Continuing the list of 20 things that made me adore Berlin, you’ll see a good mix of magnificent monuments, poignant reminders of Germany’s dark past, a bit of comedy, plus lots and lots of chocolate. Just like Part 1 (numbers 1 to 10), every single Berlin spot in this list was measured against my five-point criteria:
11. Holocaust Memorial
After the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial was next on my list of must-sees in Berlin. I wanted to see it, pay my respects, and say a prayer. ‘Holocaust Memorial’ is actually an a.k.a. — the real name is much more telling: ‘Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.’ When we reached the site, I was surprised that there were no walls of names, or a morose sculpture, or white crosses on the ground—all quite common scenes in memorials around the world. Instead, I saw blocks of concrete—thousands of blocks of concrete. Confused about what they are, I started to walk ‘into’ them:
Walking along the narrow spaces between the various blocks, I was immediately overcome with a strange feeling of claustrophobia. I could see the blue sky above, yet all around me were walls of concrete in varying heights casting the strangest shadows in every turn. There was no pattern in the blocks—some were so tall they blocked the light, whilst some were short enough that I could see what lay beyond: more concrete blocks. Like the blocks, the floor sloped up and down randomly making my every step uncertain. Each turn looked unfamiliar, and yet they all looked the same. Although I could hear some kids yelling at each other in the background, I could not see anyone else. Before long, I felt myself panicking trying to find my way out of the labyrinth of concrete.
It wasn’t until I was back in the ‘open’ and sitting on a short, innocent-looking block that my husband told me that the memorial was designed to do exactly what it did: make you uneasy and produce a confusing and almost fearful atmosphere. The Wikipedia entry on it says that its aim is to ‘represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.’ I personally think it possibly lets you taste but a drop of the fear that the victims of the Holocaust went through. After whispering a prayer, we quietly left the memorial with its shadows slowly dancing to the setting sun.
For not allowing us to forget:
12. The Reichstag
Less than 700 meters from the Holocaust Memorial is the Reichstag which is home to the people responsible for maintaining the current peaceful, prosperous, and in fact, pretty amazing country: the Bundestag or Germany’s parliament. Magnificent from the outside, the Reichstag is actually known for what’s on top: the glass dome. Said to be a symbol of Germany’s transparent government, the dome has made the Reichstag the second most-visited site in all of Germany. Visiting requires advanced reservations and passports at the entrance, and since we had neither, we were forced to just appreciate the Reichstag from the outside.
For the beautiful building and symbolizing something even more beautiful:
13. Checkpoint Charlie
About 2km from the Reichstag, is another historical reminder in the heart of Berlin. Like the Holocaust Memorial or the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie reminds us of a time of war and terror in our history. Unlike the Holocaust Memorial or the Reichstag, however, Checkpoint Charlie has a bit of fanfare to it. The two ‘American’ soldiers standing in front of the checkpoint charging €2 for them to pose with you do not exactly exude a say-a-little-prayer-share-a-moment-of-silence aura.
One story about Checkpoint Charlie says that it was at this point that American tanks coming from the west and Soviet tanks coming from the East met. And although both were on the same team (Allied forces), they were not exactly ready to throw high-fives when they came face-to-face with each other. The story continues to say that the tanks had a standoff for five hours waiting for a sign, a cue, a command. Then both parties just decided to turn back and, fittingly, resume the Cold War.
Although a cute story, it is sadly untrue. What really happened, according to Wikipedia is:
Soon after the construction of the Berlin Wall, a standoff occurred between U.S. and Soviet tanks on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. It began on 22 October as a dispute over whether East German guards were authorized to examine the travel documents of a U.S. diplomat named Allan Lightner passing through to East Berlin to see the opera. By October 27, 10 Soviet and an equal number of American tanks stood 100 metres apart on either side of the checkpoint. The standoff ended peacefully on October 28 following a US-Soviet understanding to withdraw tanks.
