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Germany - Berlin


A Karen Brown Recommendation
In sharp contrast to Potsdam, Berlin is dynamic and vigorous. Europe’s largest city can be somewhat overwhelming in size for those who have been touring the countryside, but while the major sights are quite spread out, the public transportation system enables you to get around easily. If you are staying in Potsdam, you can take a train into Berlin. Your first stop in Berlin should be one of the tourist offices. One is at the Europa Center on Budapester Strasse 45, and another is at the Brandenburg Gate (south wing) at Pariser Platz. Here you can pick up maps of the city and the public transportation system, get data on what special events are going on in the city, and obtain information on sightseeing tours ranging from 90 minutes to half a day (the tours leave from the adjacent Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church). Your hotel should also have a lot of information and be able to answer many of your questions. Berlin is a city of water and parks – one third of the real estate is dedicated to open space for the residents and visitors to enjoy. The only street that is not tree lined is Frederickstram and it is only because it was too narrow! We do not suggest driving in Berlin—it is not easy to find your way around (even with a good map) and parking is difficult. However, there are several other ways to see the main sights. If money doesn’t matter, the concierge at your hotel can arrange for a private guide with car and driver; or you can take a taxi from point to point; or take a package tour. But, more adventuresome, less expensive, and lots of fun, is to take public transportation. If this is your choice, buy a 24-hour transportation pass, which is available from a self-service machine at all the subway stations (the machine is a bit tricky, but there are basic instructions in English on how to use it). This pass is an excellent value and allows you to hop on and off buses and subway trains to your heart’s content within a 24-hour period. A good place to start your sightseeing by public transport is outside the Bahnhof Zoo (Zoo station) at the BVG transportation kiosk, where you can purchase your 24-hour transportation pass and pick up maps before boarding the number 100 bus in front of the Zoo station (runs every 10 minutes). The bus proceeds down the Kurfürstendammstrasse (before the tunnel), passing on the right the Europa Center, a modern building with a large Mercedes sign on top, Gedächtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) whose burnt, blackened, bombed-out shell stands as a memorial to the dead of two world wars, and on the left the two majestic stone elephants that guard the entrance to the Berlin Zoo. An artist was commissioned to create the kneeling elephants but when looking closely at their impossible position, it is clear that the artist had never personally seen a live elephant! Established in 1847, the zoo is the oldest in Europe. The Tiergarten (east) and the Berlin Zoo (west), which for many years were divided by the wall, are once again neighbors. A dramatic statue of a broken chain symbolizes east and west. As the bus turns left into Tiergarten (Berlin’s premier park–once the hunting grounds for royalty), the 67-meter-high Siegessaül (a huge column surmounted by a statue of Victory) comes into view. Immediately on the left comes Schloss Bellevue, official residence of the President of the Republic (if the flag’s flying, he’s at home). The arch-shaped building on your left is the Kongresshalle (House of Culture) with a sculpture by Henry Moore floating on its lake. Approaching the Reichstag, notice its bullet-riddled, patched-up façade. The German parliament met here for the first time in 1990, marking the end of almost four decades of political separation. (10 am–5 pm, closed Mondays.) Just round the corner you go under the 200-year-old *Brandenburg Gate (Brandenburger Tor) whose majestic columns support the goddess of peace upon her horse-drawn chariot. During the years when Berlin was divided, the Brandenburg Gate became a symbol of oppression instead of the symbol of peace that it was originally conceived to be. At one time Berlin had sixteen gates, but today only the Brandenburg Gate remains. A cobbled path traces the line through the city as a reminder of where the Berlin Wall once stood and divided the city. Just one block south of Brandenburg Gate, visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, a 4.7-acre outdoor memorial designed by Peter Eisenman that opened in 2005. A series of grey boxes of different sizes and heights seem to undulate on a cobblestone foundation—the intended effect was to emulate waves to symbolize that time and life never stand