When my niece moved to Berlin, I had the ideal opportunity to tick another item off my bucket list – Christmas Markets in Germany. Why Berlin? I had recently finished reading Linda Grant’s A Woman in Berlin, a shocking account of the lives of a mostly female population when the Russians took over the city. These victorious invaders were intent on making the women pay for the atrocities the German army had meted out as they advanced across Russia. I was also fascinated by the way the peoples and cities of Eastern Europe recovered from the atrocities of Nazism and Stalin: now I could take the opportunity to see how Berlin had recovered and renewed itself.
My last solo trip had started with flight cancellation so there was some trepidation when I arrived i Dublin Airport to see flights to Munich cancelled due to SNOW. Thankfully, Berlin was still open despite snow!
The Park Inn, Alexanderplatz, my home from home during my visit, was ideally situated for all my plans: meeting my niece, historical highlights and Christmas markets. I always go for the Hop-On/Hop-Off experience to get an idea of a city and to help decide on where I will prioritise. So immediately after check-in and a quick lunch with two Leitrim ladies, I hopped on.
The Berlin Wall is a must on a trip to Berlin, so my first stop was the East Side Gallery, where the longest section of wall (almost 3km) was left standing.
It is now a unique piece of art painted by 118 artists in 1990. But there are also reminders of the harsh realities of what the wall meant to the population it was built to contain. I spent the afternoon rambling along by the Spree River, admiring the murals.
Of course, I had to have a coffee in Dean & Dave (a coffee shop chain) before returning to the hotel via the Marienkirche Christmas market.
I was there just as Santa arrived (by zip-line naturally).
I was very impressed however that right in the centre of the market was a lifesize crib with crowds of mams and dads queueing to tell their little ones the Christmas story.
Foregoing dinner, I feasted instead on the local delicacies – Gluhwein and Bratkartoffeln (panfried cripy potatoes, onions and bacon). It was delicious and the tables dotted around are designed to provided opportunity to chat as you eat and drink – a very hospitable way to spend an evening and soak up the atmosphere of the market.
A city tour was included in my itinerary and we boarded the bus with Isabel at 9am. Another visit to the Eastside Gallery, but this time with a more detailed description of life in East Berlin. She also explained the wide boulavardes – mostly a photo opportunity for Stalin to display his military strength.
We stopped for our own photo opp at Checkpoint Charlie. I didn’t know that there were also a Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo. The adjacent Checkpoint Charlie Museum was very over/underwhelming – with way too much information presented in too tight an area. Much more interesting was an outdoor area on the corner, almost hidden behind hoarding that detailed the very sad history of the area.
I abandoned the tour at Museumsinsel (Museum Island). While our guide dissuaded us from visiting the Berliner Dom, I wanted to see this Cathedral, the largest and most lavish in the city. How fortunate I was to arrive just as an organist began playing the “largest and most important intact instrument with pneumatic action in the world”. It was wonderful to wander around this amazing building, almost destroyed in 1944, to the strains of organ music.
I wondered how you would allow this guy to be at the end of your daughter’s tomb????
John and Carmel had advised a visit to the DDR Museum which provided a narrative of the years 1945-1989, “a hands-on experience of history”. It is an interactive view of the years of propaganda, coercion and servility almost as if you were in the shoes of an East German. It is full of original articfacts, as well as installations that allow you to walk through one of the “new” apartments, to sit in an interogation room, to watch children at school, etc. Excellent.
Returning to the hotel, I dropped into the 700 year old St Marienkirche, “un eglise au coeur de la cité”. The fresco of the Dance of the Dead is a pretty gruesome depiction of how death is the great leveller. I suppose if you lived through the bubonic plague and countless raging wars, death—and a gruesome death, at that—was a visible everyday reality for you These images served as a reminder of one’s mortality and were intended as an inspiration to lead a pious life. The traces of paint are quite faint now but incredibly still there after almost 600 years.
I had dinner with my niece this evening in Chen Che, a Vietnamese restaurant with both a traditional interior and garden that served the most delicious Vietnamese drinks and dishes. It was great to get the opportunity to hear first hand about life in Berlin: she absolutely loves it. I even got to see her workplace as we strolled to the taxi rank.
Today I walked down the famous street, Unter den Linden to the Brandenburg Gate for a photo opp at this iconic site (very close to another iconic site, the Adler Hotel from where Michael Jackson dangled his son). I walked over to the Reichstag (but would have needed to book and get official clearance to visit).
Back by the Gate to the Holocaust-Denkmal, a memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2711 concrete pillars on undulating ground (like an ice rink after the snow and frost). It commemorates the 6 million Jews who were killed during WW2.
My “Hop-On” ticket came in handy today to travel down to Kurfurstendamm to see the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedachtnis Kirche, a church which was destroyed in the Allied bombing raids of Berlin in 1943 but whose ruins have been maintained as a memorial to the destruction of war. A Hall of Remembrance houses a permanent exhibition of the mosaics and treasures from the old church.
A new church has been built that is pretty indescribable – follow the link to really understand its beauty and meaning. Google the story of the Stalingrad Madonna – so sad and yet uplifting!
I didn’t bother checking out the Ka De We, the Harrods of Berlin, figuring it would be out of my reach. Instead I rambled throught the market and found some lovely hand-crafted decorations.
I also visited the Europa-Center, the oldest shopping centre in Berlin (almost like The Square in Tallaght!) where I had late lunch.
Back in the Park Inn, I decided to have a German duck dinner – the red cabbage was to die for, before hitting back to a market for my last Gluhwein. Well my second last!
The Park Inn is beside the Fernehturm or TV tower, the tallest building in Berlin. Although everyone had said it was a MUST DO, the viewing platform was closed due to weather conditions while i was there. So I did the next best thing: got my photo beside it from 37 floor (viewing platform) of Park Inn.
Berlin was great – a return visit in Springtime or Autumn is certainly on the cards.