Berlin is cold and dreary when we arrive. We’ve not packed particularly well for cold weather, so we all end up wearing as much we can and stand in huddles whenever possible to try and keep warm. Much like Cologne, Berlin is littered with tiny bottles of spirits, only this time the drunks are much more obvious.
We stay in a nice serviced apartment (thanks again insider rates) in the Mitte district, just inside what used to be East Berlin (and now I suppose is just east Berlin, having lost the leading capital with reunification).
Just around the corner from where we are staying is the River Spree, the Berliner Dom (cathedral) and the museum island. My mental image of East Berlin was a concrete wilderness of blocks of flats, so it is a bit of a surprise that all these magnificent buildings were on the east side of the wall. Of course east Berlin does have a lot of 60s concrete buildings, dull squares and dated socialist art. It almost makes us feel like we are back home in Canberra.
One morning we head up the TV tower, a major landmark and symbol of first East Berlin and now a reunified Berlin. The area between the tower and the river is a mess of construction work, building on the site of the former East German Palast of the Republik (Parliament building), which was controversially demolished despite its heritage significance and popular protest. The construction sites aren’t too ugly though because Berlin was built on a swamp, water must be pumped out of construction sites and is carried away in brightly coloured pipes.
We visit the DDR museum, which provides an insight into everyday life in East Germany including the shortages and the attempts to escape to the West over (or under) the wall. You can also sit in a Trabant, which was a slightly different experience to sitting in an Audi R8 a couple of days earlier at the Autostadt. There’s actually still quite a lot of trabents on the road in Berlin, some of which have been converted into trabent limos for tourists and some which seem to have had no maintenance since hey were purchased.
The largest surviving stretch of the wall is called the Eastside gallery, which we decide to visit. After reunification, the east side of the wall was covered with contemporary art. They have been restored since and are reasonably well preserved but still are unfortunately covered with some inane tags. We also pay a visit to some of Berlin’s other main tourist attractions, such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust memorial and the Reichstag (although sadly we hadn’t booked in advance so couldn’t walk in the awesome ceiling).
We were quite keen to pay a visit the to the badeschiff literally “bathing ship”, a swimming pool actually suspended in the river. We opt for a swim, which is an interesting experience although it was a bit cold and overcast that day. There has been some talk of putting one of these pools in Lake Burley Griffin, but as to whether Canberra will ever get its own river swimming pool, like the VFT I’ll believe it when I see it.
Origin game 2 is on while we’re in Berlin, and it would be unAustralian to not go. We find a backpacker bar chain to watch it in, and figure that just once starting drinking at 11am wouldn’t be a problem. We even manage to teach our godson how to cheers, although for now he’ll have to suffice with cheersing with bottles of water rather than beer for now.
Conveniently we win game 2, although Myles had promised Keelie they could skip the 3rd game if NSW lost, so it wasn’t convenient for all.
Our last glimpse of Germany is the chaos of terminal 3 at Berlin Tegel airport. Every way you turn there are giant lines and even though we were moved to the express queue due to having a one year old in tow, the process was excruciatingly slow. (Who knew toddlers were a fast pass? Everyone should travel with one!) Any lingering beliefs about German efficiency that we may still have had were completely destroyed by this experience.