We had one full day to see something of Berlin. What we could manage was always going to be affected by multiple factors including the weather. In the end it was a very full day but there was much we did not manage to see.
Breakfast at our hotel was on from 7:00 am but by the time we had checked overnight correspondence and walked down the hall it was closer to 8:00 am. Even with that late start we were out and walking soon after 9:00 am.
Majella’s grand plan for Berlin had been to take a bicycle tour which she thought would get us to the places we would want to see. After talking with Jane about our Amsterdam bicycle tour she was not so sure about cycling in traffic. When we discussed options last night we decided that one of the hop-on/hop-off bus tours might be more our speed but did not manage to determine which would suit us best.
The bus tours all seemed to go through Potsdamer Platz so we walked there and bought tickets for the first tour bus we saw which happened to be the Tempelhofer. At that time of day traffic was light and we were the only passengers on the bus. The youngish guide picked our accents because he had spent some time in Australia and for the first part of the tour we sat upstairs at the fron of the bus with him alongside delivering commentary just for us. Eventually some other tourists joined the bus and he had to begin providing both German and English descriptions using the microphone. Still it was good enough that we sat through the complete circuit of a bit more than 2 hours to familiarise ourselves with the area and decide what we see in more detail.
By the time the bus completed its circuit and returned to Potsdamer Platz we were more than ready for coffee. It was near enough to lunch time that we decided to combine the two. After a quick look at the large models outside Legoland we ate at Corroboree, an Australian-themed restaurant in the Potsdamer Platz buildings. We had learned on our bus tour that curry wurst was a thing in Berlin so we had the curry wurst with Australian-cut chips accompanied by coffees. We were a little sad not to have been able to sample the Toowoomba chilli which was a featured menu item.
After lunch we got back on the bus and visited the area around Checkpoint Charlie where we spent some time looking at a display about the history of the wall and the checkpoint. There were stories about people who had managed to escape from East to West and some who had died in the attempt as well as about those who helped and the guards. There were a couple of sections of the concrete wall panels to demonstrate how substantial the barrier was. Despite that it mostly came down quickly when it fell in 1989.
Back on the bus we rode to the stop near the Brandenburg gate. We had been there earlier in the day but only briefly on one of the two longer stops the bus made. This time we got the photo and walked through the gate and on to the Reichstag building. We would have liked to get into the cupola there but tickets needed to be booked in advance. The information stand suggested that 8:00 pm or 9:00 pm might be possible but it seemed unlikely that Majella would want to be starting that tour at 8:00 pm or later tonight.
It was a short walk from there to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It consists of more than 2700 grave shaped blocks of concrete of various heights set on 19000 sq m of undulating paved ground. There was a long queue to enter the museum space below that may have offered some interpretation of what the blocks mean and I was not able to to find any definitive explanation in a quick web search. It is a sombre space and perhaps the lack of obvious meaning is deliberate.
Another ride on the bus took us to the Kurfürstendamm area where we wanted another look at the Kaiser Wilhelm church ruin. It was damaged in the war and left in a safe but still damaged condition with new sections added for functionality. We were thirsty by then so went looking for a drink which we eventually found after a lengthy period in a Christmas store. We joined the patrons at a smart bar, sitting at tables on the footpath watching the passersby as we drank our beer and white wine spritzer. Majella had ordered the latter from a menu section that indicated cider and something she could not read. Her choice was not the cider she expected but enjoyable nonetheless.
A longer bus ride took us back past Potsdamer Platz to the remnant section of wall at the Topography of Terror. It took more than an hour to work our way along the display of photographs and documents with descriptions in German and English chronicling the rise of the Nazi Party, the period of Hitler’s power, the division and reunification of Germany. The big picture was not news to us but the details of individual stories were confronting. Majella was visibly affected by the experience and saw parallels with some more recent events. The suggestion that Hitler’s rise was a consequence of people’s loss of confidence in politics has resonance for us now.
We walked back to our hotel, rested for a bit, and then went to look for dinner. We were able to get into Joseph-Roth-Diele, just a block away. It had been completely booked last night and was crowded tonight. Joseph Roth was an Austrian Jewish author who had lived in the house next door for a couple of years in the 1920s. The restaurant is full of memorabilia and books by Roth. It also claims awards for its quality. Majella was not very hungry and opted for potato noodles with sauerkraut. Luckily I found an offering without cabbage and enjoyed roast pork with noodles and salad.
Our visit to Berlin has been interesting, informative, and sobering. It has many of the bright features of a modern city but it has such dark history. It would be impossible not to be saddened by what has happened here over the past century. At the same time I am impressed by the efforts of the city and country to recognise and remember the past which cannot be undone but should not be repeated.