The Reichstag, Berlin

The Reichstag, Berlin

During our time in Berlin, we managed to cover a lot of ground.  Will commented that the thing he liked best about the city was it’s “excellent public transportation that gets you to where you want to be.”  For the two full days we were in Berlin we bought the group day ticket which got 5 of us unlimited public transportation for 15 euros.  We also had to purchase an additional child’s unlimited use ticket in order for the whole family to travel together.  It was quite a bargain and a good alternative to walking everywhere.  In fact, it was rare to see a lot of vehicle traffic in the city–I think Berliners have done a great job of using public transportation and helping tourists get a handle on the system too.
On Sunday, the family split up with the girls going to the zoo and Tim, Will and I going on a Third Reich Tour of Berlin.  The 3 hour walking tour was fascinating and included seeing the sites of Hitler’s bunker, the no man’s zone between East and West Berlin, the Luftwaffe building and various other notorious buildings symbolizing the tragic events leading up to WWII and the separation of the city.  We chose for our tour needs because we’ve used them before in other cities and their guides have never failed to both inform and entertain us.  Mort, our guide for Berlin, offered many personal illustrations about life in Berlin during 1920s through today  and we have a good handle of the role Berlin played in the Great War.
Our afternoon was spent in the Pergamon Museum and a walk at the East Side Gallery to see the Wall.  I was a bit disappointed with the Pergamon, primarily because my vision of what the temple should look like was not at all how it actually is today.   For some reason, I was expecting a fully formed temple with goddesses and gods gloriously guarding the entrance.  Instead, it’s a combination of historical pieces and “blank areas” that you have to use the imagination to bring the structure to life.  Far more impressive is the Ishtar Gate in the adjoining room.  While it is also missing a great deal of the original structure, the sheer size and deep blue color of the tiles allows the mind to visualize how grand the space really was.
The visit to the East Side Gallery to see the artists’ contributions to the Wall was inspirational, if a bit long.  Lilly was simply dragging throughout the entire walk but I did see 2 paintings I consider iconic…The Kiss and The Trabi breaking through the wall.  Once I saw those images, I felt like I could put a checkbox on the experience.

Berlin’s Must Do List

Working your network becomes critical for families trying to plan a weekend trip at the last minute.  Both Facebook and WikiTravel have became my new favorites as I developed an itinerary that blended the interests of 4 adults and 2 kids.  Based on the recommendations of friends who recently visited the city, these were our top sites:
Pergamon Museum… a museum built specifically to house the excavations of the temple in Pergamon as well as showcase the Ishtar Gate from Babylon.  Those Germans were crafty folks in the early 1900s as they plundered valuable treasures from Turkey and took the booty back home
The Berlin Wall… wasn’t sure what I was going to see but I had heard that pieces of the wall still stood in the city.  We found a still-standing segment of the wall dividing old East Berlin from West Berlin and the East Side Gallery showcases pieces of the wall that have been used as canvas by artists in the 1990s.
Brandenburg Gate… the only remaining city gate from the old city.
Cinestar Original Movie Theater at Sony Center…OK, it doesn’t qualify as a historic site but we heard stories  that there was an English-language movie theater in the city and we were eager to watch a first run movie in our native tongue.
We made it into Berlin by noon on Saturday. We left our bags with the hotel reception desk (rooms not available until 2pm) and then took the metro directly to Alexanderplatz, a large shopping district in Berlin.  From there, we followed the blue signs on street posts that direct tourists to the top sites.  We decided to begin our visit to Berlin with a visit to the DDR museum, a place dedicated to better understanding what it was like for residents to live in East Berlin during the Cold War period.  It’s a pretty cool place to hang out WHEN it’s not packed with visitors.  It is such a tiny museum space that reading all the placards and touching the exhibits is practically impossible without bumping into your neighbor. It did have a Trabi on display–this is the car that East Germany designed and marketed after the explosive success of West Germany’s VW beetle.  The Trabi was made out of plastic and once ordered, took 16 years to receive from the factory!
After DDR museum, we found both Dunkin Donuts and the Brandenburg Gate conveniently next to each other.  How happy the kids were to see the donut sign; how surprised I was to be standing in front of the world’s most famous gate!  I’d say it was a win-win afternoon after this stop.
To round out our evening, we hiked over to the Sony Center and did find the English-language movie theater. Tim bought tickets for us to see Spiderman in 3-D and it felt so good to sink into those comfy, rocking theater seats and revel in the English language without having to read sub-titles.  Interesting for us: we were the only English-laguage speakers in the theater.  Everyone else was German or Pakistani!

A weekend in Berlin

This past week, Tim gave me the good news that he had a long weekend off from work—meaning 4 days of unstructured time where we can be crazy and generally goof off.  In past years, we really do go crazy by undertaking some DIY house project that turns into 4 weeks on non-stop stress.  But, living in government quarters limits the options for creative design. So, I tackled something I’ve wanted to do for many years…plan and execute a weekend excursion in under 24 hours.
Some limitations for our family:
we have 6 people in the family–this means at least 2 bathrooms for accommodations (no more hostel experiences for the Rietkerks, thank you Denmark!)
someone to watch our dog Lady because we weren’t about to travel with her in the van
A location in Germany that can be reached in 4 hours by car (Tim couldn’t technically leave the country so Italy and Croatia were out)
Some place we haven’t been before