Welcome to Berlin. It’s so close to Paris, but so very different. It’s going to take a long time to digest what we experienced. This isn’t a city where you can see and do all and get a feel for its history in a long weekend—but many might work.
Things not to do: Don’t take a flight that requires you to leave the apartment at 5 a.m. unless you’re really hale and hearty and are given to being able to sing arias. Traveling within the EU requires fewer security checks, but airports are airports and, by the time you get to your destination, if you’re like me, you’re going to be pooped.
Traveling on no-frills Easy Jet Airlines was perfectly fine. The planes were clean, the flight attendants professional. One flight steward even had the courtesy to laugh when someone asked if there were a charge for a glass of water. In his very British accent he replied no, but there was one for coffee. Best of all, the flight was cheaper than cheap and, once in the air, it took only 90 minutes.
We decided to train it to the hotel rather than spend money on a cab. That was possibly a mistake since it was a 15-minute-long walk to the airport station and a subsequent 30-minute wait for the next train, which was the slow train into the central station. No RER that whisks by the outskirts of the city and we immediately spotted the considerable graffiti that’s considered an art form there.
By the time we arrived at The Westin Grand Berlin (thank goodness for Starwood points), we weren’t feeling so perky. But, that wasn’t going to deter us, come hell or high water. Nor was the bone-chilling cold weather that had us wearing so many layers that I felt like Charlie Brown. A friend, who lives there, says there’s a reason the city is called Buuurrrrrlin. And the summers tend to be hot. OK, one doesn’t travel for the weather unless you’re off on a beach vacation and then, you can only hope.
The hotel was very, but very nice, albeit without free WiFi, one of my pet peeves on my hotel list, but I won’t go there. Its location is ideal if you want to get around by public transport. The Welcome Pass is a real bargain for tourists. Myrna and I spent hours on the hop-on-and-hop-off City Tour bus and were impressed by how much we were able to see and how comprehensive the narration was and in impeccable English, thanks to earphones.
Our M.O. was to do a complete tour and then decide where we wanted to spend time. Berlin has incredible museums and there’s no way you can see a fraction of them and do them justice. The Jewish Museum consists of three buildings and is more than 3000 square meters in size or about 32,000 square feet.
We were forced to make an executive decision. Were we going to see the city, which is known for being the hip and happening place in the EU, or spend all of our time in a museum or two? We opted for the former, vowing we’d return and do only culture.
Contrasted with Paris, it’s huge and the German capital takes a lot of exploring in addition to a more than superficial knowledge of history. The more we saw of Berlin, the more we realized people can spend weeks sightseeing and only get a glimpse of the city and its many layers. It still has the feeling of an Eastern Bloc city where so much was leveled during WWII. Its architecture is a tribute to the many architects who rebuilt the city after the WWII and after the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, when there was another massive wave of construction.
What We Did:
After the city bus tour, we took a boat trip on the Spree. Because it was before the season began, we couldn’t find a barge with English narration. We followed a map noting where we were and drinking hot chocolate laced with rum. It was an eye-opener that there are approximately as many canals in Berlin as there are in Venice.
On the banks, there is nothing but restaurants and even though it was frigid, people were eating outside, bundled in blankets the restaurants supply. If you spy a red or bright yellow fleece blanket with fringe, chances are people have helped themselves.
Residents of Berlin so love the sun they’ll seize every opportunity to sit outside. Rumor has it that there are more convertibles there than in any other European city. This may reflect the fundamentally optimistic nature of Berliners, who concludes that putting down the top means the weather must really be nice and warm and sunny, even if they’re wearing clothes appropriate to hit the ski slopes.
We walked throughout the city, not always precisely certain where we were going. Always a believer in leaving time for serendipity, we explored streets and came to one conclusion: living in Berlin costs substantially less than it does in Paris. That gave me pause and more of an understanding as to why Berlin has become a center for artists and writers. Before going any further, I am NOT moving there for so many reasons including that fewer people speak English and there’s no way I’m ever going to learn another language even if I took total immersion classes. At my age, life is too short.
I just looked at Bonjour Paris’s writers’ guidelines and realize I’ve already surpassed the word limit count. Well, it’s my website. But here’s a question. Should I continue writing about our sojourn in Berlin next week? Or, should I stick to my Paris adventures? Tell me what you think. C’est à vous…
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This is Part I of a three-part series. Click here to read Part II: Berlin Musings & Travel Tips.
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