I've always loved travelling, and I've always been very lucky to be able to visit the places that I've visited. Travel is what drives me to earn and save; in an ideal world I would be able to work for six months and travel for six months (wishful thinking I know...)
Back in July 2019, Sheldon and I decided to purchase a "Mystery Break" from Wowcher, which if you don't know is a £99 per person break away for two nights in a variety of possible destinations. Long story short, we were offered Berlin for the dates that suited us and it was a pretty good trip for what it cost us!
We travelled from Gatwick to Berlin Tegal Airport on a Saturday morning in Feb 2020, on the 6.30am Easyjet flight and landed at roughly 9.30am Berlin time (they're an hour ahead of the UK). We had pre-ordered the Berlin Welcome Card - €33 each for a 72 hour travel card that covered ALL of our public transport on the trams, trains and buses, as well as including discount for many of the attractions around the city and a map to help you make your way around, which if you ask me is SO worth it considering the cost of a single day travel card up to London from Essex. Our first difficulty came however, in finding where to pick up these cards - especially since both of our German is pretty much zero. We landed at Terminal C and soon found out that we had to make our way to Terminal A, where the info-point/tourist office was located just inside the door (it wasn't sign posted, so we walked round like crazy people for about 20 minutes before we found it, in addition of where to pick up our Uber.)
We stayed at the Comfort Hotel Lichtenburg (approximately a 30 minute taxi journey across the city) - equivalent to a Travelodge style hotel in the UK, which was clean and actually rather spacious, but didn't include breakfast within our deal, nor even a kettle in the room. There was shower gel / shampoo and conditioner included in the bathroom and the option for food down in the restaurant.
The tram stop from the hotel was literally a five-minute walk (if that!) outside of the hotel to the left. Here you can get the M6 tram which took about 25 minutes into Alexanderplatz - the main square in Berlin where we visited first. There's lots of restaurants and shops around here, including a big shopping centre, "Alexa" so most times we travelled into here and then ventured out around the city since connections were good on public transport or other things were within walking distance. Although we had bought the Berlin Welcome Card for transport around the city, we didn't actually find that we were checked for tickets the whole weekend - perhaps we were just lucky, but there were no officers checking tickets at the time we were travelling (Saturday to Monday).
On the Saturday afternoon, we continued walking around the city - Berlin Cathedral, the Brandenburg Gate, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Reichstag Building. A lot of these buildings were magnificent and decorative compared to the other buildings within the city. I understand that after World War 2 a lot of the buildings were rebuilt very quickly and as a result appear very plain and in my opinion, slightly austere (although sometimes the bleak February weather can have this effect).
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (the title given by Germans, but also known as The Holocaust Memorial) should be visited, to remind us all that history should not repeat itself.
The Reichstag Building (that houses Parliament) and the dome on top, is free for tourists to visit, but booking a time slot is essential. You also have to go through security and provide a document such as your passport - for safety reasons. The dome provides 360 degree views of the city, and there's an audio guide that you can pick up to describe each of the views as you ascend the dome.
Sunday in Berlin was rather rainy... but that has never stopped Sheldon and I on our travels. (Dad always says, "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.") We travelled towards the Berlin Wall that had split the city East and West a mere 50 years ago, but now has remains in the form of The East Side Gallery; sections of the wall painted by commissioned artists after the start of the breakdown of the wall in 1990.
From here we walked to Checkpoint Charlie... a reminder of the original checkpoint crossing between East and West Germany, yet today feels far more like a film set you would find in a theme park. KFC one side of the street, and a McDonald's on the other. Still, another point of interest for tourists throughout the city, with a small museum across the street with the history of Checkpoint Charlie (we hadn't planned to visit the museum necessarily, but it provided us with shelter from the rain, and a chance to better understand the part of the city we were visiting).
Rain still heavy, we jumped on a Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus. The total circuit we chose was near 2 hours in duration, with audio guides which provided commentary on where you were travelling past in the city. These sort of tours are a great introduction to the city, and although would be expensive for an entire family, does provide 24 hours worth of travel to the main tourist destinations in the city.
We also squeezed in a visit to the Berlin Story Bunker - the famous WW2 Führerbunker, used by Adolf Hitler during his last days. Again, an audioguide was provided which took us through the bunker in great detail. We weren't allowed to take any photos inside the building; it felt slightly eerie, although informative and not hard to imagine how life would have felt during the war. The museum was filled with information, but was at the end of the day set among four concrete walls; cold and slightly damp, just the like day had been around Berlin in February.
We finished the day on a warmer note... dinner at Hofbräu Wirtshaus. Think Oktoberfest set in a restaurant, with steins of beer, typical Bavarian food, waiting staff in lederhosen and an oompah band to accompany our evening. Food was average, but the (and company) was great! 🍻
Our last day had now arrived... we packed up and left the hotel early to grab some breakfast in the city, and had found out that there were luggage lockers outside Zoologischer Garten station. €6 for a locker for 24 hours, which fitted both of our cases (Easyjet hand luggage size) plus a couple of other plastic bags, still with space for more (the lockers only took coins, but there was a currency exchange just along the street). The Zoo was opposite, only a minute or two walk and cost us €16 each. It was a nice zoo, having the only pandas in Germany, but if I'm honest I still find the idea of city zoo's odd. It's strange enough taking animals out of their natural habitat let alone when all you can see in the background is a block of flats or set of sky rises (although I'm a sucker for seeing animals up close!)
Since holidaying together, it has become a tradition of Sheldon and I's to visit a Hard Rock Cafe wherever we go... perhaps not the most original of concepts, but I love seeing the memorabilia and we both LOVE a 🍔 + 🍟. After eating, we collected our cases and jumped on the X9 bus to the airport (approximately 20 minutes, and included within our WelcomeCard). At the time we went, there airport was having a lot of building work done (terminal C anyway), so I would suggest eating a big meal before you go the airport if you're travelling over meal times... the most there seemed to be were some sandwiches and coffee shops, or your usual duty-free area with over-priced packets of chocolate and alcohol.
The flight home was only a couple of hours and we were back home before we knew it... it had been a great trip and I'm very glad we visited, although I'm not sure I'd go back in a rush. Berlin is a small city, and in February the weather isn't guaranteed so I felt like we had seen everything that we wanted to.
Until our next trip...