Neither Germany nor Berlin were on our original itinerary. We had thought we would concentrate our Europe time in Spain, England and Italy (with a bit of France). However a rare thing happened. The boys proactively suggested a place to go! Just before we left in August they inquired if we were going to Berlin. They wanted to see remaining parts of the wall and Checkpoint Charlie. We said we weren’t planning on it but we sure could add it to the itinerary, especially since neither Steve nor I had never been either. I am so glad they did, it was a great stop, and we could have even spent more time exploring!
We had 3 full days in the city, and you can really only scratch the surface of this interesting, and large city, especially when you need a couple of hours in the mornings for homework 🙂
Arriving in the afternoon of a Monday we eked out a bit of sightseeing at the Brandenburg Gate and Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, both of which were within a few minutes walk of our super-central apartment (once again off-season for the win!). We had dinner at the very historic food court at the mall 😉 . It was actually quite delicious (many options of all food types) and we ended up eating there 2x as it was also quite reasonable!
Our first stop was at the East Side Gallery and wall, where artists in the days after the fall painted sections as an art gallery (some very “on it” planning!). Most of the gallery was repainted (with permission/input from original artists) once in about 2014. On our way we stopped a local burger joint literally under the train tracks. It oozed Berlin-grit. Stickers and graffiti covered all the metal walls, but they could NOT have been more gracious to us (thanking us profusely for returning our plates – maybe we didn’t need to?) and were so pleased by our praises of what were, truthfully, fantastic burgers. Also of interest was that (like everywhere we have been in Europe) eating al fresco, even in winter, is normal. I love it!
The wall was as impressive as you’d imagine. It is really quite high, and really is right down the center of the city. In this specific spot it is parrallel to the river. We saw more of it the following day, too (below) at the official Berlin wall memorial, where it was even more preserved and had an accompanying museum explaining more.
Despite an earlier-than-preferred wake up call, both kids thought the visit to the Bundestag dome was quite cool, and it was! A modern take on a classic dome, it sits atop the german parliament building. In fact, it acts as a light source to it! Free tours, by pre-arranged time and possibly a background check (?), allow you to climb alongside the interior walls, with a free audio guide about the building and some of the site sites viewable from above. Definitely worth pre-booking. (Being low-season we did it only 2 days out, so not a hard thing).
We stopped at Checkpoint Charlie, the most-famous border crossing between East and West Berlin. It was anticlimactic, just a busy intersection with a small guardpost in the middle of one of the roads. People are milking it for all its worth, with a museum/gift shop and of course McDonalds and KFC across the street from each other. In a bit of trivia, the “Charlie” just comes from the phonetic alphabet; at some point there was a checkpoint alpha and bravo, too.
We also stopped at a museum called the “Topography of Terror” which sure is a terrifying name! It is located where SS headquarters were, and is mainly about the Gestapo and holocaust. While interesting, it was mainly one big room with many plaques. It didn’t keep the kids interest all that much, as it required close reading of things on a wall with a crowd of people moving around. There was some interesting history and photos, but definitely come caffeinated and ready to read!
The Jewish Museum, which gets wonderful reviews, is undergoing an extensive renovation. Recent reviews stated it was basically a small modern art installation and not worth it without the permanent collection on display. As such, we passed this trip.
On a lighter-hearted stop, we spent an afternoon at the Computerspiele Museum (computer games). This marks the third computer/video game museums/exhibits we have seen this trip (Buenos Aires, Cambridge). We will be true experts soon! This one was quite thorough and, like all of them, very interactive. The kids very much enjoyed the arcade room with a couple of driving games.
Another fun museum was the German Spy Museum, where you could time yourself through a real laser maze like a heist movie, or pose in gun sights like James Bond. Not all Hollywood glamour, there were plenty of more serious sections on the history of spying, how the two Berlins spied on each other (Berlin being a center of cold war espionage) and a bit on famous double agents, etc. Somewhat like the DC spy museum, it was worth the stop if you have any interest in spies.
We also visited they huge “technology” museum which covers everything from planes to cameras and trains to computers! It’s enormous, though less in English than we might have expected.
We would have liked to stay in cold, gray, rainy Berlin a bit longer. We feel like we only got a taste of the city!