(I was in the city of Warsaw in February 2015 for a month with a couple of colleagues.To explore Eastern Europe , on Saturday night , we’d take an overnight bus/train journey for a day trip to nearby countries. Berlin was my first Sunday outing in Europe.Here is a my travelling tale which started on a wrong note but ended on a very right one)
Everything went wrong from the word Go. While Pallavi (my colleague ) and I looked outside from our hotel’s giant glass front waiting for our cab to bus stop , the snow showers were trying to warn us about the ominous weather outside and the notorious wind with its dreary sound promised to knock us off as soon as we were out. It was quarter to eleven in night . We were to catch an overnight bus to Berlin at 11. From the experience of last week spent in Warsaw , we knew weather could change every hour drastically and one city could have a completely different weather from another .And here, we were travelling to another country entirely.And that is how we were trying to tell ourselves that everything would be ok.
As we braved the weather and reached the bus stop , bus had already arrived. We boarded the bus , and after getting our passports screened , went on to our seats.It was an Ecolines Polska.I took this bus on two occasions and both time I found it to be a great budget travelling option, even when booking at the last moment.And with number of buses plying on major routes like Berlin and Prague ,we never faced issue of seats shortage even with our last moment bookings .
Meanwhile,the lever of my seat turned out to be jammed , which meant a very uncomfortable sleep.I was beginning to have a bad feeling about this trip .A couple of Indian Jugaads later , I finally managed to squeeze in a few hours of sleep.At 7 in the morning ,woke up at Berlin a little groggy.
The bus stop looked dilapidated , not as we had expected.After all it was an international bus station. And we were in Berlin. Wasn’t it supposed to be Electronics Mecca ? The hub of research ?The great German capital? The bus stop defied all the expectations you’d have about Berlin.But that said a lot about Berlin too .What was a major travelling option in Warsaw was just another , economical – option in Berlin.
The sole ATM machine at bus stop , almost in middle of everything , didn’t hesitate to decline our ATM cards within seconds.I got a little frantic when I could not spot any currency exchange sign.We were not carrying even a single Euro. We had thought we’d get the dollars we were carrying exchanged at Berlin. Still, I decided to keep my apprehensions at bay for the time being .It was only 7 in morning.Nothing would open before 9 .We had two hours to figure things out .And first ,we had to eat something , get a coffee and look for a washroom. I opened up my packed poha and boiled eggs that had turned stone cold by now.After scurring up the last few spoons of poha ,we decided it was time to get things in order .And from there ,everything started going wrong , yet again.
So we enquired about currency exchange and came to know there was none in the bus stop and the nearest one was at Zoologischer Garten Statation( Zoological Garden in English – the metro station is walking distance from Berlin zoo or Zoological Garden) which was 15 minutes drive away. And so we thought let’s at least go to loo first and think about difficult things later . And there it was – 50 cents were required for using the loo.We could not even use loo .Loo! We had to pinch ourselves to believe we had ended up in this predicament.We could not use loo because we didn’t have even 50 cents :P .
And then another uncomfortable realization dawned,we could have exchanged some USD to Euros in Warsaw itself , if it was some other local currency , then only we had to rely on the destination’s currency exchange. Had it been all Berlin’s mistake , we could have been more forgiving on ourselves, but now , it was ours.
All local buses accepted only Euros .We checked with cab driver who approximated to 10 Euros to Zoologischer Garten and we were little relieved. We entered a cafe for some coffee,but they didn’t accept card , so coffelessly and shamelessly, we decided to sit there , eat some of our own stuff, and decide our itinerary . Armed with a plan , we hailed a taxi to Zoological Garten. 15 Euros poorer , we were at the metro station , where we exchanged to the Euros , paid the taxi and entered the subway station. No prizes for guessing, what was the first thing on our mind. Headed to a washroom. Brushed our teeth . And went to a McD next to the station to get a proper breakfast.
Zoologischer Garten Station
Couldn’t miss this opportunity to get clicked near this church at Zoologischer Garten Station
After filling our stomach to our heart’s content , we hailed a bus to Brandenburger Tor from where our free Walking tour was to commence. On our way to Brandenburger Tor –
A beautiful sunny day at Berlin with traces of snow
Brandenburger Tor (A closer look )
The compound around Brandenburger Tor is called Paris Square and also is the address to Hotel Adlon. This is the most expensive hotel in Berlin and the very hotel where Michael Jackson held his son out over the balcony ( as our walking tour guide told us)
The idea of joining the walking tour too didn’t work out well for us. We based our whole itinerary around that and we could not catch up with guy even for 500 meters because of our photography interests (and that we had reached a little late) .And then we decided to pursue the route of his walking tour on our own.We proceeded to the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews” which was just a few hundred meters from Brandenburg Gate.
At the site of Memorial , there is also a Holocaust Museum ,which is a must visit if you are a history lover.
