Ich Bin Ein Berliner
As mentioned previously, Lauren and I and two friends from Sydney (meet Ellie and Fliss) ventured into the red light district of Amsterdam, and it was….an experience. We didn’t quite know where exactly it was but knew we were heading in the general direction, we turned down a side alley and then BAM, naked ladies in windows. Well not completely naked, but I did see a lot of side boob. It was quite surreal walking up and down the canals, just casually checking out the girls in windows standing under red lights, some looking seductively at the men (and women) passing by, others looking ridiculously bored…. I don’t know what was worse! Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam, and all the girls have to pay taxes and have access to health care etc, but it was still very strange seeing how casual it was (especially when we saw men walking in and out of the girls roons – gross). Unfortunately photos are strictly banned so I can’t share this with you!
As expected, the ten hour bus ride to Berlin was uneventful, although we did pass a car on fire (no one was in it!). Lauren and I arrived in Berlin at about 6.30pm, checked into our hostel and then went for a wander around the main stretch near us – we’re staying right near Alexanderplatz and the Fernsehturm building (aka TV tower) so had dinner there and headed towards Brandenburg Gate. We passed the beautiful Berlin Cathedral, Museum Island (lots of museums in one area) and then made it to the Gate – which is huge, and beautiful! Modelled after Athens Acropolis, what once represented the division of Berlin and Germany, now represents the reunification of both. It’s a stunning entrance/exit to the Tiergarten, which are equally beautiful. We then walked through the Holocaust Memorial to those Euroepan Jewish people who were murdered in WW2. This memorial consists of 2711 concrete columns varying in size from knee height to towering above your head, all in rows on an undulating surface. In an ironic twist to the memorial, it turns out that the anti-graffiti paint that the columns are painted in comes from a company that is a subsidiary of the company that provided the killing gas to the concentration death camps throughout WW2….interesting fact!
On a happier note, our first full day was beautiful and sunny and yet again we walked so much I was convinced my knees and ankles were about to explode! We started off by heading to Mauer Park where there were the weekly Sunday flea markets – there’s anything and everything here so if you’re in Berlin on a Sunday, you should definitely check these markets out! As we’re on a budget and it’s still early days of our trip, we decided to do Berlin on our own and not join any tours. Luckily, a guy we met in Amsterdam told us about Trip Advisor City Guides app – free to download and has maps for cities all over the world! You download the app and then download the cities you want and it has things like top attractions, restaurants, hotels, nightlife, and the best – suggested itineraries! So we had a look and followed one of the itineraries for Berlin – the walking tour of the Berlin Wall! I 100% recommend any traveller downloading this app – I think it’s by far one of the more useful ones! This itinerary took us to the Berlin Wall Memorial, a border crossing on the river and a memorial to those who were killed whilst trying to escape via the river Spree, walked us along the memorial line of where the wall once stood, back to the Brandenburg Gate, to the Soviet War Memorial (did you know 25 million soviets died throughout WW2??!!), to an original watchtower of the wall and finally to Checkpoint Charlie. We also added in the old HQ of the SS and Gestapo, both found at a place called the Topography of Terror. Here you’ll find a long stretch of the wall still standing and a huge amount of information about WW2, the Cold War, Nazi Germany, the Berlin Wall and more. It was an absolutely huge day, full of information, most of which is quite sad, but it was a fantastic way to enter into a city.
Next up was a visit to the Reichstag. Warning! Anyone wishing to visit the Reichstag must express their interest via online application! Luckily Ellie and Fliss, who we’ve kept crossing paths with, mentioned this to us so we just hopped online and within 24 hours and two emails later we had been approved to visit. Apparently our friends approval took a bit longer so if you know you want to visit maybe just get organised and apply earlier. If you don’t apply online, you can still do it in person at the visitors office, however, you will have to wait in long lines, and you can’t book in for the same day – most likely one or two days later. The Reichstag building (now used by the Bundestag) was well worth a visit – it’s free of charge (as are many things in Berlin – thank you Germany!) and you also get an audio guide for your walk up and around the dome, which explains all the things you can see in the 360 degree view from the glass dome. We also visited the Deutsches Historisches Museum (€8, or €4 if you’re a student), which is a museum dedicated to (predictably) the history of Germany! The first floor is dedicated from 1918-now, and focused primarily on the struggles Germany faced post WW1, Hitler and his rise to power, WW2, the division of Germany into East and West, the Cold War and the subsequent reunification. Again, very interesting but very sad. The other exhibitions focus on Germany dating all the way back to the Middle Ages and beyond. We were in the lower levels for a very long time, so by the time we got ton the upper levels we were a bit museumed-out but if you’re interested in that history then definitely worth a visit.
For our evening event we headed out further into the Mitte district and had drinks at a place called Die Weinerie Forum (address is Veteranestraße 14) with Sydney friend Fliss. Not only is the wine cheap and yummy, but after 8pm, you pay 2€ to ‘enter’ the wine tasting, and after that you can try all the wines, drink as much as you want, and then pay what you think it’s worth at the end of your night! Bargain! We had some delicious wines for very little money! A good recommendation from Lauren’s cousin.
Plans for the next few days include a visit to the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, and some biking around the city!