Looking for a vibrant place for a vibrant boy turning … Check. Berlin was the place to be for a birthday trip!
Yes, we’ve been here before. This is actually the fourth time to visit the capital of Germany. But it is only about 1 hour flying from Brussels, it is a cheap city and there is lots and lots to see and do!
We started our long weekend with a visit to Schloss Charlottenburg. The palace was build in 1695 (but only long after this day completed) and has, besides the main palace and lots of side-palaces and building, a huge garden. For the buildings you have to pay an admission fee, but the garden is free to enter. Yet another green space in the city! We spent a few hours walking around here, before returning to the hustle and bustle of Berlin. At night we met our friends and fellow-travellers Erik and Hilde. Before we knew, the first day of our trip was already over!
Birthday-day! Without a tight schedule but with a few things on our to do-list. The first was a visit to the Soviet War Memorial. This is a bit out of the city center, at Treptower Park. Of course we walked a bit around and got lost, but after about half an hour we found the massive memorial. Exactly like we thought it would be. Or not? It is hard to imagine the Russians even build these kind of adoration places abroad. But they do. We’ve seen this on tv, but never in real life. Impressive! And after all, thousands of Russian soldiers died to liberate us during the Second World War. Again, hard to imagine considering the current political scene.
Leaving the memorial behind us, we walked along the banks of the Spree towards the Molecule Man. We’ve seen this statue before, from the Oberbraumbrücke, far away. And even than, it looked gigantic. So? It is! And it is a ‘trompe-l’oeil’ as well.It’s not one giant (30 meters high) metal man, but three! They represent the intersection of three city quarters (Treptow – where we were coming from – Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain). We walked back to where we came from, along the other side of the Spree, in Friedrichshain. Berlin is an alternative city. A lot of street art, a lot of underground scenes, a lot of special people. A mix of different cultures (in the broad sense of the word). We love it. But this is a very, very, very alternative quarter. And we liked it a bit less. It was just not our cup of tea I guess. We took the train back to the city center, and after a quick lunch break at Potzdamer Platz (you just gotta love those buildings!) we headed for some culture.
First stop: Bebelplatz. Strange we’ve never been here before. It is a side-street from Unter den Linden, one of the main avenues in Berlin. It was once build as ‘Forum Fridericianum’: the intellectual center of Berlin in the 18th Century with a library, an opera house and a cathedral. But Berlin has a very dark history, which you can feel and see around every corner. It makes you feel very awkward at times, but that’s what makes a visit to Berlin very interesting at the same time. Bebelplatz is one of those places where you can imagine what happened in history. Or not. Because it is just too insane for words. Here the Nazi’s burned thousands of books at the first book burning in 1933. The memorial to this horrible event gives you goose bumps. An empty library in the ground.
So we headed to the Martin Gropius Bau. A very nice museum with a sweet exposition going on at this moment (photography). But once we saw the entry conditions, we decided a view of the interior of the entrance hall was enough and went to the Topography of Terror next door. Again, a very strong reminder of the horrible recent history. A must-see for every citizen in the world. If it could only help to stop the cruelty happening just now … If you don’t know the past, you’ll never understand what happens today or in the future. This – free – permanent exhibition gives an overview on how the Second World War came to a start, and what happened to millions of people because of the sick mind of a few. Back outside, our moods got warmed up by the sunlight and we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon chillin around. At night we had a nice dinner and walk with a magnificent storm in the Friedrichshain quarter.
On day three we wanted to go on top of the Berlin Dom (cathedral), which strangely enough we never did before. But once again, the entry conditions made us decide to go somewhere else. And since we hadn’t plan for anything, we ended up walking along the Spree towards the parliament area (Bundestag). We walked along the banks on what was East Berlin during the Cold War. Very hard to imagine how life was just some decades ago. Nothing has left from that era (at least, not here). The buildings are modern and very photogenic. You can even visit one of them and enjoy some art, but it is closed on Monday’s 🙂 And apparently we also missed a light and sound show at night (only during August). On the other side of the Spree, the Reichstag stands strong (you can visit the parliament’s dom, which we did on a previous visit). We walked back along the giant Tiergarten towards the Brandenburger Tor, one of those world-famous symbols. We visited a memorial which we’ve never seen before, although we passed it many times before: the memorial for the Roma and Sinti victims of the Second World War, who are often forgotten. A very peaceful place in the middle of this bustling area.
Berlin is just one of those cities you can always see and do something new, or enjoy the memories of a place where you’ve already been, without ever getting bored!