Our hotel was in Liezenburger Strasse, just off the lower part of Kurfürstendamm, a wide boulevard lined with shops, restaurants and cafés. But it was the history of the city I was most interested in, so when my husband had a couple of hours to spare we hopped on a Berlin City Tour Bus. For 22 Euro you can hop on and off the bus for two whole days. It’s a great way to get to see a lot of the city in a very short time. Luckily they have English guides as I only speak a little German.
I eagerly awaited a glimpse of what was left of the Berlin Wall. As a child of the seventies, The Berlin Wall played a big part in my childhood. A symbol of the Cold War, it permeated everything – from the duck and cover drills we had in Kindergarten (up until people began to realise that ducking and covering under a plywood desk in the event of nuclear attack was pretty pointless) to the box of a month’s worth of non-perishable supplies my mom kept in the basement. Berliners are keen not to forget this sad period in their city’s history, and even where the wall is now gone, there is a two brick wide path flush with the road along where it used to lie.
Only a relatively small stretch of the wall remains, and it is quite badly damaged. The other side is absolutely covered in graffiti. It was liberating to see something that held so much fear for me so destroyed.
I couldn’t resist touching it, this terrible tangible reminder of a divided city and so much sorrow and bloodshed. After feeling quite somber about the whole thing, I really wasn’t ready for Checkpoint Charlie.
The best known border crossing between East and West Germany, this was where US and Russian tanks faced each other in 1961 as the wall was built. I was expecting somewhere sober but it really has been turned into a tourist trap. German lads dressed up as American soldiers charge for pictures. There’s a souvenir shop with a McDonald’s opposite. If you really want to get a feel for exactly what when on visit the Checkpoint Charlie Museum beside the souvenir shop. I was humbled by the stories of those who escaped the East, but be warned as the exhibits can be harrowing. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are travelling with young children.
The Brandenburg Gate (pictured at the top) was similarly touristy, with costly photo ops with more lads dressed up as soldiers. There were also a lot of political demonstrations going on the day we visited, so it was a bit disconcerting. We did have a lovely lunch at The Hotel Adlon. We sat outside with a view of the Gate and the meal was outstanding.
Berlin is beautiful in places. I was particularly taken with the Gendarmenmarkt – a wonderful square with two stunning cathedrals and a concert house. The Potsdamer Platz, a business and cultural square that has literally sprung up in the aftermath of the fall of the wall, is impressive and striking. But in the end, it was back where our hotel was – the Kurfürstendamm and the surrounding area – that I enjoyed most in Berlin. Although not nearly as impressive, The Kurfürstendamm is reminiscent of The Champs Elysées and we enjoyed three lovely meals there. The shopping is good, with everything from Berlin’s most famous department store KaDeWe to tiny boutiques, Valentino, Hermes and Prada. I walked for hours in the little side streets, stumbling on some wonderful places tucked away off the beaten path.
I’m not sure what I expected of Berlin, but I was pleasantly surprised by this cosmopolitan city. Berlin manages to honour the darker parts of its past while forging boldly into the future. It was a privilege to see so many significant historic places and exciting to spend a weekend in one of Europe’s bright capitals.