Germany

FotoFolio: Berlin for first-timers

Yep, both Niklas and I stepped into the cold, cold city of Berlin for the first time on our first week in Europe, after the butt-numbing 7.5-hour bus and ferry ride from Copenhagen. IMG_2980

Following the instructions from our half-Pinay, half-German CouchSurfing host Analie, we took the “Messe/ICC” Ringbahn (loop train) to Gesundbrunnen (one of the main stations for the Ringbahn, S-bahn (railway train like MRT), U-bahn (metro/subway) and regional/international trains) and took the S-Bahn to where she lives. (So much “bahn” right? And we’re not talking about the buses and trams yet. While the transport system is quite efficient, one of the first few lessons in Berlin is that Bahn = train and going to one station using the right S-Bahn or U-Bahn requires tourists (and locals) to never underestimate the travel time necessary. haha)

Berlin commuter rail network from BerlinMap360 -- see what I mean?!
Berlin commuter rail network from BerlinMap360 — see what I mean?!

But, actually, once you kind of get the hang of it, commuting in Berlin is quite easy and fast. I’m not sure how affordable it is since we got a Berlin Welcome Card — a 19-euro 48-hour tourist pass (can be 72 hours too) which we can use for any form of public/government-ran transportation within Berlin. The card also entitles us to discounts to some tourist attractions (like the museums and the TV Tower) and restaurants (there’s a listing) as well as activities (bike rental, sightseeing bus, guided tours). What I loved most about the Welcome to Berlin Card were the convenience (no need to buy and validate train/bus tickets each time) and the suggested itineraries with maps and walking route for first-timers (like us), experts (like other people), for families, and for nature-lovers.

FotoFolio: Welcome Berlin Card and the Tour Map
Welcome Berlin Card and the Tour Map

Of course, we didn’t do any tours anymore on the day we arrived in Berlin but, as we needed to step out of the house as our host attended a lecture, we found our way to the Berlin Wall, or what remained of it. Despite my liking of old things and places, I am not much a reader of history. I think Niklas enjoyed telling historical stories he’s read in this or that book or article so he was my pseudo-guide as we walked through the reminder of Berlin’s sad and grim history. Be that as it may, I think that the Berlin Wall, as it stands today, can also be a reminder not just to the people of Berlin or to the citizens of Germany but more so to the global populace that nothing lasts forever — not tyranny, or power, or suffering, or discrimination, or poverty. I believe several people had done several extraordinary accounts of the Berlin Wall and what it meant to live in those times.

Fotofolio - Stretch of Berlin Wall
Stretch of Berlin Wall, east side gallery

But looking at the images of the wall (at least the East Side that we saw) was to me more moving than any word written. The struggle of people to live in complete submission while enduring poverty, knowing (or dreaming) that at the other side of the wall lies deliverance and freedom, not just from the physical pain of hunger and abuse, but the psychological detriment they had to live with while fearing for one’s life as they hang on to the last strands of hope.

Fotofolio - Berlin Wall east side gallery
my favorite among the many artworks along the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall

Of course, as I said, I am not a reader of history nor am I a writer of one. I am but a speculator and spectator and I wish, deep in my heart, that the worst we have all imagined wasn’t what was real, and that what was real, was not worse than what we have imagined. Anyway, on to the lighter side of things — seeing a fellow Filipino couchsurfer wandering the streets of Berlin!

Oberbaumbrücke at night
Oberbaumbrücke at night — on the way to Kreuzberg
Shoes, anyone? For some strange reason or another, people hung their shoes/slippers on the ceiling of the bridge.
Shoes, anyone? For some strange reason or another, people hung their shoes on the ceiling of the bridge underpass.

After some walking, and a series of misfortunes (early closing cafe with wifi, dead phones, sleeping watchwoman), we finally saw Tim walking past the restaurant we are in! Tim is from the Philippines, member of CS Manila! I didn’t know that Tim was out of the country or actually, in Europe! We both agreed it’s nice though to meet another Filipino traveling — especially after days without speaking proper Tagalog! Hehehe 🙂 After Niklas finished his meal, and us three getting lost with the U-Bahn and S-Bahn options, we set off to meet Analie. We ended up in a really smokey bar with the barwoman not paying attention (she enjyos her darts too much) and had our first taste of German beer, in Germany!

