Day 2 – Berlin (Unter den Linden, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, etc.)

*Brett and I recently finished a trip to Europe. Based on a journal I kept during our travels, these posts are being made after-the-fact for those who are interested in reading more about it. Our photos are all in Flickr, some available only to my contacts for increased privacy.*

We were up at 6am. I guess jet lag does have some benefits.

Berlin does have more graffiti than L.A. It is everywhere in massive quantities. We started out walking early to the Reichstag from our hostel near Alexanderplatz to beat the crowds. To get there, we walked down Unter den Linden, a beautiful avenue lined with linden trees (hence the name ‘under the lindens’). The avenue passed other significant buildings and places such as Berliner Dom, Babelplatz (where Nazis held some major book-fed bonfires), and Humboldt University. Definitely a street to explore some more. We were side-tracked by the Bradenburg Gate, a block short of the Reichstag. It was such a powerful icon that Brett didn’t want to leave. After ten minutes of pushing her away, we walked the final block to the Reichstag and were first in line at the security checkpoint for the next batch of visitors. They accept visitors in batches of twenty to thirty for security checks (x-ray, metal detector, the works). The Reichstag is pretty cool, however it couldn’t have been worth more than the current cost – free.

After a second photostop back at Brandenburg Gate, we took the U-Bahn to Zoo Garten station and purchased tickets from Euraide to Krakow for Saturday night. The clerk at the Euraide station was very friendly. He’s from Chicago and loves living in Berlin because the hockey there is cheap and entertaining.

Learning the public transportation system was easy but did confuse us a little because the map colors are duplicated by different lines. There are also four different rail types: U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (elevated train which sometimes goes underground), trolley (thin light rail), regular rail train. Only the first three are covered by the day passes we are getting to make our way around. LA needs a system like this. Berlin proves a sprawling metropolis can get it right.
For lunch, we had a sandwich from a stand-up sandwich shop in Zoogarten station. We hurried from there to cross Mitte (city center) to catch a bunker tour of two old bunkers from WWII and the Cold War, and a history lesson. The tour was almost worth the ten euros each. I was disappointed that photography wasn’t allowed inside the bunkers. I think they really need photography opportunity, even if only in one or two places. The guide, Robin, was knowledgeable and friendly, if only a little rushed. Bring a fleece if you go; it is cold (54 F). The tour ended at the top of the mountain in Volkspark Humboldthain. It isn’t really a mountain, just a pile of rubble left over from WWII piled on a super bunker (Flakturm Humboldthain) that the French couldn’t destroy after the war. Tours are available for that bunker, but it is was only available in German during the days we were in Berlin and, as we were told, is more like a caving expedition than a casual walk like ours was. What I would have done to take that tour.

The city parks in Berlin are wonderful. We spent some time in Volkspark Humboldthain after the tour. Brett napped for about an hour while I wrote in my journal and observed people go about their business. Mothers and fathers taking their children for strolls or leisurly bike rides, couples picnicking, businessmen cutting through the park off to their next appointment, and elderly men sun bathing in a meadow. I know that last image isn’t necessary, but it is true. There is an unholy fascination with sunbathing in Northern Europe.

Our next stop was Ostbahnhof (east main train station) and the East Side Gallery, the longest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall (how could we resist). The East Side Gallery is covered in art completed in 1990, just after the wall became obsolete, and some portions were restored in 2000. It will soon literally fall as progress sweeps through the neighborhood. It appeared that every lot was a construction site, including the old Ostbahnhof and scores of surrounding industrial properties which are across the street and next to the new Ostbahnhof.

Dinner was spent at Pratergarten, a biergarten just beyond our hostel. What atmosphere! The place was packed, the weather balmy, and the twilight magical as it filtered through the chestnut trees to the crowds below. There were three buildings in a U shape: the indoor restaurant (empty), the food stand, and the beer stand. Between it all was a grove of chestnut trees covering long picnic benches crowded with families. A small playground along an outside wall was covered with children bounding forth in play, and their activities boiled over to include and cover a stage next to the playground. There were several long food lines snaking from the food stand and and we hopped in line even before we had read the menu hanging from the eaves. We ordered a bratwurst for each of us, a pretzel, and a soup. Of course, I then went over to the beer stand for our compulsory beer and appelsaft. 🙂 It was all wonderful, particularly the soup, a tomato base with a full nutty flavor (I think it was tomato-almond cream soup).

Although we were tired, I dragged Brett back to the Brandenburg Gate (this time through the S and U Bahn system) to gawk at the icon of Imperial Germany at night. I also wanted a night photo and shot about 30 times before I got something useful. I know, that is a lot, but I had a number of blurry photos I took (two second exposure without a tripod) and a number of heads sliding into the picture. It was worth it; much prettier at night.

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