Berlin – a city with such a harrowed history, most of which has taken part in just the last century. It has never been somewhere I’ve ever considered visiting and yet from the moment I stepped outside our hotel, the NH Collection Friedrichstrasse, something grabbed me and didn’t let go. I recently attended a three day trip to Germany’s capital city with Jet2Citybreaks, flying on its inaugural flight from Leeds/Bradford airport to Berlin Schonefeld, and I have to say it was a trip I will never forget.
We began the first day our trip to the city with a visit to the East Side Gallery, which features a 1316 metre stretch of the Berlin Wall, the longest still standing. In 1990, not long after the wall was demolished, 108 artists from all over the world were invited to create murals along this remaining piece of the wall, and this stretch is what is now referred to as the East Side Gallery. We took the City Sightseeing Tour Bus, free for one day using the Berlin Pass (€93 for a two day pass), which takes you right up to the site. Once we stepped off the bus immediately in front of us was the gallery. It was pretty awe-inspiring, stretching further than the eye could see either way, full of colour and imagery depicting a city torn apart only a few decades ago. Unfortunately much of the original artwork has been damaged or covered by graffiti and there is ongoing restoration underway to try and retain the original works. Nevertheless you still get the full effect of what was trying to be done on such a menacing piece of their history.
We took a tour around the Berlin Wall Museum (€10 with the Berlin Pass) and whilst I wasn’t expecting much from what looked like a small building, I was so glad we did as it truly brought home to us all how shocking an event this was and how much the people of the city’s lives were effected by this structure than appeared in the middle of the night and separated families for years. I found it quite difficult listening to the personal accounts from those who tried to cross, one boy in particular who was shot four times before he made it to the west, and even guards who talked about their responsibilities and how they saw others fleeing their posts, unable to carry out the atrocities demanded of them. We probably spent around two hours just taking it all in, so I would suggest if you are planning a visit to this site, and I would highly recommend you do, to give yourself plenty of time.
Of course a Winter visit to the capital city wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Christmas markets, which we did that evening. There are over thirty markets to choose from, and in the end we opted for the largest of them, Alexanderplatz market. Filled with over 100 stalls, all centered around an ice rink, the smells of bratwurst cooked over an open flame, currywurst and of course Gluwein, their spiced mulled wine, greeted us as we wandered around purveying the many wares on offer. It was a pretty special way to spend an evening, and I happily sipped my choice of hot beverage – Kakao and Baileys – as I decided whether or not I was going to have to hit a cash machine before the night was up. From handmade wooden carvings of the stalls around us to delicate lace angels ready to hang on the tree, there was so much to take it one could almost be overwhelmed. Fortunately a turn on the ferris wheel, its bright lights calling us from afar, was enough to take a breath of fresh air before jumping back in.
The next day we decided that first on our agenda would be to head to the main tourist sites of the city, which included the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag. You can actually book a trip up the Reichstag to the glass dome for free, where you will get a fantastic view of the city. Pre-booking is essential for this but worth it for the view.
A short walk away from here you will come across the Holocaust Memorial – a dedication to the murdered Jews of Europe. On first arrival to the site it really doesn’t seem like much – a load of concrete slabs standing in the sunlight. But once you immerse yourself in the structure you get a real sense of the oppression and feeling of being trapped that many must have felt. The path rises and falls and the horizon seems non-existent, the corridors endless. Just a small part of what it must have been like to those marched off to face an undeniable hell.
From there we ended up at Potzdamer Platz and came across more remaining parts of the wall. These structures shocked me almost more than the gallery stretch, as they are left in their original condition with various words scrawled on them and the oppressive structure very clearly seen. There were information points with the history and background and this is a good spot to visit that is quite central and costs no money to see.
The rest of that day I decided to head off on my own to discover more about the fascinating background of the city. After visiting Checkpoint Charlie, the most well-known crossing point of the wall from East to West Berlin, I then walked across to the Typography of Terror Museum. There are so many museums in the city it was hard to choose just one to visit, but filled with the history of the SS and SA and leading you through the rise of Nazism and the reign of terror that followed I decided that was the one I wanted to see the most. In the end it was certainly an interesting tour, but it is quite full-on and you would definitely need a few hours and stamina to really get around it all. Outside of this museum stands another part of the wall and the remains of what was the cellars of the original Gestapo building. I took a short walk past these, reeling at what they represented, before meandering past and back to the hotel.
|Typography of Terror Museum|
|Remaining wall and cellar|
Our final day in Berlin saw us visiting one of the main sites that can be spotted no matter where you are in Berlin – the TV Tower. Originally built by the GDR this is now one of the main tourist sites where, on a clear day, you can see for miles across the many sites we had previously visited during our stay. I found it fascinating to try and plot the route of where the wall would have once stood and you could clearly see a difference between the two sides, even now. One tip I would give for this is to pre-book your tickets using the metre outside. The queue was pretty big, but we booked our tickets for an hour in advance which meant we could then use to fastback queue. It also meant we didn’t have to stand in the freezing temperatures!
|(not 100% accurate plot of wall)|
There is so much to see and do in Berlin you could very easily spend a week there and not see it all, and I think you would return home pretty exhausted! I focused mainly on the history of the city and took away so much from my trip that I will carry with me. Berlin really surprised me at what it has to offer and I would happily return and delve even further. But for those who would prefer a different experience there is so much more on offer – the bohemian vibe of the west side, the many many eateries to try and the renowned German nightlife the city’s to offer. Not to mention places such as Sealife and Legoland that would keep the children entertained once the sightseeing has lost its shine.
I have put together a couple of videos of my trip to Berlin, the first of which you can see below. Come back in the New Year for part two and more information on my recommendations for family travel in the capital.
Jet2 are now flying from Leeds Bradford Airport to Berlin twice weekly. The price for this city break was £527 including both hotel and flights (price changes dependant on time of year) – cheaper city breaks are available. Visit jet2.com or for package holidays visit jet2holidays.com/city-breaks or call 0800 408 5599.