FotoFolio - With CS Host Analie and CS Manila Tim
With CS Host Analie and CS Manila Tim

The next day, Niklas and I set off on the actual “Berlin for the First Time” tour, on foot and on sausage! Hahaha 🙂 From this point forward, through a series of photos, I’ll try my very best to take you through the streets of Berlin, specifically the Mitte or central area, to see the sights, and to have your impression of the city. We did not strictly follow the suggestions on the map (we missed the Nikolai Quarter and we were already too tired to visit Postdamer Platz (and the Victory Statue) and we weren’t planning on watching any performances). So, are you ready for your Berlin for beginners tour?!

Alexanderplatz, where it begins!
Alexanderplatz, where it begins!
Sausage Sandwich from Alexanderplatz
1.6 euro sausage sandwich from the street
Fotofolio - The TV Tower
Standing at 368 meters tall, the Berlin Television Tower is a landmark visible across the entire Mitte, perhaps even across Berlin
One of the many views (with explanations) from the top of the TV Tower (entry at 10 euros if with Berlin Welcome Card). There's also a restaurant -- a bit pricey but maybe worth it for extra view!
One of the many views (with explanations) from the top of the TV Tower (entry at 10 euros if with Berlin Welcome Card). There’s also a restaurant — a bit pricey but maybe worth it for extra view!
Fotofolio - St. Mary's Church
The Church of St. Mary — a Gothic-style church from the early days of Berlin (around 1250) — is found just a few steps from the TV Tower
Rotes Rathaus is not a house of rats. Rotes means red and Rathaus means town hall. The neo-Renaissance red brick building is the seat of Berlin's mayor.
Rotes Rathaus is not a house of rats. Rotes means red and Rathaus means town hall. The neo-Renaissance red brick building is the seat of Berlin’s mayor.
Fotofolio - Bearlin
Bears are everywhere in Berlin! 🙂 This one is along one of the souvenir shopping streets after Rotes Rathaus and before the park
an unnamed park en route the Berliner Dom
an unnamed park en route the Berliner Dom
The Berliner Dom, aka Berlin Cathedral, is probably one of the most photographed landmark in Berlin.
The Berliner Dom, aka Berlin Cathedral, is probably one of the most photographed landmarks in Berlin.
The Berlin Cathedral sports an intricately-detailed facade
Looking more closely, I think the Berlin Cathedral showcases a very detailed (see the columns and reliefs) but, in my opinion, rather simple or unassuming facade. I might be wrong in this view of course, as the Cathedral is supposedly a show of power and wealth of the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling family at the time.
Fotofolio - Berlin Cathedral Dome details
Several statues, especially of angels and saints, can be found especially near the dome of the Berlin Cathedral
Chillin (actually, getting some sun!) with the statues along the banks of The Spree river
Chillin (actually, getting some sun!) with the statues (they are really called as that) along the banks of The Spree river (Berliner Dom sits on the other side)
Fotofolio - Berliner Dom after crossing Bodestraße Bridge
Berliner Dom after crossing Bodestraße Bridge. This is already on the back side, part of the “museum island” stretch if I’m not mistaken
Leading lines, is it? a pathway in front of the alte Nationalgalerie
Leading lines, is it? a pathway in front of the Alte Nationalgalerie
Fotofolio - Alte Nationalgalerie
The Alte Nationalgalerie, or the Old National Gallery, houses art masterpieces from the 19th century. Free entrance with Welcome Berlin card.
Fotofolio - Berlin Dom and the Lustgarten
A last look at the Berlin Dom and the Lustgarten (pleasure garden)
Fotofolio - Altes Museum
The Altes Museum (or Old Museum) is a neo-classical structure that houses classic antiques, golden accessories, silverware, Roman art, Egyptian mummies and many more! Free entrance with Welcome Berlin Card.
Fotofolio - Statue of Frederick the Great
Statue of Frederick the Great (Frederick II of Prussia), third king of the Hohenzollern dynasty, along Unter den Linden, considered the most beautiful boulevard in Berlin
Fotofolio - Freidrichstraßee shopping street
Freidrichstraßee shopping street leads to the Gendarmenmarkt
