Berlin was a compromise city for us. Because we weren’t going to France this holiday (Bruce Springsteen this Friday), the family wanted a short city break so we weren’t hanging around at home like animals. (I should add that my personal preference would have been hanging around at home.) Barcelona was mentioned; Rome; Copenhagen. In the end, almost out of the blue, I suggested Berlin. This was because I knew Roy had been there more than once, and because I noticed that a four-star hotel in Berlin cost about the same as a three-star in Rome/Barcelona.
So it was booked. In spite of the anti-depressants, I was very anxious about the trip, but took it all one step at a time. We flew out from Luton early in the morning, and stayed two nights at the Winters Hotel, which is actually fairly near the star at the centre of the Berlin map. Flying Easyjet is a lot less stressful now they allow you to reserve seats on the plane (for a fee). Given this, I wonder why so many people still pay the extra for speedy boarding – but they do. Maybe it’s a class thing.
Anyway, we landed at Schönefeld at around nine in the morning. My first rookie traveller mistake was in finding directions (via TripAdvisor) to the Mitte area rather than specifically to the Hotel. This meant we got the train to Alexanderplatz, as directed, and then were to look for onward travel by bus, tram, or train. But then my second mistake came into play. I’d downloaded an offline map through Triposo, and (*ahem*) it didn’t look like too far to walk. I always prefer to walk through a city. But Berlin is huge, and it was a long walk. Luckily, my third mistake didn’t affect us (there are two Winters hotel locations, but they’re fairly close to each other, not on opposite sides of the city).
So having fucked up the airport transfer, we all had tired legs and sore feet. But the clock was ticking, so we went out again. Checkpoint Charlie was close by (tacky), and there we paid to go in to see an impressive panorama called The Wall, which showed Berlin as it use to be. It was actually quite good.
Next, we walked again, in search of some remnants of the actual wall. This took us through ordinary Berlin neighbourhoods, and through the kind-of parks/cycleways that have been left where the wall was. We eventually reached the East Side Gallery, which is opposite a huge, modern train station – but also near to a completely decrepit block of flats daubed with the words “FUCK OFF MEDIA SPREE” and “REFUGEES WELCOME”. As they say of all such places: city of contrasts.
We then went back to the hotel for a bit, then went out to look at the Brandenburg Gate, browse some shops, and find somewhere to eat. The weather had been warm and sunny up till then, but on the way to the Gate, we were caught in an intense thunderstorm, and got completely soaked.
This had been the weather I was expecting. My always-pessimistic weather apps had both predicted overcast weather and quite a lot of rain. In the event, we were caught in that one storm, but most of the time experienced high temperatures and sunshine. Sunglasses were deployed. My biggest problem was that, in packing as light as possible, I had only catered for the predicted grey skies and rain. I had one pair of jeans and several long-sleeve shirts – two made from merino wool. It was 28°C in the shade. I spent that first day continually trying to overcome a raging thirst. It was finally slaked when we stopped at a (good) Chinese restaurant and I ordered a Berliner Pilsner, forgetting that I wasn’t supposed to be drinking on these pills. Oops.
Shopping wasn’t really a thing. Tired legs, dehydration, and sore feet meant that I didn’t feel like trying on clothes and shoes. And travelling hand luggage only meant that even the WMF kitchen equipment shop didn’t excite me. The Lindt chocolate shop was pretty great, though. Day one step count: 30,077 (21.29 km).
Day two meant galleries and museums, and more tube travel. We got a travel card (eventually: the machines wouldn’t accept our cards) – and hopped on and off the U-Bahn all day long. This saved our feet (a bit) but the damage had been done. We went to the Hamburger Bahnhoff for modern art (a Carl Andre exhibition was on, but I enjoyed most the gallery of so-called “degenerate” art that was banned under the Nazis). And after viewing the Holocaust memorial, we went down to the DDR Museum, which was quite enjoyable. By this time, I was done with the walking, blisters on both feet, but there was, inevitably, more. We ate disappointing Italian in the evening and went down to the Brandenburg Gate to see it again but without the thunderstorm. Day two step count: 24,048 (just 16 km).
Observation: lots of embassies round there: French, Russian, US. There was no visible security outside the US embassy. A couple of cops were standing outside the French one, but only the British embassy, it seems, necessitates the closure of a whole section of street and the permanent posting of 6-8 cops with two vans. That’s how much the world fucking hates us.
Getting back to the airport was much easier. A couple of hops on the tube to Friedrrichstraße and then the Airport Express – which would have been so much easier if we’d done it on the way in. Might have saved the feet, for a start.
So I enjoyed the trip in the end. One thing I do wish we’d done is hire bikes (I was outvoted). Berlin is flat and very cycle friendly, and getting around on bike is absolutely the best way. Two days isn’t enough though, and I never enjoy the pressure to see the sights in the time available. My favourite part of the whole trip was when we sat in a coffee shop for breakfast, reading over the shoulder of a WordPress blogger through the window, and watching people for half an hour. My ideal such holiday would be to do just that: watch the people of the city go about their business. But I’m outvoted.