This past weekend we took Fionn's mom to see Berlin. Me and Berlin have a LOT of history. I first visited in 2009 when I spent Christmas with my German friend. I went back twice the next year to reunite with old friends and meet new friends. A year after that I moved there for my job, met Fionn during a night out in Prenzlauerberg, and we spent the rest of the summer falling in love with the Brandenburg Gate as a backdrop. Since moving to Bavaria I've been back to visit more times than I can count. I still have a lot of friends there and it always feels like home.
So, you could say that me and Berlin have a thing goin' on.
I LOVE Berlin. It has shaped me in so many ways. I love its energy, its creativity, its history, the amazing food, and even its annoying hipsters (seriously it's the Hipster Mecca) who if nothing else give me a good laugh. Not to mention, around every corner is a memory-of awesome nights out, spending time with incredible friends, and of course, falling in love with my dear Fionn.
There is SO much to see and do in Berlin, but we decided to show Fionn's mom the highlights on our first day there. Let's get started!
We started at Alexanderplatz, on the eastern side of Berlin. Most of the fun, touristy sights are in the east, not to mention awesome shopping and nightlife. West Berlin is cool too, but if you're short on time, head East!
The TV tower at Alexanderplatz was built by the communists during the DDR times. It's the second tallest structure in Europe. These days the surrounding area is a giant commercial center with huge malls and fast food places. A bit ironic, right?
From there we headed back the old Rathaus over to the Berliner Dome and Museum Island (which is, as you might expect, an island of museums).
in front of the Ancient History Museum
Since this was Shannon and Fionn's tour, we took a detour here for checking out a flea market, some thrift stores, and a delicious burrito at our favorite California burrito place, Dolores. If you haven't been there yet...seriously, just go already!!
If you're a regular tourist, keeping going straight towards Unter den Linden, a giant shopping boulevard that'll take you to the Brandenburg Gate. En route you'll see a war memorial, the Opera House, and a memorial to the Nazi book burnings in the 1940s.
Or you can eat burritos and then take the U-Bahn to the Brandenburg Gate. Ta-dah!
The Brandenburg Gate marks the border with West Berlin, where the wall once stood. These days you can walk right through and see the brick path marking where the wall once stood. It goes right through a present day busy street. Pretty incredible.
look for the bricks marking the wall's path cutting through the street!
From there you can easily walk over to the Bundestag, Germany's Parliament Building. It was heavily damaged during the war but it's back in use today. The graffiti from occupying Russian soldiers is still on the wall!
These days you have to make an appointment to go inside. I went the summer I had my internship, and it's cool but not essential. We skipped it.
Our next stop was the Holocaust Memorial. It's a controversial memorial, but I always find it very thought provoking. My German friend told me that the original design planned to build the pillars into the street so cars would have to go around them, forcing people to confront the memorial in their every day life. Obviously that didn't happen for safety reasons, but still interesting!
They start small but soon become towering pillars
What do you think about it?
As we headed towards Potsdamer Platz, we encountered a Trabi Safarai! Trabi is short for Trabant, the car produced by the DDR during the Cold War. Now they're something of a cultural icon for the DDR.
Next stop was Checkpoint Charlie, one of the checkpoints that separated the American sector from the Soviet sector.
Quick history lesson (sorry y'all, I wrote my senior thesis East and West Germany and the Berlin Wall, so bear with me!). Germany was split into 4 sections following WWII-with the Soviets, Americans, French, and British each controlling a section, and the same thing happened in Berlin. The Soviets decided to take control of their section and create a communist state, leading to the creation of East Germany, (aka the DDR). The East Germans built a wall (which they called the anti fascist defense wall) dividing East and West Berlin to keep out Western influence. West Berlin was basically an island of capitalism in an ocean of communism, so there was a big American presence there until the end of the Cold War.
You can read more about the Berlin Wall here. It's really fascinating!
These days the checkpoint is a campy tourist attraction, but a little over 20 years ago, it was ground zero in the battle between the Soviets and the US. Amazing how much things can change in such a short time!
That was it for our first day! This is barely scratching the surface of this incredible place. Have you ever been to Berlin? What was your favorite part?
More Berlin posts to come! :)