different heights but all the same horizontal dimensions and eerily reminiscent of coffins. Large and in a prominent place in the city, the memorial is very imposing. The city describes it as a place for contemplation, which it definitely allows for, as we meandered through a maze of cement on a frigid day. We did not go but there is an information center underneath the memorial with the names of individual victims, photographs, diaries and farewell letters.

From here we walked down Unter de Linden, the prominent street is filled with linden trees and aptly named “under the linden.” The subway line also goes under this street and we popped down to get warm and see some of the old subway stations. With so much of Berlin being new construction it’s odd going down to see a subways station that has been stuck in a time warp and still looks the way it did before the war. The subway in Berlin has a really fascinating history as some of the stations and certain lines were closed for years when Berlin was divided; West Berliners were allowed to ride the line while it was not open nor allowed in much of East Berlin - we didn’t see any but it’s worth googling the Berlin Ghost Stations.

It was a very cold day so by the time we reached Museumsinsel (Museum Island) we were ready to press pause on the walking tour and duck inside. Museum Island sits on the Spree river and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a complex of five prestigious museums. We entered the Alte Nationalgaleri (Old National Gallery) which was full of Neoclassical and Romantic art, the building itself is also very striking with grand staircases, high painted ceilings, and beautiful views of museum island and the city outside.

Those of you who know Nick won’t be surprised to hear that our next sight was a “must-see” on his list : The Tempelhofer Feld Airport Park!

This is an old military parade ground turned Nazi airstrip in Berlin that has since been converted into a public park. If you aren't a general airport, airplane, air history fan (LOL) I would recommend going on a sunny warm day as it was much too cold and windy for me to really enjoy. However, I love Nick and Nick loves airplane so it was definitely a must see in my book too!

From here we jumped on some rental scooters that were hanging around and headed to dinner.

For our “Thanksgiving Dinner” we dined at Fes Turkish BBQ. I didn’t know this until getting there but there is a huge Turkish community in Berlin. After WWII there was a huge labor shortage, so they recruited so-called guest workers from Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people seized the opportunity and made their way to Germany- now ~60 years later there are about 3 million people with Turkish roots that live in Germany. Thus, there is fantastic Turkish food in Berlin! Fes serves Turkish BBQ where you cook the meat at a cooktop on your table, fun and delicious! After dinner we met a friend of a friend at Nathanja & Heinrich Café / Bar Neukölln for drinks. The vibe was really hip yet cozy, artistic and dark.

Friday morning we headed back to Museum Island to pick back up and finish the Rick Steves walking tour. We then headed over to the East Side Gallery. Here, a section of the Berlin Wall still stands and was turned into an open air museum in 1990 with sections painted by over a hundred different artists. The photo of me at the top of this post features undoubtedly the most famous mural, which is colloquially known as “The Kiss.” What I learned (aka rapidly googled) when we got there was that this depicted a real event that took place! It was a done as a sort of symbolic/ ritualistic act by the Soviet leader and the president of the German Democratic Republic (East Berlin) to demonstrate to the public their military alliance (😬). The real title of the mural is suitably named “My God, Help Me Survive This Deadly Love!”

After the East Side Gallery we took the subway to Bernauer Strasse to see the Berlin Wall Memorial and Museum. The museum is outdoors and indoors, is free to visit, and is filled with lots of detailed information yet easy to digest. It describes how the wall basically sprung up overnight, and what life was like for the people trapped inside the former East German State. It is also well worth the climb up the platform above the museum to see the last remaining section of the wall known as the “Death Strip." This is a barren, sandy no-man’s land between the inner and outer walls - which were topped with barbed wire and guarded with dogs, watchtowers, gun emplacements, and mines.

We really wanted to and tried to go to the Pergamon Museum to see the Pergamon Alter and Ishtar Gate from Babylon but tickets were limited due to covid and they were unfortunately sold out. This is definitely a must do if we get the chance to go back! We were a bit bummed out but then on our way to dinner we stumbled upon another Christmas Market, this one was a lot smaller and more quaint than the main ones, and felt really local. It almost reminded me of a neighborhood block party haha - I loved it. They had a yurt set up you could have drinks in and an old fashioned puppet show with a wooden castle set! We had dinner at Babel, a delicious Lebanese restaurant!

Saturday morning we woke up and went to see the infamous Checkpoint Charlie, the former border-crossing between East and West Berlin. Honestly, the sight has become rather cheesy, selling tourist photos and tchotchkes but worth seeing for a couple of minutes. (Especially when traveling with a James Bond fan ... evidently it is featured in multiple films 😂 ). From here we walked around the corner to the Topography of Terror Museum.

This is a must see in Berlin, it explains a very painful subject matter in German history in as respectful a manner as possible given the hideous facts recounted. The Topography of Terror Museum chronicles the rise of the Nazi political party in Germany and the different acts of terror that were committed within Germany and all around Europe. The museum and current building is located at the same location that once held the headquarters for the Gestapo and the Third Reich main security office (SS). (The original building was bombed by the end of WWII, but the horrific history that took place casts a heavy shadow felt here forever.) The exhibit is laid out in chronological order from 1933 to 1945 and consists of a maze of photos, propaganda, personal letters, and documents recounting the terror inflicted but the Nazis. As you walk through the museum, you will see how the Nazis worked their way over time and over the landscape of Europe committing mass genocide and murder under the name "ethnic cleansing."

What is so interesting about this museum is how much direct (and unfiltered) focus is put on the perpetrators. There are numerous museums and memorials for the many victims of the Holocaust but it is (understandably) very difficult to figure out how to share the perpetrators' history without commemorating them or their ideals. While horrible things are often and understandably labeled as something is "too painful" (to deal with, remember, discuss etc.) it is a crucial part of history. It is impossible to leave this exhibit without truly feeling the pain and terror of this dark history.

Nick needed a drink and I was completely nauseous and shaken from the museum so I let him pick our last meal. We headed over to the Augustiner for ironically our only traditional German meal in Berlin.

Tips (we learned the hard way)

  • Buy museum tickets in advance! (Pergamon Museum)

  • Strict Airport security - toiletries must be in ziplock and will be diligently checked!

Recommendations we didn't make to...

- Zum Krokodil (drinks)

- Geist im Glas (drinks)

- Lode & Stijn (dinner)

- Charlotte 1 (dinner)

- Hans and Gluck (burgers)

-[(November 24 - 27, 2021)1) art)

- Street Art Walking Tour

- Pergamon Museum!!!!!


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