Want to know why you should hire me as your tour guide/ travel agent? It’s because I have got time maximizing strategies down. A perfect example was my version of Berlin in a day… I saw a lot! To start out my day, I took the metro to the Brandemburger Gate. Due to its position in the no mans land during the times of the wall, the gate came to symbolize a unified Berlin and Germany once the wall was taken down. I walked under the gate and past the Reichtung – the seat of the Reich’s government, which was heavily attacked during the war and has now been restored to a place of government once again. Then I walked back towards Potsdamer Platz, and I passed the new and controversial Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial consists of a huge city block full of different sized concrete blocks with information about the number of Jews killed in Germany. I was not quite sure what to think about it, besides that it just looks disturbing. It’s right along where the wall used to run, since when the wall was destroyed it left a huge belt of space for new important projects and buildings. As I continued along the path where the wall used to be, I learned some more about the city’s history from the memorial project boards set up every few hundred meters. I made my way past the shiny new buildings at Potsdamer Platz and kept following the path of the wall to the impressive free Topography of Terror Museum. The Topography of Terror Museum is situated on the same spot where the Third Reich used to have administrative offices and a Gestapo prison. These sites were obliterated by bombs during the war, so now the museum uses the free space. The space runs right along one of the longest stretches of the original Berlin Wall, now falling apart and full of graffiti. The outdoor museum tells about the history of Berlin specifically during Hitlers Reign and East Berlin under Communist power. It basically provides a very comprehensive overview as to how and why both terror regimes came into power within the city. The indoor museum elaborates on this theme and delves into more depth, also including German history as a whole to bring the story full circle. Most people just glimpse at the outdoor museum, but I’m glad I spent some time in the indoor part as well.
The indoor part showed thousands of photographs from the Nazi’s time in power; ranging from famous speeches to images from concentration camps to propaganda. Of course the propaganda and the psychology behind how an entire country justified the murdering of innocent people is particularly fascinating. Kind of reminds me of American voters’s philosophy when it comes to the homeless, disabled, and unemployed. The mind set is “well that is too bad, but there are simply too many just like you, so helping that many people would just be too costly. They’re probably just lazy anyways” this is the sort of ideology Hitler and Himmler sold to the Germans, the idea that Jews, asocials, work shy, and disabled people were simply a crutch to society which needed to be eliminated in order for society to function ideally. Big German companies also stood to profit tremendously by utilizing forced labor, so companies – like Siemmens – fully supported the Nazi party. Hmm what other companies can you think of that try to cut costs unethically? Basically the exhibits at the museum brought to light the horrendous crimes committed by the Germans, but for me the exhibit also demonstrated how what happened could easily happen again because the motives which drove people to commit unforgivable crimes are still motivating people today.
I left the Topography of Terror Museum and again continued along the old perimeter of the wall until I got to Checkpoint Charlie. It cost money to go in the museum there, plus the line was ridiculous, so I decided not to go into the museum but rather read all of the info about the place from the several signs and plaques in the area. Checkpoint Charlie was basically a border crossing between the East Block and the American Sector – kind of like Tijuana between Mexico and California. Checkpoint Charlie is a well known cultural reference of Communist control in Berlin – there is even a bar in New Orleans with the name Checkpoint Charlie. I got a bratwurst and a bun for a snack and walked through one of Berlin’s main shopping areas to the Ritter Sport Factory Store. Ritter Sport is one of the most famous chocolates in Germany – and take it as truth from a chocoholic that they make some of the best chocolate in the world. In fact, Clara Ritter was the first to invent chocolate squares. So instead of just huge bars, she had the idea to divide chocolate bars into bite sized break off squares, a huge development in the history of chocolate. At the factory store, you can go through an interactive display which shows how Ritter Sport bars are made, you can shop in the factory store (which offers bars for 30 to 40 cents less than grocery stores) and you can make your own customized Ritter Sport Bar. The line to create your own bar was too long, so instead I picked out 5 different small bars of Ritter Sport chocolate to try. I tried the Marzipan flavor when I was back out on the street – and it is amazing! I was hungry enough to have a real lunch by this point so I went to the Mitte Brewhouse, right underneath the huge TV Tower in Alexanderplatz. I got a huge jug of the Pils beer that they brew on site with sausage and a bun. Cheap but filling German fare at its best. In the Mitte area, I also got to see the Berliner Dom (the cathedral) and the Aqua Dom, a huge indoor tank which is inside the Radison Blu hotel. You can pay to go in the elevator inside the AquaDom and you can pay to go into the cathedral, but i just enjoyed both from the outside. I had planned to go on a Fat Tire Bike Tour at 4pm, so I still had a good amount of time. I decided to explore the Nikolai Quarter, the oldest part of Berlin. There I did an audio guided tour of the St. Nicolas Church, the oldest church in Berlin which was heavily restored after World War 2. A lot of Berlin is new and modern since so much of it was bombed, but they have made an effort to conserve important cultural sights. After seeing the church, I walked through the shops in the Nikolai Quarter and bought s tiny “Berliner Bar” aka Berlin teddy bear to remind me of the bears all over Berlin. The bear is the symbol of the city due to some early guy in the city’s history being known as the bear, so now a bear is on the cities flag, and there are colorful bears planted all over town. I took plenty of pictures of the different colored, decorated bears that I encountered.