At Holocaust Museum
Lots of audios and videos from the time of holocaust and family details of Jews who perished in that unfortunate event and their heart rendering stories
The mood at the museum is generally sober.Absolute silence observed by visitors. Don’t be surprised if you are moved to tears or you see someone burst into tears . The audio guides are ubiquitous at tourist sites and a great help in understanding each place well.
From there we followed Google maps to reach Potsdamer Platz,next on the walking tour destination.
Potsdamer Platz (meaning Potsdam Square named after the city Potsdam ). The road from Potsdam used to pass through the city wall of Berlin .It is an important traffic intersection in the center of Berlin now.
In European tourist sites , you ‘ll find a lot of people to earn money for pictures you click with them. So , they dress up like particular characters .This guy held this flag – meant to signify socialist revolution .And told us so many stories , frankly speaking every one of them escape me now.
Behind me , you can see a Trabant (or Trabi) Car – a lot of souvenirs in Berlin are dedicated to Trabi. There is also a Trabi Museum nearby from this location if you are a car person.
No wonder , people get emotional at such places
It was around 3 in afternoon.We had to skip a few intended destinations (Checkpoint Charlie – not far from here ) to catch up on other on our itinerary. So , we called up a cab and reached Berliner Dom (English : Berlin Cathedral).
Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom in German)
Berliner Dom is breathtakingly beautiful.It can stop time for you for the first few moments you lay your eyes on it .However, the wind was gnawing and we were chilled to our bones ( later on , as we saw on a weather site , the wind speed showed an exceptional, distinct high peak on a graph that day). We were cold , tired and longing for some piping hot lunch in a cozy place.So,we decided to head for coffee and some nice meal near the Berlin Dome before entering the place . The cab driver pointed us to an exhibition hall in front of dome and told us the coffee was at top floor .Later on , we found out there were some good cafes and restaurants just at the back side of Berlin Dome. But we were not complaining.We got a good view from our restaurant ( the picture above is taken from terrace of the restaurant) and had a good time looking at the architectures of the place in the exhibition halls.
Altes Museum – one of the museums of Museum Island with Lustgarten (Pleasure Garden) on the very left hand side of Berlin Cathedral
River Spree running right by the side of Berliner Dom with many cafes and restaurants on its bank
TV tower just a few hundred meters away from Berliner dom
At TV tower, you can have a 360 degree view of the city from the top where there is a bar and a restaurant.You can check about its history here .Boy ,does anything in Berlin not have a history ?
It was already close to 5 by the time we had covered Berlin Cathedral . We really had not much energy left after all the chilliness and long walks we had . We missed the museums of Museum Island ( on which Berliner Dome is also situated) which were close from here (there are five internationally significant museums , so you would need fairly good amount of time which you’d be willing to spare only if you are a museum person )
Well, so we called it a day to our day trip here , meaning to buy some souvenirs ,and grabbing some dinner before we went back to the bus station where it all started-to catch bus for our return journey .
Even though we were under-prepared , it was the most cherished trip of all my European excursions .Reason – Berlin itself , the amount of history it carries in its every street ,nook and corner. You are transported back to the World War II era and city would pull you back out too immediately if you have time to explore the other non-historical facets of Berlin.
I wished to add trivia about the places covered in the tour here , but I ran out of patience actually, plus there is this blogpost which actually covers all the interesting information you’d like to know about these places beforehand. Interestingly , the walking tour of this blogpost is same as spots we covered or intended to cover but could not , but in a reverse order.
As for me , I look forward to be there once again sometime with lot of time to spend and soak in its culture.
A few travel trips :
Berlin is not meant for a one day tour . It makes for minimum of three to four days trip – minimum as I’d put it .The city is a complete culture in itself – cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic,beautiful, and smells rich of history . And you DON’T want to miss their nightlife.How you plan your itinerary would depend entirely on your preferences and taste.
Read your guides before you go there . There are a lot of discounts on Berlin Welcome Card for the entry to museums and public transport.It is available on the tourism website for Berlin
As for souvenirs, I could not find any specialty item of Berlin. Either its the history or the Berlin written on magnets ,notebooks T-shirts etc . You get the gist ,don’t you? This is different from Warsaw, where one could pickup a trademark Polish pottery or Chopin Potato Vodka or Budapest where you can pickup their Paprika or traditional knit work).And everywhere ,there are these small pieces(stone size) of Berlin wall glued on a plastic back for 9-10 Euros.
I’d also recommend Charlottenburgh Palace , which was a little far from Mitte (Mitte means centre) (and we missed) .It looked beautiful to us! Reichstag is yet another don’t miss , very close to Brandenburger Tor.
Public transport is impeccable and very economical.Still keep cab providers’ phone numbers handy, so if you are stuck or tired , you can opt for this little costlier option.
All shopping centers are closed on Sunday in Berlin.So make sure you have your shopping interests planned for some other day.
The street names make good tongue twisters.You’d never be able to pronounce them like a German (unless you have already invested a few months learning the language).
Some further reading recommendations before you head to Berlin
Understand Berlin’s culture here
Walking Tours here :
Sightseeing information here
Would love to hear back from you , or your experiences about Berlin.
Keep Smiling ,