22.05.2015 - 25.05.2015
We left Krakow for Berlin on the night of May 22. We always go with the cheapest mode of transportation, which in this case was an overnight bus. Despite our best efforts to squeeze a decent sleep out of it, the bus trip was awful. It was an 8 hour bus ride that left at 11 PM and arrived at 7 AM the next morning (no time change between Poland and Germany). Needless to say, our first day in Berlin was marred a little by our state of exhaustion!
We did try to power through and make some sort of day out of it, though. After checking in to our hostel, we headed to Brandenburg Gate, the big arch where the first section of the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989. We had planned on catching a free walking tour, which has been the first thing we try to do in every city. Just to clarify, these tours are not entirely free as you have to tip at the end, but they are a great cheap way to see and learn about a city from a local, before exploring on your own. In this case, the walking tour was full, so we decided to explore by ourselves and try to get there a little earlier the next day. Our exploration was again impacted by our fatigue, but we did see a part of the Berlin Wall, the memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe (unofficially the holocaust memorial), the Reichstag (the German parliament), and the TV tower. We would learn the significance of these places the next day. We ended our exploration with a beer on the patio, before heading back to the hostel for a nap. That night, we were sensible by having only a couple beers at the hostel bar, and then hitting the hay in good time.
We were motivated to get a good start in the morning, after missing the walking tour the day before. The walking tour took us to a lot of the same places we had discovered by ourselves, but this time with explanations. We learned a lot about various buildings and their involvement in both World War II and the Cold War. Our first stop was the renovated Reichstag building, which was first built in 1894 but then was pretty much abandoned after WW II. Some refurbishment was done in the 1960’s, and it was fully restored after German reunification in 1990. It is now home to the current German parliament. We saw the location of Hitler’s Bunker, which was the centre of the Nazi regime until the end of the war, but is now sealed off so you only see the plaque indicating where it was. We also saw the untouched former base of the Luftwaffe. The allies never bombed this base because it was a good reference point for the fighter pilots, and they assumed the buildings held valuable information they could use. We saw the TV Tower, built 50 years ago as a television antenna but now a well-known tourist site. You can go up to the top to an observation deck and restaurant, but we didn’t go up as we were on the walking tour. One interesting fact, which I am sure was not planned, is that when the sun shines on the stainless steel dome, the reflection usually appears in the form of a cross. It has been nicknamed the "Pope's Revenge" by the people of Berlin! We were lastly taken to Checkpoint Charlie, which is a re-creation of the most common checkpoint to cross between East and West Berlin. It was a great tour!
After the tour we decided to check out the “Topography of Terror”, which is an indoor/outdoor history museum that focuses on the horrors carried out by the Nazis. It is located at the site of the headquarters of the Gestapo and the SS during WW II and the Cold War and the street it is on was the boundary between the American and Soviet occupation zones. As we walked to the museum we found a free outdoor exhibit along the section of the Berlin Wall that still stands there. This section of the Wall was never demolished and it is the longest stretch of the outer wall that still exists. The exhibit gave a timeline from the beginning to the end of the Third Reich and the Nazi party. We spent a long time there reading the information and looking at the photos and we decided we were satisfied with what we had learned and decided to skip the actual museum. We then headed over to the centre of Berlin to the East Side Gallery, which is a rebuilt 1.3 km portion of the Berlin Wall that is covered in very artistic and meaningful art and graffiti. This section if even bigger than the stretch we had just seen at the museum, but it was part of the inner wall. There are over a hundred paintings by artists from all over the world, and it was established in 1990, shortly after the Berlin Wall came down. Work is ongoing restoring the art as the elements have taken their toll. We took a lot of pictures at various points, then took a stroll by the Spree River before heading back to the hostel.
The hostel had a good kitchen so we made ourselves some home-cooked spaghetti and decided to call it an early night as we were renting a car and driving to Munich the next day.