As with our lodging in Hamburg, Novotel doesn’t provide complimentary breakfast for its guests. Neither was there the Nespresso coffee machine. Hotels in Hamburg and Berlin, though provides green apples that guests can help themselves to. I have to say their green apples taste better than the red ones available in Europe, as they are sweeter and crunchier. However to get the caffeine kick for the day, we headed out to Hackescher Markt S-Bahn where one special place of interest awaits, which is Hackescher Höfe, a cluster of buildings with intricately decorated courtyards in mosaic tiles. The surrounding area is also home to unique shops as well as home to several independent cafes. We ordered coffee and some pastries from this place called Caras Gourmet Coffee. While the coffee house was pretty nice, the coffee is just average as I find them too heavy on the milk. For those looking for alternative shopping, they should find a lot of fresh shopping in this area and there are even interesting sights of East Berlin in the area. On top of that, trams are common in this area, compared to buses which traverse the West Berlin neighbourhood. That was precisely how we got to our next destination in Berlin-Mitte by tram.
Berlin might not be famous for its museums like Paris with the Louvre, Rome with the Musei Vaticani and London with the British Museum. But the Museumsinsel built in an island along the Spree River might change that. Museumsinsel or Museum Island in English is a conglomeration of some of Berlin’s most famous museums and exhibitions. Our tram stopped nearby, and it was a nice walk along the Spree River towards the 2 prominent museums which have been completed. The first one we passed by was Pergamonmuseum which is dedicated to artifacts from middle east. Another museum beside it is Bode Museum, a museum with a collection of sculptures and coins. The Bode Museum also occupies a nice location at the edge of the island giving visitors a nice view of the Musuemsinsel bisecting the path of the Spree River with the Fernsehturm by the background.
Berlin’s city centre is a relatively compact area for a capital city with several distinctively unique neighbourhood. Though most of Berlin’s grand buildings and main tourist attractions can be said to be concentrated around the Unter den Linden and Friedrichstraße. The Museumsinsel is a short walk to Friedrichstraße, from where there is a major transport hub which means its a very convenient place to access other parts of the city from here as well. From the U-Bahn station, we took the subway to alight only 2 stops later at Stadtmitte to visit the Checkpoint Charlie, or the dividing line between East and West Berlin before the German Reunification. As touristy as it may be, the area is crowded and is still worth a visit for first-timers to Berlin given that there are museums, cafes and shops around the area besides it being located just along one of Berlin’s main shopping street. After taking a few shots at the Checkpoint, we walked towards Kochstraße U-Bahn to take the subway back towards Frazösische Straße. Luxury shopping in Berlin can be found in this area, as there is the Galeries Lafayette branch in Berlin as well as an upmarket shopping mall, Quartier 206. The main atrium of the latter mall is worth a look for its art-deco interior and having a cup of coffee at its atrium cafe. From Quartier 206, an underground passageway brings us to the Galeries Lafayette. At the basement level of the departmental store is a food court specializing in French and German cuisine, with a seafood section, grill area including sausages, and stalls selling juices and macaroons for drinks and desserts. Our lunch was taken here and the food was good value for money!
Since the places of interest in Berlin in the vicinity, the best way to explore is through walking. Berlin’s Gendarmenmarkt, in my opinion, elevates the stature of Berlin to be equal to that or Paris and Rome. The square is one of the most beautiful with the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall) in the middle and the Französische Dom (French Cathedral) and Deutscher Dom (German Cathedral) flanking the north and south ends of the square respectively. The latter cathedrals are nearly similar in architecture and creates a form of balance to the central Roman-style building. Two blocks north from the Gendarmenmarkt is the Bebelplatz, another vast open square that leads out to Unter den Linden. Bebelplatz is surrounded by several notable buildings including the Staatsoper (State Opera), St. Hedwig’s Cathedral and the Alte Bibliothek (Old Library) of the Humboldt University. Across the street from the square lies the main building of Berlin’s oldest university – Humboldt Universität. The architecture of the Saint Hedwig’s Cathedral at the corner of the square is also a delight with its unique dome design. The low lying buildings around Bebelplatz combined with the wide Unter den Linden allows a great view out of the nearby buildings including the Fernsehturm and the Berliner Dom.