still and we must go on. Continuing on up Unter der Linden, the famous avenue “under the lime trees,” you pass the much-photographed statue of Frederick the Great high atop his horse. Behind the statue is Humboldt University, which was attended by Marx and Lenin and next to it sits a Greek temple-like façade, a memorial for the Germans who died in the world wars. Cross the river onto “Museum Island” and alight to tour the Pergamon Museum, a highlight of any visit to Berlin. The second neoclassical building, which contains the *Pergamon Museum, is named for its most prized possession, the enormous Pergamon Altar. This beautifully preserved altar, dating from the 2nd century B.C., was brought from the west coast of Turkey and erected in an enormous hall. Pay the small extra cost for the half-hour tape-recorded tour that gives you a real perspective on this masterpiece of Hellenistic art. Almost as impressive is the adjacent Babylonian Processional Street where lions stride along the street’s walls to the soaring blue-and-ochre tiles of the Ishtar Gate (604–562 B.C.). (10 am–5 pm, closed Mondays.) The Bode Museum at the north end of the island is also worth a visit. It was closed for many years, but reopened in 2006 and features a fine collection of sculptures and Byzantine artifacts. Leaving the Pergamon to the right, turn left before the railway lines on Georgestrasse for the short walk to the Friedrichstrasse U-Bahn station, where you take the U6 in the direction of Alt Mariendorf beyond Stadtmitte to Kochstrasse. A vast office complex now occupies the site of Checkpoint Charlie, but the adjacent *Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie is an unsophisticated yet poignant museum that tells the story of the wall with its many ingenious escape attempts, and shows the struggle for freedom throughout the world. Exhibitions, photos, and videos take you up and down stairs and through 15 little rooms to conclude in the Checkpoint Charlie Café. Some of the displays seem a bit slanted toward political propaganda, but then how can you ever overemphasize oppression? (9 am–10 pm, daily.) After the war Berlin was divided into four zones: British, French, Soviet and American. The cross-over points were referred to as A, B and C. The American cross-over point “C” was nicknamed “Charlie”. Today on one side of the military hut facing what was the Soviet side is a photo of a Soviet soldier and on the American side is a photo of an American soldier who it turns out was actually a band member. When viewing the wall, remember that it was not only the wall that prevented escape, but also the ground between the barbed wire wall and the west side, an area referred to as “No Man’s Land,” which was guarded by watch towers and trenches. From the time when it was erected on August 13, 1961, 400 people are known to have died in attempt to escape. The last victim tragically died in March, 1989, the year the wall came down. During the excavation of areas of Berlin demolished by bombing, a prison of the SS was uncovered, the Topographie des Terror, where Hitler tortured prisoners. It now remains as a permanent outdoor exhibit. Its address is now referenced as Niederkirchnerstrasse, named for a resistance fighter. Under an angled roof, the old stone prison walls back onto one of the few remaining stretches of the Berlin wall. It is also located across the street from what were once Goering’s headquarters at Vince Albrecht #8—the most feared address in Berlin. Ironically the wall is now walled to prevent people from chipping away pieces of it as a souvenir. There are three sections of the wall left standing in Berlin. Another one to visit would be the one termed as “East Side Gallery” where artists from all over the world have painted scenes to memorialize the division. Stroll down Stauffenberstrasse and peek into the courtyard of number 13. You will see the statue of a man in handcuffs that represents all the young, courageous soldiers who swore to fight evil. It was here on July 20—on the eve of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler—that Stauffenberger, one of the key people involved, was murdered. Back in the underground, take the U6 towards Alt Mariendorf for one stop to Hallesches where you change to the U1 (in the direction of Ruhleben) across town to Sophie Charlotte Platz. A ten-minute walk up Schlossstrasse brings you to Charlottenburg Palace. At number 70 Schlossstrasse (opposite the palace) visit *Ägyptisches Museum (Egyptian Museum), worth a visit if for no other reason than to gaze into the eyes of Nefertiti, an incredible bust over 3,000 years old yet depicting a woman as beautiful as any modern movie star. (10 am–5 pm, closed Mondays.) Across the street from the Ägyptisches Museum is the fabulous *Picasso