Freezing but wonderful Berlin

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On February 4th this year, we set off for Berlin for a long-awaited weekend ‘city break’.

Berlin had long been on our ‘wish list’, and so we decided to brave the potential cold, and booked up in early winter 2011 and were happy in getting a good 3  night deal at the ‘Marriott’ in Potsdamer Platz, which seemed pretty central for most of the sites we wanted to visit.

As it turned out, the location was absolutely ideal, being only 200 yards from a little part of the old Berlin wall, a similar distance from the magnificent Sony Centre > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_Center, and a 10/15 minutes walk from many other attractions.

We hadn’t really expected the ‘extreme cold’ snap that hit Central Europe, and we were mighty glad we travelled with walking boots, as overnight on the first night, about half-inch of powdery snow fell, which made for picture postcard scenery.

My rucksack sits on the Berlin Wall, at Potsdamer Platz.

On the afternoon of our arrival, we strolled past this little section of the Berlin Wall pictured above, past the Holocaust Memorial, and to the Brandenbug Gate, very famous from pre and WW2 scenes. It was and is pretty impressive.

The Brandenburg Gate

On the Friday we awoke to Snow on the ground, but a bright blue sky. We wrapped up warm and ventured out. Our first stop was at the Holocaust Memorial. At first we struggled to understand what the blocks of stones represented, but I thought perhaps the idea had been for the stones to represent graves with no names (see picture below). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memorial_to_the_Murdered_Jews_of_Europe

If you do visit, you MUST go below the stones to see the small museum. Be warned though, it is heart wrenching as you read the family stories of those throughout Europe who were in many cases murdered by the nazi regime, many to the death camps. One room is dedicated to hand written letters retrieved from the period, which are shone bright on the floor by overhead lighting. I confess I struggled to hold back tears as I read such personal letters from people who’d lost all hope, their despair and hopeless circumstances clearly evident. Some of the pictures on the walls in one of the others rooms do not shirk from some of the shocking things that happened. It is very moving, and you will probably need a strong drink or stong coffee upon leaving 😦

The Holocaust Memorial
 
Our orginal plan after seeing the Memorial was to go and visit the Jewish Museum. But we honestly coulnd’t face that, so headed generally towards the ‘Mitte’ district and the ‘Museum Island’ area of the City. It was whilst approaching that we spotted the very curious looking Humboldt Box!
 
The Humboldt Box

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humboldt-Box

We had a general stroll around this area admiring some of the architecture of the buildings. Oh, and I had to admit defeat and purchase a pair of cheap gloves. The cold was severe, we reckoned something like -5 C , and even though I’m very hardy indeed, my hands were becoming very red, but the gloves certainly did the trick 🙂

Nice of them to put those balls in such a good position!

Although it was perhaps tempting to visit some of the museums, with the sky so bright, we thought it was pointless going indoors. Especially when there was something new and interesting around every corner. We soon stumbled across the Marx/Engels statue, these chaps modelled some quality facial hair to go with their communist ethos!

Mr Marx and Mr Engels

The main reason for not being tempted by the museums was that we had an afternoon booking to visit the Reichstag dome, atop the historical German Parliament building. But before that we headed way for five minutes walk or so to the Georgebrau brauhaus, which we’d seen listed in my travelling companion ‘Around Berlin in 80 Beers’ . This book comes highly recommended as it lists restaurants who brew their own beers, to basic drinking bars, to all sorts of different drinking and eating establishments,  that all guarantee a quality German beer (using the Purity law of brewing) as well as having handy maps/tourist tips etc, see my ‘pub’ blog section.

After some hearty broth and a tasty beer, actually Ros took a hot drink  I believe:( we then headed out towards the Reichstag. You actually have to make an appointment to climb the dome before you visit, as the security is very tight. Up to now what had the made the day so pleasureable so far, being the bright white snow, now came back to bite us, as the view from the dome was partly hidden by the snow laying on the glass dome, otherwise I’d suggest amazing panoramic views of Berlin and farther afield would open up for you. Additionally with my less than ‘head for heights’ meant I did not spend too long at the top of the dome. But you should do it, it’s free also, just book before you go!

The Reichstag Dome

And below from looking back towards the main Reichstag Building, typically took just as the sun dropped away!

 
The following day, Saturday, we had already made plans to endure the cold for the entirety of the day, as Ros was keen to visit the 19th Century Berlin Zoo in the morning, and I had already pre-booked tickets for the top flight Bundesliga football fixture between Hertha Berlin and Hannover 96 (See my Hertha post under football blogs), which was being played at the famous Olympic (1936) Stadium, KO 15:30pm. After a slight kerfuffle trying to locate the tube station at Potsdamer Platz, it turned out we were in the railway station! and the tube was 50 yards across the road, the journey out to the Zoo was very easy, about 10-15 mins, and then a 5 min walk to the Zoo entrance, see below.
 
Oriental influenced main gate entrance to the Berlin Zoo.

We both thoroughly enjoyed the Zoo. Some highlights included seeing all the ‘big cats’ indoors, including a wonderful black jaguar. Seeing a pack of white wolves in full howling mode, previously we’d never seen white wolves before let alone to see them howling to the moon (well sun!) . And a fair selection of primates, including some Bonobo’s. The Zoo is a good size and on a nice day I should imagine you could easily spend a whole day there, but we enjoyed seeing the animals whilst the park was fairly quiet, and we took advantage of the park restuarant for hot food before we set off for the football.

Blog still in progress….

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