At 4pm, I was back by the TV tower ready to go on the bike tour. After talking to a few different people, I decided not to go up in the TV Tower because it costs 12 Euros just to go to the observation deck at the top. Anyways, close to 40 people showed up for the bike tour, even though the clouds in the sky promised rain! I knew it might be bad, because the guys at the shop said that they had more than 60 people go on the 11am tour. But still, any more than 10 on a bike tour, count me out! I saved money (and probably time and frustration as well) by deciding to just rent a bike for 4 hours instead.
The first place I rode to was the East Side Gallery, the longest still standing stretch of the Berlin Wall which has now been turned into an outdoor art gallery. Several artists from all over the world have painted wall murals there, and it stretches on for about a kilometer or a little more. I rode my bike past the murals and took photos of some of the more interesting or inspiring paintings. I rode slowly along the length of the wall, and when I turned around to head back towards the West side of Berlin, it started to rain. Most touristy things in Berlin are along the wall or in West Berlin, because East Berlin is still plagued with hideous Communist Buildings, excessive graffiti and overall very unattractive. I kept riding in the rain but I stopped once it started raining really hard and went shopping in Berlin’s “upper East side”, technically still to the West of where the wall was, but whatever. I really wanted to buy a pair of Birkenstocks in Germany, but after realizing that they are the same price or more expensive than in America, I gave up on that dream. Berlin is home to one of only 3 NiveaHaus, a flagship store for Nivea products including a full service salon and interactive displays about Nivea products. I have never used any products by Nivea before – but just like at the Ritter Sport store, most products were much cheaper at the Nivea store than at a supermarket or pharmacy. After trying out a whole variety of products, I decided to get a tin of the original Nivea Cream to use for my poor, gross feet, and some Nivea tinted Matte, a tinted face cream with SPF. It turned out to be a great value because when you buy something at the flagship store, they give you free samples of 10 other products (including a face mask) and a jump rope! Pretty good customer relations if you ask me.
The rain finally slowed down a bit so I cycled towards the central park area of the city. I got to the Victory Column and parked my bike so that I could climb up to the top for a view over Berlin. The Victory Tower was moved from its original place outside of governmental buildings, and it’s a good thing that it was moved to its current location in the center of the park because if not – it would have been bombed! Now it sits at the intersection of 6 different road which pan out in all directions. It’s much cheaper than going up the TV tower, and you get some exercise plus a good view. I decided to make one last stop before turning my bike in; I cycled along the river for another 20 minutes to get to one of the main palaces in Berlin in order to see the outside of the palace and its gardens. Cycling back, as soon as I got to the Brandemburg Gate it started to downpour which was really unfortunate because Alexanderplatz and the bike shop were still a little over 3 kilometers away. So I got soaked again but made it back and quickly to the metro. I stopped by the grocery for a sandwich, some German beer, and had Ritter Sport chocolate for dessert. I had such a full day – I cycled 30 something kilometers, walked and climbed stairs, saw several famous areas of the Berlin wall, learned about the history of the wall and Berlin under Communist Rule, sampled local food and drink, and went shopping… Whew! But I got to see the main things that I wanted to see in Berlin as well as a few other highlights too!