Two summers ago, our family went on a 9-day cruise on the Baltic Sea, stopping in 6 different cities. As cruises tend to go, we were only able to spend a day in most of the cities, so this next series of posts will all be about how we tried to make the most of the short time we had in each one!
Our first stop on the cruise was in Warnemunde, Germany. While there were excursion options to stay in Warnemunde, we had never been to Berlin before so we decided to take a tour bus into Berlin, which was about a 2 ½ hour drive away. We found a tour online with an independent tour guide, which was less expensive than going with one of the ship’s excursion groups, and our guide turned out to be great!
Our first stop was at Schloss Charlottenburg, the largest palace in Berlin and one of the most famous in the city. It was built in the 1700s to be the summer home to Sophie Charlotte, the first queen of Prussia. We didn’t have time to go inside or see the gardens, but we got to see the impressive Grand Courtyard and the statue of Frederick William of Brandenburg, honoring him as the founder of Prussia.
Next we went to the Mitte neighborhood of Berlin, starting at the administration center of the city where the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, is located. Then we walked just a block away to the Brandenburg Gate, the gate that stood on the border of what was once East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. This is where US President Reagan famously said “Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!” in 1987.
From there we walked to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which is the official name of Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. There is no sign or plaque at the site detailing the significance of this memorial or even telling its name to passersby which leaves its unique and untraditional design open to interpretation.
Next we got back on our tour bus and headed to Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous of the 8 gateways between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. This checkpoint became the only one where foreigners could move between East and West Berlin. Our parents actually went through this checkpoint in the late ’80s on a tour of East Berlin shortly before the wall fell!
We also were able to see and touch part of what was still standing of the Berlin Wall.
Our last stop on our tour of Berlin was at Bebelplatz, a public square where one of the Nazi book burnings in 1933 took place. It is now the site of a book burning memorial, a glass plate in the cobblestone floor of the plaza that looks down into a room of empty bookcases, with enough space to hold the 20,000 books that were burned.
Our short tour was definitely only a small peek at what Berlin has to offer; here are some other things we heard about while we are there that we’d like to go back for one day:
- Visit Museum Island – 5 art museums right in the center of Berlin
- Check out the Checkpoint Charlie Museum
- Watch the World Cup with over 100,000 people at Berlin’s Fanmeile (Fan Mile) near the Brandenburg Gate – we missed the 2014 world cup viewing by just a few weeks!
As our tour guide put it, “everyone has a right to culture” and after only a few hours in Berlin, it was apparent that this is an idea that the city embraces. With so much to see and do, we’d loved to make it back some day!