Fotofolio - Gendarmenmarkt Panorama
Welcome to Gendarmenmarkt, the “most beautiful square” in Berlin, Germany and/or Europe, depending on who you asked! 🙂 The German Cathedral to the left, the Konzert House in the middle, and the French Carthedral on the right. At the very center is the grand statue of German poet Friedrich Schiller
Fotofolio - Gendarmenmarkt German Cathedral
The German Cathedral and Friedrich Schillin’s statue. (I seriously thought he was some Grecian philosopher)
Fotofolio - Gendarmenmarkt Konzert Haus
The Konzert House (used to be Theater House)
Fotofolio - Gendarmenmarkt French Cathedral
The French Cathedral
Fotofolio - Gendarmenmarkt Happy Penguin
And the happy penguin! 🙂
Fotofolio - Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers shop
Just around the corner is the Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers shop, the first chocolatiers shop I have been in. It was gorgeous! Pricey, but gorgeous!
Fotofolio - Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers Reichstag chocolate model
They have models of Berlin’s famous landmarks and sells them in mini versions as well. Here’s the Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers Reichstag chocolate model.
Fotofolio - Souvenir Shopping
After some more walking back at Unter den Linden, it’s souvenir shopping, finally! Those are pilot bears inside the car. And a flying red bear too!
Fotofolio - Brandenburger Tor from Unter den Linden
Finally, after some more blocks of Unter den Linden, we have reached our main destination, the imposing Brandenburger Tor (aka Brandenburg Gate)!
Fotofolio - Brandenburger Tor
Built from 1788 to 1791, Brandenburger Tor as a city gate used to serve its purpose for customs/tax collection. The Brandenburg Gate has had its share of wars and repairs throughout the 19th and 20th century, and was needed to be fully restored in early 2000s. It used to be the Nazi’s party symbol. Today, it’s Germany’s most known, and probably most photographed, landmark.
Fotofolio - Reichstag Parliament Building
The Reichstag, on the right after passing through Brandenburger Tor, serves as the seat of the German Parliament, with both the German and the European Union Flags flying. The building was completed in 1894. I don’t know about you but I liked the chocolate better!
Fotofolio - Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
If you head to the left of the Brandenburg Gate, you can see probably the saddest and most haunting landmarks in Berlin — the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe — as a reminder of the Jewish lives lost to the Holocaust. I’m used to seeing memorials that are statues, obelisks or a marble block. This memorial was made up of 2711 concrete pillars or steles. It was open space but I completely freaked out while walking through the steles. Goosebumps, even when I’m typing this.
Fotofolio - Checkpoint Charlie US Side
After the Memorial, and since we didn’t have lunch and been walking all day, we had dinner at a nice restaurant in a quiet street (tried berlin’s currywurst and Berliner Pils, among other things). After that, we made our way to Checkpoint Charlie, which is the 3rd of the checkpoints of the US side when the division that is East/West Germany/Berlin still exists.

We capped the night off with a tea party and meet-up with Anja, my friend Elizabeth’s friend whom she met in India. 🙂 The world truly is small. 🙂 After the meet-up, Analie, Niklas and I went to a bar (no smoking inside!) that had a relaxed vibe eventhough there’s a lot of people and action (I couldn’t help it, it just happened in front of me!). And after that, it was time to go home and prepare for our departure to Prague the next day!

Fotofolio - morning view from the S Bahn
The morning after — view from the S Bahn heading to Berlin’s south side where our Blablacar ride/driver Radek and his friend Raja (both are Czechs) were waiting
Fotofolio - Blablacar Ride to Prague
Fields of snow along the Germany and Czech Republic border

So, there you have it. How did you find Berlin? Do you think our Berlin for first-timers itinerary was a good one? Or maybe you wanna share yours? Let us know and help out others who wish to explore Berlin for the first-time as well!

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