Ich Bin Ein Berliner

I was hooked, just what was this city? A hot bed of intolerance? (yes during the Nazi regime) a hotbed of acceptance? (yes currently and before World War II) Producer of some of the greatest minds/artist and / theologians? (all yes)

As a kid growing up in the late 70s (a very little kid) and 80s, Berlin was a city divided. Technically it was West and East Berlin but as a Canadian during the cold war, we viewed it as free (the West) and oppressed ( the East) . This view was no doubt influenced by media but also the omnipresent image of the Berlin Wall and the terrible stories about what would happen if you tried to cross it. My Auntie Barb, the truly most glamorous worldly aunt I had was on a European tour in 1977. In my small Manitoba town, my brother and I would wait for her postcards from exotic postcards from places like Greece., while my grandmother fretted about her whereabouts and when she was coming home., And when she did finally come home, my grandmother fretted about why she ate so much foreign food now. It might have been feta cheese. Auntie Barb visited a lot of European cities that year, but her stories about Berlin stuck out, especially as I got older. My dad distinctly recalls her telling us about having to surrender her Canadian passport at Checkpoint Charlie to visit East Berlin. This is why my aunt was so awesome. Most North Americans wouldn’t even bother. But it hooked me and I started to wonder if I would ever visit Berlin.

Fast Forward to the 1990s. The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and by 1990, Germany was reunified. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most famous historical events of my youth and I still remember watching it happen and being ridiculously happy even if I didn’t really know what it would mean. In the 90s I was also a university student who rediscovered the movie Cabaret which is set in Berlin during the Weimer Republic. I was hooked, just what was this city? A hot bed of intolerance? (yes during the Nazi regime) a hotbed of acceptance? (yes currently politically and before World War II) Producer of some of the greatest minds/artist and / theologians? (all yes) Still I never thought I’d get there.

So in 2014, where did I find myself? Berlin of course!! Berlin is a city like no other. Munich, one of my favourite cities embodies Bavarian Culture that many of us believe is German. Germany is very different from region to region but Berlin stands alone. A truly fascinating city that should be on everyone’s must do list.

There is so much to do, how do you start? I would strongly recommend a Walking Tour. Yes it will cover the recent history we are so familiar with, Nazism, the death place of Hitler, World War II, Communism, The Wall, The fall of the Wall etc.. But also the Weimer republic, the cabarets, the acceptance of the LBGTQ Community, Martin Luther and the Reformation,  Fredrick the Great, Kaiser Wilhelm, Albert Einstein and more,

I wanted to see Berlin for all of its history and it certainly doesn’t disappoint however despite my wanting to discover the older history, 3 things stood out that are still more recent.

  1. On Unter den Linden, Bebelplatz, near Humboldt University memorializes the book burning started by the Nazis. An empty bookshelf meant to hold 20,000 books (that were burned ) is visible through glass in the ground. Many of these books were written by Jewish writers. It is supported by the quote’ First they burn books, then they will  burn the people.’  by the writer Heinrich Heine over 100 years before World War II. It was one of the most chilling, heartbreaking sites that I have ever seen in the midst of one of the most beautiful streets in the World. http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/book-burning-memorial-at-bebelplatz
  2. Museum Island. Berlin is a cultural nexus. There is so much to see from Lutheran Cathedrals to amazing museums with Prussian artifacts to Egyptian treasures. The museums themselves are stunning. With bullet holes in the columns still visible reminders of the Battle of Berlin. A must do.
  3. Potdsamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate. Potsdamer Platz is not that interesting of a street. It is full of glass, chrome, opulence and money. It has a beautifully maintained green boulevard and some remnants of the Berlin Wall.

