Germany and Austria 2016: Part 1 – Berlin

We began our trip with a 3-hour bus ride to Sydney Airport and arrived in plenty of time for our flight. The flights themselves were uneventful, only small pockets of turbulence and a quick change of flights in Abu Dhabi. Etihad Airlines service was fantastic and I would definitely fly with them again. Berlin Air were also lovely and we landed at Berlin Tegel on time. We could finally start our adventures! I will probably do multiple posts for this trip, otherwise it would be a mammoth read.

I will add links to the parts as they are published:

Part 1 – Berlin

Part 2 – Bamberg, Nuremberg and Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber

Part 3 – Freiburg and Munich

Part 4 – Salzburg and Graz

Part 5 – Vienna

So, onto Berlin!

We arrived early in the morning on the 9th February and were quickly processed through immigration and customs. A quick change of clothes to suit the chilly weather and we were off. We stayed at the Leonardo Hotel, only a short walk away from Friedrichstraße station and museum island.

One of the first things we did was to walk down to the Reichstag building as we were booked in for a lecture about the Bundestag (German Parliament) at 11am. I highly recommend doing the lecture if you get the chance. The lecturer was amusing and knowledgeable. He described the history of the building and the composition of the Bundestag. It was really interesting to note the differences between this and the Westminster system which Australia has. We also had the opportunity to visit the Dome on the top of the building and get a view of Berlin. Be aware that if you wish to visit the Reichstag building, it is best to book in advance and ensure that you have your passport with you to confirm your identity. This isn’t a place where you can just wander in and out.

As is standard for our trips, we spent the next day exploring the city on foot, including through the Tier Garten, Victory Column, Potsdamer Platz and Brandenburg Tor. I am not kidding when I say my fitbit registered over 25,000 steps! We sampled the local Currywurst for lunch and Brezels (Pretzel). We got lucky with the weather, it was chilly but thankfully not raining. Unlike the following day where it rained all day!

Our rainy day was timed perfectly with our visit to the Deutsches Historisches Museum. I got to try out my incredibly poor German, by telling someone who was conducting a survey, that I didn’t speak German and to ask if he spoke English. He did, for those who are curious, but the survey was for Germans visiting the museum. I was so proud he’d actually understood me! That was about the extent of my successes with language for the trip, other than to say hello, goodbye and to ask for the bill. The museum is well worth a visit for those interested in History. It covered German history from the 5th century to the 20th century and the temporary exhibit we saw was artwork from the Holocaust. The museum was actually quite quiet, probably due to the rain and wintery weather. We spent all day looking at all the artefacts. Some standouts for me included, the paintings of Victory, Mourning and Historiography and the exhibits for Mendelssohn, Mozart and Handel.

After the day of rain, the weather went back to being dry. We had decided to do a tour with Berliner Underground and spent the morning exploring an area used as an Air-raid shelter during World War Two. The tour guide was quick to remind us that the shelter would not have been very effective, if it had been bombed, as it wasn’t deep enough underground, nor was it protected by enough concreate. After grabbing a quick lunch, we spent some time at the Topographie Des Terrors. This museum and information centre is built on the old SS and Gestapo headquarters. The history contained in this building is not enjoyable, but it is interesting and sobering.

Another sobering tour, was that to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just north of Berlin, near the town of Oranienburg. We got up early and walked around some markets before meeting our tour guide. Our guide was incredibly knowledgeable, having studied Anthropology and Sociology and was not reserved in detailing the crimes that took place at Sachsenhausen. Having studied the history and knowing a lot about it already, did not change the fact, it feeling you get when standing in the place. The shivers that went down my spine at the sight of the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign was not because of the cold weather.

Our last full day in Berlin was spent walking around the city to the main Holocaust memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and to the spot where the Fuhrer Bunker was. I definitely began to notice the differences between what were West and East Berlin. East Berlin traffic lights had a distinctive crossing figure for the ‘walk’ and ‘don’t walk’ symbols and there were even shops selling merchandise for him!

The food in Berlin was amazing, I had pork knuckle that literally fell off the bones and my husband enjoyed the beer. We could have stayed in Berlin a lot longer than we did, but the next stop on our trip was Bamberg, more on the rest of the trip next time. I’ll leave you here with a few photos of our time in Berlin.

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