Berlin: History, Hipsters & Hops

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Berlin was unlike anywhere else we’ve visited in Europe. Yeah, I know, every city is unique, but if I had to compare Berlin to another destination I would go with Brooklyn rather than anywhere on this continent. Part of that is probably because so much of the city was built relatively recently, after getting bombed heavily during World War II. And part of it is probably the prominent hipster vibe that makes Portland, Oregon, seem mainstream. In any case, Germany’s capital and its history is one of a kind, and we had a wonderful time soaking it in.

After landing at Schönefeld Airport Friday morning, we took the train downtown and transferred onto the metro to reach our trusty Motel One in Potsdamer Platz. We ate at a super healthy lunch joint nearby and then embarked on the Berlin Wall walking tour outlined in our guidebook, beginning with Checkpoint Charlie. Be warned: The famous border crossing point between East and West Berlin is now the most touristy of tourist sites, complete with fake American soldiers. Our next stop was a still-standing section of the Berlin Wall beside the ruins of what used to be the SS headquarters, followed by a visit to one of the few remaining Cold War-era guard towers. We also spotted several funkily-decorated “Trabi” cars, which were made in East Germany and are now apparently available for tourists to drive around the city.

Our wanderings also took us to the site of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide — now a parking lot — and then to the symbol of reunified Germany, the Brandenburg Gate. Afterward, we walked over to the German parliament and Chancellor Merkel’s office, but came away without any Angela sightings. Our final stop before dinner was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which has a prime location right near Brandenburg Gate, and blew me away with its size. The design is a series of rectangular boxes laid out in a grid over a city block, which grow taller and taller as you walk toward the center.

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On Saturday we started the day at the East Side Gallery, which is a remaining section of the Berlin wall covered in beautiful paintings by international artists. This was my favorite part of our visit to Berlin: The murals are incredible and the messages they share still resonate more than 20 years after the fall. Many of the paintings are in the process of being redone because they were graffitied over the years, and those that have already been restored have a metal fence in front of them for protection, as you’ll see in the photos.

After grabbing sandwiches for lunch, we decided to embrace our tourist status and go on a double-decker bus tour, taking seats in the open-air second-story to enjoy the lovely spring weather. The bus conveniently dropped us off in the shopping district, so we checked out what the stores of Berlin had to offer before heading back to Brandenburg so I could take photos at the blue hour.

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Sunday we spent the morning at the Pergamon Museum, given that I clearly needed to reward Gui for being such a trooper during the shopping extravaganza. The exhibit includes the imposing Ishtar Gate from Babylon, which you can see Gui standing underneath in a photo below, as well as other artifacts from antiquity. Unfortunately, however, like so much of Berlin, the museum was under construction, so we did not get to see Pergamon Altar that the building is named for. I guess we’ll have to come back in 2019!

During our walk to the museum, we stumbled across a sea of runners taking part in some sort of race downtown, in case you were wondering why I have a photo of running feet below 🙂 Lunch that afternoon was at another German brew pub before we took the train out to Prenzlauer Berg for what I can only describe as the full hipster experience. Men with ponytails, tattoos galore, vintage everything — We were definitely not cool enough to be walking those streets or checking out the Sunday flea market in Mauerpark. We bid Berlin “Auf Wiedersehen” with beers in the Pratergarten before picking up our bag from the hotel and heading back to the airport.

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