We simply couldn’t ignore the fact that Berlin was chock full of history, most of it very recent. Unfortunately, we couldn’t squeeze everything in, but that can wait until we go back next year. Below are some interesting places to edumacate yourself in Berlin.
East Side Gallery
Remnants of the Berlin Wall now serve as a gallery of images promoting peace in the world. Most of the art is unimpressive, but the concept is what matters here. The artwork is covered by graffiti and visitors wanting to leave their mark with a Sharpie, but I think it adds to the gritty character of this “gallery.”
The other side of the wall is worth perusing. It has photographs of walls and restricted areas that still remain in parts of the world.
Checkpoint Charlie Museum
Started in a small apartment by a German anti-communist human rights activist Rainer Hildebrandt, this museum is now a fairly large place located right by what used to be Checkpoint Charlie. The main part of the museum has images and descriptions of various escape attempts and ingenious escape contraptions created by the residents of the GDR (in East Berlin) to get to West Berlin. It is PACKED with information in a very cluttered format. It’s worth noting that as educational as this museum is, it is just one perspective (and a West Berlin one at that) into life in the GDR.
“Berlin combines the culture of New York, the traffic system of Tokyo, the nature of Seattle, and the historical treasures of, well, Berlin.” – Hiroshi Motomura
If I wanted to move from my beloved New York City to someplace better, I would find myself on a one-way flight to Berlin. There, I said it. As a New Yorker, I like to compare big cities with my own, especially if I get to conclude that, “Yes, _____ is great but at the end of the day, there’s nothing like New York.” And I’ll sit there at an airy Paris café/packed biergarten in Munich/cool restaurant in St. Petersburg, staring glassy-eyed as I reminisce about my time in the Big Apple. But on our visit to Berlin, New York tasted almost bland by comparison, and for the first time since leaving home, I felt at home again.
Unlike many conventional travelers who research and book vacations months in advance (at work) and have the time to do the research for their destinations (at work), we have been planning as we go. But there are more than a few destinations on our loose itinerary we’ve been meaning to go to, and Berlin was one such city. Being uneducated and too lazy to look it up, I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
Berlin is not a wealthy city by any means, and it is understandable based on the fact that it was the victim of a tug-of-war between the Soviets and the other Allied Powers for 45 years after being badly demolished by the end of World War II. Because of this, the city is a good mix of all kinds of people, which lends to the unique cultural atmosphere.
What is there to do in Berlin? Well, just about anything your little heart desires. Using our rental apartment in trendy Kreuzburg (what Williamsburg in Brooklyn wishes it could be) as our base, we spent a week playing, eating (Vietnamese food), getting a haircut in a Japanese salon and educating ourselves in museums (the more educational part coming up in the next post).