Last Day in Berlin

I had my ICE train to make at 330pm from Berlin to Frankfurt so yesterday was an abbreviated day in Berlin. I started the morning by heading to Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in the middle of Berlin and went through the Pergamon Museum. The entire Museumsinsel complex seemed to be under a bit of renovation and once I got in to the Pergamon there were a few hundred school children jostling to get tickets and general madness all around.

Once I managed to get my tickets and walk through the entrance, what an incredible museum the Pergamon is. Outside the Met, the British Museum and the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, it’s probably the most impressive collection of antiquities and the ancient world I’ve ever seen. It’s breathtaking. What’s most unique about it is the huge restored excavations, such as the Ishtar Gate from Babylon (you know, from the Bible), the Pergamon Alter, the Market Gate of Miletus, the Aleppo room and the Mshatta Facade. Fully reconstructed out of excavations from the late 1800s and early 1900s, it’s awe inspring to stand around and walk through all of these major parts of the ancient world. To make it even better, the audio guide (which is surprisingly included with the admission cost) is fantastic. The guided audio tour takes you through all of the most important areas of the museum and is very well done.

After the Pergamon I walked around the Museumsinsel are some more and then ended up on Unter den Linden and made my way by foot and the 100 bus down to Gendarmenmarkt, which is a very pretty square. The day had gotten warm so I had lunch there in an outside cafe before heading out to the hotel and back to Berlin’s main train station.

Overall impressions of Berlin: super modern, super clean, amazing public transportation (who said you can’t do major infrastructure works in big cities — take that San Francisco), and amazingly well spoken English. I really enjoyed the city and it turned out to be quite different than I had originally had mentally envisioned Berlin to me.

I’m now in Frankfurt and my flight for split in is a few hours. I’m going to take a quick stroll and breakfast in Romer square before I head over to the airport.

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Around Berlin: Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin Wall, Topography of Terror, and more

Today was my first and only full day in Berlin. I leave tomorrow afternoon back to Frankfurt. My dad had sent a great list of the must see items from when he was here with the fam, so I took to getting as much done as possible on the list. I started the morning walking Friedrichstraße towards Checkpoint Charlie, taking a few photos of the site as well as spending a lot of time reading all the signs along the way. I spoke to the ‘guard’ who was taking photos with tourists there and asked him if he was American. He said yes, and for a moment I thought he was but actually I think he’s just a really well accented German. Strange encounter.

I went from Checkpoint Charlie to the Berlin Wall Museum and read through all the escapes, deaths and other sad stories that the Wall become a symbol of. The museum is a bit dated, but the amount of material they present is staggering. I walked down from there to Wilhelmstrasse / Niederkirchnerstraße to see additional remains of the Berlin Wall, plus to see the museum at the Topography of Terror. While walking there I stumbed in to the Stasi museum along one of the side streets. More modern in its history that much of the rest of the day it was very well presented and depicted the haunting the Stasi performed on the GDRs own citizens.

I made my way to the Topography of Terror. The museum is stunning and riveting, walking you through 50 years of the Nazi’s and then of the separation of Germany. The museum is just incredible. It takes a long time to get through but it’s well worth the time. Right next to the exhibit is the last (?) remaining Nazi building, the old Luftwaffe headquarters that is now occupied by the German finance ministry. It’s an imposing old building.

Looking for a change of pace, I went over to Kurfürstendamm and walked around for a while until I landed in KaDeWe and parked myself in the foodhalls for a while. From there I went across town to Alexanderplatz (which I think is in the Jason Borne movies) and took a tram to Hackescher Markt. Very cool part of town with little shops, squares, cafes and bars. The area right next to the train station is very well developed with people milling about.

Tomorrow I head back to Frankfurt via ICE at about 330, so I think I’m going to see the Museuminsel and hopefully Gendarmenmarkt time permitting. If the weather is good, I may even attempt to rent a bicycle (it rained on and off most of today). Impressions of Berlin thus far: incredibly clean city, amazingly well spoken English, but it all feels very new and very modern. Not terribly ‘quaint’ but I guess that’s what’s to be expected post-war. Also very bicycle friendly and the S-U Bahn system is unbelievably good.

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First Night in Berlin

Just finished doing a quick round through central (?) Berlin. I walked from my hotel in Mitte up through Friedrichstraße (alt-S for all your Mac users) then went down Unter den Liden heading towards Brandenberg Gate, and from there to the Reichstag. I managed to get in the area about an hour before sundown so the Gate and the whole Pariser Platz was lit incredibly well and was georgous to take in. Behind Brandenberg gate was an outdoor festival with an some German band playing covers of American songs. And yes, I put the video on YouTube doing Lollypop. The whole area was full up in a very summer fair style, with various sweets and savory vendors and tons of beer vendors lining up the street. Pretty fun.

I went from the Reichstag via the S-Bahn to Potsdamer Platz. It seems that the S-Bahn rolling stock is shared between various lines. The cars have maps for multiple, non-intersecting routes, which must mean that they’re shared between various lines. It’s also impressive how clean the whole city and transportation system is. Much like Paris, the central parts of the city are spotless. Anyway, back to Potsdamer Platz: once you come above the station to the actual Platz there’s a great Berlin Wall memorial and segments of the wall preserved along with info panels across the area explaining where you are in relation to where the wall was. It’s amazing to walk around the areas and realize all the varied parts of history that have crossed the streets here in the last 60 years from Nazi Germany to the Cold War to today.

Tomorrow’s plan is to explore more of Berlin and mostly see as as many of the historical items of interest as possible.

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SF to Frankfurt to Berlin

I used to blog regularly when I was on the road. Since I have a few days, I figured I might as well start back with that habit. I’m in Europe a few days early for the Source Conference in Split, Croatia. I had a connection in Frankfurt so I’m taking the opportunity to break my travel and spend a few days in Germany as I’ve never been.

I’m currently writing from an ICE train in Germany, heading from Frankfurt to Berlin. The train is pulling in to make a stop at Kassel-Wilhemshohe. I had a rather uneventful flight from San Francisco on United to Frankfurt and then took an S-Bahn train from the airport to Frankfurt hbf. The station isn’t bad but it seemed quite empty as did all the streets around the area.

I was in the market for a SIM card for my Blackberry so I stepped outside the station while waiting for my Berlin train and found a hotel. I walked in and asked them where I could find one and they said I’d have issues today as it’s the 1st of May and a Sunday which means that nearly all stores would be closed. I figure that explains why everything outside the station in Frankfurt were closed.

At their suggestion I went to the internet cafe in the basement for the station and was able to get a Vodafone SIM card. I can get voice and text on it, plus I can get internet access via my browser, but it refused to connect to the Blackberry network so I can’t get any of my email, calendar, contacts, nor do any third party apps work (like Facebook or Gmail or Twitter). This whole carrier dependent BIS thing is lame. If I had an iPhone I could just pop in a working data SIM and it would work. I’ll try the SIM later on my iPad and see what happens.

Thus far I haven’t been particularly impressed with the infrastructure in Germany (and it’s a thing I was expecting to be impressed by). On this train ride, my cell keeps loosing signal, it was 10 minutes late, and there’s no wifi. I did have a fantastic pretzel at the Frankfurt hbf, so I guess that’s a huge plus. Let’s see what Berlin holds next.

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