    It is fascinating because just under 30 years ago, Potsdamer Platz was the infamous no mans land The side of East Berlin that was empty and full of stone. Also infamous for trying to cross it may cost your life. 30 years late, it tells a story of a different Germany w10393151_403940179744942_6716812741640472551_nith only the green boulevards left to tell the story it may not have always been a commercial epicentre. Brandenburg Gate, the ornate, beautiful gate synonymous with Berlin was behind the gate in East Berlin, with no care or access. Now Brandenburg Gate is restored to its former glory and the symbol of a reunited Berlin. Visiting in 2014 during World Cup, Brandenburg gate was THE place to watch the game full of energy and pride. To top it off, Germany won. https://www.berlin.de/en/attractions-and-sights/3560266-3104052-brandenburg-gate.en.html

Berlin however is more than its recent history, so take the time to find out. Boulevard Fredrichstrasse Restaurant  has been in business sine the 1920s.  10438992_10152516782655535_2669096692882747273_nIt tells the story of a changing Berlin while still keeping that 1920s vibe alive and well. The food is out of this world as is the wine. http://www.boulevard.berlin/

Also The TV tower is a reminder of Berlin and its history. Commissioned by Communists and built by Christians, when the light hits it, a cross is visible. Despite its hidden messages the TV tower is a wonderful sight to behold on its own.10356209_10152516782015535_8613507653599588717_n

Also worth a visit is Hackescher Markt A wonderful market with unique and interesting restaurants, beer gardens,local crafts and boutiques. It is in an older part of East Berlin on the U Bahn as a stop. @benton8tors favourite part of Berlin. ps://www.berlin.de/en/shopping/1761522-2947095-hackescher-markt-sh

Berlin in 2017 is a very different Berlin than that of my childhood.  Berlin, its every thing you hope it would be, a city that has been the centre of almost any type of history to keep standing, learning, remembering, and thriving. Oh and avoid Checkpoint Charlie, once the fearful scary checkpoint into East Berlin, now a bizarre macabre Disney version of what it was but don’t avoid East Berlin by far the most interesting, culturally fascinating and resilient part of the city.

Top 5 Tourist Traps Must Do’s

Berlin’s history, wow where do you even start? The wall? World War II? The Rise Of Nazi Germany? The Reichstag? Weimer Republic,? Brandenburg gate?

Whenever someone asks me for travel advice or even if they don’t but I hear they are travelling and I  offer my unsolicited opinion, my message remains the same. Go off the beaten path, find whee the locals go, get lost, have an adventure, avoid tourist traps, ect… I tend to roll my eyes when I hear plans to go to Disneyland (why no, I don’t have kids, why do you ask?) or scoff under my breath when I hear someone rave about Madame Tussaud in any various city. That isn’t the real (insert random city here), I think, they are missing out. But what if, just what if some tourist traps are worth it? What if I missed out by avoiding such hot spots? I am sure sometimes I have, Sometimes I have tried it and been very disappointed (ahem Temple Bar) and other times, wow I am so thankful I did! So here are my top fave must do tourist traps.

5.Musee D’Orsay. 1 Rue de la Légion d’Honneur, Paris http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html. Both cheaper and less time consuming than the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay is located in the former Gare d’Orsay and is simply the best place to view the art of the Impressionists. Europe 2006 184Though the Louvre offers a wider variety of art, the Musee d’Orsay showcases the wide range of Impressionist art. Here you can gaze on art from Manet, Monet, Renior, Van Gogh, Sisley, and Degas. They also prominently feature the Women Impressionist Mary Cassatt, and Berthe Morisot as well as lesser known artists. The collections are featured in separate rooms making the layout easy to follow (ahem Tate Modern).It is very busy but less crowed than the Louvre and you can get up quite close to the paintings As well it offers a stunning view of the Sacre Couer. A must do for an art lover or not!

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The Floor Strippers

4. Leaning Tower of Pisa. Pisa Italy. http://www.opapisa.it/en/ Of all the super touristy places to visit, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was definitely very very low on my list.

