Filipino Traveler: Cleo Eleazar in Berlin
Berlin is known for a lot of things, but the most popular sights are the Berlin Wall and the Brandenburg Gate. Both are known for their historical significance. I can understand the sentiment behind these structures, especially after standing next to them and listening to the stories behind them.
I had the privilege of travelling with a friend and colleague who is originally from Berlin, and I had a personal tour courtesy of her father who is not only knowledgeable about the city’s history, but have personally experienced some of the events that shaped the city, including the construction and the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall.
We all know the story of the Berlin Wall. We watched it on television when it was taken down during the reunification of East and West Germany. Now, you can walk along the city and find pieces of the wall that used to divide East and West. Some are still intact and have been preserved, like the Eastgate Gallery wherein you can see mural paintings and graffiti done by different artists around the world.
Brandenburg Gate is probably the most famous symbol of the division of the city. Today, it shines in all its earlier glory on Pariser Platz. This is a very popular site visited by a lot of people from all over the world.
How to get to Berlin?
Getting to Berlin is very easy since all the major airlines fly there. I flew from Dubai to Hamburg first, then took a train to Berlin.
If you want to travel direct to Berlin, you can fly via Emirates Airlines or Lufthansa. Comparing airline prices is easy; you can try using Skyscanner.com or Cheapflights.com.
If Berlin is not your first stop, then taking a train from any city in Europe is very easy and sometimes more economical than flying, even with low cost airlines– that is if you have time to spare, of course–since taking the train will take you longer than flying. I took the train from Hamburg to Berlin and booked my tickets on www.db.de. If you book your train tickets just a few days before your travel dates, you can get discounted ticket prices from this website. My train ticket costs more than 50% cheaper than the normal price.
A lot of times, researching your destination and finding the best way to get there can give you great results and save you a lot of money. With the Internet, we don’t have any excuses nowadays because everything is at our fingertips.
Where to stay in Berlin?
Because Berlin is a major city, you can have a wide range of accommodations, each one catering to your budget. After I left the hotel industry, I have started using Airbnb.com to book my stays. Airbnb is great especially if you are travelling in a group because you can rent a whole apartment for a lot less than a hotel room. It also gives you an option to cook, if you prefer, since the apartments are fully-furnished. For our stay, for example, we rented a whole apartment with two bedrooms, a full bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room—all for three people. The whole apartment costs us only EUR51 per night. You have the liberty to choose the neighbourhood location and adjust your search according to your budget, so everything is under your control. Otherwise, if you would like to stay in a full-serviced hotel, then I suggest checking the rates on Booking.com.
Now, if money is not an issue, then I would suggest staying at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski. The hotel is located next to the Brandenburg Gate. The Adlon, dubbed by The Hollywood Reporter as the ‘The Berlin Hotel Where Hollywood Sleeps,’ has a long colourful history and has been a favourite among movie stars and the rich and famous.
From a historical perspective, Hotel Adlon in Berlin is one of the most glamorous purpose-built hotels in Germany since it opened its doors on 1907. The Adlon survived the war mostly unscathed, but Soviet soldiers, drunk on looted wine, accidentally torched it in May 1945. Part of the hotel remained in operation, but it was a shell of its former glory. Finally, in 1984, the East German government tore it down. The Adlon wasn’t rebuilt until after German reunification, but it quickly regained its mythic appeal. Tsars, Maharajas, Presidents and movie stars have stayed in this hotel. So if you want to splurge, this hotel fits your bill.
If the price is too steep for your budget, I still suggest a visit to the hotel even just to gape at the amazing façade and majestic reception lobby and soak in the history. And find an excuse to use the toilets!
Must do/must see in Berlin?
Berlin is a big city so be ready to walk a lot. Transportation abounds but if you want to explore the city, then it is better to do it on foot.
When I visit any city, the first thing I do is book a 24-hour hop-on hop-off bus tours. It gives me an overview of the city and its history, pick the places that interests me the most, then explore those places on foot the next day. I am also not a museum person; I prefer to visit monuments, places where events actually happened, look at architecture and experience the real vibe of the city. To do this, I would suggest going on foot and do a city walk.
I was given a book about Berlin by my friend’s father, and we followed some of the city walks suggested on the book. Below are two examples that will give you almost a full tour of the attractions and important landmarks in Berlin—from the historic facades to the stunning new constructions in the government district around Reichstag and on Potsdamer Platz. Along the way, you can also enjoy shopping and dining in fine restaurants and cafes.
