Berlin was fabulous …

I forgot to say about our flight from Lisbon to Berlin. It was on Ryan Air and while the flight was cheap, the terminal for the ‘cheap’ airlines is nothing more than a cattle shed!! We hadn’t come across this before. We have got used to the walk to the end of the terminals or the bus ride out to board the plane on the edge of the airport, but this new level of ‘cattle shed’ is pretty awful. There isn’t enough seats for everyone and if flights are delayed then the whole process is just hideous. You are governed by which mediocre restaurant has seats available if you want to eat and you hover around stalking the first person to move from their seat. It is the luck of the draw and we got McDonalds, which is fine – we don’t mind it from time to time. We hadn’t had it for a while so were okay with it. Every bite you took and every chip you ate was being watched by other hawk-eyed travellers stalking you for your seat – the hunters become the hunted!! Let’s not talk about the toilets and the queues. All in all Terminal B in Lisbon for the cheap flights is not a process I want to repeat!

We finally arrived in Berlin at midnight and caught a taxi to the hotel in the city. €45 from A to B but it was quick! Europe is not a cheap place to visit when you are spending NZ$ but what’s another few dollars at this point! We were booked into the Holiday Inn Express which is close to ‘Check-point Charlie’ and had breakfast included – perfect. Finally after checking in, we crashed into bed for a luxurious sleep after our [thankfully] short flight which was just a bit better than awful. Cramped and hard seats with over worked unhappy cabin crew made it our second worst flight! Nothing will every compare to the dreadful Norwegian Flight, but this Ryan Air one came in a close second. Saying that we have flown with Ryan before and it was okay. We are booked on our next flight to Singapore with ‘Scoot’ which is the cheap version of Singapore Airlines and it was half the price of the main airline. Fingers crossed it is okay – actually I write this from my Scoot seat and I can report that it is okay. There are no luxuries on board but it is a Dreamliner, so a quite flight and reasonable seats. Just one small disappointment is that half the people on board seem to have ‘meal deals’ and we weren’t offered that with our booking!! Anyway the trials and tribulations of travel … it all just adds to the kaleidoscope of our trip.

So Berlin is an amazing city. I hadn’t realised that it had so many rivers and canals running through it. They branch off in every direction and create a wonderful vista of waterways, tree lined with willows gracefully dipping their long branches in the ‘murky’ water. You wouldn’t get me swimming in it but with the sun sparkling on it and the buildings and trees reflected on it, it does look beautiful.

We actually ended up doing a Spree River cruise for a couple of hours and it was a fabulous way to explore the city. There are so many incredible buildings – old and new, and wonderful new apartments along the canals. The were so many people in the parks relaxing under the trees or in beer gardens and us cruising by and all of us just watching the world go by.

We got the hop on/off bus here as well as it is such a big city and while the underground is pretty extensive, you really don’t get to ‘see anything’ while you are underground. Berlin is a city that is covered in green parks (or waterways) and tree lined streets. I kinda love that the skyline it isn’t swamped with skyscrapers.

While doing the hop on/off bus and the river cruise it became apparent just how much damage WWII had inflicted on the city. Every other building or bridge has been repaired or replaced after the war. Some of the buildings are complete with bullet holes, some have statues with limbs missing that are not going to be repaired, so as to remind us. Then you have ‘the wall’.

I had always thought don’t mention the ‘war’ or ‘the wall’ was the modus operandi BUT Berlin has embraced [all] its history and actually is now in full exploitation of it. From Checkpoint Charlie to the East Side Wall gallery, to sections of the wall placed around the city, to the memorials for those who perished – it is full on history recapped and it is bleak, and it is emotive, and we should never forget.

Of course leaving sections of the wall in place didn’t please everyone and no-one wants their house to be next to the part that is left, so they created a wall ‘monument wall’ and then turned one part into the famous East Side Gallery which is the longest outdoor gallery in the world. Graffiti and tagging covering nearly every inch of the parts of the wall which remain in-situ.

The memorials for those who perished are simple, yet effective. One is a small reflective pool [to commemorate the murdered ‘Gypsies’ although this is not a term used as it is offensive, so it is a memorial to the Sinai & Romany peoples] and the other is [called ‘Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe‘] of large concrete, almost coffin, like sculptures laid out in rows on uneven ground and of uneven heights, like a giant maze – there are more than 2700 of them and you can walk in between them. Some people were playing hide and seek, some people were reflective, some people lay on them and some people just moved slowly about touching them. There was an exhibition below where you saw the story boards of the horrors, saw the photos of the families who were separated, read the stories of the survivors and were left with a heavy heart as you ‘freely‘ walked out into the sunshine.

So Berlin is a city of the past, fabulous buildings, monuments, statues and history and Berlin is a city of the future, embracing its history and becoming a modern city (although their underground needs a bit of an overhaul … well at least some elevators to the get you into the bowels of the earth!). Some of the new buildings are just amazing and are tangibly tied to the past. The new Federal Chancellery is built with a bridge connecting the East and West sides of the river to celebrate Berlins unification and is called the ‘federal ribbon’. It is very modern and forward thinking.

There are more museums here in Berlin than you can imagine and with half a day recommended at each one we only had time for one. We chose the Museum of Technology. It was incredible (MOTAT on steroids for you Auckland people!). We spent nearly 5 hours here and were a bit jaded by the finish at it was nearly 40 degrees. We didn’t really even see or do everything. From planes and trains, to cars and boats, computers, maze of mirrors, the science of sound and light, and a myriad of other things. With all that technology, housed in two old buildings and a purpose built new building you would have thought they might have included air-conditioning?!?

We walked and walked here, and partook in a beer or three. We watched street theatre in the square at lunchtime, saw a flash mob and watched all these people rifle in the bins. It took us a few days to work out that they were scrounging for bottles – plastic or glass. There is a €0.25c per bottle so it is a lucrative business to collect them. Berlin is a big city and with all the foibles of a big city. Graffiti is everywhere, rubbish around the place, homeless on the streets and in the parks, and people begging. There were ‘gangs’ of [deaf- NOT!!] students trying to get people to sign petitions and give donations, which were actually scams. If you didn’t give money or sign the [phoney] petition, you may have found yourself pickpocketed!

But for all of that, I would visit again – there is a lot to see and do, and it is really a very beautiful city.

‘If you want something out of life … go out there and find it”

ps: Berlin too has a cattle shed airport for the ‘cheap flights’ – no air conditioning, not enough seats, no shops [well duty free] a walk out to the plane …. hmmmm I might get more discerning with my travel as I get older!


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