Destination of the Day: Berlin!

Twenty-five years ago yesterday a very great thing happened - the Berlin Wall finally fell.  I remember seeing it on the news and my father trying to impart just how important the moment was, but my 12 year-old-self just couldn't understand.  Well, I was lucky enough to visit Berlin on a school field trip a mere three and a half years later, and then to return in 2006 while interning in Germany and can I just say - WOW.  That city has undergone a complete and wonderful transition in those 25 years.  All the anniversary news coverage convinced me to make Berlin the first in my new series of "Destination of the Day", where I'll try to give some tips & pointers on some of my favorite places.

1) Some things never change!  This city is BIG, and fairly complicated. Unlike most European capitals, it isn't exactly a city you can fully explore by foot, so make sure to get a good map, or hire a private guide for a half or full-day tour.  There's the S-bahn AND a U-bahn (overground & underground trains), plus several train stations, airports, and the Spree River running through out the city.  But you'll still want to get from the Tiergarten to the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Dom and Alexanderplatz and... the list goes on, so study that map! (Note - my 2006 visit fell right in the middle of World Cup madness for the host city - normally there is not a giant soccer ball in front of the Brandenburg gate, or on top of the tv tower in Alexanderplatz!)

2) East Berlin is now the absolute HEIGHT of coolness in Berlin.  In 1993?  Not so much. I think we stayed there and it all seemed very gray and awful, from what I remember.  The changes over the next 20+ years are really most noticeable here.  From riverside restaurants and clubs, like Spindler & Klatt, to funky shops, it really is the place to be.  Don't miss the cluster of bars/restaurants along the Flutgraben, an old fishing canal that has completely revitalized & changed.  You can even enjoy your drinks on a boat floating in the canal!  So fun.

3) Never forget the history though!  Potsdamer Platz is one of the busiest and most modern places in the city, and the wall ran right through it.  The modern architecture is super cool, but just a few minutes away they've left up a small portion of the wall so that you can still see it, and remember.  I don't have a photo, but the Holocaust memorial just down the street from the Brandenburg gate is a haunting public space, and the uber-modern Jewish museum is just a few blocks away from the famous Checkpoint Charlie. Yes, the photo stop there now is semi-cheesy, but the museum inside is the exact opposite- really wonderful & thought provoking visit.  Finally, there is also the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church at the end of the mega shopping street Kurfurstendamm (or K-damm, for short).  That lasting ruin reminds all the fancy shoppers just how lucky they are to live in such a vibrant, thriving capital.

4) Speaking of museums, well, Berlin may have world-class modern architecture and clubs - but they also have many world-class museums! My 2006 visit was more focused on the party-side of this awesome city, but I still remember the truly impressive Pergamon Musuem - filled with ridiculous Greek, Roman, and Persian artifacts, including entire temple facades.  Plus, I will honestly never forget getting to see Nefertiti's bust in the Egyptian Museum either.  She, and the entire collection of that excellent museum, have all been moved to the Neues Museum, housed in a formerly bombed-out ruin of a building. Seriously- between these two and the British museum, I wonder how anything is left in Greece and Egypt!!  Sadly, I just read that the Pergamon is undergoing renovations through 2019, so beware of crowds at this most-visited museum in Berlin.  :(  Check out this site for more information on all the museums in the city's collection:

5) Hidden (?) Gem:  I never hear too much about people visiting the Sanssouci palace located just outside the city in Potsdam... but it is a UNESCO world heritage site, so maybe I'm not paying close enough attention.  In any case, this royal palace was modeled on Versailles, but luckily it is MUCH smaller.  The gardens are probably equally fantastic though.  My favorite aspect may actually be the name - Sans Souci in French means "without a care", and the palace totally reflects that.  If your time permits, it really is worth the visit - here is the money shot from the gardens- NOT MINE - I tried to take photos from the photo album I have from 1993, but it wasn't pretty - so this one should give you a better idea:

To conclude- Berlin really is one of my favorite places in Europe.  It has everything, from biergartens next to lazy rivers in lovely parks, to fabulous museums, from a unique history and perspective on the world, to yes - truly great nightlife and festivals.  There really is something for everyone here, and there's no time like now to visit.