Museum, a private collection of Pablo Picasso’s works, which opened in 1997. (9 am–5 pm, Tuesday through Friday; 10 am–5 pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Mondays.) Berlin has 12 different Boroughs (or cities within the city), one of which is Charlottesburg with its beautiful Charlottenburg Palace. This Borough was named by King Frederic I whose beloved wife, Sofie Charlotte, tragically died at the age of 38. The king was heart broken by her death and named the city for her. Schloss Charlottenburg (Charlottenburg Palace) is one of those palaces that is more impressive outside than in. Rather than taking the guided tour (in German), go around the building and stroll along the inviting paths that lead you through elaborate, sculptured gardens to woodlands and lakes. If you want to take a peek inside, visit the Galerie der Romantik in the Knöbelsdorf wing, a gallery containing works by 19th-century Romantic painters. (10 am–5 pm, closed Mondays.) Across from the entry gates of the palace are two identical buildings that once served as staff quarters of the palace, one of which is now referred to as Museum Berggruen which houses an incredible private collection of Picasso. The museum is named after Heinz Berggruen, who as a young man immigrated to San Francisco to escape Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. However, he always missed his homeland and dreamed of someday returning. The first leg of his journey “home” took him to Paris where he befriended Picasso and began purchasing his works. He finally returned to Berlin and donated his entire art collection at the time of his death at 92 in 2007. Leaving the palace, take the number 109 bus, which runs from just beside the palace down Kaiser Frederich Strasse and along the Kurfürstendamm (nicknamed Ku’Damm), Berlin’s main shopping street, a boulevard lined with chic boutiques, outdoor cafés, and grand hotels, and returns you to your starting point, the Bahnhof Zoo. One of Berlin’s highlights, the Picture Gallery (Gemäldegalerie), takes too long to see to try to squeeze it into the previous self-guided tour. Our suggestion would be to combine a visit to this vast museum with a stroll through Berlin’s beautiful park, the Tiergarten, which is within easy walking distance. The Kulturforum is a large complex housing several museums, but the one that you must not miss is the stunning *Picture Gallery (Gemäldegalerie), which opened in 1998. This museum (with a seemingly endless number of large, well-lit rooms) houses an incredible collection of art. The enormous number of over 2,700 paintings (many of them on huge canvases) will boggle your mind. The exhibit includes works of art from the German painters of the 13th to 16th centuries, Dutch painters of the 15th and 16th centuries, Flemish painters of the 17th century, English, French, and German painters of the 18th century, miniatures of the 16th to 19th centuries, and Italian painters of the 16th to 19th centuries. So many famous names appear that you almost become numb to what genius you are seeing: Rembrandt, Fouquet, Gainsborough, Rubens, Reynolds, Van Dyck, and Botticelli—to mention just a few. (10 am–6 pm, Tuesday through Friday; 11 am–6 pm, Saturday and Sunday, closed Mondays; public transportation: Potsdamer Platz.) The former Prussian Courthouse now houses The Jewish Museum which not only addresses the holocaust but also the contribution of the Jewish people to the world throughout history. The museum has an extension into a metal building that is symbolically designed in the shape of the broken Star of David. Everyone who works in the museum wears a scarf that depicts the image. If you have the luxury of time to linger in Berlin, another pleasurable outing is to enjoy Berlin leisurely by boat. The Spree River loops through the center of the city, and in the summer, various boat companies offer tours. Ask at the tourist office for further details. If you are traveling with little ones, don’t miss Berlin’s Teddy Bear Museum, located at 206 Kurfürstendamm. Here you will see not only some of the earliest “Teddy” bears (named after Teddy Roosevelt), but also your other childhood friends such as Paddington and Winnie the Pooh. It would be a shame to leave Berlin without experiencing Europe’s biggest department store, Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe) (U-Bahn 1 Wittenburgplatz). With over 2,400 employees, KaDeWe is similar to Harrods in London and offers a vast array of goods for sale from souvenirs to sweaters. Choose from 1,800 kinds of cheese in the food hall or just take the glass elevator to the self-service café with its impressive views. (9:30 am–6:30 pm, Saturdays until 2 pm; Thursdays until 8 pm, closed Sundays.)
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