First a note on the Hostel I was staying at. I can wholeheartedly recommend the Citystay Berlin Mitte. It is very reasonably priced, has a great central location, friendly staff, and clean facilities. The prices in the 23hr bar/lounge attached are pretty good and they play hip music. By “hip music” of course I mean the music I listen to. The only drawback is that while they have a wonderful courtyard, they fail to enforce the 10pm quiet-time and you occasionally get drunken French girls grunting out classical music until 2am. (name this tune: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah blah-blah-blah blah) Still, I’ll be staying here when I come back through Berlin.
A note on prices in Berlin. I’ve been comfortably getting by on 5 euro a day for food and drinks if I choose not to have a beer. That will blow the budget. For about 5 Euro you can stop by a grocery store get some fruit and yogurt and a bottle of water for breakfast (1.5eur), stop at a food stand for some kind of “wurst” – try the Currywurst – (1-2eur) for lunch and then find a hearty Doner Kebap (2.5eur) for dinner. There is no reason anyone should go broke or hungry while you’re here. Of course, you can spend as much as you’d like on food and drinks. I’ve chosen the budget route which allows me to spend some money on the sights.
I’ve chosen to skip some of the major ones. The TV tower just a few blocks away is 8.5eur for a ride to the top. That, in my opinion, is too much for an elevator ride. I’m sure the view is great but I’ll check a postcard for that. The museums on Museuminsel (Museum Island) just down the street are well worth the money if you are interested in Greek or Egyptian antiquity. Although I have no capacity to remember the names or dates of the major figures in any civilization I do enjoy seeing the progression of art and skill through the ages. They have an English audio tour available, which is helpful since nearly all the placards are only in German. However this does mean that you are subject to the artistic interpretation of the narrator. I found her descriptions of some of the sculptures to be way over the top. Such as “you’ll find this figure with her attentive eyes and regal posture absolutely straining against her robes as if poised for action!” Maybe I punched in the wrong number, but the sculpture I saw was a figure, sitting, hands over closed robe, open eyed, and calm. It was an excellent piece, but I was under no impression it was about to hop up and order a pyramid built.
With its great art and antiques Berlin also has its past to consider. It does so tastefully and with humility. I visited the “Topography of Terror” memorial which chronicles the Nazi reign of atrocities from 1933 when Hitler sized power to the eventual prosecution or execution of their many officers. There are many lessons here for citizens of any country. Get the audio tour and listen to the whole thing.
Like I’d mentioned in the last post the wall is down but not forgotten. There are several memorials: Checkpoint Charlie (the American checkpoint in West Berlin), A section of wall near the Brandenburg Gate, another section of the wall at Potzdamer Platz, and finally all the concrete, asphalt, brickwork, etc. that the wall used to live on has been replaced with memorial markers so that as you’re walking you know where it stood for those 28 years.
There are many more exhibits, memorials, museums, and attractions that I had neither time nor money to see. Plan to spend at least a week there to appreciate it.
I’m off to Paris now and will actually (hopefully) be there at the time of this post. My friend Thibault has offered me a place to stay and is willing to show me a French time. I seriously doubt that my high school French will do me any good. I’ve got the basics, but anything more advanced than “may I use the bathroom” will get me in trouble. There’s universal sign language for that anyway (enter: “the pee-pee dance”). So it will be great to have a guide.
Update on the Paris journey: I went to the ticket office in Berlin’s main station to get my reservations for the trains to Paris. Yes, you need reservations and they cost money. During the journey from Essen to Berlin I was playing a bit of musical chairs as people with actual assigned seats showed up at the different stops. I only had to move twice but I was always waiting for someone to tap me. Like when you “upgrade” your own seats at a concert, hoping the people that actually paid for those front row seats aren’t just stuck in traffic.
Anyway, so the ticket lady gives me a reservation for the first train Berlin to Koln (pronounced like cologne) and tells me that she can’t make me a reservation on the Koln to Paris leg. “Just talk to the conductor” she says. “OK, I’ll do that” and everything is great. Nice train, first class, little monitors, and food service. When I get to Koln I find the ticket director and show him my Eurail pass and tell him what I was told. “This pass is only valid with reservation, and this train is full, go talk to the ticket center” he says. “OK, I’ll do that”
I got the last reservation in the class for my pass… I’m still going to Paris today I’ll just arrive a little later.