For the awesome vision of tanks facing off:
14. Berlin Wall
Like a perfectly timed crescendo, we reached the Berlin Wall at sunset. Seeing the wall and reading about its history—about the tragedy it brought to the German people, and the eventual triumph of a ‘United Germany’—all in the warm light of the setting sun made the whole experience very moving. If you ever find yourself in Berlin and following our itinerary, I highly recommend that you time it well so that you also watch the sun set at the Berlin Wall.
For the story with a happy ending:
15. Brandenburg Gate at night
The Brandenburg Gate appears twice in my Top 20 and rightfully so. Although the landmark is no doubt beautiful in the morning, it transforms into a completely different kind of beautiful at night. Without the crowds and buskers, and bathed by the most perfect soft lights, the Brandenburg Gate is a vision in the evening that cannot be missed. Apart from a lone cyclist, my husband and I were the only ones in front of the Brandenburg Gate that night. With the whirr of Berlin traffic far off in the distance, we took our time taking in the amazing vision that stood there just for us, before heading back to our hotel for the night.
For being even more beautiful at night:
16. Ritter Sport Flagship Store
We kicked off the next day with a trip to the Ritter Sport store located at Französische Straβe 24. I have my good friend and No. 1 Berlin fan Deepa (Currystrumpet) for this idea. During her last trip to Berlin, she raved about her chocolate spree at the Ritter Sport store especially about making her own personal chocolate bar. She had me at ‘chocolate spree.’ The store had three floors of chocolate goodness. If you love chocolate, be ready to spend a full hour in the store. I ended up buying 32 chocolate bars for friends and family and 18 mini bars for my nieces and nephews. If you plan to make the trip, line up for your personal chocolate bar first as it can take 30 minutes to make. During this time, you can do your shopping and even sit down for a chocolate cake upstairs. Safe to say my husband and I were high on chocolate when we left the store.
For all 29 amazing flavours of chocolate:
17. Großer Tiergarten
After ingesting an excessive amount of chocolate at Ritter Sport, we took a nice walk at Tiergarten—a 210-acre urban park in the heart of Berlin. As nature lovers, my husband and I try to include a nature hike/walk in our trips. In Berlin, there is no better choice than the Tiergarten.
For letting us forget that we’re in a big city even for a few minutes:
18. Siegessäule (Victory Column)
The Victory Column teases everyone who stand by the Brandenburg Gate as there’s just one long straight avenue connecting the two. Standing under the arches of Brandenburg Gate, the column looks like a white pillar that gleams under the sun. The golden tip of the column teases and sparkles from 2 kilometers away. My husband and I debated whether to check it out or not. Part of us thought, “It’s just another column, so, meh.” In fact, it is everything but just another column. Standing over 200 feet tall, the Victory Column dwarfs you by its height and by its spectacular design.
For its golden garlands that gleam under the sun:
19. Amazing food in an amazing city
To wind down our weekend in Berlin, we started to retrace our steps back to the hotel and found ourselves back in Hackerscher Markt which is No. 2 in our list and itinerary. At the back of the market is a line of restaurants and at Barist (http://www.barist.de/), I had my mandatory serving of currywurst—a must when in Berlin. I enjoyed every morsel of my currywurst much like all the meals we had that weekend. Whether it’s a quick falafel sandwich (http://www.dadafalafel.de/), a hearty breakfast (http://www.oranium.de/), a cheese sausage from a guy at the subway platform (Friedrichstraße station), an Italian pizza-and-pasta lunch, a giant pretzel from a basket of a guy on the street, or a Singaporean feast at 1:00 in the morning (www.mirchi.de), Berlin scored.
For keeping me and my belly well more than satisfied:
20. Urban Art
On our way back to the hotel, we turned into an alleyway and stepped into Berlin’s other version of beautiful. Apart from the grand baroque churches and gold-gilded structures, Berlin also has another side that includes brilliant modern art (owing to the rich local art scene), and some of the best street murals in the world. I personally do not go around cities taking photos of street murals and graffiti but the ones I saw in Berlin stopped me dead in my tracks. I thought they were beautiful—another kind of beautiful. I’m glad that we accidentally stumbled upon these to cap off our amazingly beautiful and effortlessly cool weekend in Berlin.
For the other kind of beautiful: