There are few cities in this world that rate a second trip…the gritty and uber-urban capital of Germany happens to be one of them. Most Americans are familiar with Berlin and its landmark Brandenberg Gate as the place where John F Kennedy famously stated: “Ich bin ein Berlinner” conveying that he is one with the people; many have joked that what he said to Germans was that he was a certain kind of creamy pastry.
On our first excursion to the Berlin in 2012, we focused on everything dark and dangerous following WWII: where Hitler and Eva Braun died, air raid shelters, the infamous Berlin Wall, Soviet occupation, development of East Berlin and what life might have been like for East Germans. But we missed most of the foundational history of this relatively young European city (1300s) when the Hohenzollern family ruled Prussia. So this go around, we focused on the architecture, art, food and nightlife of Berlin. As an added impetus for a visit, our favorite band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, were in town and the tickets were cheap.
We planned our 4 day stay from Monday-Thursday, intent on avoiding the weekend crowds and more expensive hotel rooms. We selected an Ibis Budget hotel within a 10 minute walk of Checkpoint Charlie. (Ibis Budget is our new fave European chain hotel with most rooms going for 60 euros or less per night. Ibis is always clean, quiet and offers free wi-fi) After dumping our bags, we took to the streets and walked to Potsdammerplatz, the revamped show piece of the city. Skyscrapers reach to new heights anchored by the Sony Center, a large shopping complex with Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and an English language movie theater. From there, we moved farther north to the Brandenberg Gate, eventually making our way past the Berlin Cathedral to Alexanderplatz and our dinner destination, Kentucky Fried Chicken. There is something comforting about fried chicken, mashed potatoes and American Pepsi with ice to make a busy city seem calm.
The German History Museum got our vote for the one museum visit of the trip. The exhibits are broken up into bite-size viewing chunks determined by time period. We started with 1918-1945 (might as well since Berlin will always be forever linked to WWII) and we were impressed with the collection of National Socialist paraphernalia including uniforms, badges, and propaganda. I was mesmerized by the sheer power of the German political machine and the overall commitment to pursuing a “perfect” race made up of equals. We also visited the exhibit devoted to the early history of the city including a special series of displays on Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. (We were to visit Wittenberg Germany on our last day in Berlin)
The evening was filled with dinner and then a late night concert in the super sketchy neighborhood of Neukolln. I do not advise anyone staying at a hotel in this part of Berlin. But, going to a concert here, now that’s a pretty cool experience. You can read more about our German concert experience here Edward Sharpe in Berlin
We were super excited to have great weather during our trip. Germany seems to be covered under a veil of slate gray but we pretty much avoided rain showers and enjoyed wearing shorts and flip flops during the day. When the sun did poke out from behind the terrific cottony clouds, we just wanted to pretend we were sunflowers and turn our faces directly to the light. We spent some time window shopping (Peek and Cloppenberg, H&M, Urban Outfitters, American Apparel and Super Dry) and indulging in a dozen donuts. We took the metro out to Olympic Stadium to admire the Nazi architecture (really, quite a feat of concrete engineering) and also rode out to Charlottenberg Palace, the summer residence built for Empress Sophie Charlotte, the reputed darling of the spoiled royals. Filled with dense groves of trees and lush plant life, I have to say this is my favorite palace grounds of all; yes, even more than Versailles.
So now we put Berlin to rest. Farewell to the lasting reminders of the drastic effects of war: bombed out churches, concrete barriers, ghost metro stations marking the numbers of Jewish citizens sent to death camps. There is hope for the future however: a unified Germany that recognizes and honors the contributions of the former East Germany, a clear retelling of history so that all citizens—very young to the old—can learn from the past and a booming economy filled with cranes, skyscrapers and the sound of industry on every corner.