Friday, January 19, 2007

Berlin, Berlin (Christmas Update #2)

flickr photo link: <Berlin, Germany, Dec 2006>
On 27 December, we took the ICE train from Braunschweig to Berlin. Very crowded, so we found some seats in the buffet car, but also very fast, so we found ourself at the brand new Berlin Hauptbahnhof in less than 1 1/2 hours. From there, we got frustrated by the ticketing machines, but eventually found our way on the S-Bahn/U-Bahn to the stylish Moevenpick Hotel Berlin, which was absolutely beautiful (our Christmas treat!) Our top floor room had a huge Philippe Starck designed bathtub, groovy lighting and chocolates magically appeared on our pillows every evening. Berlin is truly amazing, and can only be compared to London & New York in terms of scale & shopping. Clare had visited in October 1990, just a year after the Berlin Wall came down, and 1995. I'd never been there before, and I want to go back already!
You could easily stay a week and not see everything you want, from Checkpoint Charlie (very close to our hotel) and the whole Berlin Wall history (and associated museums), to Museum Island (chock full of huge museums bursting at the seams with ancient treasures) which we only saw from the outside, the Jewish Museum Berlin & the 2,711 concrete stelae of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which we saw on a bleak and overcast day, perhaps the most appropriate time. Near the memorial, next to a childrens playground and large apartment building is a simple sign showing where Hitlers' bunker was located. History is at every turn - you need to use your imagination sometimes, but remnants exist all around that help you to feel it. So, we fit all of that into 2 1/2 days, as well as the Museum for Photography and the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), which is so massive it's almost overwhelming. The Museum for Photography features Helmut Newton, a Berliner who lived for a time in Australia and took photos for the fashion and art world. He died in 2004. Many of these attractions can be found on foot with a half decent map, or just use the S-Bahn/U-Bahn, which has a huge network of trains crossing Berlin in all directions.
Finding great food in foreign cities is of course our forté, and Berlin was no different. After Braunschweig, we'd had enough knackwursts & cake, so we quickly found an excellent Japanese restaurant, Izumi sushi bar in Kronenstrasse (try everything, it's all good). The breakfast buffet at our hotel was outstanding (but we only made it on 1 morning!) The next evening, Clare settled in with a cheese platter & a glass of red at the mindblowing KaDeWe foodhall. 1,300 different types of cheese, 1,200 sausage and ham delicacies, 400 types of bread & rolls, 34,000 products - unbelieveable but true. Clare says the listeria filled cheeses were the best she's ever had, and very filling. I settled instead for a Nasi Goreng from the local Asian takeaway! On our final day, we met Clare's friend Michael (from an African trip in 86/87) for lunch at Cafe Einstein Unter Den Linden (nr. Brandenburg Gate), had a fantastic walking tour to Museum Island & Berliner Dom, and ended up at the Vietnam Restaurant next to Friedrichstrasse Station. Authentic and quite reasonable. We found Friedrichsrasse to really be the new centre of Berlin. From pretty much nothing 10 years ago to Mini-Cooper showrooms, French department stores and European designer clothes. All too much for our budget!
That was our final night in Berlin. We ended up braving the chill to see if the queues for the viewing dome at the Reichstag had dimished in the evening, but they hadn't. So we retreated to the warmth of our hotel room to get ready for our early morning flight back to Dublin. Oh, I almost forgot to tell about the snow. Yes, as we peered out of the crooked windows of the Jewish Museum (don't miss it) on our 2nd day, snow flakes started to fall. They got heavier throughout the day, but had stopped by evening. Of course we rushed back to the hotel to get our camera, and we got a few photos, but it was just a great experience. Our flight back with Ryanair from Berlin-Schönefeld Airport was on-time and smooth. As cheap as they are (and for their poor reputation), we've had no problems yet with Ryanair, and that capped off a truly superb week away - completely different from Christmas in Australia!
All of our pictures from Berlin are posted here. Please take a look if you like.

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