【Travel】Berlin, Germany. Part 1

BERLIN: 29 Oct – 3 Nov 2015 (Part 1)

After a successful self-planned trip to Western Europe last year, we were ready to be more adventurous and explore Eastern Europe instead, where none of the cities we picked this time, spoke English. Research for a trip like this typically takes us about 2 months, to scour through videos and other travelers’ tips on where to eat or what to see, and especially to find the best deals in terms of time and money for commuting between the cities.

Our plan this time started with one destination, Krakow Poland. We had always wanted to visit Auschwitz located in the Polish town of Oświęcim, not far from Krakow. However, as Krakow was not a central flight node, it meant that we needed a different start and end point for the trip. And that was how we derived the final itinerary.

Our Itinerary:

Singapore > Berlin KLM, transit via Amsterdam
Berlin > Krakow Air Berlin, budget air
Krakow > Prague Leo Express, coach + railway
Prague > Singapore KLM, transit via Amsterdam

(There are no direct flights from Singapore to Berlin. We picked KLM as we had confidence in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in managing short transit times.) 

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Berlin in fact, turned out to be a great choice for us history lovers as we later found out. Berlin is a huge city, but you can get around easily using public transport. We spent 5 days there but we believe that we had only scratched the surface of what Berlin has to offer, simply because there are too many museums! We would definitely love to go back to Berlin some day.

Remnants of war that we still see on buildings in Berlin, ammunition holes as a testimony of the city’s past.

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A couple of tips:

  • If you are a museum buff like us, the 3-day Museum pass is absolutely worth it. Buy it directly at the first museum that you visit.
  • We did not get the Berlin Welcome Card as we wanted access to museums outside of Museum Island as well.
  • There is a crazy queue at Tegel Airport to purchase the transport passes, but head outside to where the buses are parked and you will find ticket machines that serve the same purpose.

This time, our BNB is a really lovely little apartment located in the quiet residential district of Schöneberg.

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BERLIN’S U-BAHN & S-BAHN

Berlin’s subways are operated based on a trust system where there are no gantries at the train stations. Ticket machines are located on the platforms. There, you have a choice of short trip, single trip or 4-day tickets which are also differentiated by zones (AB or ABC).

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This was a system that we were extremely impressed with, and even more with the Berliners who had the integrity to make this system work in the first place. In case you are wondering, yes, there are ticketing staff dressed in plain clothes moving around doing ticket checks randomly, even though we did not encounter any during our 5-day stay in the city.

By the way, each train station on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn has its own unique style and sign. So keep a lookout when you are commuting 😉

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MARKTHALLE NEUN

Markthalle Neun, is a street food market that opens on Thursday nights only. As we arrived in Berlin on a Thursday afternoon, we decided to make that our first dinner stop and also to meet up with Ed’s cousin who was studying in the city. It was crowded when we got there at around 6pm, and by the time we left at 7plus, we could barely move through the crowd.

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We had fresh oysters, Allgauer Kasspatzen (Southern German version of mac and cheese), Berlin beefballs and quiche.

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BAUHAUS MUSEUM

As the birthplace of Bauhaus, the museum collection archives the history of the movement in art, architecture and design. We purchased our 3-day museum pass there. Audio guides are free, so don’t forget to grab one as you enter.

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It is a small museum but growing and we spent a brief 2 hours there. But for designers like Ed, who had learnt much about the Bauhaus movement in his art history lessons, it is definitely a must-see.

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The droolsome Bauhaus posters pasted on a wall just outside the museum. Too bad the posters we wanted were sold out, we were so prepared to pack a few home.

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EAST SIDE GALLERY

The East Side Gallery, the remaining 1.3km section of the Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany till 1989. After its fall, the wall now stands as a memorial for freedom. As we took a walk from the former West side, from Schlesisches Tor Station, we passed by the mid way point of the river Spree where a number of people had died trying to swim across. 

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Probably the most famous mural at the East Side Gallery is the “Fratenal Kiss” by Dmitri Vrubel, reproducing a famous photograph of two East German and Soviet Union political leaders marking an agreement for mutual support to supply ships, machinery, and even nuclear equipment.

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There were also many works of art, some inspirational, some reflective, and some satirical, to be discovered as you walked along both sides of the wall.DSC06604 DSC06619DSC06565

OTTO WEIDT WORKSHOP FOR THE BLIND

The workshop’s original site has been preserved as a museum in dedication to Otto Weidt who helped save the lives of blind Jews during WWII. Weidt who was almost blind himself, employed Jewish workers to work in his workshop producing brushes and brooms, in a bid to save them from persecution.

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We thought this museum was small but very important especially in a location within Germany itself. Admission is free.

You can see the original brush making machines and imagine how the workers would be making the brushes despite minimal or no sight.

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At the very end of the workshop is a wardrobe which hides a room that was a hideout during Nazi raids. The occupants were unfortunately found out.

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The area around Rosenthaler Str. is also where the Anne Frank Centre is located in Berlin. We didn’t visit it as we had previously been to the Anne Frank House itself in Amsterdam.

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GENDARMENMARKT

We made a quick trip to Gendarmenmarkt, an old marketplace but now deemed as Berlin’s most beautiful square, especially at night. The square is lined with an architectural ensemble including the concert hall, the French church, and German Church.

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THE REICHSTAG

The Reichstag Dome is a harmony of old and new. The now Parliament Building was opened in 1894, with the dome was only constructed in 1999. The public is allowed free access to the dome but by registration and selecting a preferred time slot through the museum’s website only. Do note that you will require your passports for verification during security check at the dome’s entry point.

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We had registered online a month before we set off for Berlin. The dome’s interior was architecturally astounding, something you would never expect within or on top of a classical looking Parliament building.

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We also had a 360 view of Berlin as we made our way up and down the spiral ramp encircling the inside of the dome.

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BRANDENBURGER TOR

Located conveniently at the doorstep of Pariser Platz Station, The Brandenburg Gate is perhaps the most recognisable landmark of Berlin. It is now an important symbol of freedom and unity, even more so since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. 

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The Berlin Wall would have once stood somewhere near where we were at in this photo.

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By contrast, the square in front of the Brandenburg gate in the day is bustling with people and activity. There happened to be a peaceful demonstration going on that day.

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Continue to Part II: http://crazyworldcafe.com/index.php/2016/06/11/berlin-2/

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