- From the Zoo to the Palace. This city walk starts off from the Elephant Gate at the zoo entrance on Budapester Strasse, then to the Gdächtniskirche where the remains of the church built at the end of the 19th century and its new part lined with thousands of blue stained glass that fill the interior with blue light when the sun hits the glass is a must-see. From there, walk along the Kurfὒrstendamm Boulevard, which was built along the road to Grunewald; now it is known as a shopping mile lined with designer and high street stores. From there, walk to Savignyplatz, which is known as the central meeting points for artists and intellectuals in West Berlin. This is also where you can stop for coffee as cafes and bars line the square. You can also check out some interesting galleries here if you’re an art lover. The Deutsche Opera is your next stop, the façade of the opera house is not very striking but inside lies one of the great stages of Berlin with outstanding acoustics and space for an audience of 1,900. Continuing your walk, stop at the Sammlung Berggruen and Bröhan-Museums or continue on to Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest and most beautiful palace in Berlin and Schlosspark where you can rest your tired feet and enjoy the baroque garden and landscaped English-style park.
- From the Reichstag to the Museumsinsel. This walk starts at the Chancellor’s Office, Reichtag Building or the Parliament, The Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial or Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe – this controversial memorial houses 2,711 concrete slabs of different sizes. According to my guide, each slab represents one concentration camp. You can also visit a museum on the same site. From there, you can walk to the Gendarmenmarkt, a beautiful square surrounded by beautiful classical buildings. Then proceed to the German State Opera House, Humboldt University, Kronprinzenpalais. Originally built as a palace for the heir to the Prussian throne, the building became more historically important as the place where the unification treaty between the former East and West Germany was signed in 1990. From here, you can go on and visit the Zeughaus or the German History Museum, Altes Museum, the Berlin Cathedral, and end your city walk at the Museum Island.
Berlin’s best kept secret?
Visit Viktoria park, an urban park in the locality of Kreuzberg in Berlin. The park has an artificial waterfall at the foot of a national monument commemorating the battles of the War of Liberation built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in 1821.
On a sunny day, you can see Berliners relaxing and walking around the park with their children, or just laying down on the grassy grounds reading a book or sunbathing. It is a very serene place in the middle of the city where you can hear the water gushing from the waterfall. When we visited the park, we were blessed with a hot sunny day so we took a nap on the grassy ground before heading for a night out in the city.
You should also visit Berlin’s Hackesche Höfe just off S-Bahn Station Hackescher Markt. It is a heritage site consisting of eight communicating, restored rear courtyards accessible through Rosenthalerstrasse 40’s main arched entrance. The area, also known as the Scheunenviertel, is one of Berlin’s top entertainment hubs, popular with Berliners and visitors alike and a magnet for club-goers since the 1990’s. Here you can visit shops, cafes, and clubs. Around the area are restaurants, bars and small shops that sell both designer and second hand goods.
What to bring in Berlin?
Berliners are very casual, you can walk-in to a restaurant in shorts and no one will care. If you’re planning to go during the summer months of July and August, be ready for both rainy and sunny days; make sure that you pack clothes for both weather. Take a foldable umbrella with you, or buy one here once you arrive. You have to be ready that the weather will change from sunshine to downpour anytime during the day. Unfortunately, when I was there in July, it rained most of the days, except for a few hours of sunshine and one day where we had a glorious sunshiny day.
As for your clothes, I suggest you bring lots of T-shirts, shorts, two to three long pants (jeans and lightweight creaseless pants), sundresses, cardigans, and pashminas, so when the weather changes, you can just add or remove an item of clothing easily. A light waterproof jacket and walking shoes are also important; trainers, flats, a pair of Toms, slip on slippers or ballet flats—whichever is comfortable for you. There is no need to bring your wedges and stilettos, unless you have a chauffer to drive you around the city.
If you don’t want to get sunburnt, bring sunblock with you and apply it every time you go out. For some reason, I get tanned more when I am in Europe than when I am in the UAE.
Bring a good camera or your iPhone to take loads of photos, an open mind, and get ready to soak in the culture.
How much money do I need for this trip to Berlin?
It depends on how long you plan to stay, of course. If you have already pre-paid your hotel accommodation, as well as your train or airline tickets, then on a modest budget, you can live with less than EUR50 per day, excluding your shopping expenses. If you like going to nice restaurants, then I suggest increasing that budget to EUR100 per day per person.
Public transportation is easy and accessible, and depending on the length of your stay, you can purchase a day pass that you can use in all the public transportation around the city for only EUR6.90 per person. You can also purchase a 48-hour Berlin Welcome Card for EUR19.50, or a 72-hour pass that includes entrance fee to the Museum Island for EUR40.50 per person.
Other notes and remarks on Berlin:
When in Berlin, you definitely have to eat Currywurst! Curry 36 on Mehringdamm in Kreuzberg is the epitome of Berlin Currywurst, according to a popular Berlin website. The legendary snack stall has been serving its customers for more than 30 years. The place is busy with both Berliners and tourists, and have seen a host of celebrities dropping in for a taste of this popular snack. I had the classic Currywurst without the casing, and I must say it lived up to my expectations!
If you plan to visit the Reichstag and go up to the Dome, then I suggest you book this in advance. You will need to send your identification or passport copy in advance for security check prior to your visit. To avoid disappointment, make sure you plan ahead for this visit.
Read more travel articles on www.illustradolife.com