I had not planned to fall in love with Berlin.
As a relatively unseasoned traveller, I entered the city under the influence of the preconceptions spread by others who had clearly not been to this wonderful city themselves. I had naively thought, for instance, that all Germans were serious people who did not like to have fun and that German cuisine consisted mainly of meat (and was there fore very unappealing to vegetarians like myself). However, I ended up being blown away by Berlin.
Looking around the city
Mel and I arrived in Berlin by train at the Zoo Station. Berlin is a large city and the train system is essential for those travelling on their own. It is a very user-friendly system. We found the tourist information section, which was filled with youth hostel brochures, made a couple of phone calls, and eventually made our way to BaxPax Backpacker’s Hostel. It was a newly set up hostel, complete with a kitchen. We always prefer to cook our own to economise on food. We were pleased to have made the transition from station to hostel with little fuss.
After settling in, we began our introduction to Berlin by taking one of the famous Berlin Walks tours. Of the many tour options, we decided in favour of The Discover Berlin Walk because we hoped that it would give us a good overview of the city. We were right. The tour was a fantastic way to meet new people, see the main sights and learn some of the city’s history. It provided a useful introduction to many places that we would be free to further investigate ourselves at a later point in time.
I was surprised to find that very little of the Berlin Wall that had divided the East and West remained. It felt eerie to walk over land upon which people had been shot for crossing less than 15 years ago. I could only try to imagine the terror that they must have felt and their desperation driving them to flee from the communist regime to enjoy the life in the west that I have always taken for granted. While little of the wall remains standing, tiny parts of it were widely sold as tourist trinkets. I decided that I did want a little piece of what had been such a monumental part of Germany’s history.
As well as being a veritable source of fascinating escapee stories, the Checkpoint Charlie museum physically marked the point that had been the most well-known border crossing for escapees between the East and West. It provided some entertaining stories about the lengths that people had gone to in their attempt to flee the East. One of the stories described an escape by means of a submarine in which a person had dragged himself along the Baltic Sea and another told of an escape by hot air balloon.
The nightlife scene in Central Europe
The Reichstag (or German parliament) building impressed me enormously. The building itself was topped by a magnificent glass dome. Here, visitors had a great view of the city. The number of construction cranes piercing the sky indicated the awesome amount of construction that was now taking place as a result of the reunification. The dome itself had been constructed directly over the heads of the legislators whose leather seats I could spot far beneath me. It was designed in this way so that the people would always be able to view, and therefore keep in check, the legislators representing them.
I had been told that a visit to Berlin would be incomplete without a trip to the Pergamon museum. I thoroughly agree with that sentiment. We were prepared for some pretty impressive stuff but still our breath was taken away. Sights that I would have only expected to behold in Egypt or Rome had been re-constructed in Berlin for our viewing pleasure. I was happy to spend hours wandering the museum, with the aid of audio headphones providing commentary about the museum’s artifacts.
During our stay at the hostel, we had noticed a “free laundry” sign that we thought was worth investigating. Despite being skeptical at first, the offer turned out to be legitimate! We soon learned that a group of artists had created an artwork called “washing and communication” which consisted of a mass of washing machines in one of the main squares of Berlin. We could hardly believe our luck, discovering that there was even free washing powder on offer. This was a real plus for a backpacker!
We could not leave Berlin without checking out some of the nightlife. We were keen to find an underground club and on the advice of a person from our hostel, we caught the train to the Pfeffenberg Club. The entrance did not look like much from the outside and we wondered if we had found the right place. Sure enough, the music was pumping inside and we couldn’t get to the dance floor soon enough. The hours disappeared in a flash and it wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that we left, exhausted.
Berlin is a city of huge contrasts. It is an exciting place to be as it nears the end of its transitional phase towards becoming a truly unified city. While it does suffer from a war-torn past, this leaves us an extremely rich history. I must add that the food is tasty and the people here do know how to have fun!