Today I tell you about our last stop in Germany, the capital city, and how we spent our precious 48 hours in Berlin.
Between Munich and Berlin, we spent time with family and friends for Christmas in a small town about an hour away from Cologne. It was very relaxing and by far our laziest days of the trip!
One of our most active days, however, was our first day in Berlin. We arrived in Berlin late at night, which meant that we would wake up with two full days to explore the city.
Day 1: Exploring Berlin
To start off our brief time in Berlin, we went on a walking tour. Shocking! I know! I will never stop talking about walking tours…They are all excellent and this one was no exception. How else will you zip through a city like an expert when you just arrived?
The Sandeman’s Free Walking tour begins by the iconic Brandenburg Gate, so you can tick that off the bucket list right away! conveniently there is a Starbucks right there. I know what you’re thinking: Starbucks? Why not something more cultural? Well, let me tell you, I never have been to a Starbucks with the Pretzelsneck sandwich, except in Germany. It was AMAZING! No regrets. When I am back in Germany, one day, I will probably have another.
Our tour guide, Rob S, was fantastic. Berlin is a very neat and interesting history. It has such stark contrasting moments of history, and Rob animatedly told us all: the good, the bad and the ugly. Naturally, when one hears German History, they think: WW2.
There is, however, a lot more to German history. It was great to learn about it and see a not-so-familiar side of Berlin and German history. The tour takes you through thought-provoking memorials to remember the mistakes of the past, such as the Holocaust Memorial. We also walked through beautiful landmarks like Bebelplatz in the Mitte District, the German and French cathedrals of Gendarmenmarkt, and the University where Einstein taught. Stereotypically, Germans are known for mechanics and some technological advances, but so much of its contribution to the arts and culture was new to me!
Other highlights and stops of the tour include:
- Site of Hitler’s bunker
- Checkpoint Charlie
- The Berlin Wall
- Pariser Platz
- Luftwaffe HQ
- TV Tower
- Book burning memorial
Each one tells another story from the pages of history. It really is mind-blowing!
The tour stopped at the Einstein Cafe, which is right across from one of the last remaining pieces of the Berlin Wall. It was a bit emotional for me to see it, knowing my grandfather had walked along this wall too (from the Soviet side).
During this break, Wayne and I decided to purchase tickets to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp tour for the next day. Unfortunately, they did not have the early 9 am tour available, which meant a large chunk of the middle of our day would be dedicated to this trip. While we were going to miss a chance to go to the Reichstag building (which you have to book for a day in advance), we decided it would be worth it.
We finished our two and a half hour tour by the Berliner Dom, so we decided to check it out and go all the way to the top. It is a very lovely building both on the outside and the interior.
I personally love to climb up old building with tiny stairs. It feels like a mini adventure with a great reward at the end! All that walking and climbing led to hungry stomachs…
So we walked back to the Christmas market in Gendarmenmarkt Square for a typical German meal. This Market is a bit on the posh side, so you actually have to pay a euro to get in! Not exactly breaking the bank, so its worth a pop in. We went into a relatively simple restaurant, but we saw some with chandeliers! Tres fancy!
After supper and some amazing crepes, we then walked back to the West side of the Berlin Wall, by cafe Einstein, because our tour only saw it from across the street. We walked along the wall, meditating on the history we learned earlier that day. I wish we had time to see the Eastern Wall that is covered in art, because the West side is for the most part untouched.
I’m afraid we didn’t do anything terribly exciting, except go see Star Wars Episode 5! We were travelling about and saw an opportunity to watch it before people could start spoiling it for us. Sometimes, when travelling, I like to take a break from being “a tourist” and enjoy doing every day ordinary things that the locals are doing. For a moment it almost feels like you live in the city!
Day 2: Sachsenhausen Tour
I have to say, it is a bit difficult to write about our time at Sachsenhausen without the emotions experienced that day returning.
We knew we were in for a hard day, and you should expect nothing less. The stories and history behind this place is from one of humanity’s darkest times. While Sachsenhausen was, for the most part, a labour camp rather than an extermination camp, it is still absolutely dreadful the things the prisoners were subjected to during the Nazi reign.
When you walk through the gates, you will see this sign, which translates to “Work will set you free”. The dark irony of this statement was that the only freedom most of these prisoners would ever find was in death.
Our tour guide Franziska did a very good job of sharing information about all the kinds of prisoners that came through the camp. What their days were like and how they were treated. It was also really important to her that she did not reveal much of the grotesque and horrifying details. The point of the tour is to share the stories of the prisoners and understand the historical context in which it happened, and how it can happen again if we are not careful.
The tour is three hours long. It can include visiting the museums on site, usually of preserved or reconstructed cabins. We went on a Monday, however, which means the museums were closed. It takes a train ride and a short bus ride to get to the site, so it is recommended that you pack some food. In all, we were gone about 5 hours in total.
We went out for our final German dinner with good German beer before heading back to our hostel, completely bushed!
That concludes our two days in Berlin and our tour in Germany! Stay tuned for blog posts about our time in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia! Have you had a short trip in Berlin? What are the sites you recommend not missing?