Being in Unter den Linden also represents an opportunity to discover one of Germany’s best exports – automobiles. Volkswagen AG, the largest German car-maker has a magnificent showroom at the junction of Unter den Linden and Friedrichstraße called the Automobil Forum which showcases all the brands under the group, with prominence given to Bugatti and Bentley, their 2 most exclusive marque. Bugatti, naturally had a Veyron on display and a GrandSport Convertible to be exact, while Bentley was showing the Continental GTC and Flying Spur Saloon. Opposite from VW’s Automobil Forum is Mercedes’ Brand showcase which at that time was showing white GLK, E-Class and C-Class models donning the livery of the German flag in association with its sponsorship of Germany’s football association and the national team in South Africa 2010. From Unter den Linden, we took a bus towards Alexanderplatz, another public square in the Eastern side of the city surrounded by hotels and shopping complexes. Another reason to visit the area, though is to observe the locals who throng this place to relax in one of the largest open air square in central Berlin as well as the number of passengers transiting from the public transport network. The main draw of the area is undoubtedly the Fernsehturm (TV Tower), the Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall) and the Marienkirche (Church of St. Mary). With green fields and leafy trees covering the pathways to these places of interest, it is very nice for an afternoon walk here. The fountain of Neptune at the centre of these 3 places of interest also provides an excellent backdrop to photo-taking opportunities.
Berlin is famous or some would say infamous due to the Berlin Wall, a dividing barrier that stands between democratic and communist Germany. While most of the wall have been demolished in the city centre, a large stretch of the wall still exists and have been converted into one of the most impressive public art gallery in Ostbahnhof. Called the East Side Gallery, artists have converted this stretch of the Berlin Wall into a mural depicting values such as freedom, liberty, peace and social harmony. This interesting gallery is located just opposite the Ostbahnhof, another public transport hub in the East Berlin, and is therefore very accessible via the S-Bahn. From the Ostbahnhof, buses also run towards the Hauptbahnhof, and this is a good idea to pass through some of the socialist architecture of East Berlin. With a whole day of sightseeing, we headed back to the hotel for a rest from the Hauptbahnhof.
After having a refreshing shower, we headed out once again by S-Bahn towards Zoologischer Garten where a bus interchange provides several route choices, including one that heads to Potsdamer Platz. This modern square has some of the skyscrapers and hotels that shows the forward looking stance of the capital. However, we decided to bypass this square, continuing out journey to Unter den Linden, where we passed by the Brandenburger Tor again before another 5 minute walk towards the Reichstag or the German Bundestag (Parliament Building). One tip for travellers is to actually call a restaurant located at the top level of the building which will allows diners to then explore the glass dome after their meal, skipping the long queues to enter this top tourist attraction in Berlin. Due to the lonay 7 g queues, we didn’t have the chance to visit the dome, though the Bundestag is still a worthy visit to admire the views from the square outside the grand building. Our venue for dinner that night was at a German tavern, Hopfingerbräu im Palais between the Bundestag and the Brandenburger Tor, a place which serves fabulous potato soup. My dad and i ordered sausages while I placed an order of rosti with smoked salmon for my mum. With the completion of the meal, we took a bus back to the Hauptbahnhof for a train back to the hotel where we had a good rest to recharge for our early morning train out of Berlin.
In essence, Berlin in my opinion is one of the most modern cities in Europe, combining dynamism in city life with touches of grandeur in its wide open spaces around the city. The various districts also possesses an individual character which distinctively separates them from one another. From the lush greeneries in Charlottenburg to the wide avenues of Unter den Linden to the cosy neighbourhood of Hackescher Markt, Berlin provides something for everyone that seeks to explore Germany’s capital.
Must visit in Berlin: Unter den Linden near the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) combined with the nearby Bundestag in sunset. The sunset views of Berlin from the Bundestag as well as the gloriously lit Brandenburger Tor could well provide the lasting memory of the city.