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totally not a tourist photo

I have seen countless pictures of friends pretending to hold the tower up and thought to myself How boring and uninspiring it looks. However finding myself in Pisa in 2014, We decided we would at least go see the Tower, but we would not under any circumstances take our picture there. 37 pictures later, we were awestruck at just how stunningly beautiful the Tower actually is.The design is intricate, it is well kept and really rather breathtaking. Don’t miss the Duomo in the same grounds. Side note, the grounds are also stunning but it is very busy. Also whatever you do, don’t eat near the tower, you will pay more and no doubt be disappointed with your food. tourist sites are not a foodie’s friend.

3. The Holocaust Memorial Berlin. http://www.stiftung-denkmal.de/startseite.html Berlin’s history, wow where do you even start? The wall? World War II? The Rise Of Nazi Germany? The Reichstag? Weimer Republic,? Brandenburg gate? Einstein? Frederik I? Berlin can almost seem overwhelming and its history in the 20th Century is both a celebration human triumph and great sadness, anger and depression at the worst of humanity. Berlin, there was so much to do.

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Potsdamer Platz

Visit Potsdamer Platz, at one time no mans land behind the wall in East Berlin, now shiny new buildings, highlighting Berlin’s affluence. But the Holocaust Memorial created by Peter Eisenman a Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe  located on the former no mans land that divided the city is a definite.  Upon first seeing the memorial, it looks like just a bunch of concrete slabs, and it is but it is so much more than that. No one slab is the same and as you walk through the memorial, it’s truly haunting. the surface  dips and rises and it is difficult to see people. it gives the sense that once you see someone, you may not see them again. Coming out of the memorial, I as shaken but ever so glad I  pursued it. It is incredibly sad but a must do for its promotion of remembrance and humanity.

2. Top Of the Rock New York City.https://www.topoftherocknyc.com/ New York City is so full of things to do, I am not sure I could ever see everything I wanted to see. So well meaning friends told me “You have o do Top of the Rock, its the best!” I was dubious. So you want me to spend my precious New York Time, taking an elevator to the top of a building at 30 Rockefeller Center?11421991_1595841940667536_1717419665_n Why?? But I did it anyhow if only because I forced Ben to do a snl tour with me that unfortunately made me look more like a stalker than a fan and we thought … since we are here… The views are simply amazing. You can see all the landmarks, the park and the rivers. Now when people go to New York, I do tell them “you have to do Top of the Rock”. Definitely avoid eating near 30 Rock though, New York is a food heaven but you won’t find it at 30 Rock or even worse Time Square. It is worth it to have a drink by the 30 Rock, even if it is overpriced, the people watching is amazing, even if you don’t see Seth Meyers.

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Champers at 30 Rock

If you are hungry, head over to 3rd Avenue for some better food options. there are many amazing restaurant. One of which was a Mexican restaurant who’s name escapes me but served delicious food and drinks. The service was amazing, as was the patio, which I had to abandon as a pigeon walked near me. When Ben finally found me inside after returning from the washroom, he figured out what happened. ‘Where’s my wallet and phone?” he asked. I  didn’t know, after all a pigeon walked by me. Exasperated he found his wallet and phone still on the table and then sat down to enjoy a Mexican mezcal, no doubt needed by then. ( Moral of the story, do tourist stuff but go off the beaten path to eat and don’t forget wallets when fleeing evil pigeons).

  1. Tower of London http://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/  . Legend says that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress. The ravens, with their clipped wings are just one of the many reasons to visit the Tower of London. Though the Tower is home to some of England’s darker history, it is well well worth the visit. Seeing the site where Anne Boleyn was beheaded was chilling, both literally and figuratively.
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    Anne Boleyn last moments

    We also got to visit Walter Scott’s prison apartment, view traitors gate, pose with the Beefeater, see the Crown jewels and generally get a clear understanding of some of England’s most famous historical moments. Unlike my previous posts… eat at the Tower, the restaurant is amazing.

So my take away is, if you are traveling, sometimes, just sometimes, a tourist trap can be worth it and you will absolutely love that you took the opportunity. Just maybe take the chance (but then do something off the beaten path).