Hotels and short term rental apartments are expensive in Berlin, like many other larger European cities. So we opted for a hostel. I won't lie. I was a little nervous. I had visions of communal bathrooms and bed bug infested rooms with edgy urban youth roaming the halls. Once we arrived, my mind was set at ease. No communal bathrooms and all the edgy urban youth were confined to the streets of Berlin, not our hostel.
We stayed at the Smart Hostel in Berlin and found it to be clean and well supplied. They spoke English and were very polite. A thumbs up from me! Our friends who also traveled to Berlin the same weekend stayed at the Main Station Hostel and were pleased with it too. Both hostels offered a breakfast for €7,00 extra that we never got. There was a Bäckerei right down the street with several more in close proximity. Nothing like a sugary, fresh baked breakfast of rolls.
Matt has been telling me for years about the disparity in Germany between the former east and west sides. As we drove through the rolling hills, the only thing that would let you know that you had crossed over into former East Germany was the sign on the side of the freeway. Houses were painted bright yellows and creams and had new red tile roofs, much like the rest of Germany that we had seen. No difference yet.
Our first stop was to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, or the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. It was built in 1890.
It suffered heavy bombing damage in a raid in 1943. They left the decimated church up as a reminder and memorial to the destruction of Berlin in WWII. When we were in Berlin, the whole structure was covered with scaffolding so they could reinforce it, and also so we couldn't see it. See what it looks like without the scaffolding here.
As we walked along this street, Matt kept saying things like "I used to eat at that McDonald's. I used to shop at that Kardstadt. I used to get on the bus here." I thought we were going to get a insightful tour of Berlin. Instead we got a tour of stuff Matt did in Berlin 21 years ago. Still interesting though.
We went to visit Potsdamer Platz, an area where the Berlin Wall went straight through and was a barren field when Matt lived here.
Here it is now. Big improvement on a barren field. Matt had half-way joked that he was going to bring all his old maps so we didn't have to buy a new one. I half-way didn't joke that he was a little crazy if he thought his 21 year old maps of Berlin would be any help. We stood here and he said "Yeah, things have changed a little bit." Hmm... ya think?
Here is the famous Brandenburg Gate, or Brandenburger Tor. The original gate was built in 1788, replacing simple guard houses to the city proper of Berlin. When Napoleon defeated Prussia in 1806, he paraded through this gate as a symbol of taking down Berlin. Leave it to a short man to need a big gate to walk through. When the Nazis ascended to power, they used the gate as a symbol also. After WWII, the badly damaged gate was one of the only structures left standing. See what the plaza looked like here after the war.
Here is a view looking left after going through the Brandenburg Gate. A little back story to Berlin here. Settlements in the marshy, wooded area are dated to 1192. All the areas of Berlin that we now know as "Berlin", merged in 1307. The Thirty Years War between 1618 AD and 1648 AD destroyed Berlin. Berlin lost a third of its homes and buildings and half its population. Seems Berlin has been knocked down more than once.
Berlin would seem to be the epitome of a German city. But in reality, it's a Prussian city. That's Prussia with a P. It was the capital of Prussia from 1701-1871, when it became the capital of the newly founded German Empire. The new German Empire was a joint collaboration of all the loosely tied "German" princes in the area who decided to consolidate their efforts and power into one country. Members of the Hohenzollern family (a Prussian family) ruled from Berlin from 1435 until 1918.
Sorry about the umbrella in the corner of the picture. It was raining German cats and dogs sideways the whole first day in Berlin. We were soaked.
We continued to walk around with Matt pointed out things he remembered and things that have changed when he let out a whoop of excitement.
He saw a line of Trabis, or Trabants, waiting for people to rent them to drive around Berlin. Trabant was a car produced in East Germany for 30 years and was the most common car in East Germany. Matt claimed that it was made of wood (I don't know about that) and that it only had a two-cycle engine (that's true).
