Legends of the Wall

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Regardless of whether you’re a backpacker or a flashpacker there’s plenty to do in Germany’s cool capital and now is the time to visit: the weather is warm and dry, the city is free of the tourist hordes encountered in the ‘high season’ and for the time being prices remain below average for a European escape. What more excuse do you need? Kaye Holland shows you the way to go

Why go:
Since the fall of the wall two decades ago, Berlin has experienced a vast wiederbelebung (revitalization) and while acknowledging the past refuses to live in it. Or as the German art critic and journalist Karl Scheffler declared in 1910: “Berlin is a city condemned forever to become and never to just be”. He appears to be right.


Must see and do:
Make no mistake, Berlin is a gritty as opposed to pretty city but for history buffs it can’t be beaten.
As a first port of call, The Brandenburg Gate, the city’s symbol, is as good a place to start as any. The famous gate, once a backdrop for presidential speeches (it was here that former US President Ronald Reagan said in 1987:”Mr Gorbachev – tear down this wall!”) and now the setting for New Year’s Eve parties, Pink Floyd concerts and world cup soccer games will transport you back to high school history lessons more than any other landmark.
Adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate stands the sobering Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Reflect on this gruesome period in Tiergaten – Berlin’s largest park where you’ll discover war memorials and victory statues before continuing your cultural odyssey over at The Reichstag (www.bundestag.de). Germany’s parliament building received a major face lift after reunification, with a glass dome now perched atop its roof. Designed by Lord Norman Foster, it affords panoramic views of Berlin and pleasingly entry is free (but do go early or late to avoid the long queues).


Ticked off The Reichstag? Head east along the elegant Unter den Linden – a grand boulevard that recalls the glory days of royal Prussia – until you arrive at Alexanderplatz. Known to locals as “Alex”, the former heart of East Berlin is a showcase of socialist architecture of which the Fernsehturm TV Tower (Germany’s tallest structure at 368m) is the most prominent feature. But if you want to see the real legacy of the DDR, seek out the Stasi Museum and Hohenzollern Prison where Kate Winslet shot scenes for Stephen Daldry’s film The Reader.
Elsewhere in what was East Berlin, learn more about the Jewish history of Germany in Kruezberg at the architectural marvel (it’s shaped like a shattered Star of David) that is the Jewish Museum before taking in the East Side Gallery (www.eastsidegallery.com) which at 1.3km, is the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin wall. Seized upon by artists in the weeks following its collapse, this section of the wall (adorned with some 100 or so distinctive revolutionary images) continues to characterise the freedom and collective nature of the German capital.

Berlin Wall Freedom

Once you’ve got the old GDR out the way, wander west where you’ll stumble across many of Berlin’s most famous and beloved landmarks from the royal splendour of Schloss Charlottenburg, a beautiful Baroque palace, to the 3.5km long Kurfurstendamm – Berlin’s equivalent of Broadway with its chic restaurants, theatres and cinemas. Two other West Berlin boroughs worth visiting are Schoneberg –where John F Kennedy made his rousing, morale boosting “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech back in 1963 – and west Charlottenburg, home to the Olympic Stadium that hosted the 1936 Games.

Best bites:
German cuisine is best sampled in the form of the humble currywurst – a popular spiced pork sausage slathered in tomato sauce and curry powder – from an Imbiss (kiosk).

Other typical German fare to chow down on includes Kasseler Rippchen (smoked pork chops), Eisbein (boiled pork hock) and boulette (fried meat balls) washed down with a Berliner Weisse. But veggies and calorie counters need not abandon any travel plans just yet: there are plenty of places serving some of the mouth-watering meat free dishes imaginable. For a full list, check out //veganleben.info/gastrolist.htm

After dark:
Berlin is very much a party town so forget about sleeping (this is a city with no curfew), put on your dancing shoes and prepare to party until dawn – sleep is way overrated anyway. For live music, seek out the A Trane (www.a-trane.de) and B-Flat (www.b-flat-berlin.de) which offer free entry on Mondays and Wednesdays respectively. For the low-down on all the latest bar and club openings (in this most resilient of cities, change truly is the only constant), ExBerliner (www.exberliner.de) is a great source of information.


Top shops:
Berlin’s biggest shopping draw is the fabulous KaDeWe department store – Germany’s equivalent of London’s Harrods or New York’s Bloomingdales – offering catwalk style for all budgets.
Foodies meanwhile will love the sixth floor where you can chat to staff and scoff samples (chocolates, cheese, champagne and sausages) – a far more pleasant experience than your average supermarket hell.
Aside from this shopping institution (whose name, Kaufhaus des Westens means department store of the West), the myriad of malls at the rebuilt Potsdamer Platz are a good place to indulge in some serious retail therapy.

Best kept secret:
Most tourists tend to take one of traditional hop on, hop off double-decker bus tours and certainly they aren’t a bad way to see Berlin. But if you’re on a budget a better way to get to grips with the German capital is to board public buses 100 or 200 whose routes take in all the key sights (Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Platz etc) for a fraction of the price.


The Ritz-Carlton Berlin
Situated in a fantastic location near dynamic Potsdamer Platz in central Berlin, this grandiose hotel inspired by the works of renowned Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841) is something of a city treasure.
Accommodation consists of 303 rooms and suites, tastefully furnished in shades of beige and brown and featuring high tech touches like bedside control panels and heated bathroom floors. Facilities include the authentic Brasserie Desbrosse –an archetype from 1875 – whose open kitchen with its antique red enamel oven serves up simple French fare as well as steak frites and a daily oyster and lobster buffet, a tea lounge offering over 40 choices of fresh tea, a popular bar (Robbie Williams is a fan), fitness centre and La Prairie boutique spa.
With so much on offer, checking in is easy: the challenge lies in leaving…
Visit www.ritz-carlton.com or email berlin@ritzcarlton.com to make a reservation.

Brasserie Desbrosses Bistro Area

Getting Around:
Berlin boasts an excellent public transport system consisting of the U-Bahn (subway), S-Bahn (light rail), buses and trams that puts London to shame. For route information, visit www.bgv.de

Need to know:
Berlin’s official website allows you to search for all the necessary tourist information and gives a brief overview of the political and cultural landscape of the city.

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