Berlin, I’m still undecided how I feel about this city. On the one hand, you have the biggest fans who all announce that Berlin has so much to offer and there are so many things to do vs the nay sayers who downright dislike Berlin.
I guess you can’t spend time in Germany without checking out the capital after all, it holds so much history and provides a modern city where start-ups and small businesses can thrive.
I arrived via train at Berlin Central Station and my first thought was how bloody big the station was. I’ve never seen a 6 storey train station before! I met my sister and we got our public transport tickets and headed off to our Airbnb in the Leopoldplatz area. This was actually a very multicultural area and very family orientated area. After getting acquainted to the area, we headed off to see the East Side Gallery- murals on the wall that once divided east and west Berlin. We slowly walked almost the entire length of the wall and I really liked the political ones and thought that it was cool that it could still be displayed. We then stopped nearby for a quick dinner then headed back early.
The next day I headed out alone as my sister was unwell. I wondered downtown to take a free walking tour but arrived early so had enough time to find a bathroom. One of the things I hate about Europe is the fact that you have to pay to use the toilet everywhere! I went to one in a department store and felt completely cornered and hassled to pay whilst locals were just freely walking out.
Our walking tour took us to all the main sites, Museum Island, Gendarmenmarkt, Hitler’s bunker, Berlin Wall, Jewish Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the Brandanberg Gate. The city was really lively despite the gloomy weather. After the tour, I went back to the Jewish Memorial where I wanted to walk through the memorial as the floor is uneven and height of the blocks also not uniform and it’s suppose to be a very disorientating experience. Unfortunately, there were other adult tourists running and playing hide and seek amongst the memorial! I didn’t get my reflective moment as I had hoped. After the memorial, I went to the Typography of Terror which was more of a photography exhibit but I still thought the information and pictures provided were quite informative.
The next day we headed to the city centre and went to see the Reichstag building and Cathedral. We were just having a stroll before heading back to the Airbnb for lunch. In the afternoon, I went to the Berlin Hohenschönhausen Memorial which was formally a Stasi prison. It was just an ordinary factory/office looking building in suburbia but was actually a prison and interrogation camp. I went on a guided tour (most are former prisoners) and we were able to walk through some of the areas. It was eerie and uncomfortable. This place was left off maps so that no-one knew and psychological interrogation was widely used. Prisoners were transported in vans painted with fruits/vegetables so that no-one would suspect anything. If you are into modern history, this museum is a definite must visit. The guided tour is roughly 2 hours but I would have happily kept listening to more information for another 2 hours.
The next day was Christmas Eve and we had predicted that many places would be closing early or already closed. First thing on our public holiday to do was iceskating! We went to Potsdamer to a rink there as we had seen it was free except for shoe hire. The rink was small but we went in anyway. Nothing like freezing cold crisp air hitting your face. We thought we’d had enough after 35 minutes and left to go into the mall for some browsing. My sister wanted to watch a movie but I was still keen on site seeing so we went off on our different activities. I went to the DDR museum which was interesting but perhaps more aimed at a younger audience. It was also packed but I think it was because it was one of the very few things open!
I had some time to spare so went to Starbucks (wouldn’t be my first choice but it was open) for a hot chocolate and people watching while I waited for my sister. Once we met up, we went to the Weihnachts ZauberChristmas market and had some gluwein and assorted pasta and cheese dishes. I love Christmas markets and the general festive vibe despite the cold.
On the final day in Berlin, it was Christmas Day. We took out time in the morning knowing that there wouldn’t be much open. We walked around the Hackescher Markt and then split up again for the afternoon. I went to the Stasi Museum. After having gone to the Prison, I was ready for another super museum but I was disappointed! It wasn’t as interesting- maybe if I had taken a guided tour? I did think the spyware in the 1960s were quite advanced for their time.
We met up again after our afternoon apart and headed back to the Airbnb to finish our food as we were leaving Berlin the next day.
Maybe I didn’t get enough time to see the alternative Berlin that I’ve heard so much about but maybe also this city is just not to my liking? Let me know your thoughts on Berlin- are you a fan or not and why?
Hamburg was the first city where I spent more than 3 hours in a museum. I didn’t even do that at the Louvre. This was at the Miniatur Wunderland where, as it’s named, there are miniature scenes in different countries or scenarios set up. I don’t think I’ve heard or know of any similar museum anywhere else in the world. It is now one of my favourites!
There is just so much to look at in each one and the detail! Gosh, you would not even believe- traffic jams, breakfasts, skiing accidents. Now as a full grown adult, I very much appreciated the reflection of real life that these models had. For example, this airport traffic jam- what an exact representation of all the different drivers you get at the ticket gate!
Great for kids and adult children- make sure you are fed before visiting. As it is a huge attraction in Hamburg, arrive early or prebook your tickets online.
I’m not sure whether cities that are surrounded by water just seem to have a calmness about them or if it’s just Hamburg, but it was just so relaxing walking around the canals and near the port.
As always, I did the free walking tour in town which I think is always a great introduction to a new city and I especially love the stories and history as sometimes I don’t do my research beforehand.
I stayed at a hotel/hostel on the main street of Reeperbahn, the red light district, as it was one of the cheaper places to stay in Hamburg. It was quite safe (but alittle noisy) but close to public transport and a short walk to the waterside.
Have you been to the Miniatur Wunderland? What did you think?
How magical it was! I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and spent a few days there recovering from my AUS –> Europe flight. Caught the train for 1hr north and voila, arrived in Cologne (or Koln as the locals know it). Once you step outside the main train station, there is the Cologne Cathedral- ominous yet magnificent, casting a shadow in front of you. It is what you expect of a gothic church- amazing, grand (in every sense) and dark (you know, that we haven’t water gun cleaned it (can you even do this to UNESCO listed sites?)).
The 1 thing I was most looking forward to was the Christmas markets. Boy oh boy were they amazing. Amazing atmosphere and location!
For the chocolate lovers, be sure to stop by the harbour side Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (they give out free waffle stick dipped in chocolate!). You can see how cacao seeds get to chocolate form that we all know and love and see machines in action. Great for the kids or a rainy day.
During my visit, I also went to the EL-DE Haus which was the former headquarters of the Gestapo turned museum. This normal looking building on the outside houses original basement chambers which were used to keep prisoners and a courtyard used for executions. The walls are still covered in pencil markings and etching. It was so eery in the basement even with many visitors in there. It is well preserved and am so glad that it is. There is great information and I think that there is a good balance between allowing visitors to see the bare walls and also information panels. Definitely one for the history buffs or those who want to explore Germany’s past.
Cologne has so many more museums in what is a great tourist friendly and interesting town. Be sure to add this to your list if visiting Germany!
What are also great museums or places to see in Cologne?