Here is an exact copy (except for the words Trabi Safari on the side) of the Trabi Matt owned while he lived in Berlin. Same color and everything. He stared at this sad, little blue car and almost wept at the fact he had to leave his behind after his time in Berlin. I looked at him like he was just a tad nuts. Who would want to drive around in a wooden car?
Here is the Rotes Rathaus (NOT a red rat house), the Red City Hall. Very creative naming if you ask me.
Here is the Berlin Cathedral, or Berliner Dom, built in 1750.
The Neptunbrunnen, or Neptune Fountain in Berlin. I found it absolutely amazing that there was a statue dedicated to Neptune, god of freshwater and the sea in Berlin because it was raining so much, I felt like I was going to have to swim back to the hostel.
This is part of the Gendarmenmarkt which is a square in Berlin that houses a theater and a church.
"We love Berlin!"
Or what they are really saying is "We love any place that has a overhang where we can get out of the rain!"
We walked around the Gendarmenmarkt, which is situated in former East Berlin, Matt kept remarking how good the buildings looked. He said that while he was there, they were grey and dirty looking. Apparently communism and socialism leave a filmy, grey residue.
The Berlin Konzerthaus sans grey-filmy-communisty residue (yes, communisty is a real word).
After exploring former West Berlin verses East Berlin, here is what I have decided. East Berlin kicks West Berlin's butt. There really is nothing in West Berlin except the zoo which is only talked about because poor West Berlin has nothing but 70 years of being unrepressed to brag about. When the Four Powers (Great Britain, America, France, and the Soviet Union) divided up Berlin, the Soviets really took the lions share with all the historical monuments and buildings. And then after getting them, they let them fall into disrepair. Here is a look at what the Brandenburg Gate looked like at the time the wall came down. You didn't really take care of stuff you commy jerks. Now that the wall is down, there has been a real effort to revitalize former East Berlin. They've revitalized it so much, it has left former West Berlin back in the dumps.
A typical street in former East Berlin. The old buildings have been restored and the new buildings are built to blend in, yet still look fresh and hip. The west doesn't really have any freshness or hipness to it. Freedom = Boring.
Berlin has a throbbing pulse to it, that you can sense is right under the day-to-day life here. I have never seen so many people with lip piercings, or nose piercings, or shaggy colorful haircuts in one place in my life. Hip hop music blared from car windows at red lights. It felt like a rave would happen any second on a street corner, that the citizens of Berlin could barely hold themselves back from breaking into a full fledged dance party.
It's such a party place that bar/bikes roam the city looking for drinking cutomers. This is an actual bike that the people sitting at the bar had to peddle. It went right in the street with the cars and when they would pass you they would cheer and lift their beers. Or bark like dogs. "WOOF! WOOF! WOOF!"
They were actually setting up for the one of the biggest parties of the year.
They were broadcasting the Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Dortmund soccer game, which was taking place in England, live over huge projector screens lined up down the Unter den Linden, which is a boulevard that goes right through the middle of Berlin.
Yep. It's gonna be a par-tay. Such a par-tay that they were frisking everyone who came in. Got myself a little German pat down.
I did not attend the viewing of the game. It was raining after all, and I don't do rain unless I absolutely have to. Matt, however, took the three oldest children and a friend who was also in Berlin for the weekend. They stayed out until after midnight. Bayern Munich won 2-1. Go Bayern Munich! (I actually could care less who won, but Matt was happy so I will be happy for him.)
As I stood on the Unter den Linden I noticed that I could see the Berlin Victory Column out in the distance. A monument built to commemorate Prussia's (Prussia with a P) victory in the Danish-Prussian War (1864) and the victory in the Austro-Prussian War (1866). They must have been feeling pretty good about themselves because then they also went on to win in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Go Prussia!
Do you want to read about the next part of our trip where we visited the wall? Click on The Berlin Wall.
Have you ever traveled to Berlin? Is it somewhere you would like to go? Let me know!
Have questions about traveling to Berlin, with or without kids? Feel free to contact me either in the comments below or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Travel on!