As the trip to the German capital was being envisaged, visions of a cold, dark place flashed in my mind. Images of the ‘Third Reich’, the Nazis and the ‘Fatherland’ were refreshed. After a long flight with a connecting flight from Amsterdam, we reached Tegel International Airport in the German capital. My first impression after flying into the capital brought me firmly to ‘terra firma’ when I found that there was no aerobridge for deboarding. As we descended the short flight of steps, I was further amazed that we could just walk into the not so impressive terminal building which was hardly a few meters away. More surprise was in store for me when I entered the building as it was the smallest I had seen in all my travels earlier and that too of a capital city of a developed country. There were only two belts for the luggage but the German efficiency was evident from that point itself as my checked in bag arrived with clockwork precision.
However, my perception started changing as I stepped out and got into a taxi which took me to my hotel. The cab driver was courteous and understood English. At the time of checking in at the hotel, I came abreast with German efficiency for the second time as the young guy at the counter welcomed me with a smile, got about his job smoothly and got it done without wasting time. I could not help but notice that there were very few Hotel staff even though ours was a bed-n-breakfast hotel. There were no Doormen, no porters, no Concierge and no Travel desk. The person at the Check-in counter was efficient to help us in many ways including guiding us around the city with the help of a city map (a copy of which was handed over to us), suggest places for food and other such information.
As we got out of the hotel after refreshing ourselves, the first thing that struck me was the striking absence of the omnipresent mobile phone. People were walking in pairs, as families, single, cycling, running and even those who were enjoying the German summer, seemed to have better things to talk about rather than being hooked onto their phones. Quite amazing!
Berlin is not actually known to be a touristy city but being steeped in history, it certainly has its takers. I had done some research of the places to visit and things to do as I was planning for the trip.
With map in hand, we trekked to the nearest train station and got on to reach the Reichstag or the building which houses the German Parliament or ‘Bundestag’. We got off at the Berlin Central Station or the ‘Berlin Hauptbahnhof’ as it is known in German which is an imposing modern structure. It has platforms on two levels and the intra-city Metro as well as the long distance trains operate from here. It houses restaurants, shops and other outlets too.
The Reichstag is a remarkable building which was rebuilt after being destroyed during the World War II. It has a glass dome which offers great views of the city. Thereafter, we walked to the historic ‘Brandenburg Gate’ which was built in the 18th century and served as one of the entry points to the City from the East German side during times when the Berlin Wall was in existence. It was built in the 18th Century and is ‘neoclassical’ in architectural style. The horse drawn carriage rides are available here and these carriages are beautifully decorated in the vintage style and give you a comfortable ride around the city.
The river Spree flows through Berlin and idyllic parks, historic monuments, cafes, hotels flank its banks. We saw many landmarks of the city on board one of the numerous river cruises which is a good way to see the sights. They are moderately priced and are quite affordable to the tourists. The cruise is accompanied by commentary in English and German languages. It is a nice experience especially during the summer season there.
The city has a mix of old buildings and monuments with resplendent gothic architecture and ultra modern skyscrapers but they seem to blend with the environment and do not look out of place. Berlin is also a city of ‘education’ as it is dotted by various Universities including Technical University of Berlin, Humbolt University and therefore it attracts students from the world over. Most of the students arrive by public transport, bicycles or on foot. They come across as focused individuals to achieve their goals. Their campuses are spread out and are housed in old, regal buildings built in the 18th century but maintained beautifully. The newer buildings also co-exist meaningfully in the same campus.
As is the old adage, the best way to see the city in the shortest possible time is to take the ‘Hop On Hop Off’ Buses which take you on different routes and show you the places of tourist interest. Going with the trend, I too got on one such bus and covered by sights in a day. The highlights were ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, Remains of the Berlin Wall, the Holocaust Memorial, various Museums, Victory Column and the already seen Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag building.
The pace of the city was unhurried yet focused; distant yet friendly and the lovely summer weather added to the overall experience of the city. The other good option and I daresay healthy option to see the city is on bicycles. There are many tours on offer with varied timings and distances. Bicycles are freely available on rent at various locations around the city at reasonable prices. There are walking tours also on offer.
The colours sported by the men are generally shades of blue, grey and black and for the ladies too in the same hues. One does not see a splash of colours as in India. They are more businesslike and workmanlike.
The city boasts of many beautiful museums which house relics, artefacts and tell tales of a bygone era. Each museum is artistically made and maintained immaculately. It is a great experience to visit these albeit a bit tiring as they are huge. Berlin has preserved its monuments well and also has created architectural landmarks. Museum island is home to 5 museums in the heart of Berlin. It has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. It also houses the famous bust of ‘Nefertiti’ amongst others.
The Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church,‘Gedächtniskirche’is the most famous landmark in the western city centre and is one of Berlin’s most important churches – but at the same time much more than just that. It is composed of the ruins of the church that was destroyed in the war, as well a modern church building. It is a memorial for peace and reconciliation, commemorates Berliners’ determination to rebuild after the war, and is a place of contemplation.It is located on a now bustling city centre abuzz with people, shoppers, tourists, office goers and yet it stands resplendent in its glory.
The German Chancery and the House of World Culture on the banks of the river Spree portray a pleasing picture. The building of the House of World Culture is inspired by the Sydney Opera House and has one similar dome. It hosts events related the world culture the year round. The Victory Column is now a heritage sight and offers panoramic views of the city from its top. It celebrates the Wars of German Unification and was completed in 1873. It is a must see sight once you are in Berlin. The Berlin TV Tower too offers great views of the city from atop its viewing gallery. You can visualize the lives of the royalty with a visit to the Charlottenburg Palace and Park. Green manicured gardens, beautiful porcelain crockery, exquisitely sculptures, lavish settings rekindle memories of what life could have been in the time gone by. All the areas are designed to be accessible to all including those who are differently abled.
Germany is home to world class automobiles such as Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Volkswagen; Consumer Durable majors Bosch, Braun; Telecom and IT majors Siemens, SAP; Sporting Majors Adidas, Puma, Reebok; Sanitaryware brands Grohe, Duravit and many other leading brands and Berlin has showrooms and offices of these world brands.
The tree lined avenues, streets and roads interlaced with majestic gates and statues certainly warrant a mention in this travelogue. The quaint street side cafes serve delicious food together with the famous German beer. I also had the opportunity to dine at one of the ‘Beer Gardens’. It was a really wonderful experience which was basically an open air dining area with lots of beer. The place was bustling with people from all over town as well as tourists intermingling with them and soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying their food and drink. The summer weather added to the charm and also it was quite something to have dinner at 8.30 pm in broad daylight. Yes, the sunset was at around 9.30 pm.
The tip to visit and experience Berlin is to carry a good pair of walking shoes, an open mind and keen eyes to take in and record the beauty of nature in its unpolluted surroundings. The ideal time to visit is the German summer as it is quite pleasant and one can move about the city with ease and comfort. The cafes and restaurants offer a wide variety of cuisine including the famous ‘bratwurst’ which is also available at roadside stalls and vendors. The American food chains such as McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut are also located all around the city and therefore food is one of the least concerns on one’s mind.
It was time to bid adieu to Berlin, I packed my bag full of fond memories of a city which was straddling the era gone by and the modern world effectively so as to retain its grandeur, charm and warmth.