I would definitely recommend buying a 48 or 72 hour pass, or if you’re staying even longer, a five-day one – it allows you to travel as much as you like within certain zones, much like a London travel card. I think I paid just under 25€ for mine and it definitely was worth it, particularly when there’s so much to see. The only problem will be cramming it all in!
Visiting the Jewish Museum was a harrowing experience. From the exterior, the architecture was really modern and it isn’t until you step inside that the severity hits home. Walking around actually send shivers down my spine and the zigzag format was incredibly complex, with each sector representing a different concept. The windowless holocaust tower was cold, dark and empty and I physically couldn’t stay there longer than a minute. The garden of exile consisted of eight columns of eight pillars representing isolation, again everything was grey and cold. The most distressing part was the fallen leaves exhibit: an art installation in the memory void, whereby over 10,000 open mouthed faces lay piled on the floor, representing all the innocent victims of the holocaust.
Checkpoint Charlie was the crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War. The spot is now heaving with tourists, largely due to the photo opportunity with men dressed as American soldiers. I didn’t wish to pay an extravagant amount of money and instead, sat in the Einstein cafe with a cappuccino and large slice of carrot cake. Even today, the following notices can be read from posts and buildings: ‘You are leaving the American sector’ and ‘You are entering the non-profit sector’.
There are sections of the Berlin Wall as you walk towards Checkpoint Charlie, as well as at the memorial. Although, covered in graffiti, it could have been anything, but for the notices. The Black Box is worth half an hour of your time. This monument was just opposite Checkpoint Charlie and was another popular spot with everyone wanting their picture with a part of the wall.
The Holocaust Memorial was a further vast space, consisting of nothing about over 2,700 concrete slabs in varying sizes, in a space of around 19,000m2. It can be accessed from any side or angle and leads to the Holocaust Museum – well worth a visit (it’s also free!). It’s underground, which is eerie enough but inside houses a number of memorabilia from the victims. From letters and postcards written to family members, to the video room where sound clips tell stories of the lives of some of the children. Each story is told in German and English and if each victims’ story were told, the audio would last many years. The walls are black, but for the names of each victim projected on to the walls – again, I couldn’t stay any longer than two minutes.
The Brandenburg Gate is nearby and it was lovely to walk through the pedestrianised zone and through the Neo-Classical arches. The size of the bridge is pretty phenomenal, especially with the horse figure on top. It was even more spectacular at night, as the monument lights up – and there was a very good view from the top of the Reichstag!
You’ll have to register two days in advance to visit the Reichstag but it’s free and well worth it – especially if you go in the evening. It is open all day and you’re allocated a half an hour slot. After getting a lift to the first floor, it’s time to ascend the spiral walkways to the top and from here, you’re free to walk around as you please. There’s an outside terrace which offers fantastic panoramic views. The centrepiece consists of a bench, where if you lay back, you’ll be able to watch the stars (as the domed roof is made of glass). The mirrored cylinder at the heart as you descend is pretty incredible too!
I rode the U-Bahn a fair bit and couldn’t help but feel as though I was stepping back in time to the ’50s or something – the trains were probably the same as those that were running them: very basic looking, bright yellow, just out-dated. The majority of stations were practically empty, with little amenities and those that had kiosks, were closed and shuttered. The modern trains were nice though: clean, spacious and without damage. I think out of all the underground services I’ve used abroad, this was the worst, but if you can look past the exterior, it’s an incredibly convenient way of getting around.
While I don’t like beer and didn’t eat any sausage while in Berlin, I did manage to tick one thing of my ‘to do’ list and that was to buy a pretzel. This one was a little weird – there were cornflakes in the chocolate topping. The texture wasn’t really what I was expecting and I was hoping it would be warm and doughy, as opposed to cold and stodgy. At least I managed to eat something typically German though, after all they aren’t really known for their food.... not like the